Exhibits to make you go ‘urgh’, ‘oooo’ and ‘arghh’. Do not scroll down if you’re easily perturbed.
Bisected Pregnant Cat, Grant Museum
We’re no cat experts, but we’d say this moggy’s probably used up her nine lives. She’s also carrying a tiny passenger, who will sadly never taste the joys of Whiskas. Unconfirmed rumour has it that the excised cat slice has since been rehoused on the chest of Tom Jones. While you’re looking for horrific sights in the Grant Museum, be sure to check out the jar of moles near the entrance.
Wall of Severed Dogs Heads, Horniman Museum
Dog-lovers, too, can find cause for alarm in London’s museums. This mural display of canine heads is one of many surreal sights at Forest Hill’s Horniman Museum. You don’t want to see what’s going on round the back of the cabinet.
Two Followers of Cadmus Devoured By A Dragon, by Cornelius van Haarlem, National Gallery
If you thought Dutch painting was all windmills, ice skates and women at virginals, have a gander in Room 24 of the National Gallery. Here you’ll find this delicate conversation piece, in which a mysteriously naked ‘follower of Cadmus‘ has his face ripped off by a giant wyrm. Meanwhile his headless, and also nude, colleague receives a full-body gouging. In the background, the more decently attired Cadmus fares better against the beast. The moral of the tale? Naturists are vulnerable to dragon attacks.
Three Studies for Figures at the Bast of a Crucifixtion, by Francis Bacon, Tate Britain
Francis Bacon’s 17th Century namesake famously died from handling a frozen chicken, which then came back to haunt Pond Square in Highgate. Fact. Three hundred years later and Bacon the artist appears to have channeled the same fowl spirit. His three miscreations, painted in 1944, definitely have a touch of the poultry about them. Duck a l’orange, perhaps. Anyhow, the ‘Three Studies’ remains one of the most startling works of art ever created.
Model of a Leg Amputation at Sea, Science Museum
Not much science going on here, just the agonising separation of man and limb. The unfortunate fellow’s managed to get a sizeable chunk of the fo’castle wedged in his thigh thanks to inclement military conditions in the Trafalgar area. Nearby, a bucket of limbs (not pictured) gives some reassurance that he isn’t alone in his sufferings. This bloody scene is one of many astounding dioramas in the Wellcome History of Medicine gallery, right up on the roof of the museum.
Chinese Torture Chair, Wellcome Collection
Here’s one way to keep meetings short. Admire the contrast between the razor-sharp sabres and the finely gilded seat. You are going to die in excruciating agony but, as you do so, behold the fine craftsmanship beneath your rapidly diminishing loins. The chair can be found on the first floor of Wellcome Collection. That most wonderful of museums missed a trick by not placing their sliced human cross-section alongside this grisly chair.
Mummified Human Heads, British Museum
Excuse the poor quality of this image, but we were too freaked out to linger for a better shot. This pair of mummy heads was acquired by the museum in the 1920s. Oddly, they now reside in the Enlightenment Gallery. If you’re not suitably perturbed by our gap-toothed, desiccated friend, check out his screaming countenance under spooky red light. Flea now!
Skull of a 25-year old man showing enormous asymmetrical enlargement due to hydrocephalus associated with osteomalacia, Hunterian Museum
Many of the specimens in the Hunterian Museum would be better described as unfortunate rather than gruesome, as this 19th Century skull, swollen by an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, exemplifies. Still, this list could not be complete without pointing you towards the museum’s fascinating and educational holdings. How fortunate most of us are.
What have we missed? Let us know the objects around London that most make you recoil.
Note on selection: we’ve only included exhibits that are normally on public display. Places like the Black Museum, normally closed to public view, are excluded.