If you’re planning to visit London for the Olympic Games later this year – or for any other reason, come to that – you need to grab a copy of Black Plaques London before you go. It’s a fascinating, gruesome, wonderful app that gives you a rats-eye view of the darker side of the city’s history.
One thing you’ll notice a lot in London are the Blue Plaques, marking historic sites and buildings, often the homes where famous people lived in days gone by. The Blue Plaques are enchanting in their own right, but if you want to dive into London’s murkier secrets, you need to have the Black Plaques app in your pocket.
There aren’t any actual black plaques. They’re purely virtual. But thanks to this app, you’ll always be able to find some nearby, and discover a story you might perhaps have wished you hadn’t heard.
What kind of story? The one about the Bulgarian defector who was poisoned by ricin on Waterloo Bridge. Or the one about the 19th century suicide who was buried face-down in the middle of the street with a wooden stake through his heart. Or dozens more about death, mutilation, lust, war, and weirdness.
Not forgetting, of course, several extremely gory tales of Jack the Ripper’s murders.
The depth of content, written by Ambrose Hide, is very impressive. There are 300 plaques all over central London, accompanied by some 600 images and 75,000 words of text. It would be impressive enough as an e-book, but works so much better as an app thanks to its built-in geographical awareness.
This app is so good that even the occasional bug is easily forgiven. (Turn to landscape mode on the iPad, the section buttons disappear from view – a little thing, and sure to be fixed in an update.)
The organizers of this years Olympics are very keen to present London as a beautiful, squeaky clean city of culture and sporting excellence, but this app is the perfect reminder of the reality of this chaotic, messy, loveable city’s history. Best of all, the app isn’t location dependent, so you can download and explore its stories from anywhere in the world, without having to travel anywhere.
This app is a bargain at five dollars, and a must-have for anyone with an interest in the seedier side of history.
Pro: London as she really is, and as you’ve never seen her.
Con: One or two minor bugs.