Last week we took a Roadtrip to Cross Bones Cemetery located in Central London. It was a spot I have wanted to visit for a long time after seeing a post on it else where – it sparked a interest in me. It is a shrine, a shrine to remember the outcast dead. Every ribbon that has been neatly tied to the gates represents a person buried here. Some of the ribbons have names on, which date back to the 1700s and some even have the recent departed with 2017 being the latest written upon them, the more recent memorials I’m told Is people who have died and when alive they felt a outcast in today’s current society and wanted to be scattered here.
After enquiring for a tour of the cemetery and possible investigation, the trust who looks after the site does not assiocate themselves with the Paranormal. Anyone coming who is even remotely interested in the paranormal is not welcome here. I had asked for just a historical tour but I was still declined just because a simple search of me associates me to the paranormal!. The lady I spoke to knew I was still intending to visit, even if it was just from the gate, she explained the reasons why the people in the paranormal field, groups and such, have absolutely ruined it for everyone wishing to visit from the paranormal field. This is a regular occurence even to this day and is a kind reminder to us all in the paranormal field when you visit such sites be mindful, have respect and morals and don’t just conduct practices because you think it will be great entertainment. Your ruining it for the rest of us who just have a general interest!
But, enough of the moaning, let me delve into why this tiny space in the middle of London interested me so much.
According to locals, it was once the final resting place for medieval sex workers. These sex workers was referred to as the ‘Winchester Geese’. These sex workers was licensed by the Archbishop of Winchester to work in a huge medieval brothels of the liberty of the clink.
The establishment in which the brothels was located in was called the Winchester Palace and to this day one small wall remains of this Palace and can be spotted amongst the mass of modern day buildings that surround it.
The rules made sure the prostitutes were able to come and go at will, required that all new workers were registered, restricted their activities on religious holidays, prevented nuns and married women from joining, banned cursing, and prohibited the women from taking their own lovers for free. The penalty for the latter included fines, prison time, a dip on the “cucking stool” into raw sewage, and banishment from Southwark.
Although the Bishop of Winchester regulated and taxed the area’s prostitutes, Christian doctrine prevented them from being buried in consecrated ground.
The site was then used as a paupers graveyard for centuries and was known locally as the ‘Mint’, it was at the time one of Londons most poorest and violent slums. Alot of criminals at this specific time was buried on the site.
By the time the paupers graveyard closed in 1853, its estimated that the grounds held the remains of over 15000 people.
The earliest known reference to the Graveyard was by John Stow in his Survey of London in 1598, he wrote
“I have heard ancient men of good credit report, that these single women were forbidden the rights 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.”
It was closed 1853 on the grounds that it was “completely overcharged with dead.” An 1832 letter from parish authorities had noted the ground was “so very full of coffins that it is necessary to bury within two feet of the surface,” and that “the effluviem is so very offensive that we fear the consequences may be very injurious to the surrounding neighborhood.”
Over the years, it has just been a area where it would seem nobody knew what to do with it, it was a site for a regular fair at one point but after local residents complained, the fair had to halt and it was no longer allowed on the ground.
Its fair to say the graveyard was more or less forgotten until 1992 when the Museum of London carried out an excavation on Cross Bones Graveyard, in collaboration with the ongoing construction of the Jubilee Line Extension. Out of the 148 graves they excavated, all dating from between 1800 to 1853, they found 66.2% of the bodies in the graveyard were aged 5 years or younger indicating a very high infant mortality rate. It was also reported that the graveyard was extremely overcrowded, with bodies piled one on top of each other. In terms of the causes for death, these included common diseases of the time including smallpox, scurvy, rickets and tuberculosis and cholera.
Meanwhile, author John Constable, a local poet and playwright, has begun his own work at Cross Bones. As Constable tells it, he was writing late one night in November, 1996, when he felt overtaken by a character he calls “The Goose,” the spirit of a medieval prostitute. She began dictating what would later become the first poem in Constable’s Southwark Mysteries:
For tonight in Hell
They are tolling the bell
For the Whore that lay at the Tabard,
And well we know
How the carrion crow
Doth feast in our Cross Bones Graveyard
The verse Constable wrote down that night was later published as the Southwark Mysteries and has been performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Southwark Cathedral, both not far from where the “stews” once stood. The Southwark Mysteries also formed the centerpiece of the first Halloween ritual at Cross Bones in 1998. For 13 years, until 2010, a growing community around Cross Bones performed parts of the Southwark Mysteries, created altars to lost loved ones, and joined in a candle-lit procession that ended at the cemetery gates. The ritual now takes place in a more simplified form, as part of monthly vigils at the site. The International Union of Sex Workers has even called for Cross Bones to be the first World Heritage site dedicated to those in the sex trade.
In 2007, Transport for London, which now owns the site, gave Constable access inside the gates, where he and other volunteers have created a wild garden. Today, an informal group known as the Friends of Cross Bones is working to ensure that a planned redevelopment of the site preserves the garden as a more permanent place of reflection and remembrance.
Monthly vigils to refresh the shrines at the site and honor the dead there continue even to this day.
Its such a tiny place as you peer through the gates you struggle to believe that over 15000 people are actually buried here and what is even harder to come to terms with is the fact that for so many years the site was not in any way respected or even recognised as important. No stones, no memorials, nothing…. it literally was a area where people was placed who at the time was thought upon as the drags of society. What is even sadder is that it has only been in recent years that people have thought to recognise that those buried here did and do matter and do deserve something to be place in aid of their memory. Let’s not forget, yes criminals and so fourth would have been buried here but the excavations that took place here, shown over half of those they uncovered were that of innocent children! Who possibly died of a disease and who’s parents probably couldn’t afford a proper burial and who had to come to terms with the fact there child was going to be buried in what seemed as if it was a bottomless pit for the dead which was unconsecrated and amongst all kinds of people.
I think the fact that it is known that the ground is unconsecrated plays a vital part in what may be believed to be here. Id be lying if I said I haven’t been informed that darker practices haven’t taken place here because I have.
Helen, the lady I spoke to had told me that several exorcisms have been conducted here by teams and people and that even one team decided to reinact a murder scene here in a Singapore theory type method by dressing up to draw and encourage energies to come forward and splatted pigs blood around the grounds as they thought it would make great footage. I have no words, I really don’t, people really need to read up on the Singapore theory before undergoing such methods!
I would personally love to speak to John Constable and ask the question ‘Are you a medium?’, it would seem reading through what he stated how he first came to know about crossbones and its history, that he had some kind of calling to visit the site. I’d love to know if he felt this was given to him on a spiritual level, because to me, I’d say it was and it was meant to be. The site probably wouldn’t look how it does today if it wasn’t for his writings on it. The fact that active rituals for the dead take place here even to this day indicates to me that there is a deep spiritual connection here, that is probably on a personal level and why people feel so protective of the site.
As for actual ghost sightings, I cant find any but that is hardly surprising with how those who now look after it want no connection to those investigating the paranormal. Do I personally think there is energy to the site and people have experienced things here? YES I’d say so, but urge nobody to visit to do any paranormal investigating.
We did do a live explore of the site and this can be viewed below, Just as we reached the clink prison the live stopped, which was strange itself as we had full signal on 5g.
Written by Charlene Lowe Kemp
Photos by Simon Wilson