10 Places In London With Secretly Grim Histories

It's mass graves this, serial killer that...

1. Tufnell Park

Tufnell Park’s great. The Spaced house is round the corner, the Boston is really fun, and the Tube station is currently closed because it’s getting snazzy new lifts. But on Hilldrop Crescent in 1910, American homeopath Hawley Crippen murdered his wife Cora, disposed of her head and buried her torso under his cellar (supposedly, anyway – there have been recent doubts that the remains were actually her). When under investigation he boarded a ferry for Canada with his lover, Ethel Le Neve, disguised as a boy. They were apprehended and extradited, and Crippen was hanged.

2. Muswell Hill

Muswell Hill is just lovely. There’s a view over all of London, the Kinks formed there and the cinema’s a listed building. It’s been written about by both John Betjeman and Madness, and has the nicest branch of O’Neills in London. However, it was also home to Dennis Nilsen, one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, who murdered at least twelve men between 1978 and 1983. He would lure young gay men back to his flat and strangle them, dismember them and attempt to flush their body parts down the toilet. He was discovered when the drains got blocked, and is still in HMP Sutton without the possibility of release.

3. Notting Hill

Ah, Notting Hill. Where the bloke from Bedknobs & Broomsticks dances past Hugh Grant’s independent bookshop and a quiet man with glasses strangles people. Wait, what? Yeah. John Christie, also known as the Rillington Place Strangler, killed at least eight people while living at Rillington Place, including the wife and daughter of his next door neighbour who was then hanged for the killings. He was eventually discovered after subletting his flat while storing dead bodies in the kitchen, and hanged by the same hangman as his neighbour. There’s a film about him, starring Richard Attenborough, which is good.

4. Lambeth Palace Road

“Where do you live?” “On the South bank, just by the Palace” “Christ”. But it wasn’t always the best of places to live – not when Dr Cream the Lambeth Poisoner was about. A Glaswegian who had grown up in Scotland, he’d been sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder in Chicago but had his sentence commuted. Fresh off the boat over here, he immediately poisoned a young woman with strychnine, blackmailing WH Smith (the owner of the chain) and threatening to frame him.  He poisoned three more women over the next six months before his in-depth knowledge of the crime locations raised some eyebrows and he was arrested and hanged. His last words were either "I am Jack the––", which is horrifying, or "I am ejacu––", which is worse.

5. Kensington

Wouldn’t it be lovely to live around the corner from the Natural History Museum? Yes, unless someone knocked you on the head, dissolved your body in acid and tipped it into a sewer. That’s what John George Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer, did to his former boss, then his former boss’s parents. He moved out to Crawley for the rest of his murdering career, before a police search of his premises found three gallstones and a denture that had survived an acid bath. He was hanged.

6. Tower Hill

You’d have a lovely view living on Tower Hill, would you? Unless you were one of the 125 people, mostly nobles, who were hung, drawn, quartered, beheaded and generally given a hard time on it. Before St Thomas More was beheaded on Tower Hill, he declared that his beard was innocent of any crime and so didn’t deserve to be executed. He then moved his head so the axe would spare his bristles.

7. Barbican

The Barbican’s good, isn’t it? It’s like what the past thought the future would look like. It’s like the world of the Jetsons but built in the 1960s. Hey, guess what’s underneath it? Mass graves! A Crossrail dig found a chamber with 25 plagued-out corpses in it beneath nearby Charterhouse Square, and there are thought to be thousands more of the long-dead bastards.

8. Marble Arch

Before Marble Arch was Marble Arch, tourist hotspot and pickpockets’ paradise, it was the site of Tyburn gallows, where thousands of spectators used to flock to see criminals breathe their last. At one point a three-sided gallows was erected that could hang 24 people at once, and a stand once collapsed under the weight of too many spectators, injuring hundreds.

9. Smithfield’s Market

Smithfield is fascinating – you can see how technology and tradition have kind of competed with each other since Victorian times. There’s a fascinating network of tunnels beneath it left over from when animals were slaughtered on site. Someone who probably wouldn’t find it particularly fascinating is William “Braveheart” Wallace, who was executed – and had his bits cut off – on this very site. Mary I used to boil people in oil here and all, the mad bastard. 

10. Wapping

Oh, Wapping’s nice. It’s right on the Thames, and you can make jokes because its name sounds like “whopping”, as in “a whopping great boner” and similarly crap mild smut. Until 1830, it was home to Execution Dock, where hundreds of thieves, highwaymen, cutpurses and mutineers were put to their deaths. Everyone who was hanged was allowed two pints of beer, which was nice, but then their bodies were left dangling in the river for three days, which wasn’t.