Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Borough and Bankside - the locales just south of London Bridge - are a good place to explore. It's an area rich in ghost signs, quirky buildings, good pubs and of course, the justly famous Borough Market. It's one of the last bits of London that has real character, though all that could be wiped out when Crossrail comes (and indeed has already seen off one of the better pubs). Round the corner from Borough Market is Redcross Way. Here you'll find a shrine - hundreds of faded ribbons, signs and trinkets adorning the huge iron gates of what is Crossbones Graveyard. From at least the 1500s, this was (and still is) an unofficial burial ground for the "Winchester Geese" - prostitutes licensed by the Bishop Of Winchester. Bankside was out of the control of the City Of London Authorities, and became known for its brothels, inns and other distractions such as bear baiting. The Geese, as "sinners" weren't afforded the rites of the Church, so were buried in unconsecrated ground. By the mid 1700s Crossbones had also become a pauper's cemetery and by 1853 was completely full and closed by the authorities. There have been repeated attempts to develop the site since closure, all of which have been repulsed, though about 15 years ago London Underground succeeded in building an electricity sub-station on part of the site. What visitors see now is a bleak expanse of concrete and scrubby bushes, though In recent years Southwark Council have given Crossbones some degree of protection, with a tentative plan to create a proper memorial garden. Archaeologists in the 1990s removed 148 bodies, most showing the evidence of apallingly hard lives - an estimated 1% of the total still buried there.