On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
“The ‘Change pretty full, and the town begins to be lively again”.
The “Great Plague” was now well past its peak, and some semblance of normality was beginning to return to a stricken city. The “Great Plague” 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 of this web-site.
The Church of All Hallows Staining was originally built around 1177, and added to in the fifteenth century. It was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, but most of it fell down in 1671, due to undermining of the foundations by burials (mainly plague burials), and it had to be rebuilt in 1674-75, before being substantially demolished in 1870, when the parish was merged with St Olave Hart Street. The fifteenth-century tower still stands, thanks to the initiative of the Clothworkers’ Company, who were also responsible for restoring it in 1873. The foundations are original, twelfth-century. The crypt is also twelfth-century, although it has been transported from its original location in the chapel of St James-in-the-Wall.
Stepney was first recorded in around 1000, as Stybbanhythe. It takes its name either from the Old English personal name “Stybba”, or the word “stybba”, meaning a wooden pile; and “hyth”, meaning landing place. It became built up, around the Saxon to Medieval church of St Dunstan and All Saints (otherwise known as both “The Mother Church of the East End” and “The Church of the High Seas”), in the post-Medieval period. There were 6583 plague deaths in the parish, more than in any other in London, in 1665.
Essentially Medieval exterior of church of St Dunstan and All Saints, with Red Ensign flying from tower
Interior of church
Memorial to Abraham Mallings, Mariner (d. 1644)
Memorial to Admiral Sir John Berry (d. 1689)
Memorial to Honist Abraham Zouch of Wappin[g], Ropemaker (d. 1648)
Modern stained glass window and Saxon rood (cross)
Saxon rood (cross)
Tomb of Sir Henry Colet, twice Lord Mayor of London (d. 1510)
5th September – On this day in 1538, Henry VIII’s Vicar-General Thomas Cromwell mandated the keeping by parish clerks of records 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 All Hallows Staining on our Friday morning walk “London Wall”.
According to these records, 68596 people died of the 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 4808 people died of “consumption and tiffick”, which might actually have been the pneumonic strain of the plague. And 5 died of being “distracted”!
Keeping records of deaths at this time was in itself a dangerous undertaking. There is a story in my family that my twelve times great-aunt’s first husband, Robert Mickell, contracted the plague while going about his business a part-time? parish clerk, and died on 17thSeptember, 1665 (he was evidently only too aware of his mortality as he wrote in his will, only weeks earlier, “I Robert Mickell … 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 it’s peak, killing around a thousand people a day. At this point, probably to conceal the scale of what was unfolding, the authorities ordered that burials should take place at night, and without the tolling of bells. And it grew so deathly quiet that throughout the City the River Thames could be heard flowing under the nineteen arches of Old London Bridge.