Almost as quickly as the trees had earned their green, must they now cast their leaves autumnal yellow. Indeed the end of October is upon us, and as contributor of today’s post it is my privilege to wish all of our readers a very Happy Halloween!
With this special time of year comes a guarantee of children flocking to the streets in a bid to see how much confectionery they can pilfer from their neighbours (and if they’re half as enticed by the prospect of a sack of fun size trans-fats as I was, it shall be executed with military precision). At Cemetery Club however, we’ve been street-bound to exploit the thinning of the veil between our world and others for a different reason. Today’s post leads us down dark alleys (or more accurately: Redcross Way in Borough) to remember a different class of dead.
Nestled amongst the TFL hoarding on Redcross Way, a pair of curiously adorned gates form a shrine to commemorate the outcast dead of the Cross Bones Cemetery. The Cross Bones cemetery is the unconsecrated resting place of the ‘Winchester Geese’ (all will be explained!). In the words of our priest, the term refers to “women who had died in sin: the Winchester Geese – the women licensed by the church [namely the Bishop of Winchester] to operate the world’s oldest profession …. denied the right of a Christian burial, and buried here in an unconsecrated graveyard.”
The 23rd day of every month sees a vigil held here (free to attend) by local writer John Constable, or rather the persona of his mediumship John Crow, to whom the spirit of a Winchester Goose buried at Cross Bones famously availed herself. This paranormal visitation served as muse for Mr Crow’s subsequent writings through which he channels her teachings about humanity (or so the legend goes).
Visually the shrine is a gorgeous tangle of ribbons and mementos, made all the more beautiful for its humble imposition on a forgotten nook of London. And yes, Cemetery Club took an offering on your behalf (below). The vigil itself was a surreal spectacle of candle holding, occult chanting, hymn singing and even live musical performance [from local artist Nigel of Bermondsey]
As an outsider to this sort of urban storytelling I fully expected the instigator of such an obtuse and unlikely gathering to skirt the line between eccentricity and madness. I am glad to say that John Crow more than met this expectation.
I suppose it’s easy to feel silly chanting incantations which bid that ‘the goose never go hungry’ for example, but when punctuated with quips about the traffic which threatened the roadside huddle (I especially enjoyed one likening of a garbage collection vehicle to a cart filled with body-bags), it becomes clear that Mr Crow’s delivery was never of a literal sermon but rather an invitation to participate in a mutual expression of humanity through a story drenched in as much bitter truth as fantastical imagining. The smiling throng of loyal supporters hanging on his every word were living proof that indeed the Goose had chosen a most appropriately enigmatic and welcoming priest for her message.
The allure of performing funerary rites at Cross Bones cemetery remains among the outcasts of our Society. Pictured above are Paul and Shonny: two parts of a local homeless trio who have a pact to inter their ashes past the gates of the cemetery. Hopefully the Transport For London development will not encroach further onto the graveyard. A campaign persists to protect the memorial and see a public garden of remembrance created on the site. Add your name to the petition to protect this heritage site for future generations!
In all my cynicism I had expected this Halloween adventure to end up more a trick than a treat, but with such a positive and inclusive message (one of celebrating the outcasts of society and of putting empathy before judgement) I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new season.