South Bank and Geese

Recently I posted an article about the cultural (and less cultural) entertainment on offer on the South Bank of the Thames in central London. It was ever thus, I have mentioned in the past about the Guilds of the City of London, and that while they governed the City of London effectively, their influence ended at the City boundaries, encouraging less regulated development outside the City.

The East End of London – in areas like Spitalfields became home to refugee weavers, while South of the Thames areas like Southwark became synonymous with entertainments. There were theatres – notably Shakespeare’s Globe (recreated in recent years), bear bating pits, taverns and prostitution.


In particular the area surrounding Southwark Cathedral (now the site of Borough Market) was property of the Church – in particular the Bishop of Winchester – and a number of ‘stews’ – brothels licensed by the Church were located in the area.

It is said that the Cathedral (along with many others) kept a flock of geese in the church grounds and in time the licensed prostitutes became known as “Winchester’s Geese.


The Cross Bones graveyard near Redcross Street inSouthwark was an unconsecrated graveyard for ‘single women’ and recent analysis of skulls from the graveyard have found them to have been syphilitic – so it’s reasonable to assume that these weren’t lonely spinsters looking for a husband.  


Interestingly, over the river in the City of London, the churchyard of St Olave’s church near Fenchurch Street station, which contains the grave of the diarist Samuel Pepys and his wife, is also home to the grave of ‘Mother Goose’ buried in 1586.


Perhaps this lady, far from being the pantomime character we know today, was in fact a 16th century ‘madam’?