Tag Archives: Black Death

The height of the Black Death in London (Robert of Avesbury, 1349)

victims-of-the-black-death-as-depicted-in-the-toggenburg-bible-of-1411.jpg

In 1349, Robert of Avesbury wrote:

“The pestilence which had first broken out in the land occupied by the Saracens became so much stronger that, sparing no dominion, it visited with the scourge of sudden death the various parts of all the kingdoms … .  [I]t began in England in Dorsetshire … in the year of the Lord 1348, and immediately advancing from place to place it attacked men without warning … .  Very many of those who were attacked in the morning it carried out of human affairs before noon.  And no one whom it willed to die did it permit to live longer than three or four days.  …  And about the Feast of All Saints [November 1st, 1348], reaching London, it deprived many of their life daily, and increased to so great an extent that from the feast of the Purification [February 2nd, 1349] till after Easter [April 12th, 1349] there were more than two hundred bodies of those who had died buried daily in the cemetery which had been then recently made near Smithfield, besides the bodies which were in other graveyards … .  The grace of the Holy Spirit finally intervening, …  about the feast of Whitsunday [May 31st, 1349], it ceased at London … ”.

There were emergency burial sites, or “plague pits”, at East Smithfield, in the grounds of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces, and at West Smithfield, in what were to become the grounds of the Carthusian monastery of Charterhouse, founded in 1371 (see Barney Sloane’s “The Black Death in London”, published by The History Press in 2011).

a-black-death-skeleton-being-analysed-by-an-osteoarchaeologist-charterhouse

The Charterhouse site,  which only came to light during  work preparatory to the ongoing construction of the “Crossrail” station at Farringdon, has recently been partially archaeologically excavated.  A small number of skeletons have been unearthed here that have been dated to the time of the Black Death, and indeed  that still contain traces of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis.  Many thousands more are thought to lie buried here still.  Archaeologists and epidemiologists suspect that so many deaths in evidently such a short space of time must have been caused a particularly contagious and virulent pneumonic or septicaemic strain of the plague, and not  by the bubonic strain (the pneumonic and septicaemic strains are capable of being transmitted directly from infected person to person, and are characterised by mortality rates of 90-100%, whereas  the vector-borne bubonic strain is transmitted by rat flea from infected black or brown rat to person, and is characterised by mortality rates of approximately 50%).  Another argument against the Black Death having been bubonic plague is that it began to spike  in London in the winter of 1348-9, when the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) that transmits this strain of the disease would have been inactive, as it is  everywhere  today at temperatures of less than 10degC.

The Charterhouse site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

The intensification of the Black Death in London (Robert of Avesbury, 1349)

victims-of-the-black-death-as-depicted-in-the-toggenburg-bible-of-1411

In 1349, Robert of Avesbury wrote:

“The pestilence which had first broken out in the land occupied by the Saracens became so much stronger that, sparing no dominion, it visited with the scourge of sudden death the various parts of all the kingdoms … .  [I]t began in England in Dorsetshire … in the year of the Lord 1348, and immediately advancing from place to place it attacked men without warning … .  Very many of those who were attacked in the morning it carried out of human affairs before noon.  And no one whom it willed to die did it permit to live longer than three or four days.  …  And about the Feast of All Saints [November 1st, 1348], reaching London, it deprived many of their life daily, and increased to so great an extent that from the feast of the Purification [February 2nd, 1349] till after Easter [April 12th, 1349] there were more than two hundred bodies of those who had died buried daily in the cemetery which had been then recently made near Smithfield, besides the bodies which were in other graveyards … .  The grace of the Holy Spirit finally intervening, …  about the feast of Whitsunday [May 31st, 1349], it ceased at London … ”.

There were emergency burial sites, or “plague pits”, at East Smithfield, in the grounds of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces, and at West Smithfield, in what were to become the grounds of the Carthusian monastery of Charterhouse, founded in 1371 (see Barney Sloane’s “The Black Death in London”, published by The History Press in 2011).

a-black-death-skeleton-being-analysed-by-an-osteoarchaeologist-charterhouse

The Charterhouse site,  which only came to light during  work preparatory to the ongoing construction of the “Crossrail” station at Farringdon, has recently been partially archaeologically excavated.  A small number of skeletons have been unearthed here that have been dated to the time of the Black Death, and indeed  that still contain traces of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis.  Many thousands more are thought to lie buried here still.  Archaeologists and epidemiologists suspect that so many deaths in evidently such a short space of time must have been caused a particularly contagious and virulent pneumonic or septicaemic strain of the plague, and not  by the bubonic strain (the pneumonic and septicaemic strains are capable of being transmitted directly from infected person to person, and are characterised by mortality rates of 90-100%, whereas  the vector-borne bubonic strain is transmitted by rat flea from infected black or brown rat to person, and is characterised by mortality rates of approximately 50%).  Another argument against the Black Death having been bubonic plague is that it began to spike  in London in the winter of 1348-9, when the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) that transmits this strain of the disease would have been inactive, as it is  everywhere  today at temperatures of less than 10degC.

The Charterhouse site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

The beginning  of the Black Death in London (Robert of Avesbury, 1349)

victims-of-the-black-death-as-depicted-in-the-toggenburg-bible-of-1411

In 1349, Robert of Avesbury wrote:

“The pestilence which had first broken out in the land occupied by the Saracens became so much stronger that, sparing no dominion, it visited with the scourge of sudden death the various parts of all the kingdoms … .  [I]t began in England in Dorsetshire … in the year of the Lord 1348, and immediately advancing from place to place it attacked men without warning … .  Very many of those who were attacked in the morning it carried out of human affairs before noon.  And no one whom it willed to die did it permit to live longer than three or four days.  …  And about the Feast of All Saints [November 1st, 1348], reaching London, it deprived many of their life daily, and increased to so great an extent that from the feast of the Purification [February 2nd, 1349] till after Easter [April 12th, 1349] there were more than two hundred bodies of those who had died buried daily in the cemetery which had been then recently made near Smithfield, besides the bodies which were in other graveyards … .  The grace of the Holy Spirit finally intervening, …  about the feast of Whitsunday [May 31st, 1349], it ceased at London … ”.

There were emergency burial sites, or “plague pits”, at East Smithfield, in the grounds of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces, and at West Smithfield, in what were to become the grounds of the Carthusian monastery of Charterhouse, founded in 1371 (see Barney Sloane’s “The Black Death in London”, published by The History Press in 2011).

a-black-death-skeleton-being-analysed-by-an-osteoarchaeologist-charterhouse

The Charterhouse site,  which only came to light during  work preparatory to the ongoing construction of the “Crossrail” station at Farringdon, has recently been partially archaeologically excavated.  A small number of skeletons have been unearthed here that have been dated to the time of the Black Death, and indeed  that still contain traces of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis.  Many thousands more are thought to lie buried here still.  Archaeologists and epidemiologists suspect that so many deaths in evidently such a short space of time must have been caused a particularly contagious and virulent pneumonic or septicaemic strain of the plague, and not  by the bubonic strain (the pneumonic and septicaemic strains are capable of being transmitted directly from infected person to person, and are characterised by mortality rates of 90-100%, whereas  the vector-borne bubonic strain is transmitted by rat flea from infected black or brown rat to person, and is characterised by mortality rates of approximately 50%).  Another argument against the Black Death having been bubonic plague is that it began to spike  in London in the winter of 1348-9, when the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) that transmits this strain of the disease would have been inactive, as it is  everywhere  today at temperatures of less than 10degC.

The Charterhouse site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Hayes (Kent)

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Hayes was first recorded in 1177 as Hesa, from the Old English haese, meaning “heath-land” (although archaeological evidence indicates that the area had also been occupied during Roman times).  Tax records   for 1301 list 26 families, and imply  a population at that time of around 140 individuals.   Around half of the population is believed to have died during the “Black Death” of 1348-49.

Hayes remained  a small village for most of its history, only beginning to become  suburbanised after  the coming of the West Wickham and Hayes Railway in 1882.  It is now administratively part of the London Borough of Bromley.

Church of St Mary the Virgin

The church of St Mary the Virgin was probably originally built here sometime in the twelfth century, there being documentary records of a rector here at least as long ago as 1177.  It was subsequently entirely rebuilt in the Norman or Romanesque style in 1250, remodelled in the Gothic style in 1400, and extended in 1500, when the fine king-post roof was added.  It has also been much modified in more modern times, most notably by Sir George Gilbert Scott between 1856-61.

In the interior are brass memorials to the former Rectors John Osteler (d. 1461), Sir John Andrew (d. 1479), John Heygge (d. 1523), Robert Garret (d. 1566) and John Hoare (d. 1584), and to John Handford (d. 1610); also stone memorials to Sir Stephen Scott (d. 1658) and his family of Hayes Place (see below); and a plaque commemorating William Pitt the Elder and Younger also of Hayes Place (see below) (*).

In the bell tower are six bells, the oldest made by Robert Mot of the Whitechapel Foundry in 1602 (essentially as a replacement for those removed during the reign of Edward VI in 1552).

Hayes Place

A house known as Hayes Place was built just to the  west of the church at least as long ago as the mid-seventeenth century, for the aristocrat Scott family.  The house later came to be occupied by the literary critic, patron of the arts and salonist Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800), whose house- guests included many famous literary figures, especially women (“blue-stockings”); by  the sometime Prime Ministers William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), and William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), whose guests included Nelson and Wellington (*); and by the banker and local benefactor Sir Everard Alexander Hambro (1842-1925).  It  was eventually demolished in 1934.

(*) The Pitts are both buried in Westminster Abbey.

The end of the Black Death in London (Robert of Avesbury, 1349)

victims-of-the-black-death-as-depicted-in-the-toggenburg-bible-of-1411

In 1349, Robert of Avesbury wrote:

“The pestilence which had first broken out in the land occupied by the Saracens became so much stronger that, sparing no dominion, it visited with the scourge of sudden death the various parts of all the kingdoms … .  [I]t began in England in Dorsetshire … in the year of the Lord 1348, and immediately advancing from place to place it attacked men without warning … .  Very many of those who were attacked in the morning it carried out of human affairs before noon.  And no one whom it willed to die did it permit to live longer than three or four days.  …  And about the Feast of All Saints [November 1st, 1348], reaching London, it deprived many of their life daily, and increased to so great an extent that from the feast of the Purification [February 2nd, 1349] till after Easter [April 12th, 1349] there were more than two hundred bodies of those who had died buried daily in the cemetery which had been then recently made near Smithfield, besides the bodies which were in other graveyards … .  The grace of the Holy Spirit finally intervening, …  about the feast of Whitsunday [May 31st, 1349], it ceased at London … ”.

There were emergency burial sites, or “plague pits”, at East Smithfield, in the grounds of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces, and at West Smithfield, in what were to become the grounds of the Carthusian monastery of Charterhouse, founded in 1371 (see Barney Sloane’s “The Black Death in London”, published by The History Press in 2011).

a-black-death-skeleton-being-analysed-by-an-osteoarchaeologist-charterhouse

The Charterhouse site,  which only came to light during  work preparatory to the ongoing construction of the “Crossrail” station at Farringdon, has recently been partially archaeologically excavated.  A small number of skeletons have been unearthed here that have been dated to the time of the Black Death, and indeed  that still contain traces of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis.  Many thousands more are thought to lie buried here still.  Archaeologists and epidemiologists suspect that so many deaths in evidently such a short space of time must have been caused a particularly contagious and virulent pneumonic or septicaemic strain of the plague, and not  by the bubonic strain (the pneumonic and septicaemic strains are capable of being transmitted directly from infected person to person, and are characterised by mortality rates of 90-100%, whereas  the vector-borne bubonic strain is transmitted by rat flea from infected black or brown rat to person, and is characterised by mortality rates of approximately 50%).  Another argument against the Black Death having been bubonic plague is that it began to spike  in London in the winter of 1348-9, when the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) that transmits this strain of the disease would have been inactive, as it is  everywhere  today at temperatures of less than 10degC.

The Charterhouse site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

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

The height of the Black Death in London (Robert of Avesbury, 1349)

victims-of-the-black-death-as-depicted-in-the-toggenburg-bible-of-1411

In 1349, Robert of Avesbury wrote:

“The pestilence which had first broken out in the land occupied by the Saracens became so much stronger that, sparing no dominion, it visited with the scourge of sudden death the various parts of all the kingdoms … .  [I]t began in England in Dorsetshire … in the year of the Lord 1348, and immediately advancing from place to place it attacked men without warning … .  Very many of those who were attacked in the morning it carried out of human affairs before noon.  And no one whom it willed to die did it permit to live longer than three or four days.  …  And about the Feast of All Saints [November 1st, 1348], reaching London, it deprived many of their life daily, and increased to so great an extent that from the feast of the Purification [February 2nd, 1349] till after Easter [April 12th, 1349] there were more than two hundred bodies of those who had died buried daily in the cemetery which had been then recently made near Smithfield, besides the bodies which were in other graveyards … .  The grace of the Holy Spirit finally intervening, …  about the feast of Whitsunday [May 31st, 1349], it ceased at London … ”.

There were emergency burial sites, or “plague pits”, at East Smithfield, in the grounds of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces, and at West Smithfield, in what were to become the grounds of the Carthusian monastery of Charterhouse, founded in 1371 (see Barney Sloane’s “The Black Death in London”, published by The History Press in 2011).

a-black-death-skeleton-being-analysed-by-an-osteoarchaeologist-charterhouse

The Charterhouse site,  which only came to light during  work preparatory to the ongoing construction of the “Crossrail” station at Farringdon, has recently been partially archaeologically excavated.  A small number of skeletons have been unearthed here that have been dated to the time of the Black Death, and indeed  that still contain traces of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis.  Many thousands more are thought to lie buried here still.  Archaeologists and epidemiologists suspect that so many deaths in evidently such a short space of time must have been caused a particularly contagious and virulent pneumonic or septicaemic strain of the plague, and not  by the bubonic strain (the pneumonic and septicaemic strains are capable of being transmitted directly from infected person to person, and are characterised by mortality rates of 90-100%, whereas  the vector-borne bubonic strain is transmitted by rat flea from infected black or brown rat to person, and is characterised by mortality rates of approximately 50%).  Another argument against the Black Death having been bubonic plague is that it began to spike  in London in the winter of 1348-9, when the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) that transmits this strain of the disease would have been inactive, as it is  everywhere  today at temperatures of less than 10degC.

The Charterhouse site is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

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

To live and die in Charterhouse

Charterhouse property boundary marker

Charterhouse property boundary marker

“Monks once cloistered here

And offered up silent prayer

Beside the plague pit”.

October 6th – Today is the anniversary of the death in 1101 of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order (of hermit-monks). 

The Carthusian monastery, or “Chartrouse” in Charterhouse Square was built  in 1371 by Sir Walter (de) Manny, “a stranger born, lord of the town of Manny, in the diocese of Cambray, beyond the seas,  who for service done to  Edward III was made Knight of the Garter” (Stow).  In fact, the site was first consecrated as a burial ground for victims of the “Black Death” in 1348-9 (again as Stow put it, “A great pestilence … overspread all England, so wasting the people that scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive, and churchyards were not sufficient to receive the dead, but men were forced to choose out certain fields for burial”). 

During the Reformation, the Prior, John Houghton and six  monks were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the king as the head  of the church, most of them at Tyburn.  And a further nine  monks died, or rather were allowed to die, of starvation, in gaol at Newgate.

After the associated Dissolution of the Monasteries,the site became a private residence, originally owned by Sir Edward North, the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, from 1545; and then a  charitable alms-house and school founded by a bequest by Thomas  Sutton, the one-time Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts and the richest man in England, from 1611  (the school relocated to Godalming in Surrey in 1872). 

Remarkably, much still survives here from the Medieval to post-Medieval, Tudor to Stuart period, either in its original state, or restored thereto by Seely and Paget following damage sustained during an incendiary bombing raid in 1941.  Perhaps the most notable buildings, fragments of buildings or fitments are Sutton’s memorial in what is now the Chapel, but was once the Chapter House, dating to 1614; North’s Great Hall, dating at least in part to the 1540s; his Great Chamber, also dating at least in part to the 1540s, and one of the finest in all England, where Queen Elizabeth I more than once held court, at great cost to her host; Wash-House Court, dating back to the early 1530s, in the case of the brick buildings, and to an even  earlier part of the monastic period, in the case of the stone ones; and the doorway to “Cell B”, in the Norfolk Cloister, complete with  its guichet or serving hatch, dating all the way back to the time of the original foundation of the monastery in 1371.

A Black Death skeleton being analysed by an osteoarchaeologist, Charterhouse

A Black Death skeleton being analysed by an osteoarchaeologist, Charterhouse

A “Museum of London Archaeology Service” monograph describes in detail the findings of recent archaeological excavations at the Charterhouse site.    And on a related note, excavations at  the associated “Crossrail” development site  have unearthed a number of skeletons from the “Black Death” burial ground.

Charterhouse  is visited, although not entered, on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” and “Tudor and Stuart London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

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