Crossbones Graveyard

sights / Historic

Lonely Planet review

One of the area’s more unconventional sights is this unconsecrated post-medieval burial ground. A 16th century ‘single women’s graveyard’, this is the burial place for prostitutes who worked in the brothels of Southwark. Despite being licensed to work here by the Bishop of Winchester (giving them their popular name, ‘Winchester geese’), the women were excluded from Christian burial, and by the 18th century the local parish was using the grounds for dumping the remains of paupers. It was closed down in the 19th century due to high numbers of bodies buried here; there were serious sanitation issues caused by the gravediggers’ sloppy burial technique that left many of the bodies exposed to the air. The graveyard was rediscovered in the 1990s during excavations for the Jubilee Line Underground extension, when construction workers and archaeologists unearthed the remains of 148 bodies, with many more remaining under ground. The Museum of London archaeologists found evidence of high infant mortality, trauma injuries, malnutrition and infections.

Over the past decade, a group called the Friends of Cross Bones, encompassing prostitutes and pagans, has been holding occasional vigils here and organising Halloween events, as well as tending an ad hoc memorial garden directly above the remaining bones.