london panoramic cityscape
Crossbones GardenLondon
Redcross Way
Borough
London SE1 1TA
TfL Fare Zone 1

 

A short five minute walk from The Borough Markets takes the visitor to an unexpected brick walled garden within the commercial area of Borough. Crossbones Garden is on the east side of Union Street bounded by properties on Borough High Street.

Folklore
This newly created garden has an unhappy past – it was once the Cross Bones Graveyard. It was initially thought that Cross Bones was an un-consecrated medieval graveyard in which prostitutes (known as the Bishop of ‘Winchester’s Geese’) were buried. This is, in fact, not true; nevertheless, the folklore persists and locals and visitors leave ribbons, tokens and flowers on the wrought iron gates.
 
History
Cross Bones Graveyard was actually created in the 18th century. St Saviour’s parish records clearly show that by 1769 new land had to be acquired for burial of the parish’s poor. Up to 15,000 people are believed to have been buried there.
 
It was closed in 1853 because it was "completely overcharged with dead," and further burials were deemed "inconsistent with a due regard for the public health and public decency."
 
In 1883, the land was sold as a building site, prompting an objection from Lord Brabazon in a letter to The Times, asking that the land be saved from "such desecration." The sale was declared null and void the following year under the Disused Burial Grounds Act 1884, and subsequent attempts to develop the site were opposed by local people, as was its brief use as a fairground. However, after removal of remains to the parish facilities at Brookwood, the site was covered in warehousing and other commercial buildings.
 
Excavation
As a result of the Jubilee UnderGround Line extension, the site was required for construction purposes and a new electricity sub-station. A formal archaeological dig was undertaken by the Museum of London prior to redevelopment of the site.
 
The archaeologists found a highly overcrowded graveyard with bodies piled on top of one another. Tests showed those buried had suffered from smallpox, tuberculosis, Paget's disease, osteoarthritis, and vitamin D deficiency.
 
One hundred and forty-eight graves, dating from between 1800 and 1853, were uncovered. Over one third of the bodies were between 22 weeks gestation and seven days after birth. A further 11 percent were under one year old. The adults were mostly women aged 36 years and older. This cemetery was a testament to the appalling living conditions of 19th century south London.
 
Crossbones Garden
Southwark Council has recognised the importance of this site and the Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) is now involved in helping the local people to improve the Crossbones Garden, as it is now known.
 
Contact & Further Information
 
Local poet and author, John Constable, has been instrumental in promoting events such as the Cross Bones Halloween. This is held each year to celebrate the lives of the souls buried in Cross Bones Graveyard.
 
Crossbones Vigil
A short memorial vigil ceremony is held at the gates on the 23rd of each month in the early evening at 19:00 hours and is open to people ‘of all faiths and none’.
 
‘Winchester Geese’
It is certainly true that from the 12th century, the Bishop of Winchester was responsible for administering the ‘Liberty of the Clink’ on the south side of the river.  His London residence, Winchester Palace, stood between the church, now Southwark Cathedral, and The Clink Prison. (See Winchester House article in this website.)
 
As part of his duties he licensed the prostitutes that worked in the brothels of Bankside so they were known as ‘Winchester Geese’.
 
In his 1598 Survey of London, the historian John Stow referred to a burial ground for 'single women' - a euphemism for the prostitutes. He wrote:
 
'I have heard of ancient men, of good credit, report that these single women were forbidden the rites of the church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, if they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground called the Single Woman's churchyard, appointed for them far from the parish church.'
 
These prostitutes were condemned to be buried in unhallowed ground as they were not recognised by the Church and therefore could not be buried in consecrated ground. A final indignity suffered by these women after their death was that they were preyed upon by body-snatchers who would sell their bodies to the nearby Guy's Hospital for use in anatomy classes.
 
Despite local tradition, Cross Bones Graveyard was never the prostitutes burial place because John Stow also stated that “the ‘Single Women’s churchyard” was at Maiden Lane, Bankside (1525–1605).
 
Getting There
We suggest that you use this TfL 'Journey Planner'
 
- By Underground
Borough Underground Station    Northern Line
 
Cross Bones Garden is about 5 minutes walk:
From Borough Underground Station proceed north along Borough High Street towards the George Inn and also The Borough Markets.
Take Union Street to the left and at the Redcross Way corner is the walled Cross Bones Garden.  
 
Google Maps - Crossbones Garden