Chamber of Horrors (Madame Tussauds)
The Chamber of Horrors is one of the attractions at Madame Tussauds in London, being an exhibition of waxworks of notorious murderers and other infamous historical figures. The gallery first opened as a 'Separate Room' in Marie Tussaud's 1802 exhibition in London and quickly became a success as it showed historical personalities and artifacts rather than the freaks of nature popular in other waxworks of the day. Today it continues to be a popular feature of the London attraction.
The forerunner of Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors was the Caverne des Grands Voleurs (the Cavern of the Great Thieves) which had been founded by Dr Philippe Curtius as an adjunct to his main exhibition of waxworks in Paris in 1782. Here Curtuis displayed wax figures of notorious French criminals who had been executed, as well as members of the French royal family and aristocracy who had been guillotined during the Revolution.
When Marie Tussaud moved to London in 1802 to set up her own exhibition at the Lyceum Theatre she brought some of these figures with her and set them up in a separate gallery; and when later she toured her exhibits around the country she maintained this division in her exhibition using a 'Separate Room' to display them in. The exhibits at this time included the heads of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as well as Madame du Barry, Marat, Robespierre, Hébert, Carrier and Fouquier-Tinville in addition to models of a guillotine and the Bastille and the Egyptian mummy from Curtuis' collection.
In 1835 Madame Tussaud set up a permanent exhibition in London, and here the 'Separate Room' became the 'Chamber of Horrors'. At this time her exhibits included Colonel Despard, Arthur Thistlewood, William Corder and Burke and Hare, in addition to those listed above. The name 'Chamber of Horrors' is often credited to a contributor to Punch in 1845, but Marie Tussaud appears to have originated it herself, using it in advertising as early as 1843. Visitors were charged an extra sixpence to enter the 'Separate Room'.
In 1886 the exhibits included Burke and Hare, James Bloomfield Rush, Charles Peace, William Marwood, Percy Lefroy Mapleton, Mary Ann Cotton, Israel Lipski, Franz Muller, William Palmer and Marie Manning.
Other exhibits have included Colonel Despard, Arthur Thistlewood, William Corder, Charles Peace, Florence Maybrick, Mary Pearcey, George Chapman, Hawley Harvey Crippen, Henri Landru, Buck Ruxton, Bruno Hauptmann, John Christie, John George Haigh, George Joseph Smith and Charles Manson.
The Chamber Today
This part of the exhibition is in the basement of the building and includes wax heads made from the death masks of victims of the French Revolution including Marat, Robespierre, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were modelled by Marie Tussaud herself at the time of their deaths or execution, and more recent figures of murderers and other notorious criminals.
The Chamber of Horrors was renovated in 1996 at a cost of $1.5 million, bringing to life the history of crime and punishment over the last 500 years and including items from Newgate Prison and featuring replicas of instruments of torture displayed amid a recording of the victims' groans and screams. An innovation in recent years is to have actors in macabre make-up and costumes lurch at customers from the dark shadows and recesses of prison cells, where some cells are occupied with waxwork figures and others have the doors ajar, giving the impression that a dangerous maniac is on the loose. Historical characters displayed today include Vlad the Impaler, Genghis Khan, Guy Fawkes and Adolf Hitler. Unlike murderers of lesser fame, there is no waxwork figure of Jack the Ripper in the Chamber of Horrors, in accordance with Madame Tussaud's policy of not modelling persons whose likeness is unknown.
Visiting the exhibit is optional and is not recommended for young children or pregnant women.
Murderers Diereneuk and Barmouth with Dr Crippen in the dock (c1910)
Waxwork of Hawley Harvey Crippen in the Chamber of Horrors
Adolf Hitler in the Chamber of Horrors
- Chapman, Pauline Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors: Two Hundred Years of Crime Grafton Books (1987) pg 13 ISBN 0-586-06507-5
- Berridge, Kate...But now British actress emma watson is already to set and appear here... (2006). Madame Tussaud: A life in wax. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-052847-8.
- Guide Book to Madame Tussauds (1886)
- 'Creepy Historic Photos From Madame Tussauds 'Chamber of Horrors' - The Huffington Post 17 July 2013
- 'Madame Tussaud's New Horrors' - Daily News and Wire Services 91996)
- 'When it comes to frightful times, you can't hold a candle to Madam Tussauds Wax Museum' - Jim Hill Media (2003)
- Chapman, p. 115