|Idols in the Crossbones Garden.|
And well we know
How the carrion crow
Doth feast in our Cross Bones graveyard.
- John Constable
I have long been fascinated with the history of the Crossbones Graveyard, but access to it was always a hit-and-miss affair, due to the site being run by volunteers. So, whilst halfway through a 10 mile walk, I was surprised to find that the gates were open and I was welcomed inside.
I walked along a covered, curving wooden walkway, which was covered in hops, and entered the Garden of Remembrance. All about were plants, shrubs, trees in raised beds of dry-stone walls. The soft lapping of water from an ornamental stream and a pond, barely discernible among the tall grass, was home to a myriad of insects and pond life.
All about were small shrines, adorned with talismans and gifts left by the many visitors. Incense, wafting on the cool breeze, made the entire garden seem even more peaceful. It was hard to believe I was stood not far from London Bridge station and Borough High Street, such was the tranquillity of the place.
Chairs and benches were dotted around, so I took a seat and soaked in the atmosphere. A further wander around the garden led me to the Memorial Gates, which were covered in ribbons, toys, messages of love, trinkets and so much more. Some had been badly weathered, which showed how long they had been tied there, while others were, obviously, newly placed. It was these gates that reminded me that somewhere, beneath my feet, were the remains of around 15,000 paupers, women and a lot of children.
I spoke with a couple of the volunteers, who explained that the garden was still a work in progress. They went on to say that the plants were picked to give the garden colour, no matter what the time of year, creating a pleasing remembrance space.
On my way out I dropped some coins into the donation box and continued with my stroll.
The Liberty of the Clink was created in 1127 and stretched along Bankside, taking in Winchester Palace, the Clink Prison and stretched down to Redcross Street, and was 70 acres in size.
Because the Liberty was outside of the city walls, many activities, banned there, were all to common in the Liberty. The area soon became known as London's Pleasure Quarter, consisting of taverns, bear-pits, theatres, brothels and the like.
The Bishop of Winchester, who was in charge of the area, had ordinances, signed by Thomas Becket in 1161, which allowed him to license and regulate brothels. The women who came to work in these brothels became known as 'Winchester Geese'. Although they were offered some protection, from the Bishop, in death they were, allegedly, denied a Christian burial.
Near Redcross Street was the St. Saviours burial ground, also known as the Single women's churchyard, but more commonly known as Cross Bones. It was here that, over the centuries, roughly 15,000 of the working poor, prostitutes and children, which made up over half of all burials here, were interred. The area was known as a lawless place, with the graveyard being a favourite haunt of body-snatchers, who took their 'specimens' to nearby Guy's Hospital.
Cross Bones was closed in 1853, as it was deemed 'completely overcharged with dead'.
In the 1990s an electricity sub-station was built on the site, by London Underground, as part of the Jubilee Line extension. Almost 150 skeletons were removed, by Museum of London archaeologists, during a partial excavation of the site. Even they declared that this figure was less then one percent of the total number of burials at the site.
In 2014 Transport for London arranged for the gates, which had become a shrine, to be carefully moved to the protected graveyard area, and work began on restoring the garden. The first thing, that had to be done, was to carefully rebury any bones that had surfaced, during the desecration of the graveyard. Raised beds of dry-stone wall were used, so as not to disturb any human remains, which were filled with a myriad of plants.
The Garden of Remembrance finally opened to the public in 2015.
The Garden is open most weekdays and some Saturdays, and is staffed by volunteers.