London: Cross Bones graveyard

Picture: Aurelien Guichard

“It used to be a cemetery for people who … who … well … for people just like me”, a homeless man with his dog next to him explains. The people who asked him what this colourfully decorated gate is for are silent. Baffled.

As our guide explained so well, Cross Bones was a graveyard for outcasts, first for prostitutes of the Liberty of the Clink, later -after  Cromwell shut the area down- for poor people.The place contains the remains of more than 15 000 people, yet no grave is there to be seen as this was unhallowed ground.

Crossbones graveyard

This part of Southwark was outside the jurisdiction of the sheriff of London, so people could visit brothels, enjoy theatre, go to the bear-pits … From 1161 on the Bishop of Wincester was responsible for granting licences to prostitutes and brothels.

Yet the Wincester geese (one of the many euphemisms for prostitutes) couldn’t be buried in the nearby St Savour’s parish and they ended up at Crossbones graveyard. In 1853, they closed the graveyard as it was too full. You can read more about the history here.

London Underground uses this piece of land as a storage yard and they have applied to build a multi-storey parking there. But a group of people wants them to leave it untouched as it is the burial ground of so many people.

You can’t enter it, but a stop at its entrance is definitely worth it. And on the 23rd of each month there is a memorial service. More info on the Cross Bones website.

Redcross Way

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