I first heard about Crossbones while talking to somebody at Southwark Cathedral, but got my lines crossed and ended up at St Mary Magdalen in Bermondsey instead. This time around my information was provided by a helpful attendant at The Clink Prison Museum. He gave me a handy map and off I went. The site wasn’t too far away either and I would have missed it had I not known where to look. The area is mostly fenced closed except for a single gate that is adorned by tributes from locals. A plaque confirmed that I was at the right place.
The history of Crossbones is one of those complex histories that probably is best left to those who know more about it that I do. But as far as graveyards and cemeteries go, it is an old one, and a very full one too. With estimates of up to 15000 people buried there.
Described as a “non-place” it was inevitable that somebody would decide to erect some glitzy chrome and glass monolith there, however, as is the case with most cemeteries, there are things you can do, and things you can’t. And excavations at Crossbones were conducted in the 1990’s. Local opposition also prevented any development and Crossbones was able to sustain its tenuous existence.
The site is really an overgrown plot of land, with no headstones or visible signs that it is a graveyard, however there is a sense of aura about it. I was drawn to the site and part of me wanted to scale that fence and just absorb what there was. I haven’t felt that strange feeling in years, and that’s probably why I am writing this at the moment. My internet reading did provide an video that satisfied some of my curiosity though. The People of Crossbones Graveyard just made me more curious to see and experience this place.
The conditions that the people lived under all those years ago are not really the sort of thing we can imagine so many years down the line. The question I have is: what was the extent of this graveyard? it seems to be very small for 15000 burials, even given the haphazardness of these burials all those years ago. How much documentation is there about it? and just who were they?
Crossbones may be found on Google Earth at 51.503973° -0.093477°. I had hoped to return again when there was sunshine and take more photographs, and I definitely felt that my sojourn here had not come the full circle. The next vigil was scheduled for the 23rd of March, and I hoped to be there.
Unfortunately I came down with a chest infection and ended up in bed instead. I relocated from London early in April and never did get to return, so the images I have are all that I have to remember of this strange place.
I believe Crossbones is now available as a tourist destination and is “open” to the public, however you probably need to double check on which days tours are done.
DRW 2013-2020. Images recreated 26/03/2016