Campaign to turn ancient neglected paupers' graveyard into public garden

A plan to transform an unconsecrated pauper's burial ground known as the "Single Woman's Churchyard" into a public garden will be launched on International Women's Day.

Volunteers have memorialised the Crossbones Graveyard gates. Image: Flickr/Crowbot
Volunteers have memorialised the Crossbones Graveyard gates. Image: Flickr/Crowbot

South London charity Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) hopes to use crowd funding to raise £30,000 for the project, near Borough Market in Southwark.

Crossbones Graveyard was noted as a burial ground for 'single women' - a euphemism for the prostitutes who worked in Bankside's brothels or 'stews' – and their children by historian John Stow in his 1598 Survey of London. By 1769, it had become a pauper’s cemetery servicing the poor of the parish until its closure in the mid 1800s. More than 15,000 people, half of whom were children, are believed buried at Crossbones.

Now overgrown and inaccessible it has become a well-known landmark, noted for its monumental gate adorned with the words 'R.I.P. The Outcast Dead', surrounded by ivy, ribbons, flowers, feathers and jewellery.

BOST has secured a three-year lease from landowners Transport for London (TfL) and is working with the Friends of Crossbones, led by local resident, poet and author of The Southwark Mysteries, John Constable. In 1999, Constable began a campaign for the many forgotten dead buried on the site.

He said: "At a time when green public spaces are being swallowed up by new developments, we have the opportunity to establish this extraordinary place as a garden of remembrance, a community park and a unique cultural and historical resource in the heart of London.

"Crossbones is already a unique Heritage Site, a truly inclusive memorial to those who were shut out of society and to the ordinary working poor of London."

The campaign has already received some support and funding from the Mayor of London's Pocket Parks programme and the Borough, Bankside & Walworth Community Council's Cleaner Greener Safer scheme, run by Southwark Council.

BOST Crossbones project manager Nicola Desmond said: "Our vision is for a garden led by local people that shows respect to the many nameless women, children and men buried here, and provides a sensitive contemplative environment for all who would spend time here. Visitors will be able to experience living history in the setting of a beautiful garden of recognition."

For the last 16 years the group has held a monthly vigil at the memorial gates, renewing and replenishing the ribbons and tokens. Launching the fundraising campaign on International Women’s Day on 8 March, BOST director Helen Firminger said: "[This] demonstrates the particular sympathy many of us feel for the long-dead women and mothers who are interred here".

The Crossbones Graveyard appeal can be accessed online from 8 March.

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People can also text CROS15 followed by an amount in pounds to 70070 to donate.

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