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Published: 09 May 2020

By Andy Ross

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Cross Bones

A short walk away from Borough Market lies a small plot of land, edged around with high fencing, which is, in turn, decorated with ribbons, trinkets and yarns. This is Cross Bones, an old burial yard with an extraordinary history.

Cross Bones was the final resting place for the outcasts of society from medieval times until it finally closed in 1853. It is reputed to be the area where the Bishop of Winchester's "Winchester Geese" were laid to rest. The Bishop licensed these women to work in brothels outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and they joined a vast number of others, paupers mainly in the later years, who lived, worked and died in this notoriously dangerous area. 

The land has been variously under consideration for uses such as building on, and even, once, a fairground, but until the 1990s, when London Underground asked for permission to build a substation on the site, it lay quietly forgotten. 

Once excavations by the Museum of London got underway during the Underground work, it was quickly discovered the vast amount of information that the land contained. The disturbances resulted in a late-night visitation to a local poet and playwright, John Constable, by a woman he came to know as "The Goose", and from that initial visit he walked the streets of London, accompanied by a voice which whispered poems, songs and stories to him. Those ended up becoming the "Southwark Mysteries" which was performed in the Globe Theatre and at Southwark Cathedral. 

Nowadays the small plot of land is a tended garden of remembrance, and people from all over the world come to pay respects, tying gifts to the railings and fences, and items of memory. Photographs and ribbons, knitted toys and wreaths. It is a peaceful place and may one day become a World Heritage Site too.