Bubonic Plague was known as the Black Death and had been known in England for centuries. It was a ghastly disease. The victim’s skin turned black in patches and inflamed glands or ‘buboes’ in the groin combined with compulsive vomiting, swollen tongue and splitting headaches made it a horrible, agonizing killer.
The plague started in the East, possibly China, and quickly spread through Europe. Whole communities were wiped out and corpses littered the streets as there was no one left to bury them.
It began in London in the poor, overcrowded parish of St. Giles-in-the-Field. It started slowly at first but by May of 1665, 43 had died. In June 6,137 people had died, in July 17,036 and at its peak in August, 31,159 people had died. In all, 15% of the population perished during that terrible summer.
Incubation took a mere four to six days and when the plague appeared in a household, the house was sealed, thus condemning the whole family to death! These houses were distinguished by a painted red cross on the door and the words, ‘Lord have mercy on us’. At night the corpses were brought out in answer to the cry, ‘Bring out your dead’, put in a cart and taken away to the plague pits. One called the Great Pit was at Aldgate in London and another at Finsbury Fields.
The King, Charles II and his Court left London and fled to Oxford. Many people who could, sent their families away from London during these months, but the poor had no other option but to stay.
The plague spread to many parts of England. York was one city badly affected. The plague victims were buried outside the city walls and it is said that they have never been disturbed since then, as a precaution against a resurgence of the dreaded plague. The grassy embankments below the walls that can be seen as York is approached are the sites of these plague pits.
In some towns and villages in England there are still the old market crosses which have a depression at the foot of the stone cross. This was filled with vinegar during times of plague as it was believed that vinegar would kill any germs on the coins and so contain the disease.
The plague lasted in London until the late Autumn when the colder weather helped kill off the fleas.
Over the centuries Bubonic Plague has broken out in Europet and the Far East. In 1900 there were outbreaks of plague in places as far apart as Portugal and Australia.
Influenza seems to be the modern form of plague. At the end of World War One an influenza outbreak circled the world during 1918 – 1919. Within a year 20 million people had died world-wide.