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 >><<
This Saturday 14th April, Katy ‘Kaos’ Nicholls and John ‘Crow’ Constable are to be married in Southwark Cathedral. Friends of Crossbones are invited to attend the wedding service. If you’d like to, please arrive at the Cathedral by 12 noon at the latest to be seated in time for the ceremony.
NB The wedding reception is for a smaller group of invited guests only and the venue is already full.
We’d love to have been able to invite you all to the reception – there just isn’t a space big enough!
Please respect this, come to the service in the Cathedral and help us have a wedding to remember.
Love Rules OK.
The Crossbones Garden of Remembrance is open most weekdays in summer from 12 noon to 3pm). The garden is open thanks to the generosity of the volunteer wardens working in collaboration with Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST). Two wardens are needed for each open day. To check in advance whether the garden is open, please contact BOST – telephone: 020 7403 3393 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org – or just turn up and take your chances. If the garden happens to be closed, you can still view it through the gates / shrine around the corner in Redcross Way.
If you can spare a couple of hours a week (or even once a month) and would like to be a volunteer warden helping to keep the garden open, please contact BOST (see above for contact details).
During BOST staff holidays, Crossbones Garden will be closed. The last ‘official’ opening day will be Friday 15th December. The garden will reopen on Monday 8th January. During the holiday break, some volunteers may arrange to warden for unofficial public openings, though we advise people not to turn up assuming that the garden will be open.
As ever, the shrine on the gates in Redcross Way is accessible at all times.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Sunday 23rd December: gather 6.45 for 7pm Vigil at Crossbones Gates / Shrine, Redcross Way, London SE1 – Crossbones Vigil for the Outcast, Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas and…
To remember the outcast, dead or alive, to renew the shrine at the gates in Redcross Way and to reclaim the secret history as revealed by The Goose to John Crow. This is the 163rd consecutive Vigil, held on the 23rd of every month since June 2004. The Vigils are linked to traditional seasonal festivals.
On Sunday 23rd December, we celebrate the winter solstice and the return of the light, the pagan festival of Yule – and Christmas. Having briefly experimented with alternatives, we’ve recently reverted to singing traditional Christmas Carols. We’re all faiths and none, and you’re welcome to share something from your own tradition. And, as ever, we perform our own inclusive secular rituals to honour the outcast. Come help hold the space. Please bring a ribbon or memento to tie to the shrine, a song, poem or personal testimony to share.
This radio feature could be heard coast-to-coast in the U.S. on Halloween 2017. It was recorded by Leo Hornuk during the 161st ‘Crossbones Vigil and Halloween Portal’ held at the red gates in Redcross Way, London, on 23rd October 2017
John Constable aka John Crow calls out Irving Rappaport’s name to begin the reading of the names of the dead as participants tie memorial ribbons to the gates.
‘Irving Rappaport: Mensch, 23rd September 2017…’
Grant Burford, who co-created this website, died on 18th April 2017. His parents, Vernon and Terri, are at the vigil. Terri reads out Grant’s ribbon:
‘Grant Burford, Friend of the Outcast…’
Maggie Woodall is also present, honouring her son:
‘Tyson Cochise Haynes: Sept. 27, 2016, was killed, shot dead in the Netherlands’ <3
The names of three of the recent dead, the magicians Steve Ash, David Blank and Steve Wilson are all called, though they’re not included in the radio report. And so many more, loved and lost. And not lost. Remembered.
‘Steve Ash: philosopher. prankster.’ Restored to the shrine to the outcast, Crossbones Gates, 2017. Photo by Max Reeves
A few days ago, Katy Kaos and John Crow were in the garden tending the shrine when they heard a stranger in the street, reading from a memorial ribbon on the gates, saying Irving’s name out loud.
A recent visitor to the graveyard, Steve, reported seeing a ghost of a young woman, appearing and then vanishing behind a lamp-post.
And at the 23rd November Vigil, the ribbons fluttered in the breeze to remind us all that, here at Crossbones, there’s a time to bind and a time to loose…
Open pathways >><<