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The Plague. 1665

The Plague in London

Outbreaks of plague, the Black Death, had occurred in Britain and Europe periodically for centuries. In 1663 Holland suffered another outbreak and as a consequence Charles II stopped all trade with the country to prevent its spread into the United Kingdom. In spite of this, outbreaks in the poorest parts of London began to occur. By early April 1665 almost 400 deaths were recorded in one week from the Plague.
The more prosperous residents of the city started moving their families to their country homes and by June, unusually hot, everybody who could leave London did so. People showing symptoms of the Black Death were locked in their home together with their family for 40 days after the plague victim had either died or recovered. Guards were set to stop people breaking out of the locked houses.
 Some servants left behind by fleeing aristocracy and prosperous merchants were employed driving the death carts carrying plague victims and others took to looting and robbery. The death toll mounted to such an extent that graveyards soon became full. Vacant land was used for 'plague pits' and quicklime was used in them. In spite of grave diggers literally working night and day, they could not keep up with deaths and so corpses were piled up awaiting burial.The deaths increased steadily so that by the middle of August it had risen to over 6000 in one week. After this, the death toll very gradually declined although many people were still dying. As late as November, 900 people died in one week.
 During the summer, whilst the plague raged in London, outbreaks were seen outside the capital. As fear of the plague increased in the surrounding countryside so refugees from London became more and more unwelcome. Towns posted armed guards to keep them out.
Thousands of Londoners lived on boats on the River Thames during the height of the plague and many of these survived.
Only by Christmas of 1665 did life started to return to normal in London. Just over a month later the King returned to St James's Palace, so encouraging others to do the same

The Plague struck London for the last time in 1665. Although it is often called the “Great Plague”, there had been worse plagues in the past. In fact 1665 saw the last major outbreak of the plague in England.

entries in the diary of Samuel Pepys

"June 7th. This day I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon their doors and "Lord have mercy upon us" writ there, which was a sad sight to me." Plague was so common that this would have been a common sight in London with the person seeing it simply feeling sorry for the family inside the locked house.
 

June 21st. I found all the town almost going out of town, the coaches and wagons being all full of people going into the country."

The Great Fire of London

The Plague

by Daniel Defoe
a complete e-text of this
very valuable document.
readers should be reminded that
this is a fictional account of
the very real event

a really good website, with
diary entries and background
information

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