Post-medieval London was a place of decency, civility, and god-fearing. But post-medieval suburbs of London were another story, filled with prostitution, disease and mass burial in Cross Bones Graveyard.
Cross Bones Graveyard in south London became known as the “single-woman’s” cemetery because of the high concentration of prostitutes, dubbed “single-women” or “Winchester Geese.” Since these women of ill-repute could not be given a Christian burial, Cross Bones became an unofficial dumping ground for them and other poor people living in squalor outside of London.
Closed in 1853, it was estimated that 15,000 people were buried in the cemetery, the majority prostitutes. A modern excavation done in the 1990s revealed that the area was heaped with bodies, some basically piled in mass graves. Even more grisly, the excavation led to the discovery that more than 40% of the graves were fetuses, or babies under the age of 1. Researchers also discovered that bodies in the cemetery had come into contact with a number of diseases including smallpox, tuberculosis and Paget’s disease.
Today, the horrors of the cemetery are recognized and remembered each Halloween and the site now houses an unofficial memorial garden, although most of it remains under concrete. The red fence outside it is densely decorated with tributes in the form of flowers and ribbons and the names of those buried and left to be forgotten.
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