OK, so the debate may continue over whether Sweeney Todd was an actual person (according to author Peter Haining, the real Todd, born in Brick Lane, is supposed to have been hanged in 1802) or a fictional character, but, suspending that debate for the moment, we’re including the infamous Fleet Street barber in this list.
Known as the “demon barber of Fleet Street”, Todd first appeared in literature as a murderer in the Victorian serial, The String of Pearls: A Romance, published in a weekly periodical, and soon became a staple of the Victorian theatre, later appearing in numerous plays and films including the 2007 Johnny Depp vehicle, Sweeney Todd.
His MO usually involved cutting his unsuspecting victim’s throat and then, using a specially constructed barber’s chair, dropping the body into the cellar. There, he and his associate, Mrs Lovett, would rob them (alternatively, other versions have him dropping the customers into the cellar first and then, if needed, finishing them off).
Mrs Lovett would then dispose of the remains by baking them into pies and selling them via her pie shop located nearby in Bell Yard. The story goes that the cellar was linked to nearby Bell Yard via tunnels.
Sweeney Todd was supposed to have terrorised London in the late 18th century and his barber shop was apparently located at 186 Fleet Street in London – right next to St Dunstan-in-the-West. The site is now occupied by a former newspaper office – that of the Dundee Courier (pictured above, left).
For Peter Haining’s book on Sweeney Todd, see Sweeney Todd: The Real Story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.