London Visit: Cross Bones Graveyard Garden of Remembrance. Earlier this year I moved to Borough and Bankside. One of my favourite places to visit is the Cross Bones Graveyard Garden of Remembrance. It’s a pauper’s graveyard and memorial shrine located in Southwark, London SE1. If you’re looking for interesting places to visit in London or free things to do in London, you must put this on your list!
Garden of Remembrance
Cross Bones Graveyard Garden of Remembrance History
Cross Bones is a post-medieval burial ground for prostitutes (known as Winchester Geese), infants and outcasts of this once lawless part of London. It contains the remains of prostitutes licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work in the Liberty of the Clink (outside the City of London). The area (formerly known as The Mint) was very poor and famous for brothels (‘stews’), theatres, bear-baiting and other activities which were not allowed in the City of London.
It was mentioned in 1598 by John Stow in A Survey of London which he referred to as a Single Woman’s Churchyard in Southwark near the Clink. In 1769 it was a cemetery for paupers by St Saviour’s parish. 15,000 people were thought to be buried there. In 1853 the graveyard was closed as it was full to capacity and deemed a health risk.
View of Buildings Behind Garden
Sale of the land was attempted in 1883 but the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884 stopped this. Over the years the land has been used as a fairground, for warehouses and commercial buildings.
In the 1990s, London underground built an electricity station for the Jubilee Line Extension. Between 1991 and 1998 there was an archaeological dig carried out by the Museum of London Archaeology Service. They discovered that bodies were stacked on top of each other and many had died from smallpox, tuberculosis and other diseases of the period.
Doll in Cage on Shrine Gate
Zanna Wilford (local artist and photographer) campaigned against development of the site at the start of the millennium. Later John Constable (author of the Southwark Mysteries) liaised with the landowners (Transport for London), The Mayor of London and others about the future of Cross Bones with a view to protecting London’s interesting past. In 2014 Transport for London granted a temporary lease for the garden. We can thank the likes of Zanna Wilford, John Constable, The Friends of Cross Bones and Bankside Open Spaces Trust for the Garden of Remembrance.
The Cross Bones Graveyard Garden of Remembrance Haven
The Garden of Remembrance is a beautiful and serene space which is a haven in the middle of the urban area. It has been designed by Helen John who has kept some elements of a previous creation by the ‘Invisible Gardener’ (Andy Hulme). Enter through large iron gates and you walk through the stunning wooden carved Goose Wing entrance which is a nod to John Constable’s Goose spirit of Crossbone which protects the outcast children. There are seats and the canopy roof will give you cover if it’s raining. Make sure you sign the book when you enter which is actually a petition to protect the Graveyard Memorial Gates and Garden.
Goose Wing Engravings
After the Goose Wing cover, you enter a garden with drywall structures, part concrete ground and an abundance of green plants. At the back, there is a wall with references to the Southwark Mysteries / Map of Liberty.
Look out for the pyramid which was created by the Invisible Gardener and has since been covered with seeds to encourage plant growth. Oyster shells from Borough Market have been placed on the pyramid sides which was once a cheap food consumed by the women who were buried there.
Keep your eyes peeled for skulls and other offerings left to honour the dead. You’ll find little shrines dotted around with candles and religious figurines.
The red gates on Redcross Way are a shrine to the dead. You’ll see hundreds of ribbons tied to the gates along with poems. Make sure you take the time to read the messages people have written.
Redcross Way Gates Shrine
Look above the garden walls and you will see the prominent buildings beyond. The Shard, Walkie-Talkie (20 Fenchurch), Cheesegrater (The Leadenhall Building), Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) and Southwark Cathedral.
Cross Bones Graveyard Garden of Remembrance Information
The address is Union Street (or Redcross Way), London SE1 1SD. Nearest stations are Borough and London Bridge. If you want somewhere to eat check out Flat Iron Square which has a number of street food stalls. read my Flat Iron Square Food Review. The Cross Bones opening time are dependent on volunteers, you will see a note on the front gates with information. Vigils are held in Redcross Way at the gates on the 23rd of each month. Check the Cross Bones website for more information or the notice board by the front gates. They usually have other talks and Halloween is a key date for performances.
If you want to delve deeper into the history of Cross Bones visit the Cross Bones Website, Bankside Open Spaces Trust and the Wikipedia Page. An important book to read is The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable (also known as John Crow). It is about the Liberty of the Clink, the ‘whores’ known as the Winchester Geese. See my Love Bankside London Pinterest Board for more photographs of the area. Read my Ten Unusual Things To Do In Bankside List. Enjoy your visit!
Author: Homegirl London. Photographs: Homegirl London. References: Information for this article was taken from the Cross Bones Website and Wikipedia.