‘Where else would you get gentle exercise and grotesque torture all in one package?’ - Dan Jones
Amnesty International has organised a guided “sites of torture” walking tour through East London and the City with an expert narrator to shine a light on some of the darker scenes from the capital’s history.
The Sunday 28 June walk, coinciding with the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture two days earlier, will take participants from the Martyr’s Memorial (Shaheed Minar) in Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel, to the Tower of London, the River Thames, the site of Newgate jail, Smithfield and finally to the location of the infamous Coldbath Fields Prison in Clerkenwell.
East London oral historian and Amnesty UK education adviser Dan Jones will guide members of the public through the following grisly historical stories:
- The torture and execution of Jews in the Tower, and drowning of many in the Thames in 1290
- The torture and execution of Scottish hero William Wallace at Smithfield in 1305
- The torture of Knights Templar on the rack in Aldgate Prison in 1311
- The burning to death of the Lollard John Bradby at Smithfield in 1410
- The execution by drowning of sailor John Wolfe and his wife Alice Tankerville in the Thames in 1534
- The imprisonment and torture in the Tower of Yeoman of the Guard John Bawd in 1534
- The torture on the rack in the Tower of the Protestant martyr Anne Askew and her burning to death in Smithfield in 1546
- The manacled hanging (“stoppado”) in the Tower of the Catholic priest Father John Gerard in 1587
- The torture of the Gunpowder Plotter Guy Fawkes in the water-filled Rat Dungeon and in the tiny cell called “Little Ease” in the Tower in 1605
- Public whippings and executions outside Newgate House of Corrections near the Old Bailey
- Use of the pillory in Cheapside
- The “treadmill” punishment at the Coldbath Fields Prison (or “Steel”) in Clerkenwell in the nineteenth century
Mr Jones will outline each of the historical events at the actual sites, including with illustrations of some of the original scenes and torture implements, and parallels with modern-day torture will also be drawn. Meanwhile an actor in period clothing will give a short dramatic recitation of some key episodes as they unfolded centuries ago. Participants in the walk - which is free - will also be given an illustrated guide to the histories and there will be opportunities for questions and dialogue with Mr Jones.
Dan Jones said:
“This is a historical walking tour with a difference. Where else would you get gentle exercise and grotesque torture all in one package?
“Torture is sadly still endemic in many parts of the world but people often forget that it used to happen routinely in Britain as well - our tour will bring this horrible history back to life.
“At the end we’d like people to go away having learnt something about the dark history of London’s sites of torture, while also feeling fired up to try to stop torture around the world.”
Call for inquiry into UK complicity in torture
There are longstanding allegations that the UK was recently complicit in various cases of rendition and torture during the US-led “war on terror”, and Amnesty is calling on the government to honour a commitment made in 2010 by the Prime Minister David Cameron to hold an independent judge-led inquiry into the allegations.
Last year the task of investigating the complicity allegations was given to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, a move strongly criticised by human rights groups on the grounds that the committee lacks political independence and the necessary powers. Over 26,000 people have supported an Amnesty petition
calling for the government to ensure that a fully independent judge-led inquiry is held.
Tour timings and booking
The torture sites tour, which is part of Amnesty’s Stop Torture campaign
, will take around two hours to complete, starting at 11.30am and concluding at approximately 1.30pm. The nearest London Underground stations are Whitechapel or Aldgate for the start of the walk and Farringdon for the conclusion. If you wish to sign up for the tour, please do so here