Monday, October 13, 2014

Cross Bones Graveyard and the Winchester Geese

In medieval times in London, this unconsecrated ground was the burial place for prostitutes and "single women" and their children. These women were licensed by the Church which readily collected their license fees but deemed them unfit to be interred with the holy in the cemetery of what is now Southwark Cathedral.








In the heart of the pleasure quarter, among the bear pits, theaters, brothels, and taverns, medieval Bankside was a wild and wooly place where women who had no other way to earn a living were called Winchester Geese after the Bishop Winchester who collected their license fees for their services.



By the 1800s the area was an overcrowded, cholera-infested slum, and a notorious hangout for thieves, described as "a set of courts and small streets which for number, viciousness, poverty and crowding, is unrivalled in anything I have hitherto seen in London" by a census-taker.

Charles Dickens lived in and wrote about the poor of the 1700s in Bankside, including the activities of body snatchers digging up bodies for the anatomy classes at nearby Guy's Hospital.

In 1853 the site of Cross Bones Graveyard was so full it was deemed unsafe to add anymore bodies, unceremoniously sold as a building site, and forgotten about. When digging began for the Jubilee Line of the London Underground in the 1990s, disease-riddled bodies were found piled in mass graves, over 60% of them babies and children.





Every Halloween night since 1998, hundreds of people make a candlelit procession to the gates of Cross Bones to honour the "outcast dead," leaving candles, ribbons, songs and prayers.

'For tonight in Hell, they are tolling the bell

For the Whore that lay at The Tabard

And well we know how the carrion crow

Doth feast in our Cross Bones Graveyard.'

from John Crow's Riddle

in The Southwark Mysteries, a book and play by John Constable

A group called Friends of Crossbones has held a vigil on the 23rd of each month since 2005 and backed several proposals to have the site kept from development and turned into a memorial park. So far, they have been unsuccessful. Well hidden in a small deserted street, all that is visible is the memorial-covered gate. Surrounded by a tall wall, you can only see what's inside inside by peering through gaps.



  1. Oh, my, such a story of days gone by...thank heavens!

  2. Cynthia, it is very interesting story . But in Middle Ages in Poland single women and their children and prostitutes according to Roman Catholic Church can,t be be bury on Catholic Church. graveyard. It was so strange custom but it has lasted for centuries.

  3. A tough time for those people. It must have been like hell.

  4. Glad you found the graveyard as it's not a place you would normally walk past.

  5. That's the way to have a holiday - sometimes avoid the tourist paths and discover other interesting
    and less documented places - far more exciting and challenging.
    I was surprised how in some European cities what you knew was there yet the locals
    didn't want anyone to know - like denying a piece of what was history - even if grim.
    Good to see that you don't stick to the usual tourist path - London is not just
    "Buck House", eh?

    'Hughie' delivered last night - at some times quite savagely - but all sensible people
    would have been tucked up in bed - ha ha. Could be a repeat anytime today - lovely
    dark and full clouds abound above.
    A happy chappie from "Down Under"
    Aussie Col

  6. If these dead knew how they would be honored after-life, ti would be of great comfort to them.

  7. I'm glad to find your blog. You have many interesting posts like this one. I like reading meaningful posts from which I can learn history and stories from different parts of the world. I may not be able to go to every place but though blogs I learn.

  8. What an interesting and sad tale. It is horrible what man has done to other men and it's hard to fathom how one could so desecrate human bodies. I'm glad to hear there is a group trying to honour the poor and mistreated and accord them a measure of dignity.

  9. Thanks for sharing this little piece of history with us Cynthia ... what a sad story.

  10. Great post and photos and history and what we do to people is atrocious! Glad they are now honoring them ~

    artmusedog and carol (A Creative Harbor) ~ Happy Week to you!

  11. How interesting! Thanks for the share!

  12. I really enjoyed your post! Fro m readings Dickens I can imagine the hard, sad, and short lives that these people led. Too bad more can't be done to prevent buiulding on this site, so that they can rest in peace.

  13. Nice shots and what a fascinating history!

  14. Tough times, nice to know they are not forgotten and that a group of people are trying to keep their memory alive.

  15. Lot of history there and very interesting.

  16. Interesting post! A sad story. Thanks for sharing... Have a happy week!

  17. Tis very sad to have been born in such conditions that women became prostitutes just to survive.

  18. I think I would have to be a member of the Friends of Crossbones . . .

  19. It seems a sad place...I hope it is not forgotten:(

  20. An interesting snippet of history.

  21. Amazing! Sad story, but fascinating history here. Thanks so much for sharing.