July 1st – On 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 bathing-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 22ndAugust 1851, aged nineteen.
The graveyard is currently in the process of being transformed into a community garden.
Vigils for the dead are held there at 7:00 pm on the 23rd of every month.