I was wandering around the London Bridge area today and came across an interesting memorial. A whole fence covered with ribbons, flowers and memorial notes. Looking through the fence there didn’t seem to be much but then a plaque revealed that this was the location of the Crossbones graveyard. The graveyard was a place for paupers, plague victims and prostitutes, those people not deemed good enough to be buried in consecrated ground, this was a place for outcasts. The prostitutes would have worked in the brothels and drinking dens of the south bank and were referred to as ‘single women’ when they were buried, with the plot at one point being known as the ‘singles woman’s graveyard’. The place was shut down in 1853 on account of it been ‘completely overcharged with dead’. It was only rediscovered during excavations for the Jubilee line.
The women at the heart of the graveyard, the ‘single women’ who in death were placed without fanfare into a pit, covered with quick lime and with no rites were known as ‘Winchester Geese’. Winchester after the Bishop of Winchester who licensed the prostitutes in the area and whose palace would have stood near to the graveyard and who effectively controlled the whole of Southwark.
Now the community seems to have taken the crossbones to it’s heart, numerous memorials are attached to the iron railings which bar entry to the graveyard with people remembering that the area represents the final resting place for so many people born without much of a chance at life in the first place.