A bit of London history and some forgotten lost souls were rediscovered in the 1990s.
History of Cross Bones Graveyard
In medieval times of London, prostitution was rampant, especially in the area called Southwark. The site dates back to the first century when Roman soldiers were stationed along the Thames River. In 1107, the bishop of Winchester owned a large portion of land and decided to allow brothels to be built on his land.
He built a large mansion for himself called Winchester Place. He enacted an Ordinance signed by Thomas Becket listing the rules and fines for the brothels and the "Winchester Geese." This was the name given to the prostitutes under his 'care.' The brothels became known as "stews," each having a brothel keeper in charge.
A "Necessary Evil" Sanctioned by the Church
The church sanctioned this arrangement as a necessary evil that somehow protected respectable women from the lust of men. Even those poor souls were approved by the church; they were not buried on consecrated ground. So a tiny plot of unconsecrated land was found for their burials. There would be no headstones, just shallow graves for the estimated 15,000 souls.
Over time, paupers were also buried in the graveyard. It seems harsh that the 'Winchester Geese' were not allowed proper burials. They had made the bishop and church very wealthy with all their fines and percentage of the Geese's pay going in their coffers.
Noteworthy is the fact that oftentimes the best customers were priests, monks, and friars.
Reminds me of the proverb, "Do Not Judge, Or You Too Will Be Judged."
Southwark Rules and Fines
Here are a few of the rules of the Winchester Geese and the brothel keepers:
- Constable to search every brothel to make sure no woman is imprisoned and if so, to escort her to safely out. Fine of 100 shillings.
- No stew holder to lend one of his whores a total of more than one shilling and sixpence.
- No stew holder to open for business on a religious holiday. Fine 50 shillings.
- No stew holder to sell food or drink from where his whores work.
- Whores not to wear aprons as it is a sign of respectable women.
- No stew holder to allow a whore to work if pregnant.
- Whores to pay 14 pence per week.
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Friends of the Cross Bones Graveyard
From 1996 to today, John Crow and Katy Nicholis have worked diligently to reclaim the graveyard as a shrine and Garden of remembrance. They were on a mission to make it a sacred place in the heart of the city. They founded the Friends Of Cross Bones. On the 23rd of each month, at 7 PM, a vigil is held for the Outcast. The gates have become a shrine with hundreds of buttons and ribbons. It is a reminder of how difficult life must have been for the outcasts living on the fringes of society.
The graveyard was lost and forgotten until 1990 when the Transport For London was digging to lay a jubilee line for a substation when they found bones. The Museum of London was alerted, and archaeologists uncovered 148 skeletons.
In 2020 permission was granted to Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) for Cross Bones to be protected and maintained as a public garden of remembrance. Cross Bones is a short walk from Shakespeare's Globe, Southwark Cathedral, and The Shard.
It is an ongoing project to remember the Lost Souls of London, and it is admirable the Friends of Cross Bones have made it their mission to remember the souls buried here.
At the entrance to the Goose Wing is a statue of the Virgin Mary cradling a goose protecting her children. Carved into the beams is one of the poems from SouthwarkMysteries, "Here Lay Your Hearts, Your Flowers."
The gates are featured in guidebooks and the media. Should you choose to volunteer or support the Garden, contact the Bankside Open Spaces, 50 Redcross Way, London SE1 1HA. Cross Bones is included in Historic England's listed memories.
Thousands of visitors visit the graveyard each year, and it is recognized worldwide. To join the workshops, volunteer, or inquire about open hours, contact email@example.com, 020 7403 3393.
- Cross Bones Graveyard: A Resting Place for the Single Women of London
- Winchester Geese
- Southwark - Brothels and Bear-Baiting
- History of Cross Bones
© 2021 fran rooks