A damp cave where our ancestors chewed the flesh of other humans, a memorial to England’s last sin-eater, and a village where 260 residents perished from the plague – these are just three of the places in a new book on the “Black tourism”.
It is human nature to be drawn to painful or shameful events from the past, which help us appreciate our lives today and contemplate our mortality.
And that thrill you get when a light shines on an ax in a horror movie or when a friend describes a possible encounter with a ghost is only heightened when you visit the actual scene of one of the gruesome incidents. Of the history.
Philip R Stone, author of 111 Dark Places in England You Shouldn’t Miss, began writing about so-called dark tourism when a student told him about the practice of visiting “places that portray a heritage that it hurts”.
He said: “Of course, people have long been drawn to sites of death and doom. In ancient times, gladiatorial games were a mainstay of recreation in the Roman Empire.
“Visiting and remembering our dead is a cultural phenomenon – we value certain types of death and the dead.”
In addition to the 111 places Professor Stone has written about in detail, the book contains suggestions of other spooky places to discover nearby.
Here are 10 to whet your appetite for ghoulish attractions, some of which have already been recommended by the community on our sister site staycations 2Chill.co.uk.
AFP via Getty Images)
If it weren’t for the cars and telegraph poles, the village of Derbyshire, famous for helping to stop the bubonic plague, would not be much different from the 17th century, when 260 of its people died of the disease.
When the disease was carried to Eyam by fleas in a tissue bundle, the whole village agreed to quarantine despite the immense personal risk.
Today, outside the houses, signs list the names of those who perished inside. They make a scary read.
Amy crowther Eyam Museum recommended on 2Chill , saying, “You can see the kiosks where merchants from neighboring villages left provisions, and where the people of Eyam cut holes to leave money ‘disinfected’ with vinegar. A museum details the history of the village, including how it regained importance in the 18th century with the invention of a new way of weaving silk.
2. Monument to the last sin eater
Richard Munslow’s unusual profession was to eat a meal on a corpse to consume the person’s unconfessed sins and thus absolve them.
The ritual is said to have started in Wales and was usually performed by vagrants.
Considered to be England’s last sin-eater, Munslow died in 1906 and a dedicated pedestal can be found in the village of Ratlinghope, Shropshire.
3. Dick Turpin’s grave
The notorious highwayman was ultimately disappointingly apprehended for shooting a rooster in Yorkshire, where he had fled to escape capture.
Tried and condemned to death at the Assizes in York, he would have exchanged a few calm words with his executioner before throwing himself from the gallows.
You can find his grave in St George’s Church, York, where his body was buried in lime after being dug up from his original resting place by body thieves.
4. Old Mother Shipton’s Cave
England’s most famous prophetess was banished to a cave in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire in the 15th century for having a daughter out of wedlock.
King Henry VII was a client, sending messengers to hear her fortune, and she was said to have predicted the plague, the great fire in London, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
She is also said to have turned things into stone in a well in her cave – but rather than magical powers, the objects were slowly petrified by water rich in sulfate and carbonate.
5. Garden of poisons
Andrew H (UGC))
Next to Alnwick Castle, which also served as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, inside Alnwick Garden is a place with a menacing name.
If The Poison Garden’s nickname isn’t revealing enough of its content, then there is a sign to drive the point home, warning “These plants can kill.”
André H recommended a visit to our sister site staycations 2Chill , saying: “Nice place to spend a few hours. It’s not really that big – but there is a lot to explore. The water fountains are beautiful. The poison garden is fascinating and the cherry blossom orchard is beautifully landscaped with many swings.
6. Huskisson Memorial
Echo of Liverpool)
Poor William Huskisson has just arrived at the launch of the Liverpool-Manchester railway – his doctor had forbidden him to attend due to inflammation of the kidneys.
Although the statesman and financier ignored his doctor’s advice, it wasn’t his kidneys that ultimately got him, but Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive when he fell in his way.
A striking mausoleum has been erected in his memory in St James Gardens, Liverpool, where you can also see many interesting graves.
7. Crossbone Cemetery
This medieval burial place in Camberwell, London is home to the remains of some 15,000 poor people, more than half of whom are children.
Closed in 1853 because it could no longer accommodate graves, it was for centuries an unconsecrated burial pit for the poorest suburbs of the capital.
It has now been picked up as a community initiative to commemorate the ‘dead outcasts’ and is decorated with artwork as well as flowers and plants.
Wondering where to eat, drink or visit on your next UK vacation? At 2Chill, we help you decide where to go and stay with hundreds of recommendations right on your doorstep.
Visit our awesome new website 2chill.co.uk and start packing.
If you also want inspiration and weekly tips for your next trip, you can sign up for the Chill newsletter here.
For the latest must-see travel news, follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
8. Lincoln Castle
The cobbled streets of old Lincoln may now be home to wine merchants, teahouses, and antique shops, but the fortress that has dominated the city’s skyline for nearly a millennium has a dark history.
From the 13th century, the castle housed a prison and cemetery, with an execution site on the roof of Cobb Hall where crowds gathered to watch.
It also houses one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta.
9. Ossuary of St Leonard
English Heritage / Heritage Images / Getty Images)
The remains of over 4,000 people are contained in Britain’s best-preserved collection of medieval skulls and bones.
The ossuary of St Leonard’s Church in Hythe, Kent, is said to have been filled with the bones of 13th century residents of the area unearthed when additional cemeteries were needed.
Even looking at photographs is chilling, but you can also visit in person and stand in front of the walls of the skulls.
ten. Cheddar Gorge and Caves
Getty Images / iStockphoto)
When Captain Richard Cox Gough cleared a cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, in 1892, he was to uncover a nasty little secret about our Ice Age ancestors.
He found human remains with cut marks and butchery breaks consistent with cannibalism.
In some cases, skulls and brain boxes had been used as goblets in a ritual tradition.
111 Dark Places in England You Shouldn’t Miss by Philip R Stone is published by Emons.