Southwark is a diverse area, with the upmarket foodie destination of Borough Market, the historic grandeur of Southwark Cathedral, the towering wealth of The Shard, and the memorial garden for the Outcast Dead, Cross Bones.
In medieval times, the Bishops of Winchester licensed sex work in Southwark, known then as The Liberty of the Clink. The women were known as Winchester Geese, and even though the church took funds from the sex trade, they didn’t allow the women and their illegitimate children to be buried in consecrated ground.
Instead, they were buried in Cross Bones Graveyard.
The graveyard also served the local area, which used to be one of London’s poorest slums. When it closed in 1853, it was believed to hold around 15,000 paupers.
In the 1990s, the London Underground found the long-forgotten graveyard, and some of the bodies were displayed at the Museum of London. More than 60% of the skeletons found were children.
John Constable wrote The Southwark Mysteries, “revealed by The Goose to John Crow,” and the play has been performed at Southwark Cathedral and has inspired many other works.
The red iron gates are now a shrine for ‘the outcast dead’ and people tie ribbons to the bars in remembrance of those lost then and now.
More detail of the ribbons tied to the gates. Many of these are people lost in recent times.
There are also rituals and performances there every Halloween, while some of the Friends of Crossbones have been live-streaming their monthly vigils during lockdown in pandemic times.
The Outcast Dead are watching you.
Southwark’s planning committee gave Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) a 30-year lease in June 2020 to protect and maintain the graveyard as a garden of remembrance.
There is a shelter in the shape of a goosewing at the entrance.
Carving of the Bishop.
The Garden needs donations. You can put money in the skull.
To find it, head west along Southwark Street, away from Borough Market. Turn left onto Redcross Way under the railway line. You’ll find Crossbones Garden on your left before you reach Union Street. It’s only a few streets away from the main tourist area.
Find out more at Crossbones.org.uk
Cross Bones inspired my crime thriller, Deviance, and the opening scene is set at a memorial march there. Who is the sinner and who is the saint?