The first mention of a plague in London was in AD664, however during this period it was leprosy that caused a greater threat to the health of Londoners. As a result there were many more hospitals for lepers than there were for victims of the plague.
For the next 600 years or so the plagues that hit London were relatively minor, with only one big one being in 1258.
Then in 1348 what has gone down in history as the Black Death hit London. A plague epidemic of disastrous proportions spread through Europe between 1347 and 1350. It reached London in November 1348 and within weeks it had spread through the city.
Within months 200 bodies were being buried daily. Whole families were decimated and it has been estimated that well over half of the population of London died. The plague lasted until the early 1350s, after which time the population slowly began to recover.
There were several recurrences of the plague throughout the 1400s, but none on the scale of the Black Death. Throughout this period efforts were made to improve sanitation in an attempt to stop the spread of disease, but as it wasn't understood how the plague spread these attempts were largely unsuccessful.
By the early 16th century whenever an epidemic of the plague threatened to hit the capital, people would move out of The City in an attempt to escape it. Nevertheless this didn't stop numerous outbreaks of the disease and subsequently thousands of deaths.
By the mid 16th century, in an effort to stop the spread of the plague, it had become customary for homes infected with the plague to be marked by a blue cross, but outbreaks of the disease continued throughout the following decades.
In 1603 another severe plague epidemic hit London, with over 2,000 people dying from the plague in one week alone. Londoners fled to the countryside in huge numbers and the plague abated. But within a few years the disease came back and an outbreak in 1625 killed over 30,000.
There were more outbreaks during the 1630s and 1640s, but then in 1664 the worst epidemic yet hit the capital. This outbreak of the plague became known as the Great Plague.
During Christmas 1664 the first case of the plague was diagnosed. Over the winter extreme cold helped to check the spread of disease, but once spring arrived deaths from the plague escalated rapidly. During the next 18 months an estimated 100,000 people were to die.
The numbers of corpses were so great that even with gravediggers working 24 hours a day they couldn't bury all the bodies within a day of death. As a result the streets were filled with corpses and the smell of death pervaded the city.
One of the reasons that the epidemic spread so rapidly was an order by the Justices of the Peace that all dogs and cats be killed. This was ordered on the mistaken belief that they spread the plague.
However by killing London's cats, the true carriers of the disease - the fleas that lived on rats - were able to spread the plague unchecked. By August 1665 over 5,000 people were dying each week.
Then, all of a sudden the numbers dying began to go down. By November the death toll was around 900 a week, and by early 1666 the plague appeared to be over.
This was the last great plague to hit London, for within a few months the Great Fire of London decimated the city. With the fire many of the rats that spread the plague, and the unsanitary conditions that contributed to the spread of disease, were eradicated.
Nevertheless, a reminder of the Great Plague remains to this day in the children's nursery rhyme:
The "roses" refer to the rash that first appeared on victims of the plague, whilst the "rings" refer to the black swellings that then would appear and which confirmed infection.
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down.
The "posies" were the flowers, herb and spices that people would carry to try to ward off disease and hide the stench of death.
The "A-tishoo" mimics the sneezing that was another symptom of the plague, whilst the "all fall down" is clearly the death that came to the majority of sufferers.
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