The Crossbones Cemetery for Single Women

The time has come and I wanted to write a post to signify leaving my current job for my new one. I felt that one appropriate way of doing this was to mention Crossbones. 

Crossbones today is a memorial garden you can visit at certain times during the week, particularly handy as it’s open around lunchtime on weekdays and a short walk from my office. It’s flanked on one side by tall railings which obscure the garden by hundreds of ribbons, cards and flowers tied to them. This is what I saw at first when I visited and wandered down the street it is on. It took my breath away, I couldn’t help but stand and look at it for a long time. I’ve been back a few times since, and this always is a sight I love.

The Railings on Redcross Way

The entrance is just around the corner from here, through a kind of trellis tunnel where there were some volunteers who were giving out cards with information. This then opens out to the garden which is a serene and peaceful spot in the middle of hectic Southwark. I had a real sense of calm come over me, and respect for the site and the other people visiting. 

Crossbones originally was a cemetery known to be used as early as around the 16th century up until it closed 1853. It is believed to be the resting place of ‘single women’, in modern terms prostitutes, other people considered not able to be buried in consecrated ground, and the poor paupers of the area. Relevent to my line of work, the cemetery was also a hot spot for a body-snatchers who took corpses from burials to sell to the anatomy men at the local hospital. The Clink area of Southwark was a area of ill-repute at the time with brothels and taverns galore and by the time the cemetery closed it had more than 15,000 bodies and was full to bursting. It was deemed to be unsanitary to bury any more people there and was shut down for the health of those living around it.

The wall at the back of the memorial garden

After it’s closure, it lived through a few different guises and most recently part of the cemetery was excavated by archaeologists when the Jubilee line extension was built which gave an insight into the people buried there. Today, what remains has been developed into a Garden of Rememberance and is staffed by volunteers. This place, to me, is hugely significant in that it is an embodiment of an important part of the lives of the majority of those living in London during one of it’s major periods of growth. Although the garden is established, it could still be subject to development in the future but I believe sites like this are intergral to our understanding of the past and bring a sense of community to an area. Regular vigils are held on the site and I have no doubt they bring people together. From reading the event descriptions, they also highlight that while remembering the ‘Outcast’ they include the ‘Dead AND Alive’. A great example of my belief that by focusing on death and the dead we are celebrating life.

I would love to have gone into a more in depth history and I have barely scratched the surface with this post, but please go and read the full story on their website here. If you’re ever in Southwark pay it a visit, it’s so very worth the trip.

This Is Still The Crossbones Graveyard 

I’d like to say a massive thank you to my colleagues who I am saying goodbye to this week. I will never forget or take for granted how welcome you all made me felt and how friendly you have all been to the NHS-outsider who felt terrible when she said she was leaving 6 months later. I can’t lie however, I have never been more excited about the next part of my career journey and where it is taking me. My next post will be when I am employed as a Mortuary Assistant.

MG x

One thought on “The Crossbones Cemetery for Single Women

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  1. I for one am very glad you came to work with us, even if only for a short while, as I now have a lovely new friend and lots of exciting things we can do! I shall miss you heaps, but this is not goodbye!! xxx

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