In the time of the Great Plague of London 1665

Above is an adaptation from the Sound of Music which gives a sense of how little actual fear there is at present about the Corona Virus. Very la dee dah. Below are extracts from Pepys diary which was written during the time of the Great Plague in England during the seventeenth century in which a much more sombre tone is struck. There is today almost no genuine fear, although plenty of terror spread, almost certainly by those with an unstated agenda afoot.

Here, in contrast, are Samuel Pepys Diary – Plague extracts. I have just been reading the actual diaries for these dates and what reading only the extracts does is give you a false impression of how preoccupied he or anyone else was with the plague that surrounded them, especially in the year that the plague reached “plague proportions”, in 1665. There was no question that he took these events seriously and solemnly, but they were sidelights to other events, most notably the ongoing war between England and the Dutch. This is from May 24, 1665.

Up, and by 4 o’clock in the morning, and with W. Hewer, there till 12 without intermission putting some papers in order. Thence to the Coffee-house with Creed, where I have not been a great while, where all the newes is of the Dutch being gone out, and of the plague growing upon us in this towne; and of remedies against it: some saying one thing, some another.

This is from June 7, 1665, which also has a sidelight reference to Global Warming as it then was.

… it being the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England in the beginning of June – we to the New Exchange and there drunk whey; with much entreaty, getting it for our money, and would not be entreated to let us have one glasse more. ….

This day, much against my Will, I did in Drury-lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us” writ there – which was a sad sight to me, being the first of that kind that to my remembrance I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll tobacco to smell to and chaw – which took away the apprehension. [Houses infected by the Plague had to have a red cross one foot high marked on their door and were shut up – often with the victims inside. Tobacco was highly prized for its medicinal value, especially against the Plague. It is said that at Eton one boy was flogged for being discovered not smoking.]

This from three days later, on June 10.

In the evening home to supper, and there to my great trouble hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr Burnett in Fanchurch-street – which in both points troubles me mightily.

To the office to finish my letters, and then home to bed – being troubled at the sickness, and my head filled also with other business enough, and perticularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away – which God dispose of to his own glory.

Nothing much until the middle of August, and then only this:

It was dark before I could get home; and so land at church-yard stairs, where to my great trouble I met a dead Corps, of the plague, in the narrow ally, just bringing down a little pair of stairs – but I thank God I was not much disturbed at it. However, I shall beware of being late abroad again.

This from August 31, which was the peak moment.

Up, and after putting several things in order to my removal to Woolwich, the plague having a great increase this week beyond all expectation, of almost 2000 – making the general Bill 7000, odd 100 and the plague above 6000 ….

Thus this month ends, with great sadness upon the public through the greateness of the plague, everywhere through the Kingdom almost. Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase. In the City died this week 7496; and all of them, 6102 of the plague. But it is feared that the true number of the dead this week is near 10000 – partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number, and partly from the Quakers and others that will not have any bell ring for them.

As to myself, I am very well; only, in fear of the plague, and as much of an Ague, by being forced to go early and late to Woolwich, and my family to lie there continually.

September 14, 1665. Total deaths on the way down, although inside London still on the rise.

…my finding that although the Bill [total of dead] in general is abated, yet the City within the walls is encreasd and likely to continue so (and is close to our house there) – my meeting dead corps’s of the plague, carried to be buried close to me at noonday through the City in Fanchurch-street – to see a person sick of the sores carried close by me by Grace-church in a hackney-coach – my finding the Angell tavern at the lower end of Tower-hill shut up; and more then that, the alehouse at the Tower-stairs; and more then that, that the person was then dying of the plague when I was last there, a little while ago at night, to write a short letter there, and I overheard the mistress of the house sadly saying to her husband somebody was very ill, but did not think it was of the plague – to hear that poor Payne my waterman hath buried a child and is dying himself – to hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams to know how they did there is dead of the plague and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on Friday morning last, when I had been all night upon the water … is now dead of the plague – to hear … that Mr Sidny Mountagu is sick of a desperate fever at my Lady Carteret’s at Scott’s hall – to hear that Mr. Lewes hath another daughter sick – and lastly, that both my servants, W Hewers and Tom Edwards, have lost their fathers, both in St. Sepulcher’s parish, of the plague this week – doth put me into great apprehensions of melancholy, and with good reason.

The plague continues throughout England although in London, due to the Great Fire of 1666, the plague had all but ended. This is the final plague entry, dated April 4, 1667.

One at the table told an odd passage in this late plague: that at Petersfield, I think, he said, one side of the street had every house almost infected through the town, and the other, not one shut up.