Remembering the Winchester Geese

Nestled just a road or two off the main bustling thoroughfare in Southwark,  close to the world famous Borough Market  is Cross Bones Graveyard a place that had escaped my radar until a few years ago when I was shocked to discover it's haunting story and existence so close to the razzmatazz and wealth of the city.

In The Shadow Of The Shard

Forgotten and neglected, it was a sad and forlorn final resting place for the  brothel workers and the unloved destitute of London's post medieval slums until the mid 19th century when it was built over. Ironically the prostitutes who were known as The Winchester Geese, as they were licensed by the Bishop Of Winchester to work the surrounding area which was known as The Liberty of The Clink; full of bear pits, taverns and brothels or 'stews' as they were called, but they were typically and hypocritically abandoned, unloved in unconsecrated and unmarked graves along with the unborn or stillborn proof of their sin. Historically a 1598 text refers to it as the 'single woman's churchyard'. Even in death they weren't allowed to rest peacefully in their mass burial pit of an estimated 15,000 bodies, the nearby Guy's Hospital made them an easy and unremarked upon target for the macabre practice of body snatching for anatomy classes.

No Longer Forgotten

I read the story in mounting horror and disgust, getting angrier and angrier by the minute. The raw hypocrisy of it hit me full pelt like a body blow. Reading on I was relieved to find that finally in 1990, during work on the underground, that the graveyard was rediscovered and the forgotten started their long, slow journey back to remembrance. The veil of history was pulled back and bone by bone, body by body the unloved started to become cherished. A writer called John Constable known as John Crow was amazed to find that the words of a visionary poem he had written rang true and had previously unknown and undreamt of roots planted firmly in Southwark's soil. 

Remembered Geese
Slowly, work began to clear the overgrown scrubby patch of land, to make a memorial garden,  a place of reflection, remembrance and of celebration. Years of work, campaigning, fundraising and devotion have meant that since June 2004, John has held a vigil every 23rd of the month for the forgotten and silenced souls. 

The Shrine, Complete with Gin

A beautiful shrine was created inside, along with a pyramid partially covered in oyster shells and the 'infinity beds' - a lemniscate border - (figure 8 shaped symbol for infinity). There are symbols of the Goddess, from all faiths, cultures and origins. A few months ago in July, a spontaneous suggestion led to an impromptu visit with my wonderful friends Carmel and Mags. This came the week after I'd heard of the sad and sudden passing of one of the homeless guys I'd met over the previous winter. After these two lovely ladies had pointed out  the tourist sites of London to me like a small child and had held my hand to stop me walking in the path of oncoming red buses as I gazed in wonder at my alien surroundings, we waited at the gates and railings which are completely covered in ribbons, flowers, clouties, jewellery, rags - whatever people had to hand or had brought with them to mark their presence as a visitor or pilgrim who refused to turn their backs, while we waited with a growing crowd for the Vigil to commence. 

Decorated Memorial Gates

On the dot of 7, heralded by the bells of Southwark Cathedral, John Crow started the vigil, sharing the history, remembering the forgotten, celebrating the memories. People read poems, played music, sang songs, talked about loved ones that they had lost. It was beautiful, poignant, sad and wonderful at the same time. A simple ritual was carried out, words that have been recited and repeated there every month since June 2004. Gin was splashed as an offering, gin how poignant, 'Mother's ruin' - how many women had walked those streets desperately swigging gin back to procure a miscarriage to relive them of their shame? I thought about lonely, deserted grave of Betty Corrigall  that we had stumbled upon on the Island of Hoy last year, said a quiet prayer for her in a moment of reflection and was rewarded yet a again with a visit from a dragonfly, that soared mystically and knowingly above the railings.

Rosemary For Remembrance
I'd made a simple pentagram and woven rosemary through it, a simple gesture of remembrance and solidarity, and found an inch of railing to attach it to, my token to honour the souls that hopefully rested more peacefully in this tranquil garden, loved, commemorated and remembered once more, maybe more so than in life. We were given ribbons to tie on to the gates, in light of the sad news in the week, it seemed fitting to write the gent's name on there before I tied it, he too was not forgotten nor unloved. He may have slipped out of the focus of polite society, living life precariously on the streets, but he was remembered here and people will see his name and will wonder who he was, his memory nestles safely here, woven into the memories of many, which made me smile, more importantly it would have made him laugh.

R.I.P Dermot

It's a beautiful place to visit, vigils are held at 7 pm sharp on the 23rd of every month, and a warm welcome is extended to all. If you plan on visiting its worth noting that the memorial gardens isn't open for the vigil, visiting times and events are on the Crossbones website with much more detail than I could ever hope to give you.    

Have a Blessed Week


  1. Bless yours and theirs....all beautiful hearts. XXX

  2. Thank you Lulu! It is truly a unique experience x x x


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