London Tombs

The London Tombs is an out and out tourist attraction by day, with animatronics and special effects, guided by actors. That said, it is a thoroughly scary experience and has a genuinely eerie atmosphere. When you consider that the London Tombs were discovered during excavations for the London Bridge Experience and that they are real plague pits, dug and filled with bodies when London was in the grip of one of its many epidemics, then it is perhaps no surprise that there is an underlying atmosphere of horror which has little or nothing to do with animatronic zombies.

The worst plague year was 1665 and its spread was effectively only stopped by the Fire of 1666, which burned it out. At its height, 7000 people a week were dying and so the survivors had no option but to throw the bodies into pits dug for the purpose until the holes were full, at which point they would be covered over and another one would be dug elsewhere. The pits were open until they were full and the stench must have been almost intolerable. There are well documented stories of people being thrown alive into the pits, taken from their houses when merely unconscious and not dead, so desperate were the townspeople to keep the plague from spreading from house to house.

The plague pits, when excavated, show little of archaeological value as no funeral rites were carried out and no clothing or jewellery was on the bodies as they usually died in their beds. But the human story of the misery of a population struck down in their thousands by a disease they could not begin to understand is eloquently told in the tumbled bones and the agony of their passing is, inevitably, written in the soil in which they have rested for hundreds of years.

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