London’s history, like that of any city, is a mixture of both good and bad moments. Certain parts of the city flourished, Shakespeare chose this city to perform his plays and many many wonderful pieces of architecture were built. But there is also a dark side to this history and this post is going to outline just five of the darkest moments in the capital’s long history.
The Black Death
The autumn of 1348 signaled the beginning of The Black Death and one of the darkest moments in London’s history. Having spread from Asia through to North Africa and then Europe, this incurable and quiet frankly horrific disease reached England’s shores. In the eighteen months that followed since its arrival in London it had killed half of all Londoners. Mass graves were dug all across the city to bury the many that had perished from the disease. One such area was the Royal Mint site that is located close to the Tower of London. It was said that by 1350 the Black Death has killed millions of people around the world.
The Great Plague
In February 1665, the Great Plague- one of the last major plagues in the country- hit the city. Many fled the capital to escape it and those who had fallen victim were locked in their homes and their doors marked with a red cross. During this time animals were initially blamed for the spread of the plague and there were mass killings of stray cats and dogs. Over 40,000 dogs and 20,000 cats were killed during this time. Within seven months, 20% of the population were dead. By December of that year, after numbers of the dead had began to fall, many of those who had left the city decided to return and slowly London returned back to normal.
Image Credit: Ben Sutherland/ Flickr
Great Fire of London
One of the most well know disasters of London’s history is the Great Fire of London. On 2 September 1666 a fire broke out in the bakery owned by Thomas Farriner. Although the death count is said to be fewer than ten, the fire lasted for five days and ravaged one third of the city, making hundreds of thousands of people homeless. St Paul’s Cathedral, Guildhall and a great number of churches were ruined and it took almost 50 years to rebuild the parts of the city that had been damaged by the fire.
Jack the Ripper
In 1888 London was introduced to the notorious murdered, Jack the Ripper. During a three month period, six women were killed and terribly mutilated in the back alleys of the East End. Police were baffled and the perpetrator was never caught. Although these crimes were terrible, they did highlight the poor living and work conditions that people had to endure in this area of London and their stories have carried through to the present day.
Although the last executions in England took place in many years ago in 1964, London’s history is full of gruesome stories of public executions and hangings. Until the late 19th Century hangings were carried out in public and many attracted large crowds. The Tower of London, now a prominent tourist attraction, was one of the cities many execution sites. Although only seven executions were carried out in the tower grounds itself, including that of Anne Boleyn, the nearby Tower Hill was known for its public executions. Other known execution sites included Tybury (close to what is now known as Marble Arch), Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Newgate Prison.
By Sage Fitzpatrick