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The Plague
(Black Death)


This virulent lethal disease was common in England during the Medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods.

The Cause
It thrived in filthy and crowded conditions and for a long time people did not know what caused it. They knew that once a person had the disease it could be passed on by breathing the same air as the victim but what they did not know was that fleas carried the plague. It was common for flea-ridden animals and rats to share the same living space as people. All it took was a bite from a plague infected flea for a person or animal to contract the plague.
The tell-tale symptoms of the plague were small rings of bruise-like marks on the skin; painful swellings in the lymph glands in the armpit, groin, neck and legs (these were called buboes); muscular pains; very high temperature; vomiting; delirium; coughing up blood and lapsing into unconsciousness which quickly lead to death within 2-4 days.
The plague was so virulent that often half the population of a town or village could die. Authorities tried to restrict population movements in an effort to halt the plague.
The Great Plague 1665
In the Great Plague of London in 1665, households would be boarded up and a red cross put on the door. Healthy family members would be incarcerated with plague victims to look after their needs and bring them out to the carts that collected the corpses for burial in the plague pits.
Approximately 100,000 Londoners were killed in the 1665 outbreak. The location of the old plague pits was mostly unknown until relatively recently when excavations for London’s Cross Rail Project unearthed numbers of skeletons across East London.
For locations of London’s Plague Pits go to  Web:  London Plaque Pits
Nursery Rhyme
The well-known children’s nursery rhyme Ring-a-Ring-of-Roses is said to be about the plague.


A pocket full of posies

Atichoo! Atichoo!

We all fall down

- ‘Ring-a-Ring-of-Roses’ refers to the first signs of the plague – the circular red marks on the skin;

- ‘A pocket full of posies’ refers to the bad smell from the open sewers. The smell was commonly thought to be the cause of the plague and a posy of sweet smelling flowers and herbs would ward off the plague. It would also help disguise the smell of the rotting corpses;

- ‘Atichoo! Atichoo!’ refers to the sneezing which came in the final stages before death;

- ‘We all fall down’ refers to inevitable death.  



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