For the morbidly curious (that’d be me), the words ‘death’ and ‘tour’ in the same sentence are like music to the ears; throw in the word ‘debauchery’ and I’m easy like Sunday morning. So, when the kind people at Insider London offered me the chance to experience one of their quirky tours, this option immediately jumped out from the list.
As it happened, I couldn’t have made a better choice, because Death and Debauchery is the ultimate experience for anyone with an anatomical fixation, an interest in social history or a desire to know about the grimier side of life in one of the world’s most famous cities.
Whilst I’ve never been a London resident, I do consider myself to be fairly well grounded in the history of the place, as I’ve spent most of my life just an hour away from it by train. Aside from this, I love reading well-researched London-centric historical novels (Edward Rutherfurd’s London is a prime example, which I devoured aged ten). However, in the company of our group tour guide, Michelle, I felt like I’d missed out loads in my education of the city until now.
She knew everything, and I mean everything, from the origins of the biggest slum to the story of the first graveyard for plague victims. We walked along well-kept streets and were told of their brutal beginnings as the sites of executions, suicide attempts, beer floods and ghost sightings, bringing us right back into the past with detailed explanations. We stopped outside the brilliant Hunterian Museum, which I’ve visited before, and I waxed lyrical about its contents to the rest of the group.
As well as this, we learned about the reasons behind gin becoming not just ‘mother’s ruin’, but the ruin of men and children, too, and I realised that today’s headlines of alcopop-chugging teens have nothing on the stories of lives left in gin-soaked tatters around Seven Dials.
Michelle also took the time to entertain a young girl in the group who was particularly interested in ghosts, and they compared spooky stories as we walked along Aldwych. This was a tour that you could access on so many levels, whether you were a believer in the supernatural and the mysterious or a stickler for historical accuracy.
On a technical note, the company delivered on every point that was advertised on the site, which is a big tick in my book (especially when compared to my Jack the Ripper tour with Celebrity Planet, where the site’s copywriting technique oversold the experience and left me feeling cheated).
Insider London offered a more personable and in-depth experience, taking in plenty of sights and leaving me with a shed-load of facts that I’d never known before. Having had my curiosity well and truly piqued, I’ve been inspired me to look up quite a few of the people and places that I learned about, so that I can develop my London knowledge even further. Amazon’s historical section won’t know what’s hit it.
I’m also determined to visit a restaurant that we passed, called Sarastro, which is dripping in flowers and trailing ivy and sits just on Drury Lane. Next to it is a funeral parlour called Happy-Go-Lucky – see, even when something isn’t on the tour agenda, it can still fit with the deadly theme. Now that’s uncanny.
I wholeheartedly recommend getting your fix of morbidity when you’re in London, as the city has so many fascinating and often tragic stories to tell. Once you see behind the modern layers of respectability, you won’t believe the secrets these streets have been hiding.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Insider London on their Death and Debauchery tour. If you wish to follow in my footsteps, it costs £20 per person and lasts approximately two hours. You can either book to join a group or arrange a private tour at your convenience. Whilst the experience was provided for me to review, as ever, all views are my own.