September 5th – On this day in 1538, Henry VIII’s Vicar-General Thomas Cromwell mandated the keeping by parish clerks of registers of births, deaths and marriages (“every wedding, christening and burying”) within their parishes – to which we owe much of what we now know of everyday past life in London.
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.
According to these records, 68,596 people died of the – bubonic – plague in London in 1665, including 112 in the parish of All Hallows Staining (the church collapsed in 1671, it is said on account of undermining of its foundations by plague burials). A further 4,808 people died of “consumption and tiffick”, which might actually have been the plague as well. And 5 died of being “distracted”!
Among the plague victims was my twelve times great-aunt’s first husband, Robert Mickell, who succumbed on 17th September, 1665 (having written in his will only days earlier, evidently only too aware of his own mortality, “I … being well in body … praised bee God for the same but considering the frailty of man’s life and not knowing how soon it may please Almighty God my creator to call me out of this transitory world doe make and ordayne this my last will and testament … ”).
He died as the epidemic reached its peak, killing around a thousand people a day (see also August 31st posting). 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 epidemic finally began to abate with the onset of the cold weather in October, 1665, which would have rendered inactive the rat fleas responsible for its spread (see also April 30th Plague Year posting).