View from City Hall: The importance of Crossbones to local Southwark history

News Desk (19 June, 2019) Columnists

'I encourage residents to visit the site and to help ensure it is protected amongst the current and future developments surrounding it'

30225John Crow with Gaggle, the female choir at Crossbones, St John's Eve Vigil seven years ago. photo by Katy Nicholls

Crossbones Garden located on Redcross Way in the borough is a hidden gem in Southwark’s colourful history, writes Florence Eshalomi, Southwark and Lambeth assembly member…

Used as a mass burial ground in the 1800’s, there are around 15,000 prostitutes and paupers buried in the Crossbones graveyard. Re-discovered in the 1990’s, there was a 20-year campaign to protect the Crossbones graveyard site from development. TfL then granted a lease to Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) and agreed the burial ground would be protected as open space.

Friends of Crossbones have since worked with BOST to create a community garden of remembrance on the site of the old graveyard. It is now a garden where Londoners come to remember society’s outcasts and to honour loved ones who took their own lives with various memorials that members of the public contribute to regularly.

As the local Assembly Member I have visited the Crossbones burial on a number of occasions, most recently in relation to the planning application it is a part of. The land next to Crossbones will be used for housing and retail spaces. Despite being a part of the land, developers U+I recognise the importance of the Crossbones site and have agreed to preserve the gardens. As much as new housing is vital in our borough, I am pleased that we are not forgetting the how crucial it is to protect historic landmarks and little pieces of our history within our growing landscape.

However, I am keen to ensure the development proposals protect the site for as long as possible. I recently met with the BOST to discuss the future of Crossbones. Currently, U+I have suggested a lease of 25 years for the site. I agree with BOST that this does not go far enough in protecting an important piece of history for the long-term in Southwark. I will be arguing that this be increased to a 299 year lease or in perpetuity. The Crossbones site should be recognised by all of us as important to our local history and we should ensure it is protected for future generations.

I will be writing to Southwark Council, U+I and the Mayor to ensure the planning application for Redcross Way recognises and protects this site as a culturally and historically important space. I encourage residents to visit the site and to help ensure it is protected amongst the current and future developments surrounding it.

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