The Great Plague

The Great Plague

During the winter of 1664, a bright comet was seen in the sky and was regarded as a bad omen. It wasn’t long until it was realised and in December 1664 a suspicious death was recorded although not, at the time, considered a plague death so no control measures were taken.

London at this time was a walled city of about 448 acres, it was overcrowded, dirty and awash with sewage, ideal conditions for the plague to spread.

The Great Plague was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England, lasting from 1665 to 1666. It killed an estimated 100,000 people, almost a quarter of London’s population.

Although this epidemic was on a far smaller scale than the earlier Black Death pandemic, it was remembered afterwards as the ‘Great’ plague mainly because it was the last widespread outbreak of bubonic plague in England during the 400-year timespan of the Second Pandemic.

350 years later and with the help of the Historic UK website, today’s walk followed the streets of London finding the locations of the plague pits, which were scattered across the city and surrounding countryside. As there is little evidence about the exact locations they have used a variety of sources to help pinpoint where they would have been. There is a useful map and information on the website if you are looking to plan your own walk.

Distance: around 19.5 miles (not including public transport).

Knightsbridge Green
Small burial ground - before being used as a plague pit it was thought to have been used to bury the dead from the local Knightsbridge leper colony.

Green Park
Bones dating back to the 17th century were found during the construction of the Victoria line in the 1960s suggesting it was used as a plague pit.

Golden Square
Lord Macaulay, in his 1848 book The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, wrote that in 1665 “it was popularly believed that the earth was deeply tainted with infection, and could not be disturbed with imminent risk to human life’.

Marshall Street
Once called Pesthouse Close, the pest-house in this area was used to quarantine people at the outbreak of the plague. Bodies were buried at the adjoining common cemetery.

St Giles-in-the-Fields
The first victims of the Great Plague were buried in St Giles's churchyard and by the end of the plague year there were 3,216 listed plague deaths in this church's parish.

Christchurch Gardens
Christchurch Gardens is the site of the former burial ground for St Margaret Westminster, part of which was used for plague burials in 1665.

Vincent Square
Vincent Square is in an area once known as Tothill Fields which was used as a plague pit. It is now a playing field for Westminster School.

Barkerloo Line, London Depot
A plague pit can be found behind the wall of the dead end tunnel in the London Underground Bakerloo line depot.

Cross Bones Graveyard
Famous as a memorial to prostitutes who worked and died in the area, the graveyard was under the control of the church parish during the Great Plague and is believed to be used to bury plague victims.

Armour House
Unconfirmed area but may have been a site of a plague pit.

Museum of London
Not a plague pit but a number of excavated victims are individual stored within the museum for study.

Charterhouse Square
Site of London’s largest plague pit used at various times during the Black Death pandemic - part of the pit was unearthed during Crossrail works.

Pardon Plague Pits
This burial ground was used extensively during the plague era. It was also used for the disposal of the poor and criminals. The site was huge, to the north of Old Street between St John’s Street and Goswell Road.

Seward Street/Mount Mills
Once the site of St Bartholomew’s Hospital Ground the area was used as a plague pit between 1664-1666.

Islington Green
It is believed that the triangular piece of land, now known as Islington Green, was used as a plague pit.

Pitfield Street
Site of a large plague pit dating from 1665-1666 - guess the street name says it all for this one.

Holywell Mount
Used as a burial ground for centuries, it was used heavily during the Great Plague. The area has mostly now been built on.

37-39 Artillery Lane
Site of a 14th and 15th century plague pit, excavations also uncovered a large Roman cemetery.

New Street
Previously know as Hand Alley, Dofoe’s History of the Plague says, ‘the upper end of Hand Alley in Bishopsgate Street was then a green field, and was taken in particularly for Bishopsgate parish, though many of the carts out of the city also brough their death thither also’.

Unconfirmed area but may have been a site of a plague pit. It was however, as the name suggests, used as a site to dispose of dead dogs during Roman times.

Aldgate Station
Dofoe’s History of the Plague says, ‘As near as I may judge, it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet deep; but it was said they dug it near twenty feet deep afterwards in one part of it’.

Royal Mint/East Smithfield
A Black Death pit at East Smithfield has been excavated by the Museum of London Archeology Service and reports shows that burials were very systematic, unlike those of the Great Plague.

Gower's Walk Pest Field
Site of thousands of plague burials.

Stepney Mount
Although the site of Stepney Mount pest fields is now unknown, it is thought they were in the area surrounding St Philip’s Church. If true this plague pit would have covered acres of ground.

Sainsbury's Whitechapel
It is locally rumoured to be the location of a large Great Plague burial pit.

St Dunstan's, Stepney
The church donated a large amount of land for burying plague victims. In one eighteen-month period 6,583 died, with 154 being buried in one day in September 1665.

St Paul's, Shadwell
One of five Stepney plague pits, used between 1664-1666.

St John's, Scandrett Street
Only the church tower and shell survived wartime bombing, and have now been converted to housing. The site of the original 1665 plague pit can still be seen opposite the remains.

National Maritime Museum
Unconfirmed area but according to Fromer’s 2012 London Guide a large pit lies beneath the Maritime Museum.

It is a myth that Blackheath was named as such because of the Black Death, the name is recorded in 1166 as Blachehedfeld and means ‘the dark coloured heathland’, but it was almost certainly used to bury bodies during the earlier pandemic period and during the Great Plague.

The Texas Gingerbread Massacre !!!

The Texas Gingerbread Massacre !!!

Scone: noun /skɒn/ or /skəʊn/

Scone: noun /skɒn/ or /skəʊn/