At the Cross-Bones Gates

Gates to Cross Bones graveyard

There’s a curious graveyard in south London. It was closed in the 1850s, having been described as being “completely overcharged with dead”, its gates are decked with ribbons and it’s where you’ll find the Winchester Geese.

Who were the Winchester Geese? “Single women”, as the Londonism went: prostitutes licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Liberty of the Clink – the fabulously disreputable area of Southwark famed for its brothels since the 12th Century (as it fell outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, the Church found it a convenient place both to accommodate female orphans and to deal with the… urges of the clergy. It was a notorious gambling spot, and riddled with thieves – a veritable den of iniquity if ever there was one). Curiously, it’s why you’ll occasionally see “goose bumps” historically used to refer to VD – to be “bitten by a Winchester goose” was to contract syphilis. Nice.

But I digress. We were talking about Cross Bones.

The graveyard was unconsecrated – burial there was the fate of not just the prostitutes but paupers too: anyone from the margins of society could find themselves among the 15,000 bodies thought to be interred there.

A vigil is held there every Halloween, led by playwright John Constable and the Friends of Cross Bones

You’ll find Cross Bones on Redcross Way, in Borough: look for the ribbons, which have now come to symbolise not just the women buried within, but all women in the oldest profession – and any of society’s outcasts, living or long-dead.



One comment

  1. I’m really inspired by the graveyard. I am new to London. I just discovered it recently and did a blog about it, then found you through the tags! It’s not the history that facinates me but the reaction of the present day people. Of local relevance reflecting heroism so close to home.Great post hope you enjoy mine too:

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