20 February 2017 | 10 °C

Where To See Skeletons In London

By Laura Reynolds Last edited 6 months ago
Where To See Skeletons In London

London's a bony place. Here are its scariest — and most superb — skeletons.

Photo: James Guppy

Natural History Museum

South Kensington's Natural History Museum is the obvious choice for skeleton-seekers in London: most famous among them is Dippy, the plaster cast of a diplodocus skeleton, which is being ousted from the museum's entrance hall to make way for the sizeable blue whale skeleton.

The Grant Museum of Zoology

UCL's Grant Museum of Zoology is a favourite of ours — we even had a peek behind the scenes last year.

Its main claim to fame is the impressive quagga skeleton. The bones of a now-extinct South African zebra, it's one of only seven quagga skeletons in the world, and recently underwent a preservation project.

Other impressive parts of the collection include the dodo bones and those of a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger — which has also gone the way of the dodo).

Lion skeleton at the Grant Museum. Photo: Andrew Smith

Plenty of complete skeletons of more common animals are also on display in the museum — and if there's one specimen that particularly takes your fancy, you can adopt it and have your name displayed alongside it.

Horniman Museum

Primate skeletons at the Horniman Museum. Photo: Annie

Forest Hill's Horniman Museum is most famous for its comically overstuffed walrus, but the Natural History Gallery is also full of skeletons along with taxidermy and skin specimens.

The whole museum is a great introduction to natural history for little Londoners who may find South Kensington's Natural History Museum a little too overwhelming.

Hunterian Museum

The Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum has over 3,500 anatomical exhibits, both human and non-human, in a collection started by surgeon John Hunter.

Among them is a severely swollen skull from the 19th century, and perhaps most famously, the 18th century skeleton of Charles Byrne. Byrne was known as the 'Irish Giant' due to his 7ft 7in height. The Irish Giant is even mentioned in Charles Dickens's novel David Copperfield.

UCL

Photo: Matt Brown

Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher and social reformer, and is often seen as one of the founding fathers of the university now known as UCL.

At the age of 21, Bentham made a will as to what he wanted to happen to him upon his death. When his demise finally came at the age of 84, his wishes were carried out. His friend Dr Thomas Southwood Smith carried out a public dissection of Bentham's body. His skeleton was de-fleshed and preserved, and can still be seen in South Cloisters at UCL today, with a wax head and dressed in Bentham's own clothes. You can generally visit him Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm.

Old Operating Theatre

In the shadow of The Shard lies the oldest operating theatre in Europe. The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret offers an insight into 19th century surgical techniques (not for the faint-hearted). As well as getting a glance into the operating theatre itself, various displays show the tools used by surgeons past — and there are a few human skeletons to ogle too.

The skeletons you can't see

London has plenty of skeletons hidden away in closets, that aren't usually or regularly on public view:

The ossuary in the crypt of St Bride's. Photo: Matt Brown

St Bride's Crypt

The crypt of St Bride's Church on Fleet Street is home to a charnel house, or ossuary, home to a substantial number of human remains, as the above picture attests.

Museum of London archives

The Museum of London has a staggering 17,000 skeletons off-show in its archives, many excavated from archaeological sites around London. This blog post details how the museums curators and experts can garner information about past generations from these bones.

Stone skulls

St Olave's. Photo: Matt Brown

St Olave Hart Street

At the church of St Olave Hart Street, near Fenchurch Street in the City of London, visitors are greeted by three stone skulls over the door. It is these skulls that prompted Charles Dickens to refer to the church as 'St Ghastly Grim'.

St Nicholas in Deptford

The church of St Nicholas in Deptford is another one which greets its visitors with stone skulls — two on the gateposts, and many more dotted around inside. A (false) local myth claims that it is these skulls which inspired the Jolly Roger symbol on pirate ships. More information here.

See also: Odd dead animals where you don't expect to find them.

Last Updated 03 August 2016