Arts & Culture

Britain’s most gruesome histories for Halloween

The UK is a very old country, full of history and heritage. We’ve had many moments of greatness, but scattered throughout our past are some dark secrets that come bubbling to the surface. Halloween is the time of year that these forgotten chronicles come back to haunt us all, whether you visit London or somewhere else in the UK. From witches to murderers, ghosts, and beheadings, our fair country has seen its fair share of the macabre, the ghoulish, and the spine-chilling.

Let’s explore some of Britain’s most gruesome histories, every one of which comes straight from the historical record. ‘Tis the season to be scared to death.

Jack the Ripper

jack the ripper tour

Of course, we couldn’t have a post about gruesome histories without our good old friend, Jack. This iconic serial killer stalked the streets of London in 1888 preying on working girls and anyone else who got in the way. ‘Jack’ was never caught, but in October 1888 the police received a mysterious letter entitled ‘From Hell’, along with half a kidney. The writer claimed to have devoured the other half, and signed off with the ominous words “catch me if you can”.

The Pendle Witches

Whether you believe in witchcraft or not, the fact that a multitude of people was executed for witchcraft in England is indisputable. Most famous amongst these are the Pendle witches who were executed by hanging at Lancaster Castle. The story goes that a young woman named Alizon Device tried to buy some pins from a merchant. When he refused to sell, she began shouting curses at him. As the merchant walked away, he collapsed suddenly to the ground with a mysterious malady. Convinced of her own powers, Alizon made a confession of witchcraft to her family. As the tale began to spread, more and more accusations were thrown, until ten people were found guilty and hanged. Gruesome, to say the least.

The Princes in the Tower

The princes of tower of London

Late medieval England was a time of tribulation and dark deeds. But amongst the most harrowing of tales, the true events of the Princes in the Tower stands tall.

The story goes that after King Edward IV passed away due to illness in 1843, his son Edward V was in line to take the throne. Due to the political turmoil of the time, the late King’s brother – Richard, Duke of Gloucester – decided to place the King and his brother in the Tower of London for ‘safekeeping’ in preparation for the forthcoming coronation. Much to Richard’s dismay, the two boys disappeared, never to be heard from again.

It wasn’t until 1674 that workmen digging at the Tower discovered a small wooden box containing the worm-eaten skeletons of two young boys. Could they be all that remains of the King and his brother? Nobody knows.

The Yorkshire Witch

Mary Bateman was executed in 1809 for fraud and witchcraft. The grizzly reality of her hanging is enough to creep out most of us, but it’s the events that happened before and after that that make her story one of the most ghoulish in British history. Mary was a talented con artist and managed to convince many of her victims that she had supernatural powers. One particularly gullible couple came to Mary complaining of a curse and asked her for a magical remedy. For reasons known only to herself, Mary began feeding the couple pudding which was laced with a slow-acting poison. Shortly after, the wife – Rebecca Perigo – died of a slow and painful sickness. Mary’s crime became so famous that, after she was hanged and drawn, the townsfolk began slicing off sections of her skin to keep as magical keepsakes. Some believed that her hide would ward off evil spirits.

Did you manage to keep reading all the way to the end? Well done! You’re brave enough to tackle the true London Halloween experience. For more scary stories from ages past, take a look at our Jack the Ripper tour – just in time for Halloween!