Only after writing these words, on the night of 23rd November 1996, did I discover that Cross Bones was an actual historical place - and that London Underground had just dug it up! It was as if I’d tapped into what was happening in my own back-yard: had somehow channelled the spirit of The Goose.
The work has been performed, in full, in Shakespeare's Globe and Southwark Cathedral, in 2000 and again in 2010, and has featured in many site-specific performances and rituals conducted at the graveyard. The rituals are simple, inclusive and non-dogmatic, emphasising respect for ‘the Ancestors’, and honouring the spirit of this particular place. The Halloween of Cross Bones has been observed every Halloween night since 1998, with hundreds of people making the candlelit procession to the gates, to honour the ‘outcast dead' with candles, ribbons, songs and offerings. By another curious stroke of synchronicity, the first Halloween of Cross Bones coincided with the first exhibition of the Cross Bones skeletons at the Museum of London.
Over the past decade, the iron gates in Redcross Way have been transformed into a people’s shrine, a living communal art-work. People of all faiths and none have left messages and mementoes, testifying to its power as a truly inclusive sacred place, dedicated to a vision of a shared humanity. Since 2004, an informal Friends of Cross Bones group has held a 7pm vigil at the gates in Redcross Way on the 23rd day of each month. People come from all walks of life to 'remember the outcast' and to replenish the spontaneous shrine with fresh flowers and other tokens. The Cross Bones shrine is especially relevant to 'outsiders', though it speaks to a much wider group of supporters. People of all faiths and none, local residents and international visitors regularly gather for the monthly vigils to participate in a truly inclusive act of respect and remembrance.
A range of traditional festivals are celebrated here. The Lion's Part end their annual October Plenty festival with a procession to the Cross Bones gates, where the Green Man blesses the garden. On St George's Day, 23rd April 2007, a ceremony was conducted on the graveyard site, which was cleaned of rubbish and the seeds of a wild garden sown. This garden flourished under the care of an 'Invisible Gardener', one of many mysterious characters associated with Cross Bones. On St George's Day, 23rd April 2009, a large crowd gathered to hear London Assembly Member Val Shawcross and the then Southwark Council leader Nick Stanton pledge their support for the protection of Cross Bones as an important heritage site.
The shrine at the gates already attracts over 50,000 visitors a year; it features in many guidebooks, on guided tours and in television coverage of the vigils held by local people. Friends of Crossbones have campaigned to protect the shrine at the gates on Redcross Way and the burial ground as a community garden, local park, heritage site and visitor attraction - the Cross Bones Garden of Remembrance.The importance of protecting the graveyard was made explicit in a 2008 question from Valerie Shawcross AM to London Mayor Boris Johnson.
London Assembly Question No: 1938 / 2008 Cross Bones Graveyard - SE1
Valerie Shawcross AM (Lambeth & Southwark, Chair of Transport Committee): TfL own a very interesting piece of history in Redcross Way SE1 - Cross Bones Graveyard, an un-consecrated medieval graveyard for prostitutes. The land is currently enclosed in London Underground boards, but has a gate with a bronze plaque describing its history. As Chair of TfL can the Mayor ensure that Officers of TfL contact the Friends of Cross Bones Graveyard and start a discussion with them to protect this piece of London's more interesting past?
The Mayor (Boris Johnson): The site is to be used as a Thameslink 2000 project works site between now and 2015. Future development plans have yet to be worked up but will be prepared recognising the archaeological interest of this site. This will include consultation with all parties with an interest in the site.
Ms. Shawcross also wrote to Peter Hendy (Commissioner of Transport, TFL) expressing her 'long-term concern [...] for the future of Cross Bones Graveyard [...] I would hope to see the planning brief for any future development on the site make some accomodation for the graveyard [...] perhaps a piece of public realm garden and a memorial... where visitors can be taken to pay respects and hear the story in full... It is extremely important that the Cross Bones Graveyard is recognised within that future development and some space allocated for public access and appreciation.'
In reply to her follow-up question in 2011, The Mayor stated: 'I am aware of this issue and recognise the cultural and historic importance of the Crossbones burial ground. The Deputy Mayor for Transport is discussing this issue with Transport for London (TfL)' Valerie Shawcross attended the St George at Cross Bones vigil on 23 April 2009, and returned on International Woman's Day 2015, to express her support for the Garden of Remembrance. In May 2016 London Mayor Sadiq Khan appointed her Deputy Mayor of Transport and Deputy Chair of Transport for London. .
Southwark Council's Community Project Bank has pledged £100,000 towards the eventual creation of a Cross Bones Memorial Garden. For the latest on the future of Crossbones see