We’re in a bracing phase of the work at Crossbones to ensure the future of the Garden of Remembrance alongside the planned redevelopment of the adjoining site. Historic England’s recent interest in the site, which led to the spate of good news stories all over yesterday’s media, is a welcome affirmation of the cultural and spiritual importance of the old burial ground with its memorial to sex workers. The place of the outcast, dead and alive!
‘Oh that’s extraordinary! So, Crossbones Graveyard is a very moving place. It is thought to have actually been the original resting place for the medieval sex workers who were licensed to practice in brothels by the Church in Southwark. And what’s happened is… after that, 15,000 paupers’ burials were held there. It’s no longer… people can’t be buried there any more, but 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 in workhouses right up to the present day. And what’s really interesting is that every year now, on the Feast of Mary Magdalene, The Dean of Southwark visits and makes an Act of Regret and Remembrance for the way that the Church treated women…’
Great news for Friends of Crossbones, Bankside Open Spaces Trust and all of us working to protect the shrine to the outcast and the Garden of Remembrance…
Sunday 22nd July 12.30pm – 5pm FREE!
Crossbones Garden, Union Street entrance, London SE1 1SD
The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd. Andrew Nunn, conducts a blessing of Crossbones Garden of Remembrance, followed by a performance and picnic for St Mary Magdalene Day
12.30pm Garden opens. Procession from Southwark Cathedral. Join the procession on the west side of the Cathedral or gather at Crossbones to greet it.
An ‘Act of Regret, Remembrance, Restoration’ honouring the ‘Winchester Geese’, women who worked in medieval brothels licensed by the church yet were buried in the unconsecrated Crossbones Graveyard.
1.30pm Cross Bones Bards
Poems from The Southwark Mysteries, the secret history of The Goose at Crossbones, by John Constable with Michelle Watson. Also featuring Kirsten Morrison, Cunning Folk
2.30pm Magdalene Feast with impromptu performances
Celebrating St Mary Magdalene’s Feast Day. Light refreshments provided. Please bring cushions for your comfort and a tasty treat to share.
4.30 Closing ceremony
5pm Garden closes
Some adult content. Under 16s must be accompanied by a responsible adult.
Presented by Friends of Crossbones, supported by Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) and C.G. Hacking and Sons Limited, with thanks to Southwark Cathedral
Monday 23rd July 2018
Yet another reason to join us for the Isis-Magdalene Vigil at Crossbones Gates, Redcross Way, gather 6.45 for 7pm Vigil on 23rd July
An Australian who attended our May Vigil was moved to write this report:
It was the 23rd of the month and late in the year; the sun was setting slowly, having giving off what little warmth it had for the day. I stood in a relatively small geographical triangle comprising the points of Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the church of St George the Martyr, while Borough Market provided a door stop. Above me, the wheels of an electric train sang a metallic song as it rattled hastily over the tall brick parapets to its destination. The huge arches amplified the shrill sound of that found in the heart of a cello. Behind me, hung the glowing coach-style wall light of an ale house, The Boot and Floggit, a pub unchanged since Dickens walked the streets. This arena carried the scars from having been home to some of London’s poorest and most violent of slum dwellers. In front of me was a wrought iron gate festooned with ribbons, flowers, poems and tired photographs left to hang in memory of the dead, from ages gone past.
This is the graveyard of some 15,000 paupers, of infants, workhouse servants and prostitutes – especially those who were called the Winchester Geese. These were the medieval sex workers licenced by the Bp of Winchester to be fodder for the local brothels; alas these poor souls were forbidden to have a Christian burial. Because of the smell and health hazards of the over-crowded burial site it was closed in 1853. This is now prime valued land and has been sought by many a developer, and at one time it was to be location of a giant fairground. Fortunately, local residents and people with more passion than wealth blocked every entrepreneurial move. It remains to this day a sacred site and is called Cross Bones, the custodians being the people of Southwark, not the church or the local government.
I was attending an evening vigil alongside 100 others. With guitar in hand, it was led by a middle aged charismatic man who displayed the demeanour and possessed the voice of a RSC member. He informed the congregants of something of the history of Cross Bones and in time gave each of us a ribbon with a name, and the profession, of a deceased person written on it. We called out the name and tied it to the wrought iron gate, while offering a quiet prayer. A long silence followed; then everyone who had an interest in the proceedings was invited to come forward to share a song, recite a poem, offer a prayer or whatever moved them. After a little time a congregation of hands punctured the darkening night sky.
As this was happening, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a rather scruffily dressed old man, swaying a little like an inebriated drunk, who collapsed in a heap in the roadside gutter; he was an Australian I was to discover. At the time I thought that he had died and considered that he was fortunate to be able to find such an immediate burial site, and possibly getting a fresh ribbon, placed in remembrance on the gate for him. A kind man, Peter Gatsby, known to some of the locals, came and ministered to him and life seemed to be renewed. It was all rather surreal, his life seeming to ebb away with so little fuss yet with dignity.
The vigil did not stop for this blip. Testimonies and songs filled the remaining evening with a peculiar mixture of sadness and celebration and a blend of frivolity and respectful dignity, overlaid with occasional tears. Darkness descended, the people eventually dispersed and the street emptied. But the fresh, and the older sun-drenched pale, ribbons remained, swaying gently in the light evening breeze as a tribute and testimony to the promise of ‘life and resurrection on the last day’ for those who were unable to speak for themselves.
In the daylight hours of the following day, as I revisited Cross Bones and spent some time at the memorial gate, it dawned on me that what I had witnessed the previous evening was a wonderful gathering of people engaged in a deep, rich, street spirituality. Faith, hope and love abounded in the unseen. There were no clergy present, it appeared, despite being within a stone’s throw of Southwark Cathedral; no religious licences had been given by the establishment, no hymn books provided, no class exclusions, no request for donations, no special religious dress-ups, no formal membership: it was simply raw street spirituality. This was a Church service that was truly beautiful, in fact excellent, and perhaps for many it was one of the few Church services they might ever attend. Perhaps they, too, will remember it as fondly as I did.
PS – I made inquiries about the Australian who I thought had dropped dead the night of the vigil; it appears that he was taken back to Peter Gatsby’s flat nearby, and recovered well.
As you know, Crossbones forms part of a larger piece of land owned by TfL. Becki from U+I, with whom TfL are working to develop the land to the north of Crossbones (beyond the hoarding), has invited us to a special consultation evening for Crossbones supporters. Hej from Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) who manage Crossbones Garden writes:
“We would like to invite you to a meeting with U+ I, in partnership with Transport for London (TfL), to discuss their plans to regenerate Landmark Court to the north of Crossbones Graveyard. U + I have already committed to protecting Crossbones and to work with us to enhance the Graveyard so it is preserved and more accessible to the public. In line with this they have invited members of BOST and Friends of Crossbones to meet with their landscape architect, as well as Wynne-Williams Associates, who helped to create the Vision for Crossbones, to discuss how we can work together with the Vision as a framework to protect and enhance Crossbones. The meeting will be at the Africa Centre, 66 Great Suffolk St, London SE1 0BL on 5th July between 5-8pm. If you could let me know if you are able to attend that would be appreciated.”
Please attend if you can, to listen and learn and to reaffirm that the identity and character of Crossbones Garden must be protected alongside any development of the larger Landmark Court site – as the place of the outcast, a wild garden in the heart of London. Becki can be contacted directly: RebeccaSelby@uandiplc.com There’s also an exhibition and general public consultations being held at the Africa Centre on Friday 6th: 12-8pm and Saturday 7th: 10am-3pm, in case you can’t make it tomorrow evening.
This month marks 14 years of consecutive vigils, held on the 23rd of every month since June 2004. FREE! Donations welcome
At all the vigils, London poets and musicians give impromptu performances.
In the photo (Another Eden Images), Mervyn Syna performs his song ‘Prime Monster’ at the May 2017 Vigil.
We come to renew the memorial shrine, to remember the outcast, dead and alive, and to reclaim a secret history. AND this month…
OUTSIDE is an exhibition of sculptures and performances in Crossbones Garden, with free accompanying publication
OUTSIDE links Crossbones’ history to issues facing contemporary sex worker communities. The exhibition runs 12-5pm from 24th-28th May and 30th May-2nd June
This opening event, featuring performances in Crossbones Garden, will be followed by the Vigil for the Outcast in the street facing the gates / shrine in Redcross Way
Love and Geese >><<