Tag Archives: London graveyards

Pagans, prostitutes and paupers graveyard

There is a small plot of land in Redcross Way that must rank as one of the most melancholy places in London.

For buried within an area of less than ¼ acre lie 15,000 souls.

For hundreds of years in the shadow of the Shard this unconsecrated post-medieval burial site was used to bury the dispossessed of Southwark.

[S]ince the 12th century this land south of the Thames by London Bridge came within the jurisdiction of The Bishop of Winchester and as a consequence was beyond the control of the City of London.

Known as the Liberty of the Clink encompassed within this small area banned theatres, the Globe and Rose among others sprung up, bear baiting was a daily occurrence and prostitutes worked in the brothels. As these brothels were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester the prostitutes were known as “Winchester Geese”. The term “goose bumps” was a charming and somewhat alarming term commonly used to describe the first signs of venereal disease, most probably caught working in the “stews” around the notorious Clink prison.

The Godly prelate might have licensed these unfortunates to work for him in the brothels but he excluded them from a Christian burial and so this small plot became a place of internment for “single women”, a euphemism for prostitutes, along with actresses and paupers.

The bodies were stacked upon one another with little ceremony to mark their passing. Many corpses were left exposed to the elements by the inept gravediggers, making it a hunting ground for body snatchers seeking out specimens for the local teaching hospitals.

Eventually in 1853 due to overcrowding the burial site was closed. It lay undisturbed and unloved until the early 1990s when during excavations for the Jubilee Line extension the site was discovered. Archaeologists from the London Museum have unearthed 148 bodies and found evidence of high infant mortality, trauma injuries, malnutrition and infections.

A group called the Friends of Cross Bones has acted since its rediscovery as a pressure group resisting attempts to develop this valuable piece of real estate. They number among their ranks prostitutes and pagans and on the 23rd of each month hold a vigil to remember the forgotten. On Halloween night it has become a tradition to gather at Cross Bones site, as it now known, with candles, songs, flowers and gin to pay tribute to the “outcast dead”. Gin apparently is the proper tribute to honour a “Lady of the Night”.

Another curiosity is to be found in Redcross Way, The Boot and Floggers public house opposite Cross Bones is supposedly the only bar in the country not to require an alcohol licence, because of special dispensation from James I in 1611.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 28th February 2012

‘Mrs’ Everest

The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is Britain’s biggest graveyard with nearly one million within its walls, approached by an impressive Portland stone gateway has, as its most famous internee, Sir Bobby Moore who captained England to the 1966 World Cup victory, culminating at Wembley playing against Germany. You will also find actress Dame Anna Neagle and a couple of Jack the Ripper’s victims.

[W]ithin this huge 200-acre Victorian Grade I listed graveyard is an almost forgotten simple cross surmounting a square plinth commemorating the life of a person who arguably changed the course of Britain’s history.

Elizabeth Ann Everest was born in Chatham at around 1832. Like many of her generation she remained a spinster, was childless, she wrote nothing of note, invented nothing, created nothing, she boasted no scientific achievement nor artistic gift.

She was, truth be told, not the least bit extraordinary in any way, except this: she had a great deal of love in her.

Elizabeth-Everest

Elizabeth Ann Everest

We know nothing of her early life. A woman of deep faith, a Low Church Anglican which probably went some way to her first appointment. She was, by profession, a caregiver, spending her thirties raising a girl named Ella Phillips, in the Cumberland village of Barrow-in-Furness.

Alas, as is the way with nannies, having raised Ella until she was twelve, the girl’s father, an Anglican cleric, released her from his service.

To modern eyes, this dismissal of a faithful servant might seem callous, but life in the lower ranks of Victorian society was harsh.

Having had the responsibility of caring for the Rev. Phillips’s daughter gave her a huge advantage when seeking employment. Without any means of support the workhouse beckoned. But Rev. Phillips had given her references which served her well to get a new position.

In 1875, one of England’s most noble families had a need for a governess.

A well-known rake from one of England’s families of high noble birth had married a wealthy teenage American, a young woman of great beauty but highly questionable morals.

She had given birth ‘prematurely’, seven months after the wedding, and, having done so, wanted nothing to do with being a mother. The young lady then hired a wet nurse, who fed the child; when the child was a month old, she hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.

Having discharged their responsibilities as parents devoted themselves to a life of pleasure and debauchery: balls, parties and soirées and all the entertainments that went with their set at the time.

The abandoned child was a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums and Elizabeth Everest was left to bring up and set an example to her charge.

As the years passed, the father became publicly prominent, a well-known politician. As the boy grew, the father abused the boy intellectually and verbally on, according to the boy, the only five occasions he actually paid attention to the child. He was sent to Harrow and not his father’s alma mater-Eton as Harrow, in those days, was supposed to be less intellectually challenging.

His mother gave herself to an endless series of high-ranking lovers and hardly noticed that the child even existed.

The parents called the nanny ‘Mrs Everest’ – an honorary title, as was the custom for nannies at the time, as she had in all probability never married.

The boy addressed her as “Woom”, from a poor first attempt to say the word “Woman”. Woom changed his nappies, offered him her arms for comfort, wiped his tears. She gave him all the love and parenting that his own parents should have given, but did not.

She was his love, his caretaker, and shaped him in the ways of life in ways that his foolish, frivolous mother and cruelly insane father could not hope to do so. She was his confidante and he loved her dearly, in ways he never could his own mother and father, who viewed him with annoyance, cold indifference – or worse.

When the boy was seven, he was exiled to a series of boarding schools where he was abused and beaten; when he came home for holiday, he often found his parents gone – without warning – and spent his Christmases alone with his nanny and the other servants of the house.

The father was often in London, where he was prominent in Parliament; the mother was, in essence, wherever she wanted to be, which was generally the beds of rich, powerful and handsome men other than her husband, whom she came to actively loathe, as he treated her with the same callousness he did the boy.

Through all this, Woom was the boy’s light and his comfort, and she shaped him in ways his parents were incapable of doing. As the boy grew older, he had to cope with the bitter reality that his mad and cruel father would never love him and that his mother–for all the nobility of her surroundings, an incontinent whore with scores, or even hundreds, of lovers–could never be a mother for him.

As the boy became a young adult Mrs Everest was again fired from her post which, all accounts, was handled abruptly and poorly, given her long and devoted service to the family.

The father’s syphilis finally ended his life; he died in January 1895, when the boy was twenty.

In June of that year, Mrs Everest fell ill with peritonitis. The young man, no longer a child, rushed from Sandhurst, his military training camp and was with her in her sister’s home at 15 Crouch Hill, where she died of peritonitis on 3rd July 1895.

The young officer then telegraphed the clergyman for whom Everest had previously worked, they met at the graveside. He had become an archdeacon, but even so, he did not see fit to bring little Ella with him.

The ‘intellectually challenged’ sickly redhead now no longer a boy, erected a headstone over her grave. It stands to this day:

‘ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH ANN EVEREST, WHO DIED THE 3RD OF JULY 1895, AGE 67 YEARS.’

Grave

At the base of the stone is the simple addendum, now severely weathered after 120 years and covered by grass:

‘. . . BY WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL’

Peter Rabbit’s grave

On 28th July 1866 – one hundred and fifty years ago this week – there was born at 2 Bolton Gardens (since destroyed by German bombs) a girl that many regard as the world’s greatest children’s author. Beatrix Potter’s father was a barrister sufficiently wealthy to live in this expensive neighbourhood and with enough spare time to regularly take Beatrix to the Natural History Museum allowing his daughter to sketch the many exhibits there.

[T]he mention of Beatrix Potter conjures up the huge tracks of land she purchased on the royalties she earned from iconic books. But surprisingly much of the stories could have been derived from London.

Beatrix wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit around the turn of the last century and after having it turned down by six publishers had Peter privately printed in 1901.

The son of the company’s founder, Norman Warne, changed the company’s initial decision to reject the book and went on the publish 24 works by Beatrix.

In part his attraction to the author might have been a deciding factor as they became engaged in 1905; unfortunately he died before they married.

There is a possible London connection for Cumbria’s favourite adopted daughter. Close to her childhood London home is Brompton Cemetery and while it is easy to give credence to an urbane myth is takes a dedicated individual to prove it.

Step in James Mackey, a member of the Friends of Brompton Cemetery committee. Hoping to win Lottery funding for the cemetery Mackay investigated the recently computerised burial register at Chelsea library which had on its database 250,000 burial sites, which was a great assistance as the cemetery itself had lost many of the headstones and some, of course, were interred in an unmarked grave.

George-Nutkins

George and Susannah Nutkins’ gravestone

First an old edition of Beatrix’s writings had the character Jeremiah Fisher and Mackay was able to track down that individual’s headstone. Others whose mortal remains lie in Brompton Cemetery include: Peter Rabbett, Mr. Nutkins, Mr. Brock and Mr. McGregor.

The final resting places of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail at the time of writing remain undiscovered.

Picture: Nutkins’ gravestone Rehan Qayoom

Pagans, prostitutes and paupers

There is a small plot of land in Redcross Way that must rank as one of the most melancholy places in London.

For buried within an area of less than ¼ acre lie 15,000 souls.

For hundreds of years in the shadow of the Shard this unconsecrated post-medieval burial site was used to bury the dispossessed of Southwark.

[S]ince the 12th century this land south of the Thames by London Bridge came within the jurisdiction of The Bishop of Winchester and as a consequence was beyond the control of the City of London.

Known as the Liberty of the Clink encompassed within this small area banned theatres, the Globe and Rose among others sprung up, bear baiting was a daily occurrence and prostitutes worked in the brothels. As these brothels were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester the prostitutes were known as “Winchester Geese”. The term “goose bumps” was a charming and somewhat alarming term commonly used to describe the first signs of venereal disease, most probably caught working in the “stews” around the notorious Clink prison.

The Godly prelate might have licensed these unfortunates to work for him in the brothels but he excluded them from a Christian burial and so this small plot became a place of internment for “single women”, a euphemism for prostitutes, along with actresses and paupers.

The bodies were stacked upon one another with little ceremony to mark their passing. Many corpses were left exposed to the elements by the inept gravediggers, making it a hunting ground for body snatchers seeking out specimens for the local teaching hospitals.

Eventually in 1853 due to overcrowding the burial site was closed. It lay undisturbed and unloved until the early 1990s when during excavations for the Jubilee Line extension the site was discovered. Archaeologists from the London Museum have unearthed 148 bodies and found evidence of high infant mortality, trauma injuries, malnutrition and infections.

A group called the Friends of Cross Bones has acted since its rediscovery as a pressure group resisting attempts to develop this valuable piece of real estate. They number among their ranks prostitutes and pagans and on the 23rd of each month hold a vigil to remember the forgotten. On Halloween night it has become a tradition to gather at Cross Bones site, as it now known, with candles, songs, flowers and gin to pay tribute to the “outcast dead”. Gin apparently is the proper tribute to honour a “Lady of the Night”.

Another curiosity is to be found in Redcross Way, The Boot and Floggers public house opposite Cross Bones is supposedly the only bar in the country not to require an alcohol licence, because of special dispensation from James I in 1611.