The Outcast Dead
Four brass tags, once used to ‘pay the carter’ when he delivered a cadaver to the pauper’s pit on Redcross Way in Southwark, London, England . . .
An anonymous body destined for ignominious burial—a brass tag nailed to the shin, the last vestige of identification before the corpse slipped into eternal oblivion . . .
They came from the prisons and workhouses, the asylums and dissection theatres: The Outcast Dead. When they were of no further use to this world, a brass tag was affixed to the carcass and the carter took the body to Cross Bones pit for interment.
In 1996, nearly 150 years after the cemetery closed, the Museum of London Archaeological service uncovered the forgotten remains, the bones scarred with pox, the distorted skulls . . . and the tags.
You tip four of these ancient tags into your sitter’s hands and ask her to concentrate. The restless spirit from beyond the grave, is it a man or woman? Who wore one of these tags and now is not at rest? Perhaps your spec sees a child with dirty-face and frightened eyes . . . or is it the hard features of a killer, his neck twisted from the rope? Maybe she hears the demented scream of one whose last days were spent within the local asylum. Your spec sees the poor creature. Hears, too . . . perhaps even smells the areas where the corpse was carried.
What place are you thinking of, you ask. She knows—without knowing how, your spectator knows the place—senses the voice of the spirit. She speaks the name and tells you where to find the tag in her hands—it is the first you will turn over, or the second, perhaps the third or fourth, she doesn’t know how she knows but—then she looks and . . . she is correct. The tag has spoken to her.
Was it coincidence? She tries again—the tags are mixed and put in their slip-box before she holds them in her hands. Again the image presents itself. She hears a voice whispering a number. She looks there for the tag and . . . it has again revealed itself. Time and again she is drawn to this one tag, this one place, this one tortured soul—she is haunted.
Now her friend has a different experience altogether. When she holds the tags it is a different person, a different spirit, a new voice and it leads her . . . elsewhere.
Nothing to hide. No ‘moves’. No sleights. The spec sees everything there is to see: four ancient brass tags and a wooden slip box only big enough to hold them. She handles everything and yet the paranormal manifests in her own hands every time.
The performer only tells the story of each tag and asks questions that lead the spec into a world of spirit communication where she not only sees the wraith of one of The Outcast Dead but receives confirmation of its reality when the spirit tells her (time and again!) where the tag is hidden . . . the very tag that once ushered its cadaver to its grave.
This is storytelling par excellence. Immediately repeatable. Instant reset in full view. Can be performed over and over with different results each time. An undeniable experience in supernatural contact with manifest proof. Ideal for one-off performance, walk around, table hopping, or as a full routine or prelude to a séance.
The Outcast Dead comes complete with 4 etched and aged brass tags, wooden slip-box, and four old English pence in a velvet bag to perform both the “Grave Rubbing” and “There’s the Rub” routines. Prof BC’s 50-page performance manual comes complete with many routines and subtleties to make The Outcast Dead a powerful piece of showmanship with an eerie finish.
Crossbones Graveyard - Eternal Home of The Outcast Dead
Cross Bones is a post-medieval disused burial ground in The Borough, Southwark, south London, in what is now known as Redcross Way.
It is believed to have been established originally as an unconsecrated graveyard for "single women," a euphemism for prostitutes, known locally as "Winchester Geese," because they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Liberty of the Clink. The liberty lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and as a consequence it became known for its brothels and theatres, as well as bull and bear baiting, activities not permitted within the City itself.
The age of the graveyard is unknown. John Stow (1525–1605) wrote of it in A Survey of London in 1598 calling it the "Single Woman's churchyard”. By 1769, it had become a pauper's cemetery servicing the poor of St. Saviour's parish. Up to 15,000 people are believed to have been buried there.
It was closed in 1853 because it was "completely overcharged with dead," and further burials were deemed "inconsistent with a due regard for the public health and public decency."
Excavations were conducted on the land by the Museum of London Archaeology Service between 1991 and 1998 in connection with the construction of London Underground's Jubilee Line. Southwark Council reports that the archaeologists found a highly overcrowded graveyard with bodies piled on top of one another. A dig in 1992 uncovered 148 graves, dating from between 1800 and 1853. Over one third of the bodies were perinatal (between 22 weeks gestation and seven days after birth).
The gates in Redcross Way are permanently decorated to this day by a changing array of messages, ribbons, flowers and other tokens.