August 31st – On this day in 1665, exactly three hundred and fifty years ago, 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 now killing nearly a thousand people a day, and approaching its peak. At this point, it grew so deathly quiet that throughout the City the River Thames could be heard flowing under the nineteen arches of Old London Bridge.
The “Great Plague” eventually killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population. The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City – possibly because a significant proportion of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country. The remaining 60000 Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey. Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.
The Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” for the Plague Year of 1665 are examined at the church of All Hallows Staining on our “London Wall” standard walk, and on our “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City highlights” and “Lost City highlights” themed specials. The bulk of the church collapsed in 1671, the foundations undermined by plague burials.
Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section.