Kennington Park Road is no stranger to these historic myths and mysteries.
At the shores of the 'Heroic' Age of the Homeric Trojan Wars this was a holy mound, potentially a Druidic elemental journey-Xing on this bend in the river and roads around the Effra linking up with those of the river Thamesa.
Its common, now known municipally as Kennington Park, was once the abode of the Capital’s vagrants & vagabonds, thieves & cut-purses, and wild & savage hobos, who lived so long apart from society that they had developed habits that even by the standard of the day, would be considered monstrous and appalling; in one part of the park was excavated a deep pit filled with over 200 milk teeth; another pit filled with tiny bones, at first thought to be those of stray cats, dogs and birds.
But children were not the only victims; on many occasions residents reported a high volume of farm animals and household pets with strange injuries – some of the animals were blinded, others were found to limp home with their stomachs slit.
Towards the close of the 18th century it was decided that Kennington Cross – on the South West edge of the common, the location of the Medieval Feast of Fools and a gallery of jesters, would make an ideal execution site, connecting to a network of similar scaffolds and pillories designed to deal with those who were reluctant to join the growing ranks of the mercantile class.
For days baying mobs would surround the gallows, their charged voices fuelling the fetid and filthy air with their blood-thirsty cries; the gluttonous stench of vomit, faeces and the bodies of the countless unwashed.
Tyburn at least had the Marylebone Watch to ensure the most extreme elements of the crowd were not permitted to fully express their bestial liberties; no such temperance held sway here. Despite extreme unction being offered piecemeal by the dubious priests the bodies of the executed were rarely buried in consecrated ground, if buried at all.
Grace blessed the park as the troposphere-kissing cumulonimbus swell and let a fan of bright sun rays down to illuminate the stirrings of the Holy Spirit; thirty-thousand souls united by a fervent Love of God or metaphysical aspiration, packing out the muddy scrubland and hanging off the trees.
Carrying high over the hubbub boomed the decisive evangelism of the Methodist preachers John Wesley and George Whitefield, their open-air spur-of-the-moment sermons extending their congregations well beyond the capacity of any church pew.
“Come poor, lost, undone sinners, come just as you are to Christ”
The holy voices heard over the gathered and hushed mass were in turn whispered by rote and printed out in hand-bills to be distributed to the curious at the edges of the Park. Later smaller groups would split away to give testimony of how God had entered or blessed their individual lives; their stories joined in-between voices raised in joyful hymn.
But the so-called ‘Christian’ crowds were fickle – the large host placated by the charisma of the Methodists were apt to be equally entranced by the insalubrious lures waiting to snare stomach, wits, purse or groin.