London is no stranger to mystery – beneath the veneer of great British charm and the throng of iconic landmarks lie some truly bizarre and unexpected sights. From shrunken heads to monster warehouses, the metropolis is certainly home to its fair share of cultural perversities and oddities… If you, like me, are an avid hunter of all things weird and wonderful, then this one’s for you.
1. A BUDDHIST TEMPLE
Let’s be honest, London is not the most architecturally astonishing city, nor is it the most peaceful. Yet, hidden in the depths of residential Wimbledon resides London’s most tranquil and barely known spot – the magnificent Buddhapadipa temple, the first of its kind to be built in the city. Standing in front of the spectacularly decorated grand temple will make you feel as if you’ve been transplanted right into the heart of Thailand, not as if you’d just stumbled off the bus in the middle of picket fence suburbia.
The temple grounds are graced with beautiful gardens, home to a myriad of shrines and wind chimes that lull you into a state of serenity, and through which you will cross paths with monks wearing saffron robes. The pathways are signposted with inspirational quotes to help navigate your path to enlightenment before you step into the incredibly beautiful temple. The Buddhapadipa is free and open to all members of the public, regardless of religion or belief, and has a highly welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Truly, such a visual wonder and slice of serenity feels like an undiscovered treasure in such a dynamic city.
14 Calonne Road, Wimbledon, London SW19 5HJ
2. EVANS AND PEEL DETECTIVE AGENCY
Imagine that, on a night out, you come across a highly clandestine location in central London. Find yourself face-to-face with a real detective. Get interrogated about your case. And, if your case is deemed successful, you are led through a secret bookcase into a very secretive cocktail bar…
This so-called “detective agency” unveils the surreptitious world of illicit drinking in the era of alcohol prohibition. The bar offers a dramatic venture into a time where the pursuit of alcoholic thrills was highly punishable, and where drinking was considered to be a sin reaping dire consequences. After the initial interrogations and being seated in the perplexing darkness amongst the bespoke 1920s themed furnishings, you can enjoy any number of bizarre and unique cocktails. But, in order to fully profit from your newfound status as a sly delinquent, you must accept the bar’s strict request for confidentiality. Secrecy is this bar’s utmost priority, and thus they ask members to be wary of drawing ‘unwanted attention’ to their charming, dimly lit bar.
310c Earls Court Road, Kensington, London SW5 9BA
3. A SUPPLY SHOP FOR MONSTERS
London is apparently the dwelling of a variety of beasts, and must therefore cater to an enormous amount of different dietary needs. Hoxton Street Monster’s Supplies exists for the sole purpose of topping up a monster’s dwindling supply of Cubed Earwax and Fang Gloss. They specialise in producing only the most crucial of ingredients and delicacies for all sub-human species, though are not wholly exclusive of humankind.
The store is actually part of a larger project, the Ministry of Stories, which is the brainchild of the award-winning author Nick Hornby, and seeks to embellish young imaginations with the power of storytelling. Stylised to hold an old fashioned finesse and promoting goods of exquisite quality, their curious collection of delights will make lovable gifts for any biped with a sense of humour. The shop itself is absolutely worth a visit, if only to browse the supply of ghoulish products on offer. Such a peculiar little shop is without a doubt the last thing you’d expect to find nestled into Hoxton.
159 Hoxton Street, London N1 6PJ
4. KARL MARX’S HEAD
Where else can one pay their respects to the great father of Marxism and the enormous stone bust of his physiognomy? Highgate Cemetery maintains the monument of the great political thinker, worthy of a visit if not to merely bask in the glory of his fabulous mane and full-flowing beard.
Highgate cemetery is also the final stop for many celebrated authors, artists and politicians. Visitors typically lay disused pens upon Douglas Adam’s grave (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or celebrate the legacy of their favourite comrade with red roses. You can also access the West Cemetery via a guided tour and see some of the most beautiful and impressive mausoleums bedecked in ivy throughout the year. Whilst there is considerable charm and poignancy about this graveyard, stumbling upon Marx’s towering monument amidst a plot of regular graves is considerably startling.
Swain’s Lane, Highgate, London N6 6PJ
5. SEVEN SCATTERED NOSES
Legend has it that if you discover each of the seven hidden noses in Soho, you will obtain endless riches. Evidently, not many have succeeded. Whilst a whole variety of myths surround the sculpted noses, the truth is that they were actually dotted around London by the artist Rick Buckley in 1997. Buckley was highly critical of the infestation of CCTV cameras that had spread across London, and so decided to mount the noses directly below the cameras as a practical joke. His plans were intentionally never publicized, to see if the noses would merely go undetected by the powers that be. Unfortunately, a lot of them were found and consequently removed.
Finding all seven remaining noses is one of the most difficult urban treasure hunts imaginable. The noses are small and merge with their surroundings, making many notoriously difficult to find. There are even rumours that there is also an eighth nose still in existence. But, at least if you ever do find yourself in London and happen across a single nose attached to a wall, you will now know exactly why it’s there.
6. HAUNTED DOLLS
Pollock’s Toy Museum is a little museum tucked away from the buzz of central London, dedicated to the mysteries and splendors of childhood – which, I may add, include some truly terrifying toys. The museum is one of the city’s best kept secrets, housing the world’s oldest teddy bear amongst other delightful games, soft toys and antique doll houses. The museum is splendid for reveling in nostalgia or ogling at the lineage of children’s toys both past and present, as well as to see the evolution of playthings through time. However, many of the museum’s dolls do veer on the slightly more sinister side, and some can be truly nightmarish. There is indeed something decidedly creepy about the assortment of old-fashioned toys ogling you in this small museum with narrow, creaking floorboards…
1 Scala Street, Bloomsbury, London W1T 2HL
7. A DEAD BODY… IN A UNIVERSITY
Upon the event of his death, Jeremy Bentham wished to have his body preserved and encased at the University College London. At first glance, you’d think you were looking at a wax model or statue dedicated to the memory of one of the founders of the University. Bentham’s skeleton was to sit on a chair in a well-tailored suit… with his head resting by his feet. Unfortunately, the somewhat grotesque waxen head has since been removed and is kept in a safe on the university’s campus in order to ensure its conservation. Hundreds of students pass the cadaver of this historical figure every day, and his somewhat benevolent spirit and legacy has lived on within the University since 1836.
South Cloisters, UCL Campus, Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6BT
8. A 7ft7 SKELETON
If you ever feel the need to take a detour from the conventional historical museums of London in order to satisfy your desire to see animal foetuses in formaldehyde, drop by the Hunterian Museum. The museum holds a collection of the most bizarre, curious and otherwise downright disgusting anatomical parts of various species, ranging from human hands to monkey heads. Accumulated mostly by the morally questionable surgeon John Hunter, the museum is utterly brimming with specimens and instruments on show dating from the 17th century onward. It is most famous, however, for featuring the preserved 7ft7 skeleton of the infamous ‘Irish Giant.’
Charles Byrne, who died in 1783, was a cultural curiosity in London in his time. Byrne didn’t particularly want to have his body dissected by John Hunter. Controversially, Hunter plotted to have Byrne’s corpse stolen as it was being shipped out to sea. Hunter then went on to display the giant’s skeleton in his museum, which unsurprisingly aroused a huge scandal regarding the ethics of having a man’s burial wishes violated. Nevertheless, the museum is a great place to become perplexed by the history of medicine and a splendidly indulgent visit if you are in need of something utterly stomach-churning, though not recommended for the faint-hearted.
Royal College of Surgeons of 35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
9. JURASSIC PARK
London has its very own Jurassic Park in Crystal Palace Park, a collection of sculptures of dinosaurs made by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins that have lived amongst the beautiful greenery since 1854. The sculptures were the first full-scale models to be made of dinosaurs and drew millions of excited viewers in their heyday.
Unfortunately, the evolution of scientific knowledge discovered that the scale of these prehistoric beasts was, in fact, extremely far off. What is now considered to be a slightly endearing inaccuracy caused the dinosaurs to become a source of utter ridicule in their time. In this day and age, the dinosaurs rather resemble statues in the relics of an abandoned theme park, rather than Grade 1 listed monuments (meaning they are considered a site of great importance.) They now remain a somewhat unexpected addition to one of London’s most famous parks.
13 Orchard Grove, London SE20 8DN
10. A MUMMIFIED MERMAID
The Last Tuesday Society is perhaps the most iconic museum you’ve never heard of. The eccentric Viktor Wynd collects an assortment of the most weird and wonderful treasures to entice the many weirdoes of London. To be found are taxidermised fairies, shrunken heads, a cabinet from the occult, the jawbone of a noble Dandy of London and a two-headed lamb. The museum also welcomes gruesome cocktail parties at their table lying directly beneath a screaming mummified mermaid.
Viktor Wynd possesses a particular fondness for the slightly more unsavoury, and has particular proclivities towards the actual excrement and waste of celebrities, displaying a jar of Russel Crowe’s urine alongside Madonna’s used sanitary towel. Wynd actually offers pretty handsome compensation to anyone who is willing to hunt down celebrity’s poop, with a price range varying dependent on whether it comes from an A-lister or not. For the entry price of five pounds, you are invited to browse the strange little rooms brimming with oddities and to drink a cup of tea from their china teacups, whilst seated beside their giant stuffed lion. A visit to the Last Tuesday Society is truly a rite of passage for any Londoner, and yet remains dreadfully underrated in the city.
11 Mare Street Dalston, London E8 4RP