Mention the word "Halloween" and children and adults in the US, Europe and Asia get all excited about costumes, sweets and parties that fill the night with merrymaking. Halloween was not always about trick-and-treating. It was a somber pagan ritual which originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain a millennia ago. It was a time of superstition when the transition between Autumn and Winter was a bridge to the world of the dead. Bonfires were lit and costumes were worn to ward off roaming ghosts. Over time, the 31 October evolved into a secular event characterised by fun and games.
Tower of London / Photo courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces
In a city as old as London, which dates back to 43 AD, you can bet there are volumes of gruesome history written in its buildings and streets. Trendy pubs and upmarket residential buildings hide some of the bloodiest places; heads were put on spikes for all to see on London Bridge for over 300 years; and the silent voices trapped in the city's cobblestones, bricks and concrete all add a weightier air to Halloween. So put your favourite ghoulish costume and check out these top ways to embrace the murky and spooky in London.
Get into the spirit of Halloween with a walk through the cemetery. Not just any cemetery, Brompton Cemetery is a heritage site and the only burial venue in the country owned by the Crown and managed by The Royal Parks on behalf of the nation. One of London's Magnificent Seven historic cemeteries dating back to the mid 1800s, Brompton Cemetery is home to about 205,000 burials marked by some 35,000 monuments that range from simple headstones to mortuary chapels.
The Friends of Brompton Cemetery organise a 2-hour public guided tour on Sunday afternoons at 2pm and offer private tours by arrangement during the week. For a donation of £6 per person, you can walk the cemetery that combines history, colonnades, catacombs, family mausolea, a small columbarium and common graves with famous residents including shipping magnate Sir Samuel Cunard, colonialist Admiral Sir Charles Fremantle, playwright Walter Brandon Thomas, author George Borrow, epidemiologist Dr. John Snow, tenor Richard Tauber and 12 recipients of Britain's highest award for military gallantry. Visit the website for more information.
If the light of day masked the spirits of Brompton Cemetery from your sights, then head over to Hampton Court Palace where you might spot some royal ghosts. Visitors to this famous venue in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames may be dazzled by the magnificence of Henry VIII's favourite royal residence but the stories and sightings of apparitions will make you think twice about spending the night. The most famous is that of Henry VIII's 4th wife, Catherine Howard, whose wails are said to be heard echoing in the night.
You can join one of the venue's State Apartment Warders for a 2-hour evening walking tour and experience the infamous Haunted Gallery for yourself. There will be stories of ghostly apparitions and paranormal activity to make your skin crawl as you meander the external courtyards, cloisters and some apartment interiors. For more information phone 0844 482 7777 or visit the website.
Have a bitter at The Ten Bells
Ten Bells pub, Spitalfields, London / Photo from Past London of Flickr
With all that ghost sighting, you might be in need of a stiff drink but beware the rowdy pub that been standing on the corner of Commercial Street and Fournier Street in Spitalfields since 1752. The Ten Bells was where Jack the Ripper met his victims. A step into this public house will take you into the world of the famed killer. A giant sign listing his victims hangs on the wall opposite the bar as does interesting newspaper clippings about Jack the Ripper and theories. The interior also remained much the same as in the days of Jack. Talk to the bar staff and you'll hear stories of unexplained cold spots in the bar and footsteps in empty corridors. Visit the website for more information.
Take a Jack the Ripper Walk
Donald Rumbelow / Photo courtesy of Simpson College
You won't be able to rest with Jack the Ripper heavy on your mind. Perhaps the best thing to do is to walk it off by tracing the sodden path of the infamous killer. Who better to follow than Britain's most distinguished crime historian and author of the definitive book on the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow. The world's foremost expert on Jack the Ripper will lead you to several dark places where the murders occured in 1888 and are now haunted by ghosts. You'll need another stiff drink at The Ten Bells when you're done. Check out Donald's website for more information.
There are no real hauntings at this popular London tourist attraction but you can still get scared for fun. The London Dungeon applies fearsome torture instruments, special effects, live actors, theatre, story telling and spine-tingling rides to bring 1,000 years of the city's macabre history to life.
The home of Halloween will serve up a scary dish loaded with pumpkins, dares, mischief, forfeits, treats and surprises from a cast of history's most sinister characters. There's the neck-slashing Jack The Ripper, Henry VIII the murderous Tudor King of England and the inspiration behind the bonfires of UK, Guy Fawkes. Grab your tickets from the website before they are all gone.
If you gawk at the pickled whole animal specimens in the Natural History Museum, then a trip to the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy is what the mad doctor orders. This natural history museum that is part of University College London is home of a giant collection of bones and taxidermied animals. You'll love the brain collection located near the entrance. Check out the website for more information.
Go wild at WWT London Wetland Centre
Photo courtesy of WWT Limited
What's Halloween without more monsters, myths and bizarre bodies beyond those of the Grant Museum? You'll find what you seek and more at the UK's favourite nature reserve close to the heart of the capital. On 25 and 26 October, you can get up-close to skeletons, sinews, guts, gizzards, organs and oddities of animals that live in the watery world of wetlands. There will be plenty of 'Yuks' going around from 10.30 am to 4pm on both dates.
German explorer, adventuress and cryptozoologist, Sophie-Charlotte von Federfels studies elusive and mystical animals like the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, mermaids and flying monkeys. She will revel you with her fascinating stories of scientific and mystical artefacts and also share her rare collection of beautiful and unusual creatures in the Lodge everyday at 2pm from 25 October to 2 November 2014. Both sessions are FREE with admission to the Centre. Visit the website or phone 0208 409 4400 to reserve your tickets.
Take a walk of the Haunted Theatreland
Photo courtesy of Society of London Theatre
Join Diane Burstein as she peels away the historical layers to uncover the secrets of London entertainment's dark and spooky past on 26 October. Diane is one of London's best known Blue Badge tour guides with 19 years' experience and knowledge of the capital's most vibrant and historically interesting districts.
Departing from a Central London location at 6pm, you will take a journey through the eerie side of Theatreland's history where the cobbled streets and gas-lit back alleys between Covent Garden and St James's are stained with betrayal, bereavement and bloody murder. You might need that stiff drink after the tour. For more information phone 0207 557 6700 or visit the website to book. If you miss the October tour, you can still get scared stiff in November and December.
On the edge of Hampstead Heath near Kenwood House lies one of the London's oldest pubs. Locals know The Spaniard's Inn, which dates back to 1585, is not just popular for tasty food and specialty beers. It is said to be the haunting grounds of infamous highwayman Dick Turpin and his steed. You'll find that most of the Inn's early fame came from mentions in Charles Dicken's 'The Pickwick Papers' and Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' as well as notable visitors including John Keats (poet), William Hogarth (painter) and Mary Shelley (novelist). Visit the Inn's website for more information.
Don't let the sea of ceramic poppies visited by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh fool you. The grim and grey exterior of the Tower of London masks a sinister history soaked in blood that's as red as the picturesque art installation before it. Also known as Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, this 1,000 year old castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London was also its most notorious place of imprisonment, torture and execution.
Join one of the Yeoman Warders on a unique after-hours tour of the Tower including the Traitors' Gate, the Scaffold Site and the Bloody Tower. You will thread on uneven cobbles and up spiral stone staircases in search of the source of the castle's gruesome stories from 7pm to 8.30pm. You might just catch a glimpse of a screaming royal on her way to the block. Whatever the encounter, no Halloween sojourn around London is complete without visiting this historic haunted spot in the city. Visit the website for more information.