UK vigil part of struggle for prostitute memorial

Fri Oct 28, 2011 2:40pm EDT
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By Julie Mollins

LONDON (Reuters) - It may seem somewhat grisly, but for author John Constable, paying tribute to the "outcast dead" buried at Crossbones Graveyard in London's Borough of Southwark, has been part of life for almost 15 years.

At 7 p.m. on the 23rd of each month, up to 50 people take part in an open-air ceremony led by Constable's shamanic alter-ego John Crow at the iron gates of a plot of land which, from medieval to Victorian times, was an unconsecrated graveyard used for prostitutes and paupers.

Vigil participants - who include office workers, prostitutes and witches, Constable says - sing songs and attach offerings of ribbons, handicrafts and other baubles to the gates amid the pungent scent of wafting incense.

"People walk past and see us and it's easy for them to think we're a bunch of nutters, but actually I find anybody who spends five minutes or so with us tends to get quite drawn in - what we're doing isn't that weird actually," said Constable, who wants at least part of the Crossbones site to be transformed into a memorial park designated as a world heritage site.

The Crossbones land on Redcross Way is slated for redevelopment by owner Transport for London (TFL) as part of a controversial modernization scheme in Southwark, which is changing the character of London's Bankside, Borough and London Bridge areas.

"Crossbones burial ground is part of a much larger site owned by TFL," a TFL spokesperson said. "TFL is seeking a comprehensive redevelopment of the whole site and has been working with stakeholders, including John Constable, to see how the burial ground can be sensitively incorporated."

In the Middle Ages, prostitutes known as "Winchester Geese" were free to ply their trade around these parts in the Liberty of the Clink under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester.

The Liberty of the Clink was in an area on the same south bank of the Thames river as modern-day Southwark across from and, in medieval times, outside the laws of the old City of London.   Continued...

<p>British author John Constable on Redcross Way in London's Borough of Southwark in front of Crossbones Graveyard holding a copy of his book "The Southwark Mysteries", October 24, 2011. REUTERS/Julie Mollins</p>