Yesterday I watched an old episode of History Cold Case which was available on YouTube. The case the team was looking at was of a young woman whose skeleton had been excavated by the Museum of London from the Cross Bones cemetery in Red Cross Street, Southwark. This cemetery is of un-consecrated ground that is in danger of being re-developed into blocks of apartments. The Museum of London was given 6 weeks in which undertake an archaeological dig in the 1990’s before a transformer station was built in one corner. They excavated 148 bodies from that portion of the site and they estimate that 15,000 people may be buried in the cemetery.
The cemetery dates from post medieval times and was once known as the single woman’s burial ground, a euphemism for prostitutes burial ground. By 1769 it had become a pauper’s burial ground for the poor of St Saviours Church. The cemetery was closed in 1853 as it was considered full, an understatement, and the Burial Act of 1853 closed the vast majority of the city’s burial grounds and church yards.
The local community is in a constant battle to stop the re-development of this cemetery, the first attempt was made in 1883 and it seems that since then there has been attempt after attempt to ignore the cemetery and simply re-use the land. There are several links below which lead to website which outline the history of the burial ground and the present local people who are determined to see it turned into a memorial park honouring those buried there.
As genealogists of course we are interested in the records for the burial ground. I have found the burial registers St Saviour, Southwark 1720 –1854 and St Thomas, Southwark 1614 – 1856 and death registers for St Saviours Union Workhouse Infirmary 1833 – 1940 are all on Ancestry.co.uk. Of course the burial registers do not give information on just where the deceased were buried simply that a burial service was conducted for them and the Infirmary register is of deaths, not burials.
A search of the London Metropolitan Archives catalogue found six documents of possible interest. A search of A2A didn’t produce anything of interest, but National Archives have 2 documents that concern the burial ground, one of which may well be the burial register for the cemetery. These documents haven’t been digitised therefore are not online.
I visited the burial ground in 2008 and by coincidence I met John Constable the leader of the community group who are campaigning to keep the developers out. After a brief chat about the burial ground he asked if I would like to go inside, the area is fenced, but John had a key. He led the way and told me about how he found out about the burial ground and it’s history and the people who are buried there. I was told later that it is quite unusual for John to invite a stranger into the burial ground.
John’s tale of how he was led to find the site is an interesting one and to this day I am not sure if I believe it, but standing in the burial ground it seemed a totally normal occurrence! I’ll leave you to read all about it on the Cross Bones website and you can make your own mind up !
London Metropolitan Archives
Cross Bones Burial Ground
BBC Audio Slide Show
Museum of London
images Cross Bones Graveyard, Hogarth’s Southwark – Wikimedia