Published On: Sat, Sep 16th, 2023
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‘I’m an expert on dark tourism – here are six of the most chilling days out in the UK’ | UK | News

Twin towers

Britain’s dark tourism sites offer an insight into our ‘heritage of hurt’, an expert says (Image: Getty)

The site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Ground Zero, Pompeii and Hiroshima are recognised as being among the world’s top dark tourism destinations.

Britain too has a range of places synonymous with death and disaster which have drawn crowds of visitors, including a crypt full of skulls in Kent, a plague village in Derbyshire and a monument to the country’s last “sin eater”.

On the appeal of such places, Dr Philip Stone, founder and executive director of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research at the University of Central Lancashire, said people are drawn to stories of those who came before us.

He told “When we visit these places, it’s the ordinary dead who become significant. We see ourselves. The dead gaze back at us and warn us of our fragility, follies and misfortunes.

“They are guardians of the living and we protect them to tell stories of our difficult past.”

A view taken 26 May 2003 of the ghost to

The ghost town of Prypyat, next to the Chernobyl nuclear site (Image: Getty)

Described by Dr Stone as “heritage that hurts”, dark tourism sites continue a fascination with the macabre which stretches back to Victorian times and beyond.

One place which has haunted the popular imagination since the 19th century is Whitechapel in London’s East End where Jack the Ripper is believed to have murdered at least five women.

There are now a variety of walking tours around the serial killer’s haunts as well as the Jack the Ripper Museum.

It includes a mocked-up morgue with shrines to five of the victims: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.

There are also shrines to three other women suspected of being killed by Jack the Ripper: Emma Elizabeth Smith, Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles.

In the dimly-lit streets of Victorian London the notorious Jack the Ripper stands over his latest victim

Actors portray Jack the Ripper and one of his victims (Image: Getty)

Slave trade Etchings from the 19th century Transport of slaves on a vessel from Liverpool - colored etching - around 1800

An etching of a slave trade ship from the 19th century (Image: Getty)

Britain’s slave trade history is another pull for dark tourists with places which were once centres of the brutal business now offering insights into the stories of those who were enslaved.

Dr Stone said: “One of the big things we often miss, and is part of our DNA, is our slavery connections. We remember what we want to, celebrating the abolition of slavery rather than our being a key player.

“The focus has been on us being the good guys. Dark tourism provides another narrative for people to consume.”

Cities with links to slavery are now addressing this gap, with Liverpool now home to the International Slavery Museum and Bristol’s M Shed venue offering an insight into the city’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Dr Stone, author of 111 Dark Places in England That You Shouldn’t Miss, added: “Dark tourism shines a light on our dark recesses. If it doesn’t, we’re just repeating the same mistakes over and over again.”


The plague village of Eyam (Image: Getty)

The village of Eyam in Derbyshire’s Peak District has long been famous for locking itself down during the Black Death.

A plague outbreak was contained when the villagers isolated themselves from surrounding villages, resulting in the deaths of many inhabitants.

Some of the villagers survived thanks to their genetic make-up and natural immunity to the deadly disease with descendants of this line still in Eyam to this day.

In nearby Shropshire stands a monument to the country’s last known “sin-eater”, Richard Munslow, who was buried in 1906.

His unusual occupation was to eat his meals over a corpse in the belief that by doing to he would “consume” the unconfessed sins of the dead and thus free them from punishment.

Tower London in England

A raven perched on a railing at the Tower of London (Image: Getty)

With a country with a history as long as Britain’s, it is perhaps little surprise that there are so many dark tourism sites to visit, but arguably the most famous is the Tower of London.

The royal fortress was once a place of torture and execution with its earliest fortifications dating back to William the Conqueror.

Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Sir Thomas More are among those who met a grisly end here, while those imprisoned behind the tower’s thick walls include Elizabeth I, Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Death also haunts the walls of St. Leonard’s Ossuary in Hythe, Kent, where the skulls of more than 1,000 people are kept.

It is the largest known collection of human skulls in the country although mystery surrounds where they came from and there are various theories about who the people were.

Dr Stone’s 111 Dark Places in England That You Shouldn’t Miss is available on Amazon.

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