“The number of the plague the biggest yet” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

Lord have mercy on London (1665) croppedSeptember 20th – On this day in 1665, exactly three hundred and fifty years ago, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“But, Lord! What a sad time it is to see no boats upon the river; and grass grows all up and down White Hall court, and nobody but poor wretches in the streets! And, which is worst of all, the Duke [of Albemarle] showed us the number of the plague this week, … that it is encreased …  more than the last, which is quite contrary to our hopes and expectations, from the coldness of the late season.  For the whole general number is 8297, and of them of the plague 7165; which is more in the whole … than the biggest Bill [of Mortality] yet: which is very grievous to us all”.

Lord have mercy on London (1665) cropped2The “Great Plague” was now killing over a thousand people a day, and at its peak.  It eventually killed at least 70,000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100,000 – 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 70,000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10,000 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 60,000  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 6,500 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.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

2 thoughts on ““The number of the plague the biggest yet” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

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