The London Dungeon – tourist experience

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The London Dungeon is a popular London tourist attraction, which recreates various gory and macabre historical events in a gallows humour style aimed at younger audiences. It uses a mixture of live actors, special effects and rides.

Opening in 1974, in Tooley Street, near London Bridge, it was initially designed as a museum of macabre history, but the Dungeon has evolved to become an actor-led, interactive experience. The Dungeon is operated by Merlin Entertainments.

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The first segment is set in the pre-18th Century crypt of All Hallows Church, where an actor introduces themselves as the “crypt keeper”. Opening the crypt entrance, visitors are led into the 2nd segement, the “Labyrinth of Lost Souls”, a mirror maze inhabited by a skeleton shaking a metal gate, and a woman in black in a rocking chair.

The third segment is set in 1665 during the Great Plague of London, where the city, scattered with decaying bodies, is depicted as having succumbed to bubonic plague. Visitors meet a “survivor” of the plague, who describes the situation and leads the visitors down a dilapidated street filled with cries of pain, the tolling of bells and calls of “Bring out yer dead!.

The fourth segment is set in the Great Fire of London in 1666, where visitors stand inside a small room themed to the Pudding Lane bakery. A short educational film, previously narrated by Tom Baker and featuring Thomas Farynor (owner of the bakery), explains the events. As the film plays on, smoke effects and smells are piped through the bakery room…

The fifth segment – “Blood & Guts” – takes place within a surgery, where a doctor operates on a stolen dead body: pulling out the intestines, the bladder (which squirts supposed urine at the audience) and the heart. A visitor, chosen at random and normally male, is then “operated” upon. This involved supposedly being trepanned, undergoing bloodletting, and having a hand amputated, during which air jets and water are used.

 

The Torture Chamber is the most advertised exhibit in the Dungeon. The torturer line up the ‘prisoners’ against a wall and picks out a visitor (usually male). The visitor is strapped in to a chair surrounded by torture devices, such as a red-hot tongue puller, neck hook, jaw-breaker and a castration device.

The next segment takes place in an 18th century courtroom, where three chosen at random by the judge and are put on trial before all guests being condemned to “Bedlam” (lunatic asylum).

 

This tenth segment – telling the story of Sweeney Todd – is the first of only two fictional events in the London Dungeon, which opened a year before the 2007 film. Visitors stand outside Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop where they are greeted either by Mrs. Lovett herself or by her male assistant, Toby, who quiz them on the type of pies they bake with implications to murder. The character then leads visitors into Sweeney Todd’s barber shop, which is filled with seats surrounding a single seat next to a table holding many implements.

The eleventh segment, the “Vengeance 5D Laser Ride”, is the second of only two fictional events in the London Dungeon, set around a séance at 50 Berkeley Square, which was touted as the most haunted house in Victorian London. This is the United Kingdom’s first “5D” ride, opening in May 2011, and it incorporates a 3D film, 4D special effects and 5D rider interaction with laser guns styled as Victorian revolvers.

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Visitors then exit onto a fake street in Whitechapel for the Jack the Ripper segment. Since Vengeance was built, this section of the Dungeon has been drastically shortened, making it more compacted. The experience begins on a street with the mutilated body of a prostitute, where an actor describes the strange murders. Visitors enter a bed sit where the most gruesome murder took place, that of Mary Jane Kelly. Visitors are then led into a pub ten years after the murders in 1898. Most of the prostitutes were said to have spent their evenings here according to the bar keeper, who also sees ‘images’ of some of the girls. The lights strobe as Jack the Ripper suddenly appears with a knife behind a door, reaching out to the visitors before disappearing.

The final segment takes the visitors to before the 17th century, in a chapel that introduces the story of Mary Tudor, also known as Bloody Mary. An actor appears and tells visitors that heretics will be executed if they do not hold the same religion as Mary. After he finishes, Mary herself appears. A visitor is then chosen at random and taken to a burning post, and is charged with heresy against Mary and her government. As the room is filled with smoke and flames, the visitor is switched with a model of a burnt to death corpse.

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In July 2010 the Advertising Standards Authority banned a digital poster advertising The London Dungeon. The poster featured an image of Mary I of England which transformed into a “zombie-like character”. The poster was deemed too disturbing to be seen by young children.

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From 1st March 2013 the London Dungeon relocated from Tooley Street, to County Hall, next to the London Eye. New additions include “Descent”, “Henry’s Wrath Boat Ride”, “Guy Fawkes: The Gunpowder Plot” and “The Whitechapel Labyrinth”.

Official site

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