Being a city, London has always had its fair share of notorious criminals but how would you react if you came face-to-face with one of them?
When you lose the ability to use one of your senses fully you realise just how vulnerable you become. Standing here, for what feels like an eternity, in the darkness, whilst my other senses have clearly heightened to the experience, my eyesight is failing me. The horrid, putrefying smells that emanate from the corridors are overwhelming and the screams from behind the locked doors are blood-curdling. Thankfully, I am not alone; I am not sure I could cope with the haunting noises and the banging of doors by myself.
Before too long, a rather loud and slightly annoying knave, some might say joker, or perhaps he was a paupers version of a street-crier appears, ready to take us on a journey through the unlit streets which thankfully my eyes are slowly growing accustomed to. Shrinking into the crowd, I try to make myself invisible, not fancying the idea of becoming the victim of any jokes during our journey – thankfully two small blonde boys seem to have fallen prey to the early onslaught of abuse and bad jokes.
Naively following this rather loud individual we soon find ourselves falling down into the depths of the London sewage system, where we are surrounded by hideous grey rats, their long tails wrapped around cables and rope to gain maximum security for their tiny bodies whilst they chew up anything and everything in sight. Down here, the pungent smells burn your nostrils and the sound of water lapping against the walls adds to the nervousness brewing up inside – what is going to happen next?
It soon becomes apparent that our brash leader is more than just a street entertainer; he has lured us into the unknown and is about to sentence us on behalf King Henry VIII. As a trusted employee of the overbearing royal, the Black Jester reveals his true purpose – to make sure that none of us make it back out alive. It appears we have all been condemned to death, but for what reason? It would seem that the King believes we have conspired with Anne Boleyn, and that as traitors to the crown we should all be punished.
Forced into small boats we head off into the pitch black. With only the sound of the Thames rushing waters as our companion we soon begin to wonder what will jump out at us next, and then… we come to a halt. As quickly as it starts, it stops and once again, we are herded off to find ourselves face to face with the Black Jester.
Unable to retrace our steps, we move forward into the dark abyss frightened for what we might encounter next. Without another word, we shuffle through a large arched doorway and huddle up in what appears to be a cavernous void far below the London streets. Believing that we are at last alone, I take a moment to collect my thoughts only to jump out of my skin when a candle flickers into life behind me.
It seems that time may be slipping away from me. Just minutes ago Henry VIII banished us for acts against the crown and now standing before me is a conspirator determined to help Guy Fawkes blow up the buildings above us. Have we escaped the vicious sentence of death or is this just a ploy to unnerve us further?
Within minutes, the ground below my feet is violently shaking and I stumble to hold on to the person next to me, darkness once again shrouds us and I can no longer see anything in front of me.
The room lights up and within a split second my relief turns into fear as I see what has created the spark. Surrounded by gunpowder barrels and a rather psychotic man determined to complete his mission I begin to see being locked up in the Tower of London as a much better prospect.
With chilling laugher darkness shrouds us once again. Footsteps can be heard from behind and before we know it we are once again on the move, this time coming face to face with the person that I perceive is going to inflict the harshest of punishments upon us.
Calling people up one at a time, the cloaked individual with his face partially hidden, starts to describe what he would like to do to each of us. Determined to scare us into oblivion we hear about each of the contraptions on show and how he would like to utilise each one of them. Some are destined to suffer for eternity, being locked up in the rusting, dank prison cells whilst others… Well let’s just say I don’t envy the gentleman currently facing punishment for crimes that I am not sure he has committed.
As others begin to dwindle into the shadows we are pushed forward, through an opening and into the labyrinth of underground tunnels, fleeing from the torturer before he has chance to regain control.
If, on reading this however, you feel that we have had a lucky escape – think again. Lost, unable to see our way, we stumble upon a ghastly sight; one that no-one should have to see. Lurking in corners, hiding in confined spaces and falling down in front of us, Londoners have, it would appear, be exposed to something very life-threating. With all the coughing and spluttering going on around us, it is difficult to hide the expression forming on our faces – with disgust bubbling to the surface I need to move on, to break away and find an escape from all of this suffering. Selfish – yes; callous – I hope not. I can’t do anything to help these poor souls, so I need to save myself.
With that thought in mind, a doorway opens and there is a welcoming glow coming from inside. Glancing across the crowd I can see that I am not the only one that has noticed the potential to extract ourselves from this grim sight and before I have chance to move my feet the crowd has surged forward creating a bottle-neck effect. Those that are suffering have seen the opening as well and the person behind the door is beginning to fret; understandably she is obviously trying to keep the disease at bay.
Now inside, looking at the woman, who up until now has kept her identity hidden, an uneasy feeling is rising up inside me once again. Far from scary, until she speaks, you could consider her to be quite sane. Then I spy it; the finger protruding from the pie. Her ranting becomes more aggressive and she begins to gabble incoherently to the point where her message is becoming unclear, or perhaps, many would say, her message is becoming increasingly clear. She is, after-all, stark-raving-mad and her pie shop is more of a body disposal site – and I don’t mean for the animal kind.
Is my fate to be sealed in one of her pies? I seriously hope not!!!
Quickly, taking advantage of her good mood, for she has heard her lover approaching on the cobbled streets outside, we take our leave and fly through the backdoor into the alleyway and back into the unlit nightmare.
Danger seems to be lurking on every corner and I am beginning to believe that we are never going to resurface from this unpleasant ordeal.
Moving at pace, we hunt for any sign of life; anyone that can help us.
Then…we see her. Standing under the dimly lit street lamp, in a crimson-red dress, hair tied tight above her head. Mumbling to herself until she sees us approach, she is quick to inform us of the ghastly event that has taken place only moments before our arrival. Waffling almost incoherently, it takes a moment to realise that she is talking about the mound on the floor. I have mistaken it for a pile of clothing but on closer inspection it is clear that the poor person lying underneath the heavy cloth has in-fact met their demise. Clearly, the woman in-front of us is nervous, apparently this is not the first murder of its kind and should we linger too long who’s to say we wouldn’t be next – that’s good enough for me; let’s move on.
Shuffling at almost a snail’s pace after what we had just witnessed, we walk into a maze of mirrored corridors. Thrown slightly and losing all bearings we wander around, turning back on ourselves, walking into our own images trying to find an escape. What is this? – It seems that anything and everything peculiar is taking place today and my mind is struggling to function in the fuzz that all this activity is creating.
Finally, and I am unsure that I can be happy with our discovery, we come face-to-face with a slight man, widely smiling at us standing next to what appears to be a set of gallows. This can’t be good.
Instantly you can see the gleam in his eyes. The excitement brewing as he informs us that today will be our day. Today, we will have to face a crowd and swing from the gallows, take the drop with a smile on our face and not worry about what the future may hold. All I can think about is ‘What future?’
The ‘Long Drop’ is apparently the first of its kind; a fast drop into an abyss below. Not sure I am fully ready for this but there is only one way to go and that is forward, so with a heavy heart I draw myself up to the front of the crowd and wait anxiously in line.
Stepping into the cool darkness I get a sense that this is not going to be an enjoyable experience; being dropped from a great height has never been on my ‘to-do’ list.
Locked in and unable to move I can feel my heart rate rising, a dread creeping up inside.
‘Please don’t let me scream out!!!! Please!’
Whilst my brain is still trying to process what is happening the ground below me is taken away and I fall, and keep falling into the darkness. I don’t scream but I think I stop breathing.
And then… nothing!
Within seconds, florescent lighting filters in and we are transformed back into modern-day citizens, walking out onto the streets of 21st century London. In just a few short hours we have received threats from Henry VIII, nearly lost our lives when Guy Fawkes decided to try and blow up Parliament, had a near-death experience with Sweeny Todd at Mrs Lovett’s pie shop and narrowly escape the torturous acts of Jack the Ripper.
All this and it’s not even lunchtime.
If you fancy going back in time to revisit the grim past of London that still graces the pages of many history books then head to the London Dungeon. Not only will you learn a thing or two about former criminals and their devious acts, you will also have a fun-packed adventure along the way.
We would like to thank the London Dungeon for hosting our visit and for providing all of the images you see above in this post.