Crossbones Vigil for the Outcast / ‘Goose Night’

Friday 23rd November
gather 6.45 for 7pm Vigil at the Crossbones Graveyard gates in Redcross Way, London SE1

The 174th of the Crossbones Vigils held on the 23rd of every single month since June 2004…

To remember the outcast, dead and alive, to renew the shrine at the gates and to reclaim this magical place as sacred ground.

This month’s Vigil marks the 22nd anniversary of ‘Goose Night’ (23rd November 1996) when The Goose spirit revealed the secret history of Crossbones to John Crow, inspiring The Southwark Mysteries and the works at Crossbones Graveyard.

Please bring your own mementos or ribbons with the names of your lost loved ones to tie to the gates, and perhaps a poem, song or short personal testimony to offer to the spirits of Crossbones Graveyard.

FREE. Donations welcome.

Halloween blessings… to all the beings in all the worlds

Photo by Max Crow Reeves: The Halloween of Crossbones 2016

In 2010 we completed the magical cycle of 13 annual performances of The Halloween of Crossbones, which began in 1998. We revived it in 2015, when we danced with the dead with Wolfshead & Vixen GOTH MORRIS, and again in 2016, when Jacqueline led a silent communion with the spirits. We’d only do it again in the most exceptional circumstances. We now perform our rites for the outcast dead at the Crossbones Vigil / Halloween Portal every 23rd October. For friends who miss our samhain shamanigans, here’s Andrew Logan’s exquisite film of The Halloween of Crossbones IX (2006) back in the wild days when we could still party in the ‘Drome’ caverns under London Bridge.

The film ends with John Crow’s prophesy that we’ve come “… to create the garden that will one day flower here, despite the attempt of developers to turn it into three office blocks.” Back then it was simply a vision and a call to arms. Nine years later, the Crossbones Garden of Remembrance opened to the public.

Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen, to Jennifer who publicly envisioned the garden at a Vigil, and especially to the cast and crew of The Halloween of Crossbones – Michelle Watson, Niall McDevitt, Jahnet Rani Ji and Ground Control aka Katy Kaos. Poems from The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable. Recorded music by Mark Ominous. Produced by Martin Scooby.

Merry Samhain and a Happy New Year!

Opening the Portal

Crossbones Vigil / Halloween Portal, 23rd October 2018

Thanks to our long-standing Friends of Crossbones and the many new supporters who gathered last night at Crossbones Gates for our Vigil for the Outcast / Halloween Portal. The 23rd October Vigil is also our Halloween Portal – when we gather under the banner of Santa Muerte to perform the rituals originally conducted during our magical cycle of 13 Halloweens, including the Reading of the Names of the Dead – those buried at Crossbones and our own lost loved ones.

This ceremony was followed with songs, poems and meditations by John Crow, Michelle Watson, Tommy Calderbank, Jacqueline Durban, Mervyn Syna, Mark Juhan, Jerry and Jules. Big up Jennifer Cooper for her brilliant rendition of ‘Twilight of the Trade Marks’, showing the way for future participants in the Vigil to learn and perform one of the poems from ‘The Southwark Mysteries’ to incorporate the Goose and Crow spirits. Thanks for the powerful presence of Andy, Susanna, Maggie, Lana, Joanna, Jonathan, Elizabeth, Emma, Aileen and some bloods so new I don’t yet know their names. Sorry if I’ve missed someone. By the end, there were roughly 70 of us there and, as so often, I was a bit overwhelmed.

All this, with The Shard and a full moon rising over the Crossbones Gates as we faced the burial ground to deliver our unconditional blessing.

>><< Photos by Jacqueline Durban. Santa Muerte banner by Jennifer Cooper

Public Consultation

u+i, the developers of the site adjoining (and including) Crossbones, are holding 3 days of consultations on their proposed Landmark Court development, including their draft proposals for the adjoining Crossbones Garden of Remembrance: You may like to attend one of the following u+i consultation days and HAVE YOUR SAY.

Wednesday 17 October, 12pm-2pm and 5pm-8pm at Flat Iron Square, 64 Union Street, London, SE1 1TD

Thursday 18 October, 12pm-2pm and 5pm-8pm at Flat Iron Square, 64 Union Street, London, SE1 1TD
6.30pm Lucy Talbot gives a history talk, sharing her PhD research on the area.

Saturday 20 October, 10am-4pm at the Landmark Court Site, 17-23 Southwark Street, SE1 1RU (Redcross Way Entrance) with history talks, tours, performances and craft activities.
12.30pm and 2.30pm: John Constable and Katy Nicholls conduct 2 tours exploring the history and culture of the Crossbones Graveyard. Assemble on the Landmark Court site ready to leave at 12.30pm or 2.30pm. And, at 1.30pm: Lucy Talbot, history talk.

John, Katy and Lucy will all be around on Saturday, explaining why Crossbones is such a special place. We’re there to represent ourselves, and the Friends of Crossbones network.

u+i’s intial plans to protect and enhance the Crossbones Garden of Remembrance are based on the Vision Plan developed in public workshops with Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST). At this stage, we broadly support these plans and are looking to engage with them constructively. We’ve explained to u+i the importance of being 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 works to reclaim it as sacred ground.

We’d welcome other Friends of Crossbones who support these basic principles and are familiar with the history to attend one of these consultation days and politely reaffirm the importance of the Crossbones Garden of Remembrance.

Autumn 2018: talks and workshops

with John Constable aka John Crow

Beginning the night of the 23rd November 1996 and shape-shifting over the past 22 years, a practice of urban magic has evolved at Crossbones Graveyard. It’s embodied in the verses of The Southwark Mysteries and in the Vigils held at the gates in Redcross Way at 7pm on the 23rd of every month.

Anyone wishing to delve deeper, please click on the highlighted links below.

The 13th October talk offers a fascinating introduction to the Crossbones story.

The 20th November talk and 24th November workshop are especially recommended for anyone interested in practising urban magic or incorporating it in their own spiritual works.


Saturday 13th October 2018 at 1pm – Crossbones Graveyard: Burying the Outcast
with Jelena Bekvalac and John Constable

Part of London Month of the Dead at Brompton Cemetery Chapel, London SW10 9UG

Jelena Bekvalac, Curator of Human Osteology at The Museum of London, tells the story of the excavation of the buried bones, and John Constable, aka John Crow, will reveal the history of Crossbones Graveyard and how he was inspired by it. £12 including a free Hendrick’s Gin Cocktail.


Tuesday 20th November 7pm to 8.30pm – Urban Magic at Crossbones Graveyard
a talk by John Constable aka John Crow
£12 members; £14 non-members (CLICK HERE then go to end of event page and click BOOK NOW

The College of Psychic Studies, 16 Queensbury Place, London SW7 2EB

An initiation into a contemporary magical praxis dedicated to the outcast dead of Crossbones Graveyard. The talk takes in mediumship, trance and incorporation, street magic, synchronicity, and how spiritual works can manifest in the physical world. We focus on the Crossbones Vigil as a model ceremony, exploring its ritual forms and how to balance these fixed points with a freedom that allows the unexpected to happen. The day includes: preparation (practical and magical); creating an altar and devising ceremonial forms; presentation and performance of rituals; connecting with the ‘spirit of place’ and holding the space.


Saturday 24th November 10am to 5pm – Urban Magic: Making Magic in an Urban Environment
a workshop led by John Constable aka John Crow
£75 members; £95 non-members (CLICK HERE then go to end of event page and click BOOK NOW)

The College of Psychic Studies, 16 Queensbury Place, London SW7 2EB

This intensive, day-long workshop provides a working introduction to magic, mediumship and urban shamanism, and practical information for anyone interested in conducting a contemporary ritual. We focus on the Crossbones Vigil as a model ceremony, exploring its ritual forms and how to balance these fixed points with a freedom that allows the unexpected to happen. The day includes: preparation (practical and magical); creating an altar and devising ceremonial forms; presentation and performance of rituals; connecting with the ‘spirit of place’ and holding the space.

Advance booking recommended. John Constable’s 2017 Urban Magic workshop was fully booked in advance, leaving many disappointed. Book now to be sure of your place.

Absent Friends

The Crossbones Vigils have been held at 7pm on the 23rd of every month since 23rd June 2004. They were originally conceived to remember the outcast dead buried in the Crossbones Graveyard, to renew the shrine to the outcast dead and to reclaim the secret history as revealed by The Goose to John Crow. Over the years we’ve also begun to remember our own lost loved ones, many of whom have stood with us at Crossbones Gates.

We always say that each Vigil is unique, depending on the energy of the night and what people bring to it, though each is held by the simple ritual forms we’ve followed and evolved on the 23rd of every month since 23rd June 2004. In terms of remembering our own dead, the 23rd September Vigil for the Outcast our most challenging yet most rewarding Vigil ever. I brought my mourning to the gates – individually remembering Caras E Esta, Lindsay Kemp, Will Hensel, Martin Barker, Di Sherlock’s brother Mike (all of whom died in the last month), Ken Campbell (who died 10 years ago last 31st August), John Joyce (whose ashes are scattered at Crossbones), Irving Rappaport (who died on 23rd September 2017, exactly one year before this Vigil), and last but definitely not least, George Isherwood.

Just remembering these great spirits would have been intense enough, but Crow invited others to step forward and share their own losses and grief. Maggie powerfully evoked her murdered son. Then Rob, an Aussie, stepped up to tell us of his sister who had taken her own life and to read the unbearably moving letter she’d left for her young son (with help from Jennifer, Jacqueline and the women of Crossbones). At least two more speakers, Emma and Bernadette Martínez Hernández, were remembering loved ones who had chosen the exit door, as did Irving and most recently George, who elected to have the compassionate injection which is offered in the Netherlands. Raga reminded us that Venus (‘Reclaim Love’) is consciously preparing herself for Death, and at Katy’s suggestion we all spoke the unconditional blessing we’ve spoken with her at Reclaim Love happenings on many a Valentine’s Day:

“May all the Beings in all the Worlds be happy and at peace.”

After an hour or so of this we were all choked up, yet managed to transmute all this grieving into wild acts of joy in our celebration of the outcast, dead AND alive! Jenn, Jacqui and the women from ‘The Goddess, The Goose and me’ workshop performed a collective poem, Ian Blake shared a divine solo reed instrumental, Mark Juhan gave us a poem with a tree connection that comically subverted the smart-phone from which it was read 😉 Joanna read us Blake’s “He who bends to himself a joy…”, and John Crow cheered us up with his Riddle: “Click-clack click-clack don’t look back to see if Death’s a-followin'”

And in all this we were held by the five simple rituals with which for more than 14 years we’ve held the space here in the streets at the Crossbones Gates, allowing us to receive and work with whatever strangeness the night may bring us.

And this is why we return again and again to the sacred place of the outcast.

Lindsay Kemp ((3 May 1938 – 24 August 2018)

Lindsay Kemp taught David Bowie and Kate Bush all they ever knew – at least according to Lindsay! He certainly taught them, and all of us who were drawn into his charmed world, to be ourselves, only more fully, to be free and fearless and, above all, to be ‘FABULOUS!’ I got to know him in 1973, when two of my best friends joined the Kemp Company. He was 35, I was 21 and in awe of him, though he never patronised my clumsy boyish enthusiasm. FLOWERS, his adaptation of Jean Genet’s ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’, was mind-blowing, beautiful, terrifying, sad and funny all in one. I must have seen it a hundred times – at The Bush, The Regent, and many more theatres here and abroad. I loved his other work – Mr Punch’s Pantomime, Salome, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Duende, Parades Gone By, Cruel Garden – but Flowers was the one which influenced my own life and work more than any other.

In the ’70s I trained with him and became a camp follower. I’ll never forget when he got us all invited to a party in a country estate at Virginia Water, his outrageous tribe of queens and heads cavorting in a house that had once belonged to the Duke of Windsor. He was out as a gay man long before it was cool – or even safe – to be so, and inspired and mentored so many others, including my dear friends Atilio Lopez and Neil Caplan, both of whom died in the early ’80s during that terrible first wave of AIDS. Around that time, when I was touring Europe with Sheer Madness and other theatre companies, we’d run into the Kemp Company in Brussels, in Berlin, in Barcelona. In the late 80s/early 90s, after his shows at Sadler’s Wells, I’d go back stage and be reminded how, years before, Lindsay’s dressing room had seemed to me not only the most magical place on Earth, but also the one place I always felt truly safe – no matter what mental state I was in. When I visited him in Rome, his feet were giving him trouble and he could hardly walk – yet he kept going, and astonishing us all, for many more years! Love and gratitude. Viva, Lindsay! Dance on, forever! Open pathways.

George Isherwood (4 May 1947 – 14 September 2018)

George had been ill for some time and suffered much near the end, so his death wasn’t entirely unexpected, and in some ways is a deliverance, yet his absence from this world of fools is keenly felt. George was an extraordinary theatre creator, an actor-writer-director who inspired and encouraged so many of us. He combined a deep love of Shakespearean theatre with an equal delight in tacky American cartoons. The two came together in his masterpiece ‘Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits’, a tragi-comic retelling of 4 Shakespeare tragedies performed in under 75 minutes, using all the high and low arts of street theatre, with toilet-plungers for swords and industrial quantities of stage blood-capsules – and all this long before Reduced Shakespeare Company came up with a pale imitation.

The photo shows the final act of Anthony and Cleopatra with George as Anthony and me milking the bit part of a dying Egyptian slave. ‘Hits’ was devised with Minnie Marx and the Sheer Madness group they founded – with us all contributing something (my dying Hamlet came up with the immortal line: ‘Not to be. That is the answer!’) – but George’s eccentric genius and guiding spirit was writ large all over that prize-winning street show. I joined Sheer Madness in 1980 – we started out passing the hat in the streets of London, then were a big hit at the Amsterdam Fools Festival and spent the rest of that year touring Europe in a Mercedes van. Sheer Madness totally lived up to its name – none of us had a permanent base, we stayed in hotels or crashed with supporters, friends, fans. In Germany we scaled the dizzy heights – playing in big Stadt Theaters and winning the 1980 Konstantin Wecker Art Prize – and plumbed the lower depths – in Jahrmarkts, doing tacky clown shows between the snake woman and the psycho knife thrower, all to the stink of grilled bratwurst!

I left the group at the end of a crazed year, though I later went back to do short tours and stayed close friends with George ever after. He went on to devise and direct many other great shows for Sheer Madness and as an independent writer/director. We’d meet once or twice a year – and always enjoyed recalling the best and worst of Madness times (including the infamous “Brussels clinch”! ;)) George had an encyclopaedic knowledge of history – from the ancient Greeks and Romans through to the 21st century – and enjoyed dissecting the vital contribution of US and UK foreign policy to making the mess the world is now in.

Over the past 20 years, Katy also became good friends with him, and we were touched that he came to our wedding last April, even though he’d been seriously ill not long before. During my year of playing Hamlet to George’s Claudius in ‘Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits), I used to regularly, literally, spit in his face – something he specifically directed me to do! Long after I stopped being Hamlet, he’d recall our stage rivalry with great affection, often addressing me as ‘Sweet Prince’. At the wedding reception, he once again offered his face, inviting me to have one last spit. And, with both of us already sensing that this might be the last time we met, I stroked it tenderly. And we laughed. That’s the last of so many beautiful, funny memories of George. Our thoughts are with him on Monday 24th, with his husband Richard, and with all who knew and loved him. Open pathways, dearest George.

George, Irving, John, Ken, Mike, Martin, Will, Lindsay and Caras will all be remembered, along with many other friends on the ever-growing roll-call of the gone but not forgotten, at the 23rd October 2018 Vigil. The October Vigil has taken on many of the attributes formerly associated with The Halloween of Crossbones, the ritual drama performed every year from 1998 to 2010 and revived from 2015 and 2016, in which we joyously commune with the spirits of the dead.

At the 23rd September 2018 Vigil, in George’s memory, I read the Blake poem I sent him when we already both knew that he was dying:

“Little fly,
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.”

Goose be with him, with them, with us. Open pathways!

John Constable aka Crow >><<

Crossbones on BBC News, 30th July 2018!

Click on this link for a news report on Historic England’s initiative to highlight memorials that celebrate ordinary people.

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!

BBC Radio 4 The Today Programme, 30th July 2018

Click on this iplayer link and go to 2.19.48 to hear Celia Richardson from Historic England tell why Crossbones Graveyard is so special:

‘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…

Crossbones Blessing and Bards

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.

1pm Blessing
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

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