Posted by Ruth
Where: Redcross Way, SE1
Many of us are keen to be remembered after we’ve gone – regardless of the life we’ve led, whether we were rich or poor, achieved great things or not. Sadly, most of us (in a few generations time) will not be, and there are many that were forgotten even in their own time. A candlelit vigil held at Cross Bones cemetery on the 23rd of every month seeks to redress this.
The gates of Cross Bones taken by us during a daytime visit
Cross Bones is a disused burial ground, originally established as an unconsecrated graveyard for “single women” – the prostitutes licensed by the Church to work in Bankside, but not permitted a Christian burial.
Its exact date of origin is unknown, but the site was written about by John Stow in 1598.
Later it became a pauper’s cemetery, eventually housing approximately 15,000 burials, before closing in 1853 due to public health risk.
The land was subsequently sold, and was all but forgotten until numerous skeletons were unearthed during the extension of the Jubilee Line in the 1990s.
The gates of Cross Bones are now adorned with flowers, ribbons and trinkets, creating a beautiful and meaningful memorial. Led by local writer John Constable, the Friends of Cross Bones hold this monthly vigil, for people from all walks of life to gather and remember society’s outcast dead.
Far from being a macabre affair, the vigil was inspiring and moving, with strangers huddled together listening to local performers sing and recite poetry (including two odes penned by a young girl).
John Constable recounted a poem gifted to him 16 years ago by the spirit of the ‘Winchester Goose’ (one of the prostitutes allegedly buried at Cross Bones). The vigil ended with a collective non-denominational prayer, and an offering of gin – likely to be one of the few comforts to the Cross Bones residents in their lifetime.
The site is now owned by Transport for London and the Friends of Cross Bones are currently campaigning for there to be a permanent memorial garden to mark the site. Given the level of development in London Bridge that is no easy task, but an imperative one. For Cross Bones is as important a place as any of London’s gilded Victorian cemeteries, and an important place to remember those on the periphery of society – both in the past and present.
You can find a link to the Friends of Cross Bones’s petition to protect the site here