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 at the graveyard.
We’ve since conducted many rituals and community events 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 has 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.
For more than ten years Friends of Crossbones have pioneered a constructive approach to the future of this important heritage site. Whilst recognising that large tracts of the site will eventually be developed, we propose that the memorial gates and also the oldest, southernmost part of the old graveyard (between the memorial gates on Redcross Way and the junction with Union Square) should be protected and eventually opened to the public as a community garden, local park, heritage site and visitor attraction - the Cross Bones Garden of Remembrance.
For further updates and more on our proposals for the future of Crossbones see