By Vijay Shah
I have just returned from a day out to central London with a good mate, visiting the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs deep underneath the famous eponymous bridge. The attraction’s main entrance is under the bridge in a secluded alley accessible by an unassuming set of stairs from Tooley Street.
The London Bridge Experience revolves around the London Bridge, its use and its history, from the simple crossing the occupying Romans built for their provincial capital of Londinium, right up until to the establishment of the current modern concrete bridge opened by the Queen in the 1960’s to soothe London’s growing traffic levels.
It is not the scariest attraction in the world, but it comes tantalisingly close. Live actors are really absorbed in their roles and enthusiastically take you through a quick whistle-stop tour of the bridge’s history, including a ‘classroom tutorial’ of the morbidly venerable art of “hanging drawing and quartering”, complete with experimental corpse.
We felt our stomachs turn as a friendly butcher/entrepreneur allowed us to sit huddled in the pews of his humble chapel before trying to flog it to us for the respectable price of 200 guineas. For those not so deep in the pockets, there was always the option of freshly-caught skunk to sample, from his dingy 17th century meat shop.
You soon find yourself in the company of a mad scientist as you learn about the ‘Great Stink’ when London’s river Thames was heavily polluted with sewage and corpses of the poor. The stench was intense enough during summer to shut down Parliament and drive people out of the city. We passed though a ‘time tunnel’ with swirling rainbow lights and a metal walkway that yawled to one side, making you think it would completely upend itself and send you falling into the Twilight Zone. Fortunately I was able to hold down my chicken coronation sandwich, Mars drink and Boost bar with relative ease. Revolving vomit doth not make thyself very well-likede.
The London Tombs involves passing in a weird conga line through a series of dark tunnels and rooms, some resembling Chucky’s bedroom or the operation theatre of a defunct psychiatric ward. Decapitated heads and other bodily extremities suspended from the ceilings vie with spooky spiderwebs to scare the living crap out of you.
The guy in the tank top who went around armed with a revved-up chainsaw; while trying to hack off chunks out of us and 27 or so assorted foreign tourists deserves the award for most scary scene actor. I should get the award for bravest soul there. I was at the start of the conga line of doom and had to be the guinea-pig that bore the brunt of the demented noise, flashing lights and disfigured corpsey things that spewed from every dark musty corridor…I definitely needed that Dr. Pepper from the vending machine afterwards.
Apparently legend has it that the tourist hotspot was built over the graveyard of long-buried medieval townspeople, many of whose skeletons were discovered by builders working at the site. Human remains included the skulls of murderers and traitors who were beheaded and had their heads positioned on spikes as a warning to others.
Actors and other staff, as well as the London Tomb’s visitors, have reported sightings of spirits and even the ghoulish laughter of children deep beneath these labyrinthine catacombs.
Proceeding henceforth is some of the pictures I took around the venue and outside its premises, while I and my friend were killing time before the 4:00 pm start. Photography of the venue’s interior is forbidden and mobile phones have to be kept on silent, so I snapped everything of interest outside.
Comments in italics are comments I wrote for most of the photos when I posted them just now on Facebook. This is for the benefit of those who do not have me as a friend there but want to have a taste of my sometimes hilarious, sometimes stale sense of humour.
“The Funky Pigeon store at London Bridge station…I always thought these guys were strictly online!”
The outlet of the DIY greetings cards store Funky Pigeon built into an alcove at London Bridge tube and rail station.
“Hi, we’re Network Rail…welcome to our fine city…experience our five star service…with delays and engineering works unparalleled in the history of crappy transport management”
The rail network owner’s welcome sign greets the hundreds of thousands of visitors passing every month through the station’s turnstiles.
“Nearby rival the London Dungeons. Thankfully no West Ham vs. Millwall style fights broke out between the two venues”
Neighbouring attraction the London Dungeons, just a few yards down Tooley Street.
The ticket office where last-minute visitors pick up their ‘scare fares’. My mate had the intelligent foresight to buy our tickets online, at a slightly discounted price.
“Where Jigsaw goes to get tips….”
The Circus of Fear – one of the seasonal attractions that the London Tombs set up.
“If you’re scared sh**less, there’s always the option of a stiff manly JD and Coke.“
A local drinking establishment offering fine beverages and a few games of snooker.
The Shard – London’s tallest multi-purpose skyscraper. The venerated deity of the Half-Eaten Mind. The Blog’s very first post was on the life story of this edifice.
“The Shard…still being a Shard.”
Nearby advertising, tailor-fitted for the bridge!.
“Looks like a sick game”
A closer look at the bridge’s advertising hoarding. It is for the soon to be released fourth installment of the massively-popular Halo games series.
“A view across the Thames looking towards the docks of Shadwell, Poplar or some other ex-maritime dump.”
Looking towards the river Thames towards our beloved East London.
The river side leading towards Tower Bridge.
The sunset is clear and ethereal, I swivelled myself around to take this picture of the riverine skyline. Ignore the chavs in the foreground.
The London Bridge City office complex, a shining example of our city’s contemporary architectural finesse.
Another view of the same building, with its stairwell and courtyard. The mud of the Thames at low tide evokes a sharp reminder of the natural and man-made coexisting, yet entirely separable and worlds apart.
“I think that is HMS Belfast moored there, possibly for tomorrow’s Remembrance Day celebrations.“
The Thames is the lifeblood of London’s commerce and tourism industry. Indeed it was the training ground for Britain’s erstwhile empire-building might and it’s still very potent military prowess. I had never realised that ships ever required camouflage. I would have expected it to be blue or a silvery grey with some wave patterns for that extra special covert surveillance touch.
“A local haunt for skateboarders”
We witnessed some youths doing gnarly tricks with their skateboards next to this monument as well as a nearby multi-storey car park.
“Funky disco pavement.”
These LED lights formed a mysterious futuristic accessory to an otherwise drab London pavement – something more to be expected of Tokyo. It must be impossible for parents of young children to even get to the other end of the street such is the allurement of this feature…”Mum, Dad, look, Christmas lights, oh wow….I want one!“
“Entrance…to the Crypts. Cue thunderclaps and dramatic organ music”
A night time scene at a typical central London bus stop. Always packed as to be expected, but then the lights of the city invite people closer to its crazy flow and hedonism like eager moths to the light bulb of new experiences.
“Keyring with a real scorpion incarcerated in resin”
One of a couple of souvenirs I picked up from the gift shop at the end of the gruesome Tombs tour. There were also similar keyrings and necklaces with creatures trapped in the modern-day version of amber, ranging from metallic jewel beetles to chunkier scarabs. There were even desk paperweights with tarantulas in them. Sure to keep the Post-It thieves off of pillaging your workstation. Manufactured by Millennium Arts.
A spooky dogtag perched here on my denim-covered knee..a pun on those ubiquitous ” I Heart London/NY/Huckabees/my neighbour’s pot stash” T-shirts that were all the rage in the Nineties. The picture below has the same tag’s reverse side.
“All the style and PR power of a business card but without the sharp corners and paper cuts”
LONDON BRIDGE EXPERIENCE AND LONDON TOMBS