In the back streets of south London, a short walk from Shakespeare’s Globe, Southwark Cathedral and The Shard, is the site of an old burial ground with an extraordinary history. For centuries it was the outcasts’ graveyard for the area formerly known as The Mint, one of London’s poorest and most violent slums. According to local lore, it was once the final resting place for the Winchester Geese, medieval sex workers licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work in the brothels of The Liberty of the Clink, which lay outside the law of the City of London.
By the time it closed in 1853, Crossbones held the mortal remains of an estimated 15,000 paupers. The eastern part was dug up in the 1990s during work on the Jubilee Line Extension. In 1996, the writer John Constable had a vision in which ‘The Goose’ revealed the secret history of Crossbones. This was the inspiration for The Southwark Mysteries – the epic cycle of poems, plays and esoteric lore performed in The Globe and the Cathedral – and informed the magical works at Crossbones: the creation of a shrine at the red iron gates in Redcross Way, dedicated to ‘the outcast dead’, and now a garden or remembrance.
Since 1996, John Constable aka John Crow, Katy Nicholls aka Katy Kaos and members of the Friends of Crossbones network have worked to reclaim and transform Cross Bones Graveyard – from a derelict industrial works site to a world-famous shrine and garden of remembrance, a sacred place and sanctuary in the heart of the city, dedicated to ‘the outcast dead’ and to living sex workers, outcasts and other outsiders.
From 2006 to 2013 Friends of Crossbones worked with Andy Hulme the ‘Invisible Gardener’ to create a wild guerrilla garden with shrines. From 2014 to 2019 Friends of Crossbones worked with Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) to open a public garden of remembrance.
John Constable writes: “Katy and I are no longer actively involved in the management of the Garden of Remembrance. For the rest of this, our 23rd year of active service to The Goose and her Outcast Dead, we’ll focus on the Vigils and the transmission of The Mysteries, the spiritual heart of our work “in eternity” – of which the shrine and the garden are manifestations in time.
To celebrate life in all in imperfection!
We’ll continue to tend the shrines and to water the garden! The next phase will depend on decisions relating to the proposed development on the adjoining land. The developers and the site owners Transport for London (TfL) have pledged to protect Cross Bones Graveyard, to issue a lease and to enter into an agreement with BOST to maintain the garden. We wish BOST well in its stewardship of the the Cross Bones Graveyard, trusting that it’ll respect and be guided by the vision of a wild, DIY garden of remembrance for sex workers and other outsiders.”
To influence the future of the Crossbones Garden by joining the Crossbones Forum, to volunteer as a warden to keep it open, to inquire about opening times, and for other information relating to Crossbones Garden, please contact BOST: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 020 7403 3393
For guided walks, talks and performances, for updates on The Vigils and the accelerated unfolding of The Goose Vision as revealed to John Crow in The Southwark Mysteries, and for other creative responses, please use the contact page on this crossbones.org.uk website.
In memory of Grant Burford (9th November 1972 – 18th April 2017)
– with thanks for his invaluable help with creating this website.