The “Stews” of Southwark, the “Winchester Geese” and the (other) “Outcast Dead” (of the “Crossbones Graveyard”)

July 1stOn or around this day in 1506, a Royal ordinance attempted to suppress the “stews” or brothels of Southwark (the word “stew”  meant  originally a fish pond, subsequently a public bath-house, and eventually  a brothel). The brothels were licensed by the Bishops of Winchester, so the prostitutes who worked in them  were known as “Winchester Geese”.  When they died, they were interred, with the other “Outcast Dead”,  in an unconsecrated burial ground known as  “Crossbones Graveyard”.  The graveyard remained in use up until the nineteenth century.

A “Museum of London Archaeology Service” monograph describes in detail the findings of recent archaeological excavations at the site.  One of the excavated skeletons, of a  nineteenth-century woman,  aged only around sixteen to nineteen,  exhibited pathological indications of advanced syphilis.  Research undertaken for an episode of the BBC television series “History Cold Case” in 2010  indicated  that this skeleton was likely to be that of one Elizabeth Mitchell, who is recorded as having been admitted to nearby St Thomas’s Hospital suffering from the running sores all over the body symptomatic of advanced syphilis, and as having died there, on 15th August 1851, aged nineteen.

“Crossbones Graveyard”  is visited on our “Historic Southwark” walk – details on the standard walks page.

Further details of all our walks are available via the “Our Guided Walks” section of our web-site. Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (, or by phone (020-8998-3051).


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