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Jack the Ripper tour, London

London’s top 10 mysteries

Don your deerstalker, these are London's top ten mysteries

Written by
Time Out London contributor

1. What happened to Lord Lucan?

Forget Jimmy Hoffa, a far more intriguing disappearance is this Belgravia toff, who bludgeoned his children’s nanny to death in 1974, before vanishing into the night. So dashing and debonair was Lord Lucan that he was even considered for the role of James Bond, and his shadowy fate remains the Stonehenge of modern London mysteries. Some think he committed suicide soon after fleeing London, but many others believe he fled abroad and has been living in disguise ever since.

2. Who was Jack the Ripper?

Just last month an amateur sleuth claimed to have uncovered DNA evidence that finally nailed the Ripper’s identity (a key suspect called Aaron Kosminski). But within days other ‘Ripperologists’ (yes, that really is a thing) were slashing and gutting his theory just like, well, you know. So the mystery continues. There are still as many as 100 candidates for the sought-after role of Britain’s most famous serial killer, including the Queen’s physician, painter Walter Sickert and even a syphilitic Prince Albert.


3. Who was Shakespeare?

Being remembered as the greatest playwright of all time? Pah! Who would want that as a legacy?! Certainly not the candidates put forward as the ‘real Shakespeare’ by ‘anti-Stratfordians’. This ragtag coalition of naysayers claim old Will wasn’t educated enough to compare anything to a summer’s day, and was in fact just a jobbing actor used as a front for another playwright who didn’t want the glory. To be a legendary writer or not to be a legendary writer, that is the bizarre question.

          Richard III Martin Freeman

4. What happened to the Princes in the Tower?

These ill-fated whippersnappers were the rightful heirs to the throne until their uncle, Richard III, seized it for himself and locked them away in the Tower of London like two feeble fairy tale fillies. Unfortunately, their heroic rescue never came, and the young princes soon disappeared, never to be seen again. Some claim they escaped and fled to Europe, but most assume they were murdered, probably by Richard. And people say Shakespeare was hard on him!

5. What is the beast of Sydenham?

You might want to curb the cottaging if you’re based in the Sydenham area, for fear of getting some very different action in the local woods. Over the past 10 years, several residents have reported seeing a panther-sized cat stalking the area, and one man was even attacked in his garden in 2005. Be careful South London, it’s a jungle out there.

             Hellraiser. Photo: mapesbury road

 6. Why does Hellraiser haunt the Old Kent Road?

Fancy watching ‘80s horror classic Hellraiser but don’t want to pay for it on iTunes? Then head to the Old Kent Road, where the roof of a bus stop has become a de facto lending library for old VHS copies of the film. The first video sat untouched for several years until it was mysteriously joined by another copy in the summer. They then both disappeared. Then reappeared. Then disappeared again. And reappeared again. Someone really needs to tell those residents about Netflix.

           cheapside hoard jewels

7. Who owned the Cheapside hoard?

When this whopping stash of late sixteenth and early seventeenth century jewels was discovered buried beneath a Cheapside cellar in 1912, scholars immediately started asking who they belonged to, why they buried them and what the going rate was for dusty old brooches and rings. It’s now thought the treasure was hidden by a Jacobean jeweller who went to fight in the Civil War but never returned. Either way, it helps explain why there are so many gold diggers in the City.

              Walrus kiss

8. Why was a walrus buried in King’s Cross?

No, it’s not a cringe-worthy Christmas cracker joke, but a genuine mystery that has flummoxed archaeologists for years. The skeleton of the giant tusked mammal was discovered in a coffin with eight human skeletons during excavations in a St Pancras churchyard in 2003. No one can really explain it, but some believe the animal and its human coffin mates were used by Victorian students for medical research. Either that or it was a very weird suicide pact.

           Commune with Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetary

9. Are there vampires in Highgate Cemetery?

Do teams of fanged immortals glide bloodthirstily around Highgate in search of necks to feast upon? No, of course not, but try telling that to the local loons who blindly bought into this macabre mystery in the ‘70s. Reports of occult activity in the cemetery led to the emergence of several wannabe Van Helsings and a mass vampire hunt in 1970 (. Not surprisingly, the stake and garlic-clutching team discovered little more than the crushing realisation that they were wasting their lives.

10. Was there a poltergeist in Enfield?

They’re heeeerrrrreeee. They being a couple of smart schoolgirls who seemingly conned several police officers, reporters and paranormal investigators (always an incredulous bunch) by basically re-enacting large chunks of The Exorcist in their Enfield home in the late ‘70s. Such was the media attention around the ‘mystery’ that legendary American ghostbuster Ed Warren (of The Conjuring fame) even paid them a visit. There are still some unanswered questions, but most who swallowed the spooky story are now only haunted by the phantom of their own gullibility.

 For more of London’s top tens take a look here.

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