London is fairly well known for its dark and dismal past – but that makes it all the more interesting to visit, right? From notorious serial killers to death and disease, here are a few facts you may not know about the city and its murky history.
1. Over the course of two years (1665 – 1666) London’s Great Plague wiped out 100,000 people. Back then, that amounted to a quarter of the city’s entire population; today, this equates to about a 93rd of people residing in the city.
2. Aldgate Underground Station was built on top of one of the largest known plague pits. Over a thousand people were buried there in the space of a fortnight, back in 1665.
3. Back in Medieval times, London has no sewage system. This meant that residents tossed waste out onto the street, and it became such a problem that muck-rakers were hired to keep the streets a little more presentable.
4. Hundreds of years ago, butchers used to dump rotten meat in the River Thames. The smell got so bad that King Edward III banned the slaughtering of animals in the City of London.
5. Regular hangings used to take place in Hyde Park – ironically one of the city’s most serene spaces. Doomed prisoners incarcerated in Newgate Prison would take their final journey along Oxford Street to Tyburn Tree in the park’s north-west corner to meet their maker.
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6. In the 17th century, grave robbing became a bit of a fad; it’s said that medical students were only granted the legal right to study the bodies of convicted murderers – so when there weren’t enough deceased murderers to go around, students turned to grave snatching, the illegal act of taking bodies from graves.
7. In the 1800s, London’s population increased two-fold, and the city’s graveyards became overcrowded. In an attempt to solve the problem, the government created a railway system with the sole purpose of transporting dead bodies to an alternative cemetery in Surrey. The station was called London Necropolis Station.
8. During the Second World War, east Londoners would take cover in Bethnal Green Underground Station, essentially using it as an air-raid shelter. One night in 1943, 173 people were crushed to death after a mother and child fell on the stairs when the air raid sirens were sounding, causing others to tumble down. The station is now rumoured to be haunted by the sound of women and children crying.
9. The Bedlam asylum in Beckenham was one of the most popular tourist attractions of 18th century London. Visitors paid a penny to watch suffering inmates, or gained access entirely free on Tuesdays.