charting the transformation of Crossbones Graveyard from a derelict industrial site to a world-famous memorial garden and heritage site with dates and details of key planning decisions, public statements of intent, and actions by Friends of Crossbones and residents of Southwark, London SE1
“… there is one ‘pure’ heritage site in the area that does touch on the lives of local people in the past. It is not an officially designated heritage site. Nor is it a commercially exploited tourist site. It is instead, a bottom-up, locally generated site. Set a little to the south of the main Bankside, less than a 5 minute walk away, is the site of the Crossbones graveyard… The major difference between this and the other heritage sites is the element of popular participation… Instead of being passive visitors or viewers, people can take part in active commemoration and creation of heritage through making emotional connections with the women represented at the site… As a result, Crossbones is the most affective heritage site in Southwark… It is the one place in the area where purely local significance is really evoked, and where the lives of people in the past can be celebrated and remembered. Without physical structures to distract the mind, it can be a site of quiet contemplation and communion with past people.”
1991 Freehold to the ‘Landmark Court’ site including Crossbones Graveyard acquired for strategic works on the Jubilee Line extension, completed in 1996. During works on the electricity sub-station, human remains are unearthed.
Museum of London archaeologists remove 148 skeletons, which they estimate represent only 1% of the total burials, more than half of them children. The 1999 MoLAS publication states: “The excavations at Redcross Way were carried out under difficult conditions and due to circumstances beyond the control of the excavators, time pressure was severe. This led to some loss of details in the way the site was recorded.”
Concerns are expressed over the removal of more bones by contractors. The eastern part of the burial ground is occupied by the electricity sub-station. The burials in the surviving western part remain in situ.
1996 Having lived in The Borough for 30 years, writer John Constable begins work on ‘The Southwark Mysteries’, inspired by the story of Crossbones. This compendium of poems, plays and Southwark folk-lore revives the old local tradition linking Crossbones with stories of a ‘single women’s’ burial ground and the ‘Winchester Geese’ who worked in the Bankside brothels licensed by the Bishop of Winchester.
1998 Another local resident, artist/photographer Zanna Wilford, leads a campaign against plans to erect office-blocks on the Crossbones site.
31/10/98 The first ‘Halloween of Crossbones’: a ritual drama based on ‘The Southwark Mysteries’, culminates in a candlelit procession to the burial ground, where the names of the dead are read aloud. Ribbons and mementos are tied to the iron gates in Redcross Way, creating a shrine to ‘the outcast dead’. The Halloween ritual is conducted annually for the next 13 years.
The Museum of London opens its ‘London Bodies’ exhibition. The poster shows the “skull of a young woman with syphilitic lesions” exhumed from Crossbones. The supposed identity of this young woman is later the subject of the TV documentary ‘Crossbones Girl’.
1999 Publication of ‘The Southwark Mysteries’ and the MoLAS report on ‘The Cross Bones Burial Ground’, raising awareness of the importance of the site.
26/04/99 REF: 99/AP/0911 Planning application for erection of 3 x 4 storey buildings and car-parking. Refused. 26/03/03: allowed on appeal. 26/03/08: expired.
23/04/00 ‘The Southwark Mysteries’ performed in Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral with a large community cast. The play begins with London Underground contractors digging up the Crossbones Graveyard, raising the spirit of ‘The Goose’, the spirit of this place.
14/08/02 Colin Smith, Managing Director, LT Property, reply to John Constable’s enquiry regarding future plans for Crossbones Graveyard:
“… we are very willing to consult with Local Groups and the Local Authority in terms of long term development plans for the site.”
2000-2013 SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES theatre group conduct site-specific performances, guided walks and workshops for Southwark schools and community groups, exploring the history of Southwark with the Crossbones story at its heart.
10/04/02 REF: AP/02/0746 Planning application for erection of 4 storey temporary building for 10 years. 24/07/02: refused by Southwark Council.
2004 Friends of Crossbones is formed by John Constable and Katy Nicholls in response to local concerns about the stewardship of the burial ground. The group highlights the historic, cultural and spiritual importance of Crossbones Graveyard. It campaigns to protect the shrine at the gates and to establish a garden or remembrance on the site of the burial ground.
23/06/04 Friends of Crossbones conduct the first Crossbones Vigil for the Outcast in the street by the gates in Redcross Way: “to renew the shrine and to remember the outcast, dead and alive”. The Vigil is held at 7pm on the 23rd of every month.
2006 Katy Nicholls obtains Southwark’s Cleaner Greener Safer Award for planters and a plaque at the Crossbones gates. The plaque reads: “In medieval times this was an unconsecrated graveyard for prostitutes or ‘Winchester Geese’. By the 18th century it had become a paupers’ burial ground, which closed in 1853. Here, local people have created a memorial shrine. The Outcast Dead R.I.P.”
23/04/07 At the St George’s Day Vigil, Friends of Crossbones go on site to rededicate Crossbones as ‘sacred ground’. The group cleans the site, removing many bags of rubbish. From then until 2011, supporters work with an on-site security guard to create an ‘Invisible Garden’ with a secret entrance from Redcross Way.
17/01/08 REF: 08/AP/0160 application for use of site as temporary car-park to facilitate construction of Thameslink programme. 03/04/08: refused.
09/06/08 REF: 08/AP/1439 application for use of site as temporary car-park to facilitate construction of Thameslink programme but moving car-park north, leaving Crossbones site untouched.
2008 Friends of Crossbones begin discussions with TfL on the future of Crossbones. Online petition launched: “We, the undersigned, call on Transport For London and all other interested parties to support the protection and conservation of the Cross Bones Memorial Gates and to work towards the creation of a Memorial Garden and public park on the historically sensitive site of the Cross Bones Graveyard adjoining Redcross Way and Union Street.” (https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/cross-bones-graveyard-heritagesite.html)
London Assembly Question 1938 / 2008 by Valerie Shawcross AM:
“TfL own a very interesting piece of history in Redcross Way Se1 – Cross Bones Graveyard, an un-consecrated medieval graveyard for prostitutes. The land is currently enclosed in London Underground boards, but has a gate with a bronze plaque describing its history. As Chair of TfL can the Mayor ensure that Officers of TfL contact the Friends of Cross Bones Graveyard and start a discussion with them to protect this piece of London’s most interesting past?”
Reply to London Assembly Question 1938 / 2008 by The Mayor of London:
“The site is to be used as a Thameslink 2000 project works site between now and 2015. Future development plans have yet to be worked out but will be prepared recognising the archaeological importance of the site. This will include consultation with all parties with an interest in the site.”
26/07/08 Valerie Shawcross AM letter to Commissioner for Transport Peter Hendy: “My long-term concern is for the future of the Cross Bones Graveyard. You may be aware that there is an historic site on the patch of land being used as a depot. This unconsecrated graveyard was a prostitutes cemetery for centuries and is of huge historical interest in Southwark. It is also a very interesting visitor attraction and helps highlight a piece of our social, economic and culturalhistory of tremendous interest to me as a woman politician. I would hope to see the planning brief for any future development on the site make some accommodation for the graveyard – perhaps a piece of public realm garden… where visitors can be taken to pay respects and hear the story in full… Southwark’s ability to attract tourists for the local economy and remain as an attractive community in which to live and work is influenced by such small but important locations as the Cross Bones Graveyard…”
11/09/08: Commissioner for Transport Peter Hendy reply to Valerie Shawcross AM: “We recognise the history related to this site and the need for that to be managed sensitively alongside a reasonable property development.”
10/09/08: Southwark Council Community Project Bank approves award of £100,000 for Crossbones: “To create a new public open space and memorial garden. This will both create a quiet place for local people and protect an important heritage site commemorating the lives of the 15,000 Southwark poor people buried here in charnel pits. The garden will also further beautify Redcross Way, which is a valuable route for pedestrians visiting or living on this conservation area.”
17/09/08: Southwark Council Project Officer Jillian Houghton, letter confirming Crossbones Memorial Garden as an approved ‘Project Bank’ project: “The approved project ideas will help planning officers negotiate planning contributions with developers and inform us how the community wants to improve their local area… funding is dependant on availability of suitable Section 106 from new planning applications in your area…”
2009 The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) begins campaigning for Crossbones Graveyard to become a memorial for sex workers. Crossbones is established as a place of community inclusion – a place of pilgrimage for those who have lost their own lost loved ones, those excluded because of race or gender, who identify as LGBTQ+, with mental health / addiction issues, the homeless and… people of “all faiths and none”.
31/10/09 An IUSW representative speaks of the importance of Crossbones at The Halloween of Crossbones XII (2009). ‘The Independent’ magazine includes a review of the event by feminist academic and writer Katharine Angel.
2011 Friends of Crossbones initiate discussions with Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) and with Transport for London (TfL) to create a garden on the site of the burial ground.
Drivers Jonas Deloitte marketing brochure for TfL Landmark Court site states: “The site is located in an Archaeological Priority Zone and partly within / bounded by two Conservation Areas. The unconsecrated Crossbones burial ground is located in the southern part of the site. Any development at Landmark Court would need to be sympathetic to its heritage.”
The Mayor of London, reply to London Assembly Question 1756 / 2011 by Valerie Shawcross AM: “I recognise the special cultural and historic importance of the Cross Bones burial ground.”
22/07/11 The Mayor of London, reply to John Constable (Friends of Crossbones): “TfL’s officers have assured me that they will continue to work with you and other interested parties, in developing their approach for the site, and they will be looking for proposals that give recognition to the special cultural and historical importance of the Cross Bones burial ground…”
2013 The security guard no longer occupies the on-site caravan, which is broken into. Concerns about anti-social behaviour, expressed by Friends of Crossbones, local residents and police, result in the caravan’s removal.
15/10/13 Responding to Friends of Crossbones campaign for proper stewardship of the burial ground, London Underground Limited issues a licence for John Constable: “To use land at Crossbones Graveyard, Off Union Street, London SE1 1SD for gardening, tidying and general maintenance.”
2014 TfL grants a short lease to Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) to create a garden at Crossbones, and consults with Friends of Crossbones for the gates with the shrine to be relocated from the land scheduled for development to the protected graveyard area. A TfL statement says: “We recognise that this change of location of the memorial gates will be of concern to a number of people. By moving them at this point, it will protect them in the longer term and in the meantime provide a viewing point into the temporary garden. We have asked our contractors to undertake the relocation of the gates in the most careful and respectful manner possible.”
11/12/14 The ‘Evening Standard’: “Transport for London, owner of the site off Southwark Street, last week granted Bankside Open Spaces Trust a three year lease to turn the burial ground into a community garden, to open to the public early next year. TfL is still thought to be considering selling the land, but the graveyard is protected.”
08/03/15 Public opening of the Crossbones Garden of Remembrance on International Women’s Day. Helen John’s design retains elements of the ‘Invisible Garden’ whilst introducing raised planting beds and the ‘Goose Wing’ entrance by Arthur de Mowbray. Prior to opening, fragments of human bones are reburied, with prayers said by Fr Christopher of the Church of the Most Precious Blood.
Crossbones Garden of Remembrance receives many thousands of visitors and world-wide publicity. Working with BOST, Southwark Mysteries and Friends of Crossbones present cultural and educational events, with guided tours, performances, open days and festivals. This phase of the garden is supported by long-established local firm C.G. Hacking and Sons.
15/10/15 Southwark Council issues traffic order for closure of Redcross Way during the Crossbones Vigils, recognising the importance of this monthly community event.
22/07/15 The Dean of Southwark Cathedral, the Very Revd. Andrew Nunn, leads a procession to Crossbones to conduct ‘An Act of Regret, Remembrance, Restoration’, in which the burial ground receives the Anglican church’s blessing for the first time in its history. The blessing has since taken place every year on 22nd July, St Mary Magdalene’s Feast Day.
2017 BOST holds extensive consultations with Friends of Crossbones and other local people to develop a ‘Vision Masterplan‘ funded by TfL, to guide TfL’s prospective development partners on the future of the Crossbones Garden.
20/04/17 The Urban Sacred In Southwark a one day conference to coincide with an exhibition held in London, Berlin and Amsterdam. Three presentations by distinguished academics directly reference the Crossbones Graveyard. Oxford Professor Sondra Hausner speaks about her new book ‘The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard’ in which she explores the Crossbones Vigils as an exemplar of the ‘Urban Sacred’.
11/07/17 TfL announces that Triangle London Developments (TfL, a consortium of u+i and Notting Hill Housing) is its preferred bidder for a joint venture on it Landmark Court site. The TfL press release states:
“The Cross Bones Graveyard, a historic graveyard for prostitutes and paupers, adjoining the site, will be safeguarded, with a view to support a high-quality memorial garden.“
The ‘Notes For Editors’ accompanying the TfL press release states that:“TfL intends to permanently safeguard the historic Cross Bones Graveyard, which is also located on the site”
“TfL is keen to see Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) continue their tenancy and are in discussions with them to arrange a new lease that would best suit them in this unique location”
2017-19 The Joint Venture (u+i and TfL) consults with BOST, Friends of Crossbones and other Southwark residents on the proposed Landmark Court development – and specifically on the future of the Crossbones Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance. Joint Venture makes clear its intention for the design of the future garden to be based on the Vision Masterplan drawn up by BOST following extensive consultations, which was funded by TfL.
30/07/18 Crossbones Graveyard is included in Historic England’s listed memorials that honour ordinary people. On Radio 4’s Today programme, Historic England’s Celia Richardson says: “Crossbones Graveyard is a very moving place… it’s really been taken over by the community. It’s been taken to people’s hearts. It’s become a shrine to the outcast dead, and it’s absolutely covered in ribbons and memorials and mementos of people who died from the 17th century inworkhouses right up to the present day.”
17-20/10/18 u+i hold three days of public consultations on their plans for the Landmark Court development and to protect and enhance the Crossbones Garden of Remembrance, based on the Vision Plan developed in public workshops with Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST). Friends of Crossbones broadly supports u+i’s plans and engages with them constructively, guided by these basic principles:
• Crossbones is a DIY, wild garden of remembrance for ‘the outcast dead’ who are buried in the Crossbones Graveyard.
• It’s especially dedicated to sex workers and other outsiders.
• It is a sanctuary in the heart of the city, a place for people to remember those buried there and their own lost loved ones, and to reconnect with the past.
• It’s NOT a blank canvas – any proposed innovations can be judged on whether they respond to and enhance what is already here, rather than imposing their own ‘top down’ vision.
• It’s ‘DIY’ in that it has evolved through work by those who feel a strong connection with Crossbones. Its ‘wildness’ reflects its history.
• Any innovations should respect its historical, cultural, emotional and spiritual significance, the history of the graveyard AND the more recent work to reclaim it as sacred ground.
19/02/19 STEWARDSHIP of the Crossbones Graveyard John Constable (Friends of Crossbones) writes to u+i, TFL and Southwark Council representatives asking that the upcoming planning application makes clear that “as the freeholder Transport for London (TfL) is ultimately responsible for the protection and maintenance of the Crossbones burial site for the length of the freehold lease”. The letter also asks that the planning application should include a specific assurance that Crossbones Graveyard is not simply ‘other open space’ or an amenity and that it is entitled to proper stewardship as:
• a protected graveyard and memorial garden
• an historical, cultural, environmental and community asset
• a place of spiritual significance to many people
15/06/2020 the planning application for Landmark Court (TfL land adjacent to Crossbones Graveyard) is granted. The planning committee also granted a 30-year lease to Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) for Crossbones Graveyard to be protected and maintained as a public garden of remembrance. The existing garden will be enhanced in line with plans agreed last year following extensive consultations between the developers, BOST and a ‘Vision Group’ including many Friends of Crossbones.
Here are the main points of the planning decision as summarised by Helen John (Hej) of BOST:
“1. The lease is now inside the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 which means that BOST now has a right to renew at the end of the 30 years lease term.
2. The landlord one year break clause proposed by TfL which in effect could have removed BOST after just one year, was removed at the request of the Council so BOST now has greater security of tenure.
3. The funding for the wardens and ongoing management is secure beyond the 6 month review period, allowing BOST to adequately fund maintenance and wardening on site.
4. The legal team at Southwark have agreed to review the Other Open Spaces proposed designation to give Crossbones stronger protection under planning law.
5. The restrictive covenant – an agreement requiring the landlord not to redevelop the burial ground – which is proposed for Crossbones will also be reviewed to provide stronger protection
6. The Section 106 agreement will also attempt to ensure that there is always at least 25 years on the lease term to help BOST secure funding for events, educational programmes, workshops etc.”
” Sadly, the 299 years, or the 70 years proposed by Councillor Noakes was rejected; this would have secured Crossbones Graveyard’s future more than any other legal document. The legal advice we’ve received is that although 299 years was not granted at committee, we should never stop asking for a longer lease from TfL.”
” We now move onto the next stage of our journey, which is to enhance Crossbones, raise its profile and educate people about its importance; this more than anything else will help to secure its future. So, on we go!”
” There is still also work to be done on the detailed design for the enhancement of Crossbones, in line with the planning application and BOST looks forward to continuing to work with the developer to achieve this. We’re very much hoping that landscape architect Luke Greysmith from Cookson & Tickner landscape architects, will still be working on the scheme and as soon as I have more information I’ll let you know.”
Thanks to Hej and the BOST team, to Lucy for speaking at the planning meeting, to members of the Crossbones Forum, to all of us who put in so much work on the Vision Group and in consultation with TfL and the developers, and to all Friends of Crossbones who have contributed to our 25-year campaign that is now bearing fruit.
When we began this long journey, many thought we were deluding ourselves by thinking we could save a piece of “derelict industrial land” with an estimated development value of £30 million!
Over the past 25 years Crossbones Graveyard has become a world-famous pilgrimage site, a shrine and a garden of remembrance dedicated to sex workers, outcasts and others who have been excluded or marginalised. Now, for the first time, its historical, cultural and spiritual significance is enshrined in law.
The above timeline is dedicated to future activists.
“The Crossbones Graveyard gatherings are about finding and establishing a sense of community particularly for those who are self-consciously not integrated into mainstream social orders… (16) Whatever other dimensions ritual may encompass, we know it to assert at least these two – the capacity to integrate and the capacity to resist – in its ability to jointly maintain and shift the social order… (17) If one purpose of the ritual gathering was to create a memorial garden, the commemorative act is done. This story of attempted appropriation, and dogged resistance, refracting out from local to global and back again, is complete. The capacity to mobilize us in the present, for the health of the contemporary world, is the reason for telling this tale. (201)”
The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard: Time, Ritual and Sexual Commerce in London Sondra L. Hausner, Associate Professor in the Study of Religion, University of Oxford (Indiana University Press, 2016)