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Friday, 10 June 2016

Crossbones Graveyard

Well the exam is done for this year which means that I get a life back for approximately three months before academes siren call means a reoccupation of my office. It also means the occasional London trip for more plaque based fun. Our last trip out was to Southwark courtesy of the excellent London Walks on my birthday. We'd picked Darkest Victorian London which started on the North side of the river at Monument tube surrounded by steel and glass before decamping south of the river to what was then London's dark underbelly. A river away from the city where fortunes were made and the money-god reigned supreme. Here, is another London, one as wretched and squalid as anywhere in the Empire - quite a boast looking at the spread of pink across the globe. Southwark was where all the industrys that the respectable folk didnt want on their doorstep. This was the London of Henry Mayhew and Charles Dickens. Cross Bones graveyard was full at the time that Dickens was writing - it was "completely overcharged with dead". The site became used for commercial buildings and from 1991 to 1998 was excavated by the Museum of London in preparation for the Jubilee Line extension. They found a crowded site with burials piled on top of each other. Many had died from poverty diseases - smallpox, TB, Paget's disease and Vitamin D deficiency. A high proportion of the deaths were of newborns and a further significant demographic were middle-aged women. It's been postulated, most notably by John Constable that these were local prostitutes. The famed Winchester Geese who inhabited the notorious Southwark Stews. Constable, inspired by the idea of the 'outcast dead' composed the Southwark Mysteries to keep the memory of these people, the dregs of their society, alive. The Southwark mysteries have been performed at the Globe and Southwark Cathedral and have engaged the local population who have initiated a series of non-religious rememberences. Its an interesting idea. We memorialise the 'worthy', those who have pushed themselves to the top rather than those they have clambered over, those they have exploited. The local prostitutes were nicknamed Winchester Geese after the Bishop of Winchester who had his palace in Southwark. It's still there and very atmospheric. It was those people who did most of the working, most of the living and most of the dying but theyre are not remembered, they are in fact very deliberately overlooked I mean who wants to remember THEM? It obscures the picture that those in control wan to give doesnt it?