“Burn granny burn!” Is the London Dungeons too scary for kids?

Is the London Dungeons too scary for kids?

On Sunday with a little trepidation and my mother’s warnings ringing in my ears we took the children  to the London Dungeons.

Mum had warned me, as only a mum can, that it would be completely unsuitable for a five and seven year old and would give them nightmares. She said there had been “articles in the newspaper” about it

I’d checked out the website and the photos do look pretty gruesome, so I had concerns of my own. But as I was supposed to be reviewing it and had told the organisers the ages of my kids, I kept my fingers crossed and reasoned they would have warned me.

So, we caught the tube to London Bridge and within minutes we were queuing up in the dark, with eerily lit tombstones and clutching the kids hands saying:” You are alright aren’t you. You’re not frightened. You know it’s just pretend.”

“The pavement isn’t real,” pipes up the five year old.

“What do u mean?” I ask, stamping my feet “Seems real enough to me.”
“It’s lino,” says the five year old.
I kneel down and feel the ground. I still have no idea who’s right about this. Maybe it’s displacement.

I wasn’t really trying to convince them that the pavement was pretend – more the ghouls and ghosts which might be waiting around the corner. Anyway they don’t seem to be frightened and soon we are inside, stroking some live rats, and waiting for the tour to begin.


For this day out is a re-enactment – a tour through the dungeons, and through history, led by scarily dressed actors, who treat us as though we are actually prisoners in the aforementioned dungeon! They’re rather rude and rough and tell you to move along with no pleases or thankyous. It’s disconcerting at first and not the kind of customer service you might expect (visitors from the US must find it particularly bizarre).  But it’s quite deliberate and all part of the show.

The actors are elaborately dressed in period costume and convincingly made up with frightening gashes across their cheeks. It’s very dark and the crypt-keeper banging his walking stick on the floor was described by the five year old as “one of the scariest things.” And it would have been a lot scarier had a trio of infuriating 10 years olds not kept making smart alec remarks and reminded us that sadly we were very much in the 21st century and they were very unlikely to be cruelly punished. However, the crypt keeper was clearly used to this kind of behaviour and held his own.

We then headed through the labyrinth of lost souls – a dimly lit mirror maze which gave us a chance to lose the kids, not ours, the annoying 10 years olds, being taken out by their poor grandma. Sadly though, the guides seemed keen to make sure they weren’t left behind and we found ourselves in 1665 , the year of the Great Plague and heard of the full horrors of the  times from the lips of a “survivor”. The streets were full of corpses – cleansed the following year by the Great Fire of London and we were treated to a short film (told by “eyewitnesses” in costume of course) explaining how it came about.

The most stomach churning part of the tour for me was the makeshift operating room, where a “surgeon” demonstrates how operations were performed, more to improve the surgeon’s knowledge of human anatomy than to cure the patient! I held the five year old’s hand tightly, but again he seemed fairly unpeturbed – more scared by sudden noises than anything else.

The torture chamber gave our group more pleasure than you might expect, as it appeared word had travelled between the actors leading us round each “moment in time,” and the most annoying of the 10 year olds was grabbed almost as soon as we walked in and (temporarily) locked in a cage while the torturer explained what the various implements were used for.

Audience participation again came into its own in the 18th century court room, where visitors were put in the dock and their crimes read out. We were encouraged to boo and spit! and you got a feel for the barbarity of the justice system without the children or anyone else being actually terrified – though it has to be said an awful lot of offences were punishable by death.

Mary Queen of Scots was also keen on putting her enemies to death – often by burning at the stake and another lucky visitor was chosen to be part of this re-enactment. As if she wasn’t already being punished enough, it was the sweet but helpless grandmother of the terrible 10 year olds that was lead away to the pyre.

The flames were very convincing indeed and we were again encouraged to behave as the crowds of the time would have done by hurling insults at the unfortunate victim. An abiding memory remains of the three terrors yelling: “Burn granny burn,” their eager faces lit by the orange glow of the flames.

The tour includes a boat ride to hell through the underground tunnels which we all enjoyed – though small hands were held very tightly in case they were too scared by the  bodies strung up along the way. The bodies of course were not real as we kept explaining ( I think they actually caught on to this quite early on) – but the water, tunnels and boat were certainly real – no dispute with the little ones about that.

However, there are a couple of rides they were deemed too young – or at least too small- to go on.  One was called Vengeance where you spin round and round while 3D spirits come out of the wall to grab you. Neither the five nor 8 year old were tall enough for this one, which provoked much crying and near hysterical debates about justice with the 8 year old.

She was however tall enough to go on the aptly named “Drop ride to Doom” where rows of seats are winched up to  ceiling height where the occupants meet the hangmen and executioners and are then dropped down. I sat this one out with the five year old, but there was much screaming from the rest of the group – thankfully we were spared the debate about the fairness of it all as the five year old’s cognitive skills don’t work in this way and the 8 year old quickly lost interest in justice and injustice when she was no longer the victim!

The most frightening part for me and I think our group – apart from the relentlessly annoying behaviour of the 10 year olds – came during the Jack the Ripper experience. The explanation of what happened to the victims was quite gory so you might want to employ some distraction techniques with younger kids. But I won’t say why it’s frightening as I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

All in all I would say it is a very good couple of hours entertainment – with a lot of history thrown in, in a way that makes it memorable. It’s obviously aimed at slightly older children – I’d suggest 8 and up – but my five year old seemed to enjoy it and a week on there have been no nightmares.


It’s only moments away from London Bridge mainline and tube station

Like all these attractions it is quite expensive £24 for an adult and £18 for a child – but if you combine it with a ticket for the London Eye or Madam Tussauds it brings down the cost considerably.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in January, we only waited for about 15 minutes until the start of the tour – but I have been told queues can be a problem so it might be worth booking online where they apparently upgrade your ticket for nothing to give you priority. For more details go to the London Dungeons website

To win a free ticket for a family of four ( two adults and two children) worth £84 all you need to do is

1.  Follow me on Networked blogs and/or twitter

2. Leave a comment which includes the answer to these two questions:

1. What day and year did the fire of London start?

2. Why is the house at 50 Berkley Square, London, famous?

The winning entry will be drawn at random and the deadline is midnight on Saturday February 4th, 2012 – so you should receive it in time for half term (February 10-19)!

The ticket is valid until March 31st, 2012, at the London Dungeons, Edinburgh Dungeons, York Dungeons and even the dungeons in Hamburg and Amsterdam!

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18 Responses to “Burn granny burn!” Is the London Dungeons too scary for kids?

  1. Jacq says:

    I am a complete scaredy cat and can’t think of anything worse than dragging my equally wimpy children through the dungeons so I’m not going to enter the competition. I thoroughly enjoyed your review though and couldn’t help laughing at ‘burn granny burn’. Poor woman!

  2. I used to work at the York Dungeon as one of the actors employed to scare the visitors. I felt so bad making children cry, so I’d usually tone it down and be far nicer than I was meant to be. It was a really fun job, but not so fun going into town to buy my lunch in my medieval wench outfit, complete with ghostly make-up and blacked out teeth!

  3. 1666 and the most haunted house in England! Follow you on Twitter and Networked blogs. We went to Blackpool Dungeons at Christmas. My 20 year old came away with the phone number of the guy who played the Torturer who had locked her in his cage during his act! Who’d’ve thought you could pull in the Dungeons! @wendymcd83

    • Oops…just realised I forgot to put the day! Duh!! It is the same as my husband’s birthday…2nd September 1666 (although obviously hubby wasn’t born for a further 302 years and is no way accountable for the aforementioned fire!)

  4. Di Coke says:

    I went to the Dungeons about ten years ago and loved it, would love to take my 8yo niece along (although my 2yo son might have to hang out with Nana that day!)
    I’m following on Twitter! @superluckydi xx

    1. 2 September 1666
    2. It’s “The Most Haunted House in London”, apparently!

  5. Mammasaurus says:

    Well using my cunning powers of deduction I’m saying:

    1. 2nd September 1666
    2. The Most Haunted House in London

    And I follow you on Twitter already my dear @MammasaurusBlog

    Do they have gin there? If not it truly is super scary!

  6. Notanottinghilldad says:

    I do hope it wasn’t my 10 year old and friends.

    I’m going with:
    1. 2nd September 1666.
    2. ‘the most haunted house in London’.

    Great review.

  7. Thanks to everyone for entering the competition and posting comments. The competition is now closed.
    The latest computer technology was used in choosing a winner:
    The names were written on the back of identical cards, the cards were shuffled and fanned out by my daughter, and one was chosen by my five year old.
    And the winner is : Inside the Wendy House.
    If you can email me at notanottinghillmum@gmail.com with your address I will send you the ticket. Congratulations and thanks again.
    General comments on this review are not of course closed!

  8. Great review. It’s good to know the appropriate ages of things like this. I think my 8-year-old still might be too tender to visit it yet, but it sounds fascinating. On the surgeon’s table and in prison were 2 places you really didn’t want to be in “olden times”.

  9. sulaymaan says:

    is it true people jump out at you?

  10. alysha says:

    im 11 yrs old and im off 2 london dungeons in 2013 with ma school and i just wanted 2 know how scary it is.ive looked at pictures on the internet and it looks scary.i just wanted to know cause ive never been before. ive been to dracula in whitby before and i was crying the whole time. i wanted to know if id find it scary.thx 😀

    • My children went a year ago when they were five and 7 and they didn’t seem very scared. I was a bit worried they would be – if you feel scared you just have to remember they are actors and it’s not real. It is a good way of showing what life was like a long time ago and my children actually are still saying they want to go there again. I think actually you will enjoy it. I really hope you don’t cry but maybe tell your best friend or even a teacher you are a bit worried and hodl thier hand if you feel scared it;s very dark so noone will see – and you can always use that as an excuse as to why yu are holding onto someone else – in case you trip in the dark! I hope you’ll find it interesting and enjoy it – it’s very cleverly done!

  11. Gareth Hartwell says:

    My son is 8 and probably a bit more easily scared than most 8 year-olds. However he really enjoyed it – it’s true that characters jump out at you once or twice but the scariest bits are due to clever effects and good storytelling – children too young to understand the stories are less likely to be scared.

    On the other hand, my son had had enough by the end of the tour and was quite happy not to do the ‘drop of death’ at the end of the tour (both rides are optional). I think kids who are used to doing the more adventurous rides at theme parks would be fine with this but has tends not to. By the way, the tour has been changed around slightly since the review – the granny burning isnt there now, nor is the Vengeance ride but some other good things have been added, also the order of some things has been changed. (e.g. the hall of mirrors is now associated with Jack the Ripper rather than the Plague).

    So definitely worth the money, especially for kids who are interested in the history and not just looking for a ‘haunted house’ tour or theme park rides. But I wouldnt recommend it for a child who was under 7 – not so much that they would be scared but I dont think they would understand what was going on.

  12. Billy Smith says:

    I am quite scared but it is more Jumpy. The most scariest parts are Sweeney Todd and Jack The Ripper. The Doctor’s place was jumpy. If u r scared watch out for the Sweeney Todd but the rest should be jumpy. Be careful of Water.

  13. Chris Jones says:

    I love the dungeons and decided to take my two kids yesterday, aged 8 and 6. Unfortunately it proved too much for them and I had to ask Mrs Lovett to show us the non-scary way out. From what I saw of it the new dungeons at County Hall is great, if a little too scary for my two. I’m going back without them next week!

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