12 Gothic, Occult, Macabre And Unusual Things To Do In London
For those with gothic tastes there’s a myriad of unusual things to do in London that won’t require you to have the fabled wealth of Dorian Gray. From witch gardens and attic operating theatres to museums for the eternally curious, London has so many secrets to explore.
Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
Location: 11 Mare St, Dalston, London E8 4RP (nearest tube Bethnal Green)
Opening times: Open Wednesday – Sunday, noon – 10pm
Price: Entry to museum £5 (includes cup of tea and guide book)
Photos copyright: Oskar Proctor
Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors is both a gallery and shop. To enter its world is to walk into a cabinet of curiosities. Head off the beaten trail into the East End to find it – some destinations are worth the journey. Upstairs hosts the shop, gallery and tiny bar and cafe. Downstairs holds the museum. Oh, and what a museum it is!
Is it a shop? Is it a museum? No, it’s a cornucopia
In this haven of curiosities you’ll find everything from taxidermy and macabre items pickled in jars to ancient erotica, two-headed teddy bears and ceramics with a witch theme. Established by the Last Tuesday Society Chancellor, the “pataphysical” Viktor Wynd , the free gallery and the events held there are sumptuous, too. Previous exhibitions have included the works of Mervyn Peake of Gormenghast fame and the Surrealist Leonora Carrington. Upcoming exhibitions are set to include the works of occult artist Osman Austin Spare.
The museum’s aim is to create a Wunderkabinett that shows the visitor “a mirror to a world so suffused with miracles and beauty that any attempt at categorization is bound to fail”.
Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett
Location: 9a Saint Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY (nearest tube London Bridge)
Opening times: Open daily 10.35am – 5pm (closed between 18 March – July 2017 for refurbishments)
Price: Entry £3
Theatre model: David K. Solomans
The tools of a 19th century surgeon
The Old Herb Garrett
Europe’s oldest surviving operating theatre lies in the attic of a beautiful old 18thC Baroque church, incredibly close to London Bridge Station. It’s much more creepy and otherworldly than the London Dungeon nearby, and you’ll learn extraordinary things about the history of medicine and surgery. For example, surgeons were once rated by how quickly they could perform an amputation. Terrifying. That’s like saying lopping off your hair really quickly magically makes you a good hairdresser…
Those who have difficulty with mobility may struggle to climb the steep, tight spiral staircase to reach the operating theatre and herb garrett in the rafters of the church. If this is the case, contact the museum on 02071882679 or [email protected] to get more details on the exact nature of the climb.
The entry fee gives you access to the old operating theatre, with its old wooden ampitheatre. It also gives you access to the herb garrett. Imagine browsing the attic of a witch’s hut and that’s just what the herb garrett is like. You’ll find hanging dried herbs, skulls, potions and instruments you couldn’t begin to name without reading the notes of explanation. To quote Cronenberg’s uncomfortable film Dead Ringers, they have the unnerving aspect of “gynaeological instruments for mutant women”.
All in all, the herb garrett is pure witchery, with lashings of Victorian medicine to boot. There’s another world waiting for you at the top of those spiral stairs.
If you go and see the Old Operating Theatre there are plenty of other things to do in the area, too. You can sample hand-made noms in Borough Market, marvel at the Nemo-esque steampunk curves of The Navigators sculpture and offer personal libations to the Thames.
You can also visit the Crossbones Graveyard just down the road…
The Cross Bones Graveyard
Location: The Red Gates, Redcross Way, London SE1 (nearest tube London Bridge)
Opening times: Visits to the gates in Redcross Way 24/7. The garden is opened by volunteers most weekdays from 12 to 3pm. To check opening times, or to become a volunteer warden, please contact Bankside Open Space Trust (BOST) tel: 020 7403 3393 email: [email protected]
Website: Cross Bones Graveyard
On 23rd November 1996, the writer John Constable had a shamanic vision of a woman who called herself “The Goose”. She walked and talked with him, and led him to what she said was the location of an ancient paupers’ burial ground. The site she led him to in Redcross Way had only just been dug up during work on the Jubilee Line tube extension and was indeed a burial ground, though Constable had not known this at the time.
The Cross Bones Graveyard has links to the single women’s churchyard for medieval sex workers licensed by the church to work in brothels or “stews”. They were known as the Winchester Geese. Could the woman in Constable’s vision have been one of them, once?
The area has since been turned into a peaceful memorial garden, lovingly maintained by guerrilla gardeners in order to honour the burial of these medieval sex workers and all the other paupers buried there. The gates are strewn with ribbons, messages, and a plaque. Visitors are welcome to attend the monthly vigils where John Constable and his friends gather to commemorate, light candles, read poems and more.
If you get thirsty after your visit, just opposite lies an otherworldly old wine bar called The Boot and Flogger. It’s one of the few places in London where you can ask for a glass of white port.
Camden Stables Market
Location: Camden Market, Camden Lock Place, NW1 8AF (nearest tube Camden)
Opening times: 10AM until late
Price: Free to enter, but you must spend all your coin and leave your soul at the gates as you leave
The Arc – vintage clothing at Camden Market
To reach the Camden Stables Market, come out of Camden Tube, follow the crowds and walk up to the bridge over the canal. You’ll pass countless shops which used to only sell goth Matrix coats and PVC or tartan trousers, but have now expanded their range to include vintage clothing too. You might also spy street art like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with actors in full costume on your way. No matter. The Camden Catacombs lie ahead…
The Camden Stables Market (also known as the Camden Catacombs) is a maze of shops and stalls, spread across an interlocking system of tunnels and ramps and walkways. The crowds and the air of celebration make it all feel like a pilgrimage for those of the gothic and alternative persuasion. There’s a lot of turnover in the Camden shops but some of them have been there for decades, supported by loyal customers and an eternal need for their wares. Cyberdog still reigns, as it has for years, as a haven of technogoth clubwear. The Arc specialises in 1940s and 1950s vintage clothing, with amazing patterns and styles to riffle through. Collectif is also good for retro glamour.
Assailed by the scents of shisha bars and street food stalls, you can hunt down unusual trinkets, antiques and alternative fashion for all genders, from trad goth to steampunk. It’s a great place to buy top hats, pocket watches, goggles, Doc Martens or the kind of steampunk wedding dress you plan to wear every day after the main event.
If you’re hungry, the vegan falafels from Magic Falafel are always a treat, and there’s a vibrant range of bubble teas at Chaboba. We also recommend Europe’s first liquid nitro ice cream served up by the lovely people at Chin Chin Labs.
Make a long day of it, and you can make an evening of it too with numerous pubs and music/club venues like The Underworld and The Electric Ballroom. See more tips on what to do in Camden on Mookychick.
Saint Bartholemew’s Hospital Pathology Museum
Location: 3rd Floor, Robin Brook Centre, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, W Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE
Opening times: By appointment only (or attend its many events)
Price: Varies by event
Carla Valentine at Saint Bart’s Pathology Museum
The pathology museum of London’s oldest hosptial houses over 5,000 medical specimens. This incredible museum can only be seen by appointment, but the very best way to explore it is to attend one of the many events held there.
Deliciously creepy events at Saint Bart’s Pathology Museum
They often do Valentine’s specials (such as Hearts at Barts, a workshop to learn the techniques used to preserve human specimens in pathology today). They also frequently run taxidermy workshops with the likes of Stuff and Nonsense and Amanda’s Autopsies, which we have had the pleasure to attend.
The museum’s appeal and visibility has been wonderfully maintained and grown by its Technical Assistant Curator Carla Valentine, author of Post Mortems. Read our interview with Carla on her work as a mortuary technician!
Location: Swain’s Lane, London N6 6PJ (nearest tube Archway)
Opening times: East Cemetery open Mon-Fri 10am to 5pm, weekends 11am to 5pm. West Cemetery is only open for guided tours.
Price: £4 entry to East Cemetery, £12 tour of West Cemetery
Photo: Andy Dolman
Photo: Scott Wylie
Along with Abney Park, Highgate Cemetery is considered to be the most beautiful Victorian cemetery in London. Victorian culture placed a focus on commemorating death. Victorian weekend leisure activities included dressing in one’s best to promenade through the cemetery and enjoy its tranquility while thinking suitably sombre thoughts. As a result, the cemetery is full of notable figures, atmospheric architecture and a general air of reflection.
The East Cemetery is home to the graves of George Eliot and Karl Max, among others. The West Cemetery, accessible only by guided tour, houses a funerary chapel, terrace catacombs and the famous Egyptian Avenue – an avenue of tombs flanked by towering obelisks.
The Highgate Vampire
As an aside, Highgate cemetery also has its very own vampire legend. Notorious self-styled modern-day vampire hunter Sean Manchester claims, in his book The Highgate Vampire, that he chased the vampire to its graveyard lair whereupon it “transformed into a giant spider” and he plunged a stake through its heart. The tour guides will not thank you for bringing up any mentions of Sean Manchester.
Location: Angels Costumes, 1 Garrick Road, London NW9 6AA (nearest tube Leicester Square)
Opening times: Email [email protected] to learn more about tour times this year.
Price: £20 tour entry
Cosplayers and crafters alert! Angels Fancy Dress, the renowned costume company handling costume design for Star Wars, Doctor Who and many more, has opened eight miles of costumes to the public. They have also announced new cosplay lines. Wander through a fantasy land of costumes you’ve already probably seen on the big and small screen. Ask the knowledgeable and passionate tour guides anything you like. Pick things up and try them on. If you love art and textiles and design, this tour will fill your eyes.
Wellcome Collection and Library
Location: 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE (nearest tube Warren Street)
Opening times: Closed on Monday. Thursdays 10 am – 10pm. Sundays 11am – 6pm. All other days 10am – 6pm.
Price: Free / price varies
Wellcome Images: Delia Du Sol, Contortionist, performs in the Superhuman exhibition at Wellcome Collection (2012).
Are you interested in humanity and the workings of the mind? The Wellcome Collection bills itself as a “free visitor destination for the incurably curious”. They always host one temporary exhibition or another.
The themes are eclectic, ranging from the history of madness and mental health to what happens to our buried bones and how burial has affected communities over time. As part of LGBT History Month, they’ve been exploring the relationship between two 18th century women known as “the Ladies of Llangollen”.
There’s always a reason to walk in and explore, not least its exquisite reading room and the Wellcome Library housing over 750,000 books and manuscripts. There are always fascinating upcoming paid events and talks to choose from, too. One’s only regret is that it would take a lifetime to attend them all. The Wellcome Collection is named after Sir Henry Wellcome, a man so passionate about science and medicine that his collection amassed over a million objects.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Location: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP (nearest tube Holborn)
Opening times: Tuesday-Saturday, 10am – 5pm
Sir John Soane was a Freemason and an architect with a unique sense of style who built the Bank of England. He bought a house as a museum space in which to house his unusual collection of Roman marbles and much more, displaying them creatively rather than with any set categories in mind. Each room is a work of art in its own right. The key focus is, perhaps, the sarcophogus of King Seti I. New ‘Lost’ spaces in the museum have been recreated in 2016 including the Catacombs.
On the first Tuesday of every month, you can visit 6-9pm and explore the museum by candlelight. Be warned, this is such an atmospheric experience that word of its glory has got around. Be one of the first 200 people in the queue from 5.30pm to guarantee entry.
Chelsea Physic Garden – A Paradise For The Botanical Witch
Location: 66 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4HS (nearest tube Sloane Square)
Opening times: Winter season: Monday – Friday 11am-3pm. Main season: Monday – Friday and Sundays 11am – 6pm.
Price: Around £7.40 (£4.90 concs.) in the winter season and £10.50 (£6.95) in the main season from 2 April – 29 October
Chelsea Physic Garden isthe perfect destination for an apothecary trip with your coven. A secret refuge of green, Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to train apprentices in the medicinal art of plants. It is the oldest botanic garden in London, and features a huge collection of greenery that has been used to heal for thousands of years.
Why is it a haven for witchfolk? Here’s a (figurative) taste of what you’ll find…
Plants used in witchcraft growing in Chelsea Physic Garden
- Atropa belladonna (Deadly Nightshade)
- Datura stramonium (Datura)
- Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane)
- Mandragora officinarum (Mandrake)
Quite a list! You won’t find any Amanita Muscaria, sadly. On the upside, there are are also areas of the garden dedicated to plant medicine around the world, including those of Native American and Maori cultures. It’s not just European botanical specimens that are grown and cared for here. You can also buy honey produced by industrious bees in the beehives just behind the garden, and rest up in the garden cafe.
Aside from all the green knowledge stored in the Chelsea Physic Garden’s walls, it’s a lovely place to spend time looking at pretties and breathing in the air. It’s called a ‘Physic’ Garden bfor a reason. Gardens such as these were intended to make a personal feel better simply by being in them.
Occult Bookshops in London
Bookshops featured: Treadwells Bookshop, Watkins Books, Atlantis Books, Mysteries
Locations: West End (nearest tubes Leicester Square, Tottenham Court and Goodge Street)
The Sacrificial Universe by D. Chaim Smith
London has four Justified and Ancient occult bookshops with an impressive pedigree. You can get lost in them for hours.
Location: 33 Store St, Fitzrovia, London WC1E 7BS (nearest tube Goodge Street)
Watkins Bookshop was founded in 2003 by Christina Oakley Harrington, a shining light in the occult community. Its eclectic and welcoming store staff come from a range of backgrounds, and you can expect a fully inclusive vibe here.
Treadwells is renowned for its diversity and its informative and empowering events and workshops.
Current visitors can also enjoy the original fireplace of Pamela Colman Smith, artist for the Smith-Waite tarot deck (also known as the Rider Waite tarot deck, but surely the artist should be acknowledged in the title of this beloved deck). The fireplace has been erected in the shop as a kind of shrine. Just imagine the conversations Colman Smith would have had there, basking in the warmth of the fire with her friends!
Location: 19-21 Cecil Ct, London WC2N 4EZ (nearest tube Leicester Square)
Watkins Bookshop was opened in 1893 and promoted as a “University of Rejected Sciences”. Some key names in occult history have walked through its doors. We’re talking Aleister Crowley, MacGregor Mathers and W.B. Yeats (not only a poet but also a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn). The staff are knowledgeable and passionate – often quite opinionated if you get chatting to them, too. You’ll find new and antiquarian titles, along with Tarot decks, personal talisman and a regularly updated collection of hand-made statues for sale. Events are regularly hosted there.
Location: 49a Museum Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 1LY (nearest tube Tottenham Court Road)
Atlantis is London’s oldest independent occult bookshop. It sells new and secondhand books on paganism, spirituality and the occult covering everything from fairies and vampires to psychology and hermetic magic. Atlantis hosts numerous workshops and events (including, in the past, The Moot With No Name). It even has its own imprint, Neptune Press. It’s so close to the British Museum that if you visit one, it would be rude not to visit the other.
Location: 34 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9PX (nearest tube Leicester Square)
If you’re seeking the New Age hub of London, Mysteries is it. They stock a vast array of Tarot and Oracle cards, crystals, pendulums, scented candles in all colours, incense and magical tools… you name it. They also offer one-to-one psychic readings. Anything you can think of that’s related to Mind, Body and Spirit, they probably stock. Oh, and you’ll find books in there, too.
Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden
Location: Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden (nearest tube Covent Garden)
Neal’s Yard is a small and brightly-coloured haven from the tourist crush of Covent Garden. It’s a small courtyard and even smaller alleyway hosting a microcosm of alternative businesses. There’s the expensive (but delicious) raw food cafe. There’s the Neal’s Yard Remedies shop with its iconic blue glass bottles. The backrub walk-in will help you feel better all over after just ten minutes. The coffee emporium also serves vegan chai and savoury porridge, with lots of eclectic seating outside. And the hairdressers, Hair by Fairy, need a special mention too. Hair dye in bright colours is their speciality, and at £20 a shampoo and cut (not including blow dry) the prices are good value.
If you’re seekig the eye of the Covent Garden storm, Neal’s Yard is it. Although it’s a series of businesses, it was all built up from communal ideals in the 1970s and has a family feel.
More Unusual Things to do in London
There is so much more to explore for intrepid folk, from the fabulously bad taxidermy in the Horniman Museum to London’s first cat cafe and the ancient Mithras temple. There are so many regular events to attend, too. Anything devised by The Last Tuesday Society or Art Macabre is sure to be a blast.
Witches, warlocks, night wights and wanderers… if you have further recommendations, let us know on Twitter via @mookychick!