26 June 2018

All about the Plague

London Studies One
The Great Plague of 1665
Did you hear the one about the Scotsman, the cart and the pit?
On a lovely sunny day a group from London Studies One were taken back to the grimmer times of 1665 and the Great Plague. Our guide started by telling us that on the spot where we stood on Tower Hill thousands of Londoners had gathered in 1664 to witness a comet that was believed to be the bringer of a great catastrophe and how shortly afterwards the Great Plague started to take hold. London had suffered several plagues in the past but this was by far the largest since the Black Death. No accurate figures were known of the actual deaths as often the death of those not of the "faith" was not recorded. However it was estimated that 100,000 died- representing 15% of London's population.

She took us through the symptoms, how death came very quickly and that rats were not suspected of causing the disease. It was mainly put down to the air whilst dogs were believed to be a contributory factor- and suffered accordingly. At this point a "seventeenth century waterman" appeared with "rat" in hand to defend the little creature. Despite an entertaining interactive experience we were not totally convinced! 

Doctor, Doctor!
We moved on to Minories where there had been many deaths and heard of Daniel Defoe's personal experience of the cries of "Bring out the Dead" with affected families being locked into their homes and the dreaded red crosses painted on their doors. Guards were posted outside to keep them in (although sometimes they could be bribed to look away!). Then past sites of plague pits and hearing of the Scotsman who survived both the cart and the pit. 

Onwards through the Aldgate area and an unexpected encounter with a "plague doctor" of the time with full regalia - giving a bit of a shock to at least one of our party! He was clad head to toe to avoid any infection with a long "beak" filled with herbs to avoid infection - at least in theory. We were told that most doctors had actually fled the City and that the remedies being applied by those remaining were totally ineffectual. 

Next on to the City and the Church of St Olave with its association with Samuel Pepys. Pepys actually appeared whilst we were there- looking remarkably fit for someone over 300 years old! He relayed some of his experiences of the Plague from a diary he was writing and wondering what to write about next before we walked on to St Dunstan in the East where the good doctor re-appeared with more anecdotes. 

Pepys into the past
Our final stop was by the Monument dedicated to the Great Fire of 1666 which, apparently, did not end the Plague. It was due to improved sanitation. And that was the end of what had been a thoroughly entertaining morning. Better still, all of us escaped without incurring the dreaded pustules - at least as far as I know! Time for lunch at a nearby pub where no Rat Pie on the menu but good food in the Company of a large number of noisy football fans.  Our thanks to Steve and Yvonne Whittaker for organising the day.