Crossbones Memorial Garden (Southwark)
Crossbones Memorial Garden commemorates the former burial ground for 'single women' of Bankside, also known as 'Winchester Geese' for being licensed to work by the Bishop of Winchester. Not permitted to be buried in hallowed ground, it is believed that the unconsecrated plot designated as their burial ground was on this site, with references to its existence from at least 1598. The burial ground closed in 1853 and the site remained vacant but had various uses over the years. In the 1990s, when it was partly excavated for the Jubilee Line extension, 148 skeletons were uncovered, reputedly less than 1% of the total burials. Between 2006-2012 the Friends of Crossbones created a secret guerrilla garden on the site, and since 2015 it has been transformed into a memorial garden, in collaboration with Bankside Open Spaces.
- Previous / Other name:
- Cross Bones Burial Ground
- Site location:
- Union Street/Redcross Way
- SE1 1TA
- Type of site:
- Public Gardens, Cemetery
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- most weekdays and some Saturdays 12 - 3pm, but check BOST website for details Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend in the past.
- Special conditions:
- Various events, has opened for OGSW
- Public transport:
- Tube: Borough (Northern), London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee). Bus: 21, 35, 40, 133, 343, 344, 381,RV1
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/11/2017
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.crossbones.org.uk; www.bost.org.uk
Full Site Description
The Bishop of Winchester was effectively lord of the Liberty of the Clink from the C12th to the C17th, the Bishop's Winchester Palace located near Southwark Cathedral (q.v.). This area, outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, became a place of entertainment with theatres, bear pits, taverns and brothels under licence from the Bishop, leading to the Bankside prostitutes' nickname of 'Winchester Geese'. Historian John Stow, in his 'Survey of London' of 1598, refers to the burial ground here for the 'single women [who] were forbidden the rites of the church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, if they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground called the Single Woman's churchyard, appointed for them far from the parish church.' The piece of land assumed to be the 'Single Women's churchyard' was within the land owned by the Bishop of Winchester and appears to have eventually been leased to St Saviour's parish in 1665, with Vestry minutes in 1673 containing a reference to 'the newe Church yarde in the Parke'. Used for paupers as well as prostitutes, the burial ground was apparently preyed on by body-snatchers, probably as a result of the proximity of Guy's Hospital where anatomy classes were held. In 1833, antiquarian William Taylor wrote in his 'Annals of St Mary Overie' of 'an unconsecrated burial ground known as the Cross Bones at the corner of Redcross Street, formerly called the Single Woman's burial ground'.
Complaints about the state of the graveyard occurred from at least 1831 and it was eventually closed in 1853 for reasons of public health and public decency. Although it was sold for building in 1883, the sale was declared void in 1884 after Lord Brabazon argued it should be retained as public open space under the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884. It remained vacant land, despite threats of development over the years, and was used variously as a timber-yard and even a fairground at one time. In the 1990s prior to the building of an electricity substation on part of the site for the Jubilee Line extension, the Museum of London undertook an archaeological excavation, unearthing 148 skeletons. It was estimated that this represented under 1% of the total burials that had taken place here. Among the skeletons was that of a girl, 16-19 years old, with evidence of syphilis, and over 60% of the skeletons were those of children. The archaeological trench dug during the excavation can still be seen in the garden.
The history of the Winchester Geese and the Cross Bones burial ground has inspired writers and poets, in particular John Constable, who had a vision in 1996 in which The Goose appeared as the spirit of Cross Bones protecting her outcast children, which led to his discovery of the old burial ground on Redcross Way and his subsequent unearthing of its history. This inspired his cycle of poems and the publication in 1998 of 'The Southwark Mysteries', which have been performed in the burial ground as well as at Shakespeare's Globe and in Southwark Cathedral. In 1996 the Friends of Crossbones was established to protect the former burial ground and a shrine to commemorate the 'Outcast Dead' was created outside the iron gates on Redcross Way. Various events have taken place in and around the site including an annual Halloween procession since 1998. Since 2004 a vigil has been held on the 23rd of each month instigated by the Friends of Crossbones. Between 2006 and 2012 a secret guerrilla garden was created on the site, tended by 'invisible gardener' Andy Hulme, who was living in a caravan on the site. On 23rd April 2007, St George's Day, it was cleared of rubbish and a wild garden sown. Features in the Invisible Garden included 'Infinity Beds' in the shape of a figure of eight formed from lime mortar rubble and 'The Pyramid' decorated with oyster shells on one side, recalling what was once a common diet for the poor. In 2014, the owners of the site, Transport for London, granted a lease to Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) to create a 'meanwhile garden' on the former burial ground and work on the garden began in 2015. Work was undertaken by BOST in collaboration with volunteers and the site has now been transformed into a Memorial Garden to commemorate the 'outcast dead'.
Designed by Helen John, the new garden incorporates elements of the 'invisible garden' as well as new features such as a 'Goose Wing' entranceway designed and built by Arthur de Mowbray and drystone walls in Cotswold limestone built by volunteers under the guidance of John Holt of the London School of Drystone Walling. There is a wildflower meadow next to the Jubilee Line substation, and raised beds were used in order not to disturb human remains beneath the ground; pastel shades were used to decorate the edge of the garden, evoking the girls and women buried here, and planting in the garden was chosen to commemorate those buried here. On 22 July 2015 the Dean of Southwark Cathedral conducted an 'Act of Regret, Remembrance and Restoration' in the memorial garden. A new garden on the site of Winchester Palace has also been planted by BOST.
John Constable, 'Cross Bones; the Strange but True Story' (paper, 2011, updated 2015); History section on www.crossbones.org.uk.
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- TQ324800 (532428,180032)
- Size in hectares:
- Site ownership:
- Transport for London
- Site management:
- Bankside Open Spaces Trust, assisted by Friends of Crossbones volunteers
- 2015 garden: Helen John
- Listed structures:
- On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Conservation Area name:
- Borough High Street
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Yes - Archaeological Priority Zone
- Other LA designation:
- Air Quality Management Area; Central Activity Zone; District Town Centre; Strategic Cultural Area; Opportunity Area
Memorial to the Outcast Dead, Crossbones Memorial Garden, June 2016. Photograph Sally Williams
Click photo to enlarge.