Category Archives: london

London Day 7: Wandering Highlights

Continuing my April London adventures…

I did more on my seventh day in London that just visit a forgotten medieval prostitute cemetery, so here are a few highlights! We started our morning at St. John Bakery under an old archway, an almost hidden place that is apparently known for its doughnuts. I’m no expert, but they were delicious to me.

We returned to Borough Market again for lunch. Really, that place is so massive that you could go everyday and try something new. This time I got a vegetarian pie.

Right by Borough Market is Southwark Cathedral, adorned with these forlorn gargoyles. The site has been a place of Christian worship for around 1,000 years, and parts of the cathedral date to 1220.

Taking photos inside the cathedral is not allowed unless you pay a fee, but I couldn’t resist sneaking a photo of this statue of Shakespeare holding a sprig of rosemary (for remembrance, per Ophelia). The statue was installed in 1954 to honor the anniversary of his birth in 1564 and above is a stained glass window featuring characters from his plays. There are a lot of old graves and memorials in the church, with one of particular interest being that of a certain Dr. Lockyer, who died in 1672, a quack doctor by most accounts, but you would never guess from his boisterous epitaph which concludes: “His virtues & his PILLS are soe well known/That envy can’t confine them vnder stone./But they’ll surviue his dust and not expire/Till all things else at th’universall fire./This verse is lost, his PILL Embalmes him safe/To future times without an Epitaph.”

We decided to use the bus as a free tour of the city viewed from the top of the double-decker, and we somehow found ourselves in Shoreditch, which I can say is pretty much the Brooklyn of London. Or the Williamsburg of London, to be specific. So many skinny jeans. I stopped inside a wonderful art bookstore and bought many things.

I believe this is the evening that we went to see Les Misérables, which was the second time for me during this trip. What can I say, I do love to obsess, and surprisingly a lot of the ensemble cast roles were played by different actors than the ones I’d seen just a week ago, which was interesting. On the way to dinner at a delicious Indian restaurant pre-theatre, we walked by this Elmgreen & Dragset rocking horse in Trafalgar Square. After the theatre, we took a walk through Chinatown and its busy evening streets.

One more day trip and one more London day to recap from the England trip!

London Day 7: Cross Bones Graveyard for the Outcast Dead

[Continuing my London adventure recaps from my April trip…]

On Redcross Way in London is a red fence covered with ribbons and fake flowers, an ongoing memorial to the “outcast dead” buried under what is now a concrete lot. This place, known as the Cross Bones Graveyard, was used as a burial ground for prostitutes in medieval London, and then later for paupers into the mid-19th century when it closed in 1853.

The lot itself is off limits to the public, although the gate was unlocked so I snuck around for a quick photo of the memorial inside. Otherwise, it is totally empty, and without the tatters of fabric, strands of plastic beads, and left messages you would have no idea it was a cemetery for an estimated 15,000 people. It’s quite close to the bustle of Borough Market, but the street is much more silent and less traveled. It was in fact forgotten entirely until the 1990s, when it was rediscovered during the construction for the Jubilee subway line, which uncovered 148 skeletons in a mass grave. These skeletons included many stillborn babies, and most of the skeletons showed the effects of poor health and disease.

The prostitutes buried here in the Middle Ages were known as the Winchester Geese, and although they were buried on unconsecrated ground, they worked freely under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester on the South Bank of the Thames at the Liberty of the Clink. The Liberty of the Clink was actually the estates of the Bishop, taking its name from the nearby Clink prison, and the church even made money off the prostitutes due to licensing. Although this area is now within the City of London, it was formerly outside the city boundaries and thus away from its rules. In addition to the brothels, there were other marks vice such as pubs, theatres, bear-pits, and of course prisons like the Clink.

Around the 1760s, it was a graveyard for paupers of a parish in Southwark. The ribbons on the fence are sharpied with the names of the dead, a memorial led by the Friends of the Cross Bones Graveyard, which also holds a monthly vigil.

The graveyard is part of a planned development project by Transport for London and Network Rail, which could potentially surround the cemetery with modern buildings (I think it’s unlikely they would just build over it with the public backlash it would cause). Whatever construction takes place will have to be delicate, as the graves are so close to the surface that teeth sometimes turn up in the soil (one reason it was closed was that the burials were done so shallowly as to cause a health risk as the corpses rotted in the air).

It’s impossible to look at the Cross Bones Graveyard and not think of other spontaneous memorials, whether it’s a street corner at a car crash decorated with photos and flowers for a victim, or even the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, although to compare these all on the same level of loss is impossible and oversimplifying. However, they are all driven by this need to create something to remember in places that without any sort of memorial would be anonymous to the loss attached to them.

London Day 6: Tate Modern and Camden Market

I seem to have lost track of blogging about my England trip from APRIL, but in the spirit of the Olympics I will continue my London posts. I apologize if my blogging is sporadic; I just started a new job that I am quite enjoying, but is very busy, and I’ve been running all over NYC trying to enjoy as many summer activities as possible.

Anyway, when we left off I was heading to a museum to meet up with an old friend. The Tate Modern is one of my favorites, as they have a fantastic permanent collection that is always free, and usually something stunning in the Turbine Hall. Unfortunately this time it was… Damien Hirst. And the Turbine Hall just had a black box with his diamond-covered skull inside (not actually HIS skull, mind you).

It looked like it was going to be at least an hour’s wait to see the skull, and since I really didn’t care, I saw the next best thing, or perhaps the best thing: the skull merch booth. Honestly, I kind of wish I’d bought something to celebrate art decadence, but predictably everything was more expensive than it was worth, the legacy of dear Hirst.

More importantly, I was at the Tate to meet up with my friend Mari who I knew from when we both lived in France. I hadn’t seen her in over two years, so we spent a lot of time catching up as we wandered through the permanent collections. Above is an inverted staircase by Do Ho Suh, representing the memory of one of the artist’s previous homes.

Here is Jenny Holzer’s “BLUE PURPLE TILT,” with tall LED screens of Holzer’s signature earnest sayings, like “a lot of professionals are crackpots” and “disorganization is a kind of amnesia.”

There is a great view from the top of the Tate to St. Paul’s, and some stormy skies seemed to be on their way. Still we walked outside and made our way to the underground to take a trip up to Camden Market for lunch.

After the rain, the sky totally cleared into blue, which was quite picturesque over the Camden Lock. Camden Market is a jumble of vendors selling all manner of random things, with plenty of outrageous clothing options. It is fun to browse.

We ended our day with drinks by the old Liberty department store. Here are some more photos of the prestigious, Tudor-style shopping center:

It was wonderful to see an old friend, and time always seems to be too short while traveling. All the more reason to go back, though. Yet the next day of my England trip wasn’t going to be in London at all. Watch here for the next adventure.