The Touching Memorial To London’s Forgotten Dead

Alex Landon Alex Landon - Editor

Cross Bones

Far from being morbid, the Cross Bones Graveyard is a charming little memorial.

If you’ve ever taken a wander around Highgate Cemetery, or any of London’s other magnificent cemeteries, you’ll know that London knows how to honour the dead. And whilst grand memorials make for an impressive sight, little tributes are just as touching. Down in London Bridge, you’ll find the Cross Bones Graveyard, which honours the city’s “outcast dead”. A tranquil shrine to paupers and prostitutes, it’s a fascinating spot to check out.

Cross Bones
Photo: @photosnap16

Cross Bones Graveyard dates back to medieval times, when it was originally used as a burial ground for prostitutes working in the local area. Known as “Winchester Geese” – deriving from the Bishop of Winchester, who licensed their trade – the women weren’t afforded the luxury of a Christian burial, and so were laid to rest in what became known as the “Single Woman’s burial ground”.

Cross Bones
Photo: @lucyctalbot

As Southwark grew into one of London’s most notorious slums, Cross Bones was pressed into service as a pauper’s graveyard. Rather unfortunately, this made it an appealing target for Victorian bodysnatchers, who filched corpses to sell to nearby Guy’s Hospital. The bodies piled up rapidly, and overcrowding forced the graveyard to close in 1853. It’s estimated that 15,000 bodies were buried here, and archaeological evidence proves that many of them died in infancy.

Cross Bones
Photo: @lucyctalbot

Apart from a short stint as a fairground (because nothing says fun like a carnival in a graveyard!), Cross Bones Graveyard was mostly forgotten about. In the 1990s, the extension of the Jubilee line brought it to TfL’s attention, around the same time that the Friends of Crossbones society was formed. The society has called for the protection of the site, setting up a memorial garden to go with the shrine that has sprung up around the gates.

Cross Bones
Many a gardener has left their mark on the memorial garden. Photo: @brianshar

Here, people leave messages, poems, and other tokens of remembrance. It’s a way to honour those who’ve been forgotten by history, which regularly includes vigils, and a moving Halloween event. Whilst Cross Bones may have begun as a convenient way to dispose of London’s dead, it’s grown into something far greater – a community space which brings people together in remembrance.

Location: Redcross Way, SE1 1SD. Nearest stations are Borough and London Bridge. See it on Google Maps.
Opening hours: 12-3pm, Monday to Saturday. Closed on Sundays.
Entry: free (see more free things to do in London).
More information: from their highly informative website.

Featured image: @a_photo_a_day___

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