We are proud to bring you a constant stream of the best and brightest entertainment news each day... but we are also proud of our reports on London past. In this series, we join up our talents and take a look at London entertainments that no longer exist, and the closest equivalent available today.
4. See dead people
To see someone freshly dead from 1196 to 1783, Londoners needed only to head to the gallows in the southeast corner of Connaught Square (W2) every Monday (it was ‘Execution Day’). In the 1600s the entrance to London Bridge (SE1 9SP) displayed the impaled heads of traitors on spikes, while patrons of The Prospect of Whitby had a ripping view of Execution Dock, where dead pirates’ bodies were strung up and not taken down until three tides passed over them. Public autopsies were considered educational rather than gruesome, and were still held in London as early as 170 years ago. And should you die a non-criminal death, you could catch the Necropolis Express to Brookwood Cemetery, a real train service begun in 1854 to relieve London of its overflowing corpses. “Passengers” travelled in first, second or third class, depending on how much surviving relatives paid for the ticket.
Where are they now?
Brace yourself, but dead people are currently on display at the O2, with the exhibition Body Worlds and the Mirror of Time (as reported in the Londonist here). The “original exhibition of real human bodies” (locals may remember the similar Bodies from 2006), the show is presented by Gunther von Hagens, the doctor who also performed a controversial public autopsy in 2002, which was later shown on Channel 4. His latest show features anatomical studies of the body “in distress, disease and optimal health”, as well as the world’s first plastinated giraffe! If this seems too necrophilic, you can pay a respectful toast to the dead at The Prospect of Whitby (57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SJ, ph 0207 481 1095): the gallows can still be seen from the pub (pictured).
Words and pictures by Tim Benzie