Tag Archives: plague

“The plague is come to the City” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

Lord have mercy on London (1665)

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[T]o my great trouble, hear that the plague is come to the City, though it hath … since its beginning, been wholly out of the City; but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr Burnett, in Fenchurch Street: which, in both points, troubles me mightily”.

The 1665 outbreak of Bubonic Plague – 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.

Bubonic Plague was diagnosed by painful swellings or buboes in the groin or armpit.  It is now known to be caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, in turn generally transmitted by the bite of an infected  rat-flea of the species Xenopsylla cheopis  (such as was common in the conditions in which people, livestock, pets and vermin  lived, cheek-by-jowl, in London in the Medieval to post-Medieval period).   In the Medieval to post-Medieval period, it was thought to be spread by cats and dogs, which were therefore rounded up and killed in large numbers (the resulting  reduction in predation ironically allowing rats to proliferate).  The 1348-9 outbreak, now referred to as the “Black Death”,  caused so many deaths in such a short time that epidemiologists suspect that it was a particularly deadly and infectious – possibly pneumonic or septicaemic – strain  of the disease,  capable of being passed directly from infected person to person without the involvement of the vector flea.  Perhaps significantly in this context, the “Black Death”  was able to continue to spread and even to spike over the winter of 1348-9, when the vector flea would have been inactive, as it is everywhere  today at temperatures of less than 10degC.

 

The Church of All Hallows Staining

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

Saxon rood (cross)

Saxon rood (cross)

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
Essentially Medieval exterior of church of St Dunstan and All Saints, with Red Ensign flying from tower
Interior of church

Interior of church

Memorial to Abraham Mallings, Mariner (d. 1644)

Memorial to Abraham Mallings, Mariner (d. 1644)

Memorial to Admiral Sir John Berry (d. 1689)

Memorial to Admiral Sir John Berry (d. 1689)

Memorial to Honist Abraham Zouch of Wappin[g], Ropemaker (d. 1648)

Memorial to Honist Abraham Zouch of Wappin[g], Ropemaker (d. 1648)

Modern stained glass window and Saxon rood (cross)

Modern stained glass window and Saxon rood (cross)

Saxon rood (cross)

Saxon rood (cross)

Tomb of Sir Henry Colet, twice Lord Mayor of London (d. 1510)

Tomb of Sir Henry Colet, twice Lord Mayor of London (d. 1510)