On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
“[M]y finding that although the Bill [of Mortality] in general is abated, yet the City within the walls is encreased and likely to continue so, and is close to our house there. My meeting dead corpses of the plague, carried to be buried close to me at noon-day through the City in Fenchurch Street. To see a person sick of the sores carried close by me by Grace-church in a hackney-coach. My finding the Angell tavern, at the lower end of Tower-hill, shut up; and more than that, the alehouse at the Tower Stairs; and more than that, that the person was then dying of the plague when I was last there, a little while ago at night. To hear that poor Payne, my waiter, hath buried a child, and is dying himself. To hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams, to know how they did there, is dead of the plague; and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on Friday morning last, when I had been all night upon the water … is now dead of the plague. … To hear that Mr. Lewes hath another daughter sick. And, lastly, that both my servants, W. Hewers and Tom Edwards, have lost their fathers, both in St. Sepulchre’s parish, of the plague this week, do put me into great apprehensions of melancholy, and with good reason”.
And John Tillison wrote, in a letter to Dr Sancroft:
“Death stares us continually in the face in every infected person that passeth by us; in every coffin which is … carried along the streets. … The custom was … to bury the dead in the night only; now, both night and day will hardly be time enough to do it. … [L]ast week, … the dead was piled in heaps above ground … before either time could be gained or place to bury them. The Quakers … have buried in their piece of ground [Bunhill Row] a thousand … . Many are [also] dead in … other places about the town which are not included in the bill of mortality”.
The “Great Plague” was almost at its peak. It 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 “Great Fire of London” 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 “Our Guided Walks” section.
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