Grim story of morgue set up right on River Thames because so many bodies washed up

Walking past you'd never guess the gruesome history of this alcove underneath Tower Bridge
-Credit: (Image: Panhard/Creative Commons)

London, with its rich and often gruesome history, is a city where you can walk past areas that were once the stuff of nightmares without even realising it.

Take Tower Bridge for example. Today, it's one of London's most iconic landmarks, but beneath its beautiful turrets and suspension lies a chilling past that's still visible today.

Nestled under the bridge is an alcove known as Dead Man's Hole, and as the name suggests, it has a dark history steeped in death and murder.

On the eastern side of the bridge, there's an alcove lined with glossy white tiles that leads directly into the murky waters of the River Thames. This was designed to serve as a sort of architectural net, catching the bodies that the river carried through London.

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While this isn't a common occurrence nowadays, back in Victorian times, bodies would regularly wash up into the alcove. These unfortunate souls were often victims of murder or accidental drowning.

The frequency of these grim discoveries was such that the alcove was specifically designed to make retrieving bodies easier.

It's said that the 'L' shaped set of stone steps were built for collecting bodies from the water using a hook and pole. There was even a mortuary reportedly built behind a door in the alcove, where the bodies could be stored until they were identified by their families and taken away for burial.

However, some of the bodies were left unidentified for so long that the bodily gasses that built up inside of them would lead them to explode. Hence the use of the white tiles on the inside of the arch - these are much easier to wipe clean than stone.

But this 'mortuary' also came in handy for the neighbouring Tower of London. Victims of execution at the Tower would be transferred to Dead Man's Hole too.

If you're inclined to see this gruesome part of the capital's history, you can follow signposts as part of the directions for the Tower Bridge exhibition to 'Dead Man's Hole'.

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