What do you know about the Great Plague of London?

During the hot summer of 1665, London was hit by a terrible disease known as The Great Plague. The disease had spread rapidly across parts of Europe and caused many deaths.

Although there had been a plague epidemic (known as the Black Death) 300 years earlier, killing lots of people, there was still no cure. Medicine was not like it is today and towns and cities were often filthy places to live. By the end of 1665, about 100,000 people had died from the plague in London.

The Black Death, also known as the Great Plague or the Plague, or less commonly the Black Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. The bacterium Yersinia pestis, which results in several forms of plague, is believed to have been the cause.

The Black Death is thought to have originated in the dry plains of Central Asia, where it travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1343. From there, it was most likely carried by fleas living on the black rats that traveled on all merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean Basin and Europe.

The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population.It took 200 years for the world population to recover to its previous level. The plague recurred as outbreaks in Europe until the 19th century.

Quick Facts

  1. The Great Plague occurred between 1665 and 1666.
  2. People were terrified of the plague – just 300 years earlier it had killed millions.
  3. It’s no wonder people were so scared – the plague killed people at an alarming rate and victims died within days of catching the illness.
  4. The plague certainly wasn’t a pleasant disease! The most common symptoms included headaches, fever, vomiting, painful swellings on the neck, armpits and groin (known as buboes), blisters and bruises and coughing up blood.
  5. There was still no cure for the plague – people just had to try and stop it from spreading. People suffering or showing symptoms of the plague were simply banished to their homes. Even healthy family members could not leave the house. A large red cross was nailed to the front door to warn others that those inside were infected. ‘God have mercy upon us’ was written on the door.
  6. The plague spread rapidly and was responsible for destroying the population of a town or even a city within weeks. Cloth traders and people trying to escape the plague unfortunately carried the disease with them.
  7. Some doctors believed that bad poisonous air was the cause of the plague, infecting anyone who breathed it.
  8. The cause of the plague was also blamed on livestock carrying the disease while others believed it to be a punishment from God.
  9. The real root of the problem was RATS! What people did not understand was that the plague was a disease found in black rats. Fleas would bite the rats and become infected and the infected fleas would then spread the disease to humans.
  10. Rats were of course the culprits and they thrived in the towns and cities, especially London. Unfortunately the rat population had tripled in just a few years.

Did you know …

  • Every week in London during the 1600s the Bills of Mortality were announced – basically a record of who had died and what had killed them.
  • In April 1665, the first officially recorded death from the plague occurred.
  • The Great Plague of London killed an estimated 100,000 people, almost a quarter of London’s population.
  • People were so terrified of the plague, they were willing to try any kind of cure, however strange it seemed! The remedies ranged from the fairly normal, like drinking fine wines, to the more absurd, like eating toads or bathing in milk. Some people even smoked tobacco to stop any bad air entering their lungs!
  • There appeared to be two strains of the plague – bubonic plague which was spread by rats and infected fleas and pneumonic plague which was carried in the air and spread by sneezing. The shocking thing was that anyone who caught it often died within a day.
  • The bubonic plague was so-called because of the disgusting pus-filled boils or ‘buboes’ that appeared on the body.
  • Probably one of the most unpleasant jobs of that time was the ‘Plague Body Carrier’ – someone employed to get rid of the dead bodies in plague pits, which were basically mass graves.
  • Children today still sing the popular rhyme ‘Ring-a-ring o’ roses’. But what you might not know is that this rhyme is thought by some to be about the Great Plague. The words “ring-a-ring o’ roses” is thought to describe the red spots that appeared on the skin, “a pocket full of posies” is believed to refer to the small bunches of flowers people carried to keep the disease away, “atish-oo atish-oo” is the sound of sneezing and “we all fall down” at the end of the rhyme is meant to mark the death of the victim!
  • The Great Fire of London which took place in 1666 destroyed a lot of the old, rat-infested buildings, but a very cold winter had already stopped the spread of the disease as the rats and fleas were affected by the bad weather.

Based on: www.theschoolrun.com