A Different Kind of Halloween

Cross Bones Graveyard ProfDEH

Having a wander around Borough Market last Tuesday, I was attracted by the huge neon light sculpture around an arch near the Menier Chocolate Factory. I decided to explore.

There seemed to be a strange ritual going on just opposite one of my favourite pubs, the Boot & Flogger. In front of gates leading to what looked like a car park there was a group of people singing, reciting poetry, and listening intently to a man in long velvet frock coat. Curiouser and curiouser, as they say.

He was talking about this place: a cemetery for 'fallen women', their children, and other people the Church didn’t feel were fit for a Christian burial. So it’s a paupers grave with 12,000 people in it, which they found when digging for the Jubilee Lone. And John Crow, as the poet John Constable calls himself while riveting his listeners at this gravesite, explains how he had a dream in which he was visited by one of those working girls. The girl pleaded with him to safeguard this sacred place, to make it a shrine for her and the others.

While they had been given licence by the Bishop of Winchester to practise their trade in Southwark’s ‘Liberty’ - and to pay taxes! - they were deemed too unclean to have a space in the cemetery and were just thrown away, human debris into landfill. And John keeps his promise to fight for this land by holding vigils at the gates every month on the 23rd, the day 'The Goose' visited him first. She has, in turn, revealed to him a secret history spanning 2,000 years. He wants to share this with people, and makes rituals evoking these mysteries a part of these monthly celebrations.

It was all very intriguing and somehow – even for a non-believer – a wonderful way to celebrate Halloween, All Souls Day, and the changing of the seasons. Definitely more meaningful than trick or treating, or ghoulish pestering.

Maybe there is more between us and the heavens, as a certain other bard used to say...

To find out more about John Constable's work and the Cross Bones Graveyard, click here.