August 31st – On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
“Up; and, after putting several things in order to my removal, to Woolwich; the plague having a great increase this week, beyond all expectation of almost 2,000, making the general Bill [of Mortality] 7,000, odd 100; and the plague above 6,000. Thus this month ends with great sadness upon the publick, through the greatness of the plague every where through the kingdom almost. Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase. In the City died this week … 6,102 of the plague. But it is feared that the true number … is near 10,000; partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number, and partly from the Quakers and others that will not have any bell ring for them”.
The Great Plague was approaching its peak, killing around a thousand people a day. At this point, probably to conceal the scale of what was unfolding, the authorities ordered that burials should take place at night, and without the tolling of bells. And it grew so deathly quiet that throughout the City the River Thames could be heard flowing under the nineteen arches of Old London Bridge.