Cross Bones Graveyard: Burial Ground of Medieval Prostitutes

Jan 23, 2012 1 comments

Located in stretch of lane between two busy roads just south of the Thames, and within a few minutes walk from the busy Borough Market lies the Cross Bones graveyard. This medieval burial ground is home to more than 15,000 people, mostly prostitutes and later paupers, socially outcast and other victims of misogyny and coercion.

Cross Bones graveyard is believed to have been established originally as cemetery for "single women," a euphemism for prostitutes, known locally as "Winchester Geese," because they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Liberty of the Clink. The liberty lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and as a consequence it became known for its brothels and theatres, as well as bull and bear baiting, activities not permitted within the City itself.


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Denied proper burial because their trade, the prostitutes of the area were instead buried without ceremony in the Cross Bones graveyard, where the bodies were piled in an undignified heap on top of each other. Excavations have revealed that most of the skeletons in Cross Bones belong to either women or infants who had either been born dead or tragically expired shortly after birth. Tests showed those buried had suffered from various diseases including smallpox, tuberculosis, osteoarthritis, and vitamin D deficiency. Later on in the graveyard was used to bury the poor of the area. It was also a favorite hunting ground for bodysnatchers, seeking out specimens for the teaching hospitals of London.

In 1853, Cross Bones was closed due to overcrowding and being a risk to health as well as being inappropriate of public decency. Today, in its place stands a memorial garden. The gates to the burial ground are decorated messages, ribbons, flowers and other tokens. Since 1998 it has become traditional for hundreds of people to gather at Cross Bones with candles, songs, gin and flowers on Halloween night to pay tribute to the lost and forgotten women and children of early modern London.


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[via Madame Guillotine]


  1. Too bad they don't know that we're honoring them, now...


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