Big Daves Gusset
‘Where are we now? What place is this? Are we just passing through?’ ‘I’m not quite sure; all I know is we’re well past Waterloo.’ Near the ancient market where the train stopped overhead Sat a strip of wasteland and stood a burnt-out shed. Through the window darkly, beneath a wintry pall, A blade of light illuminated writing on the wall: BIG DAVES GUSSET, thus permitting me A literary title possessing no apostrophe. Undisturbed, and underneath this branded territory, The shovelled souls of Southwark’s stews were sleeping silently. No garden of remembrance for the outcast dead; Instead, a quilt of rustling leaves lay on their concrete bed. Excluded by forgotten suns that gave them up and sank. Unglistened by the silver thread that glided past their bank. The only fit memorial, then, for passers-by to ponder: The size of Dave, his netherwear, and why it caused such wonder.
My first full-time job was working in a storehouse in Borough, the district immediately south of London Bridge. Back then, in the 1980s, it was still home to London’s more noisome industries: in particular, brewing and printing. The ghosts of the industrial past are still there, now mingling with the tourists who bring much-needed money into what is still one of London’s poorest areas.
Between 1991 and 1998, as tunnel work progressed on the London Underground Jubilee line extension, the Museum of London Archaeology Service conducted excavations on wasteland close to the historic Borough market. They uncovered an ancient mass burial ground with ‘bodies piled on top of one another’. This gruesome find turned out to be a graveyard for the sex workers of London’s past, who, as ‘punishment’ for their profession, had been barred from burial in churchyards or consecrated ground.
The upper layer contained around 150 graves dated between 1800 and 1853. The adults were mostly women aged thirty-five or older. This layer was estimated to be just 1% of the total number of burials here. In other words, the site may have held over 15,000 lost souls dating back to early medieval times.
Today a volunteer group, the Crossbones organisation, campaigns to save the burial plot from development. On the same stretch of wasteland, graffitied onto the remains of a half-demolished warehouse was the title of this verse, Big Daves Gusset. Pure bathos. I took the photograph from a train on the railway bridge above as it funnelled into London Bridge station.
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