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The London Dungeon Christmas countdown!

  • Wednesday December 13th 2023

Shrek 37

As the festive season approaches and the air fills with the scent of mulled wine and dazzling lights, it's easy to forget that beneath the surface of London's charming history lies a darker, more sinister past. The London Dungeon, known for its gruesome tales, takes you on a Christmas countdown and unwraps 12 horrible Christmas facts that will send shivers down your spine and make you see London in a whole new light.

1. The 1918 Christmas pandemic

In 1918, London began preparing for the first Christmas without a war in four years! Unfortunately, this was also the time of one of the worst pandemics since the Black Death! Around a quarter of Brits were ill with the influenza virus, and around 225,000 people died – most in the weeks leading up to Christmas! Christmas festivities were marred by fear, casting a shadow on what should have been a festive time.

At the time, medical facilities were not prepared for the rapid spread and responses to the virus were slow. The government suggested that individuals showing signs of influenza isolated from healthy people, cinemas were closed, and oral disinfections were distributed. However, unlike the COVID-19 pandemic – mask wearing was not on the list of recommendations.

As the pandemic continued, hospitals began to get overwhelmed as many nurses and doctors had been sourced out during the war efforts. It made for a very gruesome Christmas as burials were also disrupted due to casket shortages.


2. The Great Stink

During July and August 1858, the smell of human waste ravaged the city of London. The River Thames has been used as a dumping ground for rubbish and sewage for centuries, but unfortunately, as the population grew, the problem became even worse, particularly in the 19th century, due to a lack of planned housing. This resulted in “The Great Stink” during the summer months, which trickled into Christmas time and caused mass destruction and smelly Christmas dinners.


3. A Newgate Christmas

December is typically a period full of yummy treats, sweet Christmas carols, and lots of family time. Unfortunately, this was not the case for the inmates of the famous former prison, Newgate Prison. This prison was once located on the corner of Newgate and Old Bailey Street in London. It was considered the most notorious prison in London and for around 600 years, was famous for its appalling conditions. It was believed that the prison was so dirty that the floors crunched when you walked on them due to all the bedbugs and lice. Christmas in the cells meant facing the reality of execution, inedible food, and poor hygiene. Casting a shadow over any festive spirit.


4. Christmas beheadings

London is no stranger to gruesome history, before the death penalty was abolished in 1965, executions were incredibly common and have long been remembered in popular culture today. The theory was that beheading made for a quicker death; however, it was usually reserved for the upper class. Christmas day was no exception and surprisingly, public beheadings became a popular form of entertainment to bring in the festivities on Christmas day between the 12th and 19th Century.


5. Rat infested Tudor feasts

Food hygiene standards were incredibly poor during the Tudor period and the Tudors generally acknowledged the link between disease and dirt. Restaurants regularly received complaints about the poor quality of their food and bad hygiene meant an already rat-infested London, began to impact the kitchen and dining areas of many establishments. During the Tudor period, lavish feasts were common with large arrays of curated meats, venison, unusual items including conger eels, and lots of sweet dishes. However, it was not uncommon to see a rat, or three running around the skirting boards in the dining areas of wealthy families during their Christmas feasts, searching for crumbs and other delicious droppings.


6. Christmas Carolling turned dark

The Tudors had a huge impact on many of the Christmas traditions we see today including Christmas carols. At the time, society was very religious, and a lot of Christmas carols were around the Nativity story detailing the birth of Jesus Christ. However, there was a darker side to Christmas carolling during this period. In line with tradition, groups of friends and families would often spread the Christmas cheer, by going door-to-door to sing to their neighbours. However, some people used this as an opportunity to threaten and blackmail each other – especially threatening the wealthy. Adding a strangely dark twist to the typically joyous experience.


7. The Great Smog

The Great Smog of London was a lethal smog that covered the city between the 5th to the 9th of December 1952. Pollution and high-pressure water conditions were largely responsible for this, but the smoke and smog brought London to a standstill. This became a holiday horror as roughly around 4000 people died! However, it’s reported that the numbers may have been much higher than this. A lot of people developed breathing problems as a result and travel was disrupted for days, leading to a stressful and rather grim Christmas for those who lost loved ones and suffered from smog-related health issues.


8. Christmas Blitz

The Blitz is the term used to commonly describe the German bombing campaign against the UK in the 1940s. In the autumn of 1940, the Blitz began to spread to other regions in England, including Northern cities such as Manchester. The raids had a devastating impact on commercial centres and residential areas. Manchester was hit by 2 horrendous nights of air raids in December 1940, commonly referred to as the “Christmas Blitz”. This put a dark twist on the festive period as around 684 people died and more than 2000 were injured.


9. The Workhouse Christmas

During the Victorian period, workhouses were used as an institution that was supposed to provide work and shelter for the poor. Unfortunately for many, workhouses became prison-like, workers had to wear uniforms, children were separated from their families and many Londoners spent their festive period in these poor institutions. This stark contrast between the poor and the wealthy was a huge reminder of the social inequality that existed. The institutions forced children to work long hours, and many suffered from malnutrition, neglect, and physical abuse.


10. Satanic Christmas market

The Satanic Anti-Christmas market located in Electrowerkz nightclub takes visitors back to Christmas’s pre-Christian roots with a Satanic Saturday fiesta. Those who are allergic to tinsel and festivities will relish in the variety of gruesome tarot cards, witch-inspired fashion, taxidermy, and spell books! There’s even human skulls on display. This event is on every year with the dates already out for 2024, don’t miss out


11. Meet Krampus

Krampus is the name given to the horrific Christmas beast, who punishes children for being naughty. The half-man, half-ogre has been part of Austria’s folk tales for decades. Adults will dress up as Krampus and visit children’s homes to frighten them and generally spread a bit of festive fear. This tradition has now been brought to England with many Krampus parades taking place all over the country. A Facebook group has also been created called “Krampus Society of London” – where dedicated members can sign up to help spread the legend of Krampus, the yuletide goat beast, and bring the fairy tale to life.


12. The Christmas kiss of death

Kissing under the mistletoe is a well-known holiday tradition, symbolising love, and romance! The lovely act reminds us to slow down and take a break from the hustle and bustle of life and show appreciation to those we love. However, in medieval London, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe took a darker turn – unknown to many – the berries were toxic and led to many casualties during the festive period!


Have a very Dungeon Christmas!

As we count down the days to Christmas, let’s not forget the chilling tales that lurk beneath the tinsel and festive trees. The London Dungeon Christmas Countdown sheds light on the city's dark past and Christmas traditions, adding a twist to the holiday season.

We wish you a very Dungeon Christmas and a horrible New Year!