My old haunts

More than any other part of London, Southwark remains medieval. Its narrow streets, hard against railway embankments, retain an eldritch flavour of their history, of their ghosts, that centuries of development cannot fully erase.

Turning down Redcross Way from Union Street a few days ago, I was immediately confronted by a faded Jubilee Line extension worksite hoarding, a ghost of my own past. Beyond this, a gate was strung with faded flowers and tributes, like the scene of a truly cataclysmic road traffic accident, or the streets of New York after 9/11.

The gate (photo, left, ProfDEH) leads into Cross Bones, an uncon- secrated burial ground first identified as a \’single women\’s church yard\’ in the 16th Century. That is to say, it was a burial site for prostitutes, known as \’Winchester Geese\’ after the Bishop of Winchester who licensed their trade, together with other unsavoury activities (bull and bear baiting, acting etc) that were only permitted south of the River.

Cross Bones subsequently became a general paupers\’ burial ground, and was closed owing to overcrowding in 1853. The Jubilee Line extension works required partial excavation of the site, though only 19th Century corpses (45 per cent of them less than a year old at time of death) were recovered.

Successive attempts by Transport for London and its predecessors to develop the site have faltered in the face of local opposition. Led by a playwright called John Constable, a local community group runs monthly remembrance rituals, and an annual event at Halloween. Despite the neo-pagan/psychogeographical hokum that these seem to involve, it is touching that some people still honour the memory of what they term \”the outcast dead\”, as the trains and lorries of the 21st Century rumble by oblivious.

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