A Journal of the Plague Year
Chapter - 1
Being observations or memorials of the most
remarkable occurrences, as well public as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665. Written
by a Citizen who continued all the while in London. Never made public before
It was about the beginning of September,
1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland;
for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was
brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others
said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into
We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, and to
improve them by the invention of men, as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from
the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that
things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now. But it seems that the Government had a true account
of it, and several councils were held about ways to prevent its coming over; but all was kept very private. Hence it was that
this rumour died off again, and people began to forget it as a thing we were very little concerned in, and that we hoped was
not true; till the latter end of November or the beginning of December 1664 when two men, said to be Frenchmen, died of the
plague in Long Acre, or rather at the upper end of Drury Lane. The family they were in endeavoured to conceal it as much as
possible, but as it had gotten some vent in the discourse of the neighbourhood, the Secretaries of State got knowledge of
it; and concerning themselves to inquire about it, in order to be certain of the truth, two physicians and a surgeon were
ordered to go to the house and make inspection. This they did; and finding evident tokens of the sickness upon both the bodies
that were dead, they gave their opinions publicly that they died of the plague. Whereupon it was given in to the parish clerk,
and he also returned them to the Hall; and it was printed in the weekly bill of mortality in the usual manner, thus - Plague,
2. Parishes infected, 1.
The people showed a great concern at this, and began to be alarmed all over the town, and the
more, because in the last week in December 1664 another man died in the same house, and of the same distemper. And then we
were easy again for about six weeks, when none having died with any marks of infection, it was said the distemper was gone;
but after that, I think it was about the 12th of February, another died in another house, but in the same parish and in the
This turned the people's eyes pretty much towards that end of the town, and the weekly bills showing an increase
of burials in St Giles's parish more than usual, it began to be suspected that the plague was among the people at that end
of the town, and that many had died of it, though they had taken care to keep it as much from the knowledge of the public
as possible. This possessed the heads of the people very much, and few cared to go through Drury Lane, or the other streets
suspected, unless they had extraordinary business that obliged them to it
This increase of the bills stood thus: the usual
number of burials in a week, in the parishes of St Giles-in-the-Fields and St Andrew's, Holborn, were from twelve to seventeen
or nineteen each, few more or less; but from the time that the plague first began in St Giles's parish, it was observed that
the ordinary burials increased in number considerably. For example: -
From December 27 to January 3 St Giles's 16
" January 3 " " 10 St Giles's 12
St Andrew's 25
" January 10 " " 17 St Giles's 18
" January 17 " " 24 St Giles's 23
St Andrew's 16
" January 24 " " 31 St Giles's 24
St Andrew's 15
January 30 " February 7 St Giles's 21
St Andrew's 23
" February 7 " " 14 St Giles's 24
Whereof one of the plague.
The like increase of the bills was observed in the parishes of St Bride's, adjoining on one side of Holborn parish, and
in the parish of St James, Clerkenwell, adjoining on the other side of Holborn; in both which parishes the usual numbers that
died weekly were from four to six or eight, whereas at that time they were increased as follows: -
From December 20 to
December 27 St Bride's 0
St James's 8
" December 27 " January 3 St Bride's 6
St James's 9
" January 3 " "
10 St Bride's 11
St James's 7
" January 10 " " 17 St Bride's 12
St James's 19
" January 17 " " 24 St Bride's
St James's 15
" January 24 " January 31 St Bride's 8
St James's 12
" January 31 " February 7 St Bride's
" February 7 " " 14 12
Besides this, it was observed with great uneasiness by the people that the weekly
bills in general increased very much during these weeks, although it was at a time of the year when usually the bills are
The usual number of burials within the bills of mortality for a week was from about 240 or thereabouts
to 300. The last was esteemed a pretty high bill; but after this we found the bills successively increasing as follows: -
December the 20th to the 27th 291 ...
" 27th " 3rd January 349 58
January the 3rd " 10th
" 394 45
" 10th " 17th " 415 21
" 17th " 24th " 474 59
This last bill was really frightful, being a higher number
than had been known to have been buried in one week since the preceding visitation of 1656.
However, all this went off
again, and the weather proving cold, and the frost, which began in December, still continuing very severe even till near the
end of February, attended with sharp though moderate winds, the bills decreased again, and the city grew healthy, and everybody
began to look upon the danger as good as over; only that still the burials in St Giles's continued high. From the beginning
of April especially they stood at twenty-five each week, till the week from the 18th to the 25th, when there was buried in
St Giles's parish thirty, whereof two of the plague and eight of the spotted-fever, which was looked upon as the same thing;
likewise the number that died of the spotted-fever in the whole increased, being eight the week before, and twelve the week
This alarmed us all again, and terrible apprehensions were among the people, especially the weather being
now changed and growing warm, and the summer being at hand. However, the next week there seemed to be some hopes again; the
bills were low, the number of the dead in all was but 388, there was none of the plague, and but four of the spotted-fever.
But the following week it returned again, and the distemper was spread into two or three other parishes, viz., St Andrew's,
Holborn; St Clement Danes; and, to the great affliction of the city, one died within the walls, in the parish of St Mary Woolchurch,
that is to say, in Bearbinder Lane, near Stocks Market; in all there were nine of the plague and six. of the spotted-fever.
It was, however, upon inquiry found that this Frenchman who died in Bearbinder Lane was one who, having lived in Long Acre,
near the infected houses, had removed for fear of the distemper, not knowing that he was already infected.
This was the
beginning of May, yet the weather was temperate, variable, and cool enough, and people had still some hopes. That which encouraged
them was that the city was healthy: the whole ninety-seven parishes buried but fifty-four, and we began to hope that, as it
was chiefly among the people at that end of the town, it might go no farther; and the rather, because the next week, which
was from the 9th of May to the 16th, there died but three, of which not one within the whole city or liberties; and St Andrew's
buried but fifteen, which was very low. 'Tis true St Giles's buried two-and-thirty, but still, as there was but one of the
plague, people began to be easy. The whole bill also was very low, for the week before the bill was but 347, and the week
above mentioned but 343. We continued in these hopes for a few days, but it was but for a few, for the people were no more
to be deceived thus; they searched the houses and found that the plague was really spread every way, and that many died of
it every day. So that now all our extenuations abated, and it was no more to be concealed; nay, it quickly appeared that the
infection had spread itself beyond all hopes of abatement. that in the parish of St Giles it was gotten into several streets,
and several families lay all sick together; and, accordingly, in the weekly bill for the next week the thing began to show
itself. There was indeed but fourteen set down of the plague, but this was all knavery and collusion, for in St Giles's parish
they buried forty in all, whereof it was certain most of them died of the plague, though they were set down of other distempers;
and though the number of all the burials were not increased above thirty-two, and the whole bill being but 385, yet there
was fourteen of the spotted- fever, as well as fourteen of the plague; and we took it for granted upon the whole that there
were fifty died that week of the plague.
The next bill was from the 23rd of May to the 30<SUPTH< SUP>, when the
number of the plague was seventeen. But the burials in St Giles's were fifty-three - a frightful number! - of whom they set
down but nine of the plague; but on an examination more strictly by the justices of peace, and at the Lord Mayor's request,
it was found there were twenty more who were really dead of the plague in that parish, but had been set down of the spotted-fever
or other distempers, besides others concealed.
But those were trifling things to what followed immediately after; for
now the weather set in hot, and from the first week in June the infection spread in a dreadful manner, and the bills rose
high; the articles of the fever, spotted-fever, and teeth began to swell; for all that could conceal their distempers did
it, to prevent their neighbours shunning and refusing to converse with them, and also to prevent authority shutting up their
houses; which, though it was not yet practised, yet was threatened, and people were extremely terrified at the thoughts of
The second week in June, the parish of St Giles, where still the weight of the infection lay, buried 120, whereof
though the bills said but sixty-eight of the plague, everybody said there had been 100 at least, calculating it from the usual
number of funerals in that parish, as above.
Till this week the city continued free, there having never any died, except
that one Frenchman whom I mentioned before, within the whole ninety-seven parishes. Now there died four within the city, one
in Wood Street, one in Fenchurch Street, and two in Crooked Lane. Southwark was entirely free, having not one yet died on
that side of the water.
I lived without Aldgate, about midway between Aldgate Church and Whitechappel Bars, on the left
hand or north side of the street; and as the distemper had not reached to that side of the city, our neighbourhood continued
very easy. But at the other end of the town their consternation was very great: and the richer sort of people, especially
the nobility and gentry from the west part of the city, thronged out of town with their families and servants in an unusual
manner; and this was more particularly seen in Whitechappel; that is to say, the Broad Street where I lived; indeed, nothing
was to be seen but wagons and carts, with goods, women, servants, children, &c.; coaches filled with people of the better
sort and horsemen attending them, and all hurrying away; then empty wagons and carts appeared, and spare horses with servants,
who, it was apparent, were returning or sent from the countries to fetch more people; besides innumerable numbers of men on
horseback, some alone, others with servants, and, generally speaking, all loaded with baggage and fitted out for travelling,
as anyone might perceive by their appearance.
This was a very terrible and melancholy thing to see, and as it was a sight
which I could not but look on from morning to night (for indeed there was nothing else of moment to be seen), it filled me
with very serious thoughts of the misery that was coming upon the city, and the unhappy condition of those that would be left
This hurry of the people was such for some weeks that there was no getting at the Lord Mayor's door without exceeding
difficulty; there were such pressing and crowding there to get passes and certificates of health for such as travelled abroad,
for without these there was no being admitted to pass through the towns upon the road, or to lodge in any inn. Now, as there
had none died in the city for all this time, my Lord Mayor gave certificates of health without any difficulty to all those
who lived in the ninety-seven parishes, and to those within the liberties too for a while.
This hurry, I say, continued
some weeks, that is to say, all the month of May and June, and the more because it was rumoured that an order of the Government
was to be issued out to place turnpikes and barriers on the road to prevent people travelling, and that the towns on the road
would not suffer people from London to pass for fear of bringing the infection along with them, though neither of these rumours
had any foundation but in the imagination, especially at-first.
I now began to consider seriously with myself concerning
my own case, and how I should dispose of myself; that is to say, whether I should resolve to stay in London or shut up my
house and flee, as many of my neighbours did. I have set this particular down so fully, because I know not but it may be of
moment to those who come after me, if they come to be brought to the same distress, and to the same manner of making their
choice; and therefore I desire this account may pass with them rather for a direction to themselves to act by than a history
of my actings, seeing it may not he of one farthing value to them to note what became of me.
I had two important things
before me: the one was the carrying on my business and shop, which was considerable, and in which was embarked all my effects
in the world; and the other was the preservation of my life in so dismal a calamity as I saw apparently was coming upon the
whole city, and which, however great it was, my fears perhaps, as well as other people's, represented to be much greater than
it could be.
The first consideration was of great moment to me; my trade was a saddler, and as my dealings were chiefly
not by a shop or chance trade, but among the merchants trading to the English colonies in America, so my effects lay very
much in the hands of such. I was a single man, "tis true, but I had a family of servants whom I kept at my business; had a
house, shop, and warehouses filled with goods; and, in short, to leave them all as things in such a case must be left (that
is to say, without any overseer or person fit to be trusted with them), had been to hazard the loss not only of my trade,
but of my goods, and indeed of all I had in the world.
I had an elder brother at the same time in London, and not many
years before come over from Portugal: and advising with him, his answer was in three words, the same that was given in another
case quite different, viz., "Master, save thyself." In a word, he was for my retiring into the country, as he resolved to
do himself with his family; telling me what he had, it seems, heard abroad, that the best preparation for the plague was to
run away from it. As to my argument of losing my trade, my goods, or debts, he quite confuted me. He told me the same thing
which I argued for my staying, viz., that I would trust God with my safety and health, was the strongest repulse to my pretensions
of losing my trade and my goods; 'for", says he, "is it not as reasonable that you should trust God with the chance or risk
of losing your trade, as that you should stay in so eminent a point of danger, and trust Him with your life?"
not argue that I was in any strait as to a place where to go, having several friends and relations in Northamptonshire, whence
our family first came from; and particularly, I had an only sister in Lincolnshire, very willing to receive and entertain
My brother, who had already sent his wife and two children into Bedfordshire, and resolved to follow them, pressed
my going very earnestly; and I had once resolved to comply with his desires, but at that time could get no horse; for though
it is true all the people did not go out of the city of London, yet I may venture to say that in a manner all the horses did;
for there was hardly a horse to be bought or hired in the whole city for some weeks. Once I resolved to travel on foot with
one servant, and, as many did, lie at no inn, but carry a soldier's tent with us, and so lie in the fields, the weather being
very warm, and no danger from taking cold. I say, as many did, because several did so at last, especially those who had been
in the armies in the war which had not been many years past; and I must needs say that, speaking of second causes, had most
of the people that travelled done so, the plague had not been carried into so many country towns and houses as it was, to
the great damage, and indeed to the ruin, of abundance of people.
But then my servant, whom I had intended to take down
with me, deceived me; and being frighted at the increase of the distemper, and not knowing when I should go, he took other
measures, and left me, so I was put off for that time; and, one way or other, I always found that to appoint to go away was
always crossed by some accident or other, so as to disappoint and put it off again; and this brings in a story which otherwise
might be thought a needless digression, viz., about these disappointments being from Heaven.
I mention this story also
as the best method I can advise any person to take in such a case, especially if he be one that makes conscience of his duty,
and would be directed what to do in it, namely, that he should keep his eye upon the particular providences which occur at
that time, and look upon them complexly, as they regard one another, and as all together regard the question before him: and
then, I think, he may safely take them for intimations from Heaven of what is his unquestioned duty to do in such a case;
I mean as to going away from or staying in the place where we dwell, when visited with an infectious distemper.
very warmly into my mind one morning, as I was musing on this particular thing, that as nothing attended us without the direction
or permission of Divine Power, so these disappointments must have something in them extraordinary; and I ought to consider
whether it did not evidently point out, or intimate to me, that it was the will of Heaven I should not go. It immediately
followed in my thoughts, that if it really was from God that I should stay, He was able effectually to preserve me in the
midst of all the death and danger that would surround me; and that if I attempted to secure myself by fleeing from my habitation,
and acted contrary to these intimations, which I believe to be Divine, it was a kind of flying from God, and that He could
cause His justice to overtake me when and where He thought fit.
These thoughts quite turned my resolutions again, and
when I came to discourse with my brother again I told him that I inclined to stay and take my lot in that station in which
God had placed me, and that it seemed to be made more especially my duty, on the account of what I have said.
though a very religious man himself, laughed at all I had suggested about its being an intimation from Heaven, and told me
several stories of such foolhardy people, as he called them, as I was; that I ought indeed to submit to it as a work of Heaven
if I had been any way disabled by distempers or diseases, and that then not being able to go, I ought to acquiesce in the
direction of Him, who, having been my Maker, had an undisputed right of sovereignty in disposing of me, and that then there
had been no difficulty to determine which was the call of His providence and which was not; but that I should take it as an
intimation from Heaven that I should not go out of town, only because I could not hire a horse to go, or my fellow was run
away that was to attend me, was ridiculous, since at the time I had my health and limbs, and other servants, and might with
ease travel a day or two on foot, and having a good certificate of being in perfect health, might either hire a horse or take
post on the road, as I thought fit.
Then he proceeded to tell me of the mischievous consequences which attended the presumption
of the Turks and Mahometans in Asia and in other places where he had been (for my brother, being a merchant, was a few years
before, as I have already observed, returned from abroad, coming last from Lisbon), and how, presuming upon their professed
predestinating notions, and of every man's end being predetermined and unalterably beforehand decreed, they would go unconcerned
into infected places and converse with infected persons, by which means they died at the rate of ten or fifteen thousand a
week, whereas the Europeans or Christian merchants, who kept themselves retired and reserved, generally escaped the contagion.
Upon these arguments my brother changed my resolutions again, and I began to resolve to go, and accordingly made all things
ready; for, in short, the infection increased round me, and the bills were risen to almost seven hundred a week, and my brother
told me he would venture to stay no longer. I desired him to let me consider of it but till the next day, and I would resolve:
and as I had already prepared everything as well as I could as to my business, and whom to entrust my affairs with, I had
little to do but to resolve.
Chapter - 2
With this resolution I went to bed; and I was further confirmed in it the
next day by the woman being taken ill with whom I had intended to entrust my house and all my affairs. But I had a further
obligation laid on me on the same side, for the next day I found myself very much out of order also, so that if I would have
gone away, I could not," and I continued ill three or four days, and this entirely determined my stay; so I took my leave
of my brother, who went away to Dorking, in Surrey, and afterwards fetched a round farther into Buckinghamshire or Bedfordshire,
to a retreat he had found out there for his family.
It was a very ill time to be sick in, for if any one complained, it
was immediately said he had the plague; and though I had indeed no symptom of that distemper, yet being very ill, both in
my head and in my stomach, I was not without apprehension that I really was infected; but in about three days I grew better;
the third night I rested well, sweated a little, and was much refreshed. The apprehensions of its being the infection went
also quite away with my illness, and I went about my business as usual.
These things, however, put off all my thoughts
of going into the country; and my brother also being gone, I had no more debate either with him or with myself on that subject.
It was now mid-July, and the plague, which had chiefly raged at the other end of the town, and, as I said before, in the
parishes of St Giles, St Andrew's, Holborn, and towards Westminster, began to now come eastward towards the part where I lived.
It was to be observed, indeed, that it did not come straight on towards us; for the city, that is to say, within the walls,
was indifferently healthy still; nor was it got then very much over the water into Southwark; for though there died that week
1268 of all distempers, whereof it might be supposed above 600 died of the plague, yet there was but twenty-eight in the whole
city, within the walls, and but nineteen in Southwark, Lambeth parish included; whereas in the parishes of St Giles and St
Martin-in-the- Fields alone there died 421.
But we perceived the infection kept chiefly in the out-parishes, which being
very populous, and fuller also of poor, the distemper found more to prey upon than in the city, as I shall observe afterwards.
We perceived, I say, the distemper to draw our way, viz., by the parishes of Clarkenwell, Cripplegate, Shoreditch, and Bishopsgate;
which last two parishes joining to Aldgate, Whitechappel, and Stepney, the infection came at length to spread its utmost rage
and violence in those parts, even when it abated at the western parishes where it began.
It was very strange to observe
that in this particular week, from the 4th to the 11th of July, when, as I have observed, there died near 400 of the plague
in the two parishes of St Martin and St Giles-in-the- Fields only, there died in the parish of Aldgate but four, in the parish
of Whitechappel three, in the parish of Stepney but one.
Likewise in the next week, from the 11th of July to the 18th,
when the week's bill was 1761, yet there died no more of the plague, on the whole Southwark side of the water, than sixteen.
But this face of things soon changed, and it began to thicken in Cripplegate parish especially, and in Clarkenwell; so that
by the second week in August, Cripplegate parish alone buried 886, and Clarkenwell 155. Of the first, 850 might well be reckoned
to die of the plague; and of the last, the bill itself said 145 were of the plague.
During the month of July, and while,
as I have observed, our part of the town seemed to be spared in comparison of the west part, I went ordinarily about the streets,
as my business required, and particularly went generally once in a day, or in two days, into the city, to my brother's house,
which he had given me charge of, and to see if it was safe; and having the key in my pocket, I used to go into the house,
and over most of the rooms, to see that all was well; for though it be something wonderful to tell, that any should have hearts
so hardened in the midst of such a calamity as to rob and steal, yet certain it is that all sorts of villainies, and even
levities and debaucheries, were then practised in the town as openly as ever - I will not say quite as frequently, because
the numbers of people were many ways lessened.
But the city itself began now to be visited too, I mean within the walls;
but the number of people there were indeed extremely lessened by so great a multitude having been gone into the country; and
even all this month of July they continued to flee, though not in such multitudes as formerly. In August, indeed, they fled
in such a manner that I began to think there would be really none but magistrates and servants left in the city.
fled now out of the city, so I should observe that the Court removed early, viz., in the month of June, and went to Oxford,
where it pleased God to preserve them; and the distemper did not, as I heard of, so much as touch them, for which I cannot
say that I ever saw they showed any great token of thankfulness, and hardly anything of reformation, though they did not want
being told that their crying vices might without breach of charity be said to have gone far in bringing that terrible judgement
upon the whole nation.
The face of London was -now indeed strangely altered: I mean the whole mass of buildings, city,
liberties, suburbs, Westminster, Southwark, and altogether; for as to the particular part called the city, or within the walls,
that was not yet much infected. But in the whole the face of things, I say, was much altered; sorrow and sadness sat upon
every face; and though some parts were not yet overwhelmed, yet all looked deeply concerned; and, as we saw it apparently
coming on, so every one looked on himself and his family as in the utmost danger. Were it possible to represent those times
exactly to those that did not see them, and give the reader due ideas of the horror 'that everywhere presented itself, it
must make just impressions upon their minds and fill them with surprise. London might well be said to be all in tears; the
mourners did not go about the streets indeed, for nobody put on black or made a formal dress of mourning for their nearest
friends; but the voice of mourners was truly heard in the streets. The shrieks of women and children at the windows and doors
of their houses, where their dearest relations were perhaps dying, or just dead, were so frequent to be heard as we passed
the streets, that it was enough to pierce the stoutest heart in the world to hear them. Tears and lamentations were seen almost
in every house, especially in the first part of the visitation; for towards the latter end men's hearts were hardened, and
death was so always before their eyes, that they did not so much concern themselves for the loss of their friends, expecting
that themselves should be summoned the next hour.
Business led me out sometimes to the other end of the town, even when
the sickness was chiefly there; and as the thing was new to me, as well as to everybody else, it was a most surprising thing
to see those streets which were usually so thronged now grown desolate, and so few people to be seen in them, that if I had
been a stranger and at a loss for my way, I might sometimes have gone the length of a whole street (I mean of the by-streets),
and seen nobody to direct me except watchmen set at the doors of such houses as were shut up, of which I shall speak presently.
One day, being at that part of the town on some special business, curiosity led me to observe things more than usually,
and indeed I walked a great way where I had no business. I went up Holborn, and there the street was full of people, but they
walked in the middle of the great street, neither on one side or other, because, as I suppose, they would not mingle with
anybody that came out of houses, or meet with smells and scent from houses that might be infected.
The Inns of Court were
all shut up; nor were very many of the lawyers in the Temple, or Lincoln's Inn, or Gray's Inn, to be seen there. Everybody
was at peace; there was no occasion for lawyers; besides, it being in the time of the vacation too, they were generally gone
into the country. Whole rows of houses in some places were shut close up, the inhabitants all fled, and only a watchman or
When I speak of rows of houses being shut up, I do not mean shut up by the magistrates, but that great numbers
of persons followed the Court, by the necessity of their employments and other dependences; and as others retired, really
frighted with the distemper, it was a mere desolating of some of the streets. But the fright was not yet near so great in
the city, abstractly so called, and particularly because, though they were at first in a most inexpressible consternation,
yet as I have observed that the distemper intermitted often at first, so they were, as it were, alarmed and unalarmed again,
and this several times, till it began to be familiar to them; and that even when it appeared violent, yet seeing it did not
presently spread into the city, or the east and south parts, the people began to take courage, and to be, as I may say, a
little hardened. It is true a vast many people fled, as I have observed, yet they were chiefly from the west end of the town,
and from that we call the heart of the city: that is to say, among the wealthiest of the people, and such people as were unencumbered
with trades and business. But of the rest, the generality stayed, and seemed to abide the worst; so that in the place we calf
the Liberties, and in the suburbs, in Southwark, and in the east part, such as Wapping, Ratcliff, Stepney, Rotherhithe, and
the like, the people generally stayed, except here and there a few wealthy families, who, as above, did not depend upon their
It must not be forgot here that the city and suburbs were prodigiously full of people at the time of this visitation,
I mean at the time that it began; for though I have lived to see a further increase, and mighty throngs of people settling
in London more than ever, yet we had always a notion that the numbers of people which, the wars being over, the armies disbanded,
and the royal family and the monarchy being restored, had flocked to London to settle in business, or to depend upon and attend
the Court for rewards of services, preferments, and the like, was such that the town was computed to have in it above a hundred
thousand people more than ever it held before; nay, some took upon them to say it had twice as many, because all the ruined
families of the royal party flocked hither. All the old soldiers set up trades here, and abundance of families settled here.
Again, the Court brought with them a great flux of pride, and new fashions. All people were grown gay and luxurious, and the
joy of the Restoration had brought a vast many families to London.
I often thought that as Jerusalem was besieged by the
Romans when the Jews were assembled together to celebrate the Passover - by which means an incredible number of people were
surprised there who would otherwise have been in other countries - so the plague entered London when an incredible increase
of people had happened occasionally, by the particular circumstances above-named. As this conflux of the people to a youthful
and gay Court made a great trade in the city, especially in everything that belonged to fashion and finery, so it drew by
consequence a great number of workmen, manufacturers, and the like, being mostly poor people who depended upon their labour.
And I remember in particular that in a representation to my Lord Mayor of the condition of the poor, it was estimated that
there were no less than an hundred thousand riband- weavers in and about the city, the chiefest number of whom lived then
in the parishes of Shoreditch, Stepney, Whitechappel, and Bishopsgate, that, namely, about Spitalfields; that is to say, as
Spitalfields was then, for it was not so large as now by one fifth part.
By this, however, the number of people in the
whole may be judged of; and, indeed, I often wondered that, after the prodigious numbers of people that went away at first,
there was yet so great a multitude left as it appeared there was.
But I must go back again to the beginning of this surprising
time. While the fears of the people were young, they were increased strangely by several odd accidents which, put altogether,
it was really a wonder the whole body of the people did not rise as one man and abandon their dwellings, leaving the place
as a space of ground designed by Heaven for an Akeldama, doomed to be destroyed from the face of the earth, and that all that
would be found in it would perish with it. I shall name but a few of these things; but sure they were so many, and so many
wizards and cunning people propagating them, that I have often wondered there was any (women especially) left behind.
the first place, a blazing star or comet appeared for several months before the plague, as there did the year after another,
a little before the fire. The old women and the phlegmatic hypochondriac part of the other sex, whom I could almost call old
women too, remarked (especially afterward, though not till both those judgements were over) that those two comets passed directly
over the city, and that so very near the houses that it was plain they imported something peculiar to the city alone; that
the comet before the pestilence was of a faint, dull, languid colour, and its motion very heavy, Solemn, and slow; but that
the comet before the fire was bright and sparkling, or, as others said, flaming, and its motion swift and furious; and that,
accordingly, one foretold a heavy judgement, slow but severe, terrible and frightful, as was the plague; but the other foretold
a stroke, sudden, swift, and fiery as the conflagration. Nay, so particular some people were, that as they looked upon that
comet preceding the fire, they fancied that they not only saw it pass swiftly and fiercely, and could perceive the motion
with their eye, but even they heard it; that it made a rushing, mighty noise, fierce and terrible, though at a distance, and
but just perceivable.
I saw both these stars, and, I must confess, had so much of the common notion of such things in
my head, that I was apt to look upon them as the forerunners and warnings of God's judgements; and especially when, after
the plague had followed the first, I yet saw another of the like kind, I could not but say God had not yet sufficiently scourged
But I could not at the same time carry these things to the height that others did, knowing, too, that natural
causes are assigned by the astronomers for such things, and that their motions and even their revolutions are calculated,
or pretended to be calculated, so that they cannot be so perfectly called the forerunners or foretellers, much less the procurers,
of such events as pestilence, war, fire, and the like.
But let my thoughts and the thoughts of the philosophers be, or
have been, what they will, these things had a more than ordinary influence upon the minds of the common people, and they had
almost universal melancholy apprehensions of some dreadful calamity and judgement coming upon the city; and this principally
from the sight of this comet, and the little alarm that was given in December by two people dying at St Giles's, as above.
The apprehensions of the people were likewise strangely increased by the error of the times; in which, I think, the people,
from what principle I cannot imagine, were more addicted to prophecies and astrological conjurations, dreams, and old wives'
tales than ever they were before or since. Whether this unhappy temper was originally raised by the follies of some people
who got money by it - that is to say, by printing predictions and prognostications - I know not; but certain it is, books
frighted them terribly, such as Lilly's Almanack, Gadbury's Astrological Predictions, Poor Robin's Almanack, and the like;
also several pretended religious books, one entitled, Come out of her, my People, lest you be Partaker of her Plagues; another
called, Fair Warning; another, Britain's Remembrancer; and many such, all, or most part of which, foretold, directly or covertly,
the ruin of the city. Nay, some were so enthusiastically bold as to run about the streets with their oral predictions, pretending
they were sent to preach to the city; and one in particular, who, like Jonah to Nineveh, cried in the streets, "Yet forty
days, and London shall be destroyed." I will not be positive whether he said yet forty days or yet a few days. Another ran
about naked, except a pair of drawers about his waist, crying day and night, like a man that Josephus mentions, who cried,
"Woe to Jerusalem!" a little before the destruction of that city. So this poor naked creature cried, "Oh, the great and the
dreadful God!" and said no more, but repeated those words continually, with a voice and countenance full of horror, a swift
pace; and nobody could ever find him to stop or rest, or take any sustenance, at least that ever I could hear of. I met this
poor creature several times in the streets, and would have spoken to him, but he would not enter into speech with me or any
one else, but held on his dismal cries continually.
These things terrified the people to the last degree, and especially
when two or three times, as I have mentioned already, they found one or two in the bills dead of the plague at St Giles's.
Next to these public things were the dreams of old women, or, I should say, the interpretation of old women upon other
people's dreams; and these put abundance of people even out of their wits. Some heard voices warning them to be gone, for
that there would be such a plague in London, so that the living would not be able to bury the dead. Others saw apparitions
in the air; and I must be allowed to say of both, I hope without breach of charity, that they heard voices that never spake,
and saw sights that never appeared; but the imagination of the people was really turned wayward and possessed. And no wonder,
if they who were poring continually at the clouds saw shapes and figures, representations and appearances, which had nothing
in them but air, and vapour. Here they told us they saw a flaming sword held in a hand coming out of a cloud, with a point
hanging directly over the city; there they saw hearses and coffins in the air carrying to be buried; and there again, heaps
of dead bodies lying unburied, and the like, just as the imagination of the poor terrified people furnished them with matter
to work upon. So hypochondriac fancies represent Ships, armies, battles in the firmament; Till steady eyes the exhalations
solve, And all to its first matter, cloud, resolve.
I could fill this account with the strange relations such people gave
every day of what they had seen; and every one was so positive of their having seen what they pretended to see, that there
was no contradicting them without breach of friendship, or being accounted rude and unmannerly on the one hand, and profane
and impenetrable on the other. One time before the plague was begun (otherwise than as I have said in St Giles's), I think
it was in March, seeing a crowd of people in the street, I joined with them to satisfy my curiosity, and found them all staring
up into the air to see what a woman told them appeared plain to her, which was an angel clothed in white, with a fiery sword
in his hand, waving it or brandishing it over his head. She described every part of the figure to the life, showed them the
motion and the form, and the poor people came into it so eagerly, and with so much readiness; 'Yes, I see it all plainly,"
says one; 'there's the sword as plain as can be." Another saw the angel. One saw his very face, and cried out what a glorious
creature he was! One saw one thing, and one another. I looked as earnestly as the rest, but perhaps not with so much willingness
to be imposed upon; and I said, indeed, that I could see nothing but a white cloud, bright on one side by the shining of the
sun upon the other part. The woman endeavoured to show it me, but could not make me confess that I saw it, which, indeed,
if I had I must have lied. But the woman, turning upon me, looked in my face, and fancied I laughed, in which her imagination
deceived her too, for I really did not laugh, but was very seriously reflecting how the poor people were terrified by the
force of their own imagination. However, she turned from me, called me profane fellow, and a scoffer; told me that it was
a time of God's anger, and dreadful judgements were approaching, and that despisers such as I should wander and perish.
people about her seemed disgusted as well as she; and I found there was no persuading them that I did not laugh at them, and
that I should be rather mobbed by them than be able to undeceive them. So I left them; and this appearance passed for as real
as the blazing star itself.
Another encounter I had in the open day also; and this was in going through a narrow passage
from Petty France into Bishopsgate Churchyard, by a row of alms-houses. There are two churchyards to Bishopsgate church or
parish; one we go over to pass from the place called Petty France into Bishopsgate Street, coming out just by the church door;
the other is on the side of the narrow passage where the alms-houses are on the left; and a dwarf-wall with a palisado on
it on the right hand, and the city wall on the other side more to the right.
In this narrow passage stands a man looking
through between the palisadoes into the burying-place, and as many people as the narrowness of the passage would admit to
stop, without hindering the passage of others, and he was talking mightily eagerly to them, and pointing now to one place,
then to another, and affirming that he saw a ghost walking upon such a gravestone there. He described the shape, the posture,
and the movement of it so exactly that it was the greatest matter of amazement to him in the world that everybody did not
see it as well as he. On a sudden he would cry, "There it is; now it comes this way." Then, "Tis turned back"; till at length
he persuaded the people into so firm a belief of it, that one fancied he saw it, and another fancied he saw it; and thus he
came every day making a strange hubbub, considering it was in so narrow a passage, till Bishopsgate clock struck eleven, and
then the ghost would seem to start, and, as if he were called away, disappeared on a sudden.
I looked earnestly every
way, and at the very moment that this man directed, but could not see the least appearance of anything; but so positive was
this poor man, that he gave the people the vapours in abundance, and sent them away trembling and frighted, till at length
few people that knew of it cared to go through that passage, and hardly anybody by night on any account whatever.
ghost, as the poor man affirmed, made signs to the houses, and to the ground, and to the people, plainly intimating, or else
they so understanding it, that abundance of the people should come to be buried in that churchyard, as indeed happened; but
that he saw such aspects I must acknowledge I never believed, nor could I see anything of it myself, though I looked most
earnestly to see it, if possible.
These things serve to show how far the people were really overcome with delusions; and
as they had a notion of the approach of a visitation, all their predictions ran upon a most dreadful plague, which should
lay the whole city, and even the kingdom, waste, and should destroy almost all the nation, both man and beast.
as I said before, the astrologers added stories of the conjunctions of planets in a malignant manner and with a mischievous
influence, one of which conjunctions was to happen, and did happen, in October, and the other in November; and they filled
the people's heads with predictions on these signs of the heavens, intimating that those conjunctions foretold drought, famine,
and pestilence. In the two first of them, however, they were entirely mistaken, for we had no droughty season, but in the
beginning of the year a hard frost, which lasted from December almost to March, and after that moderate weather, rather warm
than hot, with refreshing winds, and, in short, very seasonable weather, and also several very great rains.
were used to suppress the printing of such books as terrified the people, and to frighten the dispersers of them, some of
whom were taken up; but nothing was done in it, as I am informed, the Government being unwilling to exasperate the people,
who were, as I may say, all out of their wits already.
Neither can I acquit those ministers that in their sermons rather
sank than lifted up the hearts of their hearers. Many of them no doubt did it for the strengthening the resolution of the
people, and especially for quickening them to repentance, but it certainly answered not their end, at least not in proportion
to the injury it did another way; and indeed, as God Himself through the whole Scriptures rather draws to Him by invitations
and calls to turn to Him and live, than drives us by terror and amazement, so I must confess I thought the ministers should
have done also, imitating our blessed Lord and Master in this, that His whole Gospel is full of declarations from heaven of
God's mercy, and His readiness to receive penitents and forgive them, complaining, "Ye will not come unto Me that ye may have
life", and that therefore His Gospel is called the Gospel of Peace and the Gospel of Grace.
But we had some good men,
and that of all persuasions and opinions, whose discourses were full of terror, who spoke nothing but dismal things; and as
they brought the people together with a kind of horror, sent them away in tears, prophesying nothing but evil tidings, terrifying
the people with the apprehensions of being utterly destroyed, not guiding them, at least not enough, to cry to heaven for
It was, indeed, a time of very unhappy breaches among us in matters of religion. Innumerable sects and divisions
and separate opinions prevailed among the people. The Church of England was restored, indeed, with the restoration of the
monarchy, about four years before; but the ministers and preachers of the Presbyterians and Independents, and of all the other
sorts of professions, had begun to gather separate societies and erect altar against altar, and all those had their meetings
for worship apart, as they have now, but not so many then, the Dissenters being not thoroughly formed into a body as they
are since; and those congregations which were thus gathered together were yet but few. And even those that were, the Government
did not allow, but endeavoured to suppress them and shut up their meetings.
But the visitation reconciled them again,
at least for a time, and many of the best and most valuable ministers and preachers of the Dissenters were suffered to go
into the churches where the incumbents were fled away, as many were, not being able to stand it; and the people flocked without
distinction to hear them preach, not much inquiring who or what opinion they were of. But after the sickness was over, that
spirit of charity abated; and every church being again supplied with their own ministers, or others presented where the minister
was dead, things returned to their old channel again.
One mischief always introduces another. These terrors and apprehensions
of the people led them into a thousand weak, foolish, and wicked things, which they wanted not a sort of people really wicked
to encourage them to: and this was running about to fortune- tellers, cunning-men, and astrologers to know their fortune,
or, as it is vulgarly expressed, to have their fortunes told them, their nativities calculated, and the like; and this folly
presently made the town swarm with a wicked generation of pretenders to magic, to the black art, as they called it, and I
know not what; nay, to a thousand worse dealings with the devil than they were really guilty of. And this trade grew so open
and so generally practised that it became common to have signs and inscriptions set up at doors: "Here lives a fortune-teller",
"Here lives an astrologer", "Here you may have your nativity calculated", and the like; and Friar Bacon's brazen-head, which
was the usual sign of these people's dwellings, was to be seen almost in every street, or else the sign of Mother Shipton,
or of Merlin's head, and the like.
With what blind, absurd, and ridiculous stuff these oracles of the devil pleased and
satisfied the people I really know not, but certain it is that innumerable attendants crowded about their doors every day.
And if but a grave fellow in a velvet jacket, a band, and a black coat, which was the habit those quack-conjurers generally
went in, was but seen in the streets the people would follow them in crowds, and ask them questions as they went along.
need not mention what a horrid delusion this was, or what it tended to; but there was no remedy for it till the plague itself
put an end to it all - and, I suppose, cleared the town of most of those calculators themselves. One mischief was, that if
the poor people asked these mock astrologers whether there would be a plague or no, they all agreed in general to answer 'Yes",
for that kept up their trade. And had the people not been kept in a fright about that, the wizards would presently have been
rendered useless, and their craft had been at an end. But they always talked to them of such-and-such influences of the stars,
of the conjunctions of such-and-such planets, which must necessarily bring sickness and distempers, and consequently the plague.
And some had the assurance to tell them the plague was begun already, which was too true, though they that said so knew nothing
of the matter.
The ministers, to do them justice, and preachers of most sorts that were serious and understanding persons,
thundered against these and other wicked practices, and exposed the folly as well as the wickedness of them together, and
the most sober and judicious people despised and abhorred them. But it was impossible to make any impression upon the middling
people and the working labouring poor. Their fears were predominant over all their passions, and they threw away their money
in a most distracted manner upon those whimsies. Maid-servants especially, and men-servants, were the chief of their customers,
and their question generally was, after the first demand of "Will there be a plague?" I say, the next question was, "Oh, sir
I for the Lord's sake, what will become of me? Will my mistress keep me, or will she turn me off? Will she stay here, or will
she go into the country? And if she goes into the country, will she take me with her, or leave me here to be starved and undone?"
And the like of menservants.
The truth is, the case of poor servants was very dismal, as I shall have occasion to mention
again by-and-by, for it was apparent a prodigious number of them would be turned away, and it was so. And of them abundance
perished, and particularly of those that these false prophets had flattered with hopes that they should be continued in their
services, and carried with their masters and mistresses into the country; and had not public charity provided for these poor
creatures, whose number was exceeding great and in all cases of this nature must be so, they would have been in the worst
condition of any people in the city.
These things agitated the minds of the common people for many months, while the first
apprehensions were upon them, and while the plague was not, as I may say, yet broken out. But I must also not forget that
the more serious part of the inhabitants behaved after another manner. The Government encouraged their devotion, and appointed
public prayers and days of fasting and humiliation, to make public confession of sin and implore the mercy of God to avert
the dreadful judgement which hung over their heads; and it is not to he expressed with what alacrity the people of all persuasions
embraced the occasion; how they flocked to the churches and meetings, and they were all so thronged that there was often no
coming near, no, not to the very doors of the largest churches. Also there were daily prayers appointed morning and evening
at several churches, and days of private praying at other places; at all which the people attended, I say, with an uncommon
devotion. Several private families also, as well of one opinion as of another, kept family fasts, to which they admitted their
near relations only. So that, in a word, those people who were really serious and religious applied themselves in a truly
Christian manner to the proper work of repentance and humiliation, as a Christian people ought to do.
Again, the public
showed that they would bear their share in. these things; the very Court, which was then gay and luxurious, put on a face
of just concern for the public danger. All the plays and interludes which, after the manner of the French Court, had been
set up, and began to increase among us, were forbid to act; the gaming-tables, public dancing-rooms, and music-houses, which
multiplied and began to debauch the manners of the people, were shut up and suppressed; and the jack-puddings, merry-andrews,
puppet-shows, rope-dancers, and such-like doings, which had bewitched the poor common people, shut up their shops, finding
indeed no trade; for the minds of the people were agitated with other things, and a kind of sadness and horror at these things
sat upon the countenances even of the common people. Death was before their eyes, and everybody began to think of their graves,
not of mirth and diversions.
But even those wholesome reflections - which, rightly managed, would have most happily led
the people to fall upon their knees, make confession of their sins, and look up to their merciful Saviour for pardon, imploring
His compassion on them in such a time of their distress, by which we might have been as a second Nineveh - had a quite contrary
extreme in the common people, who, ignorant and stupid in their reflections as they were brutishly wicked and thoughtless
before, were now led by their fright to extremes of folly; and, as I have said before, that they ran to conjurers and witches,
and all sorts of deceivers, to know what should become of them (who fed their fears, and kept them always alarmed and awake
on purpose to delude them and pick their pockets), so they were as mad upon their running after quacks and mountebanks, and
every practising old woman, for medicines and remedies; storing themselves with such multitudes of pills, potions, and preservatives,
as they were called, that they not only spent their money but even poisoned themselves beforehand for fear of the poison of
the infection; and prepared their bodies for the plague, instead of preserving them against it. On the other hand it is incredible
and scarce to be imagined, how the posts of houses and corners of streets were plastered over with doctors' bills and papers
of ignorant fellows, quacking and tampering in physic, and inviting the people to come to them for remedies, which was generally
set off with such flourishes as these, viz.: "Infallible preventive pills against the plague." "Neverfailing preservatives
against the infection." "Sovereign cordials against the corruption of the air." "Exact regulations for the conduct of the
body in case of an infection." "Anti-pestilential pills." "Incomparable drink against the plague, never found out before."
"An universal remedy for the plague." "The only true plague water." "The royal antidote against all kinds of infection"; -
and such a number more that I cannot reckon up; and if I could, would fill a book of themselves to set them down.
set up bills to summon people to their lodgings for directions and advice in the case of infection. These had specious titles
also, such as these: -
"An eminent High Dutch physician, newly come over from Holland, where he resided during all the
time of the great plague last year in Amsterdam, and cured multitudes of people that actually had the plague upon them."
Italian gentlewoman just arrived from Naples, having a choice secret to prevent infection, which she found out by her great
experience, and did wonderful cures with it in the late plague there, wherein there died 20,000 in one day."
gentlewoman, having practised with great success in the late plague in this city, anno 1636, gives her advice only to the
female sex. To be spoken with," &c.
"An experienced physician, who has long studied the doctrine of antidotes against
all sorts of poison and infection, has, after forty years' practice, arrived to such skill as may, with God's blessing, direct
persons how to prevent their being touched by any contagious distemper whatsoever. He directs the poor gratis."
notice of these by way of specimen. I could give you two or three dozen of the like and yet have abundance left behind. 'Tis
sufficient from these to apprise any one of the humour of those times, and how a set of thieves and pickpockets not only robbed
and cheated the poor people of their money, but poisoned their bodies with odious and fatal preparations; some with mercury,
and some with other things as bad, perfectly remote from the thing pretended to, and rather hurtful than serviceable to the
body in case an infection followed.
I cannot omit a subtility of one of those quack operators, with which he gulled the
poor people to crowd about him, but did nothing for them without money. He had, it seems, added to his bills, which he gave
about the streets, this advertisement in capital letters, viz., "He gives advice to the poor for nothing."
poor people came to him accordingly, to whom he made a great many fine speeches, examined them of the state of their health
and of the constitution of their bodies, and told them many good things for them to do, which were of no great moment. But
the issue and conclusion of all was, that he had a preparation which if they took such a quantity of every morning, he would
pawn his life they should never have the plague; no, though they lived in the house with people that were infected. This made
the people all resolve to have it; but then the price of that was so much, I think 'twas half-a- crown. "But, sir," says one
poor woman, "I am a poor almswoman and am kept by the parish, and your bills say you give the poor your help for nothing."
"Ay, good woman," says the doctor, "so I do, as I published there. I give my advice to the poor for nothing, but not my physic."
"Alas, sir!" says she, "that is a snare laid for the poor, then; for you give them advice for nothing; that is to say, you
advise them gratis, to buy your physic for their money; so does every shop-keeper with his wares." Here the woman began to
give him ill words, and stood at his door all that day, telling her tale to all the people that came, till the doctor finding
she turned away his customers, was obliged to call her upstairs again, and give her his box of physic for nothing, which perhaps,
too, was good for nothing when she had it.
But to return to the people, whose confusions fitted them to be imposed upon
by all sorts of pretenders and by every mountebank. There is no doubt but these quacking sort of fellows raised great gains
out of the miserable people, for we daily found the crowds that ran after them were infinitely greater, and their doors were
more thronged than those of Dr Brooks, Dr Upton, Dr Hodges, Dr Berwick, or any, though the most famous men of the time. I
And I was told that some of them got five pounds a day by their physic.
Chapter - 3
But there was still another madness
beyond all this, which may serve to give an idea of the distracted humour of the poor people at that time: and this was their
following a worse sort of deceivers than any of these; for these petty thieves only deluded them to pick their pockets and
get their money, in which their wickedness, whatever it was, lay chiefly on the side of the deceivers, not upon the deceived.
But in this part I am going to mention, it lay chiefly in the people deceived, or equally in both; and this was in wearing
charms, philtres, exorcisms, amulets, and I know not what preparations, to fortify the body with them against the plague;
as if the plague was not the hand of God, but a kind of possession of an evil spirit, and that it was to be kept off with
crossings, signs of the zodiac, papers tied up with so many knots, and certain words or figures written on them, as particularly
the word Abracadabra, formed in triangle or pyramid, thus: -
ABRACADABR Others had the Jesuits'
mark in a cross:
ABRACADA I H
ABRAC Others nothing but this
ABRA mark, thus:
AB * *
I might spend a great deal of time in my exclamations against the follies, and indeed the
wickedness, of those things, in a time of such danger, in a matter of such consequences as this, of a national infection.
But my memorandums of these things relate rather to take notice only of the fact, and mention only that it was so. How the
poor people found the insufficiency of those things, and how many of them were afterwards carried away in the dead-carts and
thrown into the common graves of every parish with these hellish charms and trumpery hanging about their necks, remains to
be spoken of as we go along.
All this was the effect of the hurry the people were in, after the first notion of the plaque
being at hand was among them, and which may be said to be from about Michaelmas 1664, but more particularly after the two
men died in St Giles's in the beginning of December; and again, after another alarm in February. For when the plague evidently
spread itself, they soon began to see the folly of trusting to those unperforming creatures who had gulled them of their money;
and then their fears worked another way, namely, to amazement and stupidity, not knowing what course to take or what to do
either to help or relieve themselves. But they ran about from one neighbour's house to another, and even in the streets from
one door to another, with repeated cries of, "Lord, have mercy upon us! What shall we do?"
Indeed, the poor people were
to be pitied in one particular thing in which they had little or no relief, and which I desire to mention with a serious awe
and reflection, which perhaps every one that reads this may not relish; namely, that whereas death now began not, as we may
say, to hover over every one's head only, but to look into their houses and chambers and stare in their faces. Though there
might be some stupidity and dullness of the mind (and there was so, a great deal), yet there was a great deal of just alarm
sounded into the very inmost soul, if I may so say, of others. Many consciences were awakened; many hard hearts melted into
tears; many a penitent confession was made of crimes long concealed. It would wound the soul of any Christian to have heard
the dying groans of many a despairing creature, and none durst come near to comfort them. Many a robbery, many a murder, was
then confessed aloud, and nobody surviving to record the accounts of it. People might be heard, even into the streets as we
passed along, calling upon God for mercy through Jesus Christ, and saying, "I have been a thief, I have been an adulterer",
"I have been a murderer", and the like, and none durst stop to make the least inquiry into such things or to administer comfort
to the poor creatures that in the anguish both of soul and body thus cried out. Some of the ministers did visit the sick at
first and for a little while, but it was not to be done. It would have been present death to have gone into some houses. The
very buriers of the dead, who were the hardenedest creatures in town, were sometimes beaten back and so terrified that they
durst not go into houses where the whole families were swept away together, and where the circumstances were more particularly
horrible, as some were; but this was, indeed, at the first heat of the distemper.
Time inured them to it all, and they
ventured everywhere afterwards without hesitation, as I shall have occasion to mention at large hereafter.
I am supposing
now the plague to be begun, as I have said, and that the magistrates began to take the condition of the people into their
serious consideration. What they did as to the regulation of the inhabitants and of infected families, I shall speak to by
itself; but as to the affair of health, it is proper to mention it here that, having seen the foolish humour of the people
in running after quacks and mountebanks, wizards and fortune-tellers, which they did as above, even to madness, the Lord Mayor,
a very sober and religious gentleman, appointed physicians and surgeons for relief of the poor - I mean the diseased poor
and in particular ordered the College of Physicians to publish directions for cheap remedies for the poor, in all the circumstances
of the distemper. This, indeed, was one of the most charitable and judicious things that could be done at that time, for this
drove the people from haunting the doors of every disperser of bills, and from taking down blindly and without consideration
poison for physic and death instead of life.
This direction of the physicians was done by a consultation of the whole
College; and, as it was particularly calculated for the use of the poor and for cheap medicines, it was made public, so that
everybody might see it, and copies were given gratis to all that desired it. But as it is public, and to be seen on all occasions,
I need not give the reader of this the trouble of it.
I shall not be supposed to lessen the authority or capacity of the
physicians when I say that the violence of the distemper, when it came to its extremity, was like the fire the next year.
The fire, which consumed what the plague could not touch, defied all the application of remedies; the fire-engines were broken,
the buckets thrown away, and the power of man was baffled and brought to an end. So the Plague defied all medicines; the very
physicians were seized with it, with their preservatives in their mouths; and men went about prescribing to others and telling
them what to do till the tokens were upon them, and they dropped down dead, destroyed by that very enemy they directed others
to oppose. This was the case of several physicians, even some of them the most eminent, and of several of the most skilful
surgeons. Abundance of quacks too died, who had the folly to trust to their own medicines, which they must needs be conscious
to themselves were good for nothing, and who rather ought, like other sorts of thieves, to have run away, sensible of their
guilt, from the justice that they could not but expect should punish them as they knew they had deserved.
Not that it
is any derogation from the labour or application of the physicians to say they fell in the common calamity; nor is it so intended
by me; it rather is to their praise that they ventured their lives so far as even to lose them in the service of mankind.
They endeavoured to do good, and to save the lives of others. But we were not to expect that the physicians could stop God's
judgements, or prevent a distemper eminently armed from heaven from executing the errand it was sent about.
the physicians assisted many by their skill, and by their prudence and applications, to the saving of their lives and restoring
their health. But it is not lessening their character or their skill, to say they could not cure those that had the tokens
upon them, or those who were mortally infected before the physicians were sent for, as was frequently the case.
to mention now what public measures were taken by the magistrates for the general safety, and to prevent the spreading of
the distemper, when it first broke out. I shall have frequent occasion to speak of the prudence of the magistrates, their
charity, their vigilance for the poor, and for preserving good order, furnishing provisions, and the like, when the plague
was increased, as it afterwards was. But I am now upon the order and regulations they published for the government of infected
I mentioned above shutting of houses up; and it is needful to say something particularly to that, for this part
of the history of the plague is very melancholy, but the most grievous story must be told.
About June the Lord Mayor of
London and the Court of Aldermen, as I have said, began more particularly to concern themselves for the regulation of the
The justices of Peace for Middlesex, by direction of the Secretary of State, had begun to shut up houses in the
parishes of St Giles-in-the- Fields, St Martin, St Clement Danes, &c., and it was with good success; for in several streets
where the plague broke out, upon strict guarding the houses that were infected, and taking care to bury those that died immediately
after they were known to be dead, the plague ceased in those streets. It was also observed that the plague decreased sooner
in those parishes after they had been visited to the full than it did in the parishes of Bishopsgate, Shoreditch, Aldgate,
Whitechappel, Stepney, and others; the early care taken in that manner being a great means to the putting a check to it.
shutting up of houses was a method first taken, as I understand, in the plague which happened in 1603, at the coming of King
James the First to the crown; and the power of shutting people up in their own houses was granted by Act of Parliament, entitled,
"An Act for the charitable Relief and Ordering of Persons infected with the Plague"; on which Act of Parliament the Lord Mayor
and aldermen of the city of London founded the order they made at this time, and which took place the 1st of July 1665, when
the numbers infected within the city were but few, the last bill for the ninety-two parishes being but four; and some houses
having been shut up in the city, and some people being removed to the pest-house beyond Bunhill Fields, in the way to Islington,
- I say, by these means, when there died near one thousand a week in the whole, the number in the city was but twenty-eight,
and the city was preserved more healthy in proportion than any other place all the time of the infection.
of my Lord Mayor's were published, as I have said, the latter end of June, and took place from the 1st of July, and were as
follows, viz.: -
Orders Conceived And Published By The Lord Mayor And Aldermen Of The City Of London Concerning The Infection
Of The Plague, 1665.
"Whereas in the reign of our late Sovereign King James, of happy memory, an Act was made for the
charitable relief and ordering of persons infected with the plague, whereby authority was given to justices of the peace,
mayors, bailiffs, and other head-officers to appoint within their several limits examiners, searchers, watchmen, keepers,
and buriers for the persons and places infected, and to minister unto them oaths for the performance of their offices. And
the same statute did also authorise the giving of other directions, as unto them for the present necessity should seem good
in their directions. It is now, upon special consideration, thought very expedient for preventing and avoiding of infection
of sickness (if it shall so please Almighty God) that these officers following be appointed, and these orders hereafter duly
Examiners to be appointed in every Parish.
"First, it is thought requisite, and so ordered, that in every
parish there be one, two, or more persons of good sort and credit chosen and appointed by the alderman, his deputy, and common
council of every ward, by the name of examiners, to continue in that office the space of two months at least. And if any fit
person so appointed shall refuse to undertake the same, the said parties so refusing to be committed to prison until they
shall conform themselves accordingly.
The Examiner's Office.
"That these examiners he sworn by the aldermen to inquire
and learn from time to time what houses in every parish be visited, and what persons be sick, and of what diseases, as near
as they can inform themselves; and upon doubt in that case, to command restraint of access until it appear what the disease
shall prove. And if they find any person sick of the infection, to give order to the constable that the house be shut up;
and if the constable shall be found remiss or negligent, to give present notice thereof to the alderman of the ward.
"That to every infected house there be appointed two watchmen, one for every day, and the other for the night; and that
these watchmen have a special care that no person go in or out of such infected houses whereof they have the charge, upon
pain of severe punishment. And the said watchmen to do such further offices as the sick house shall need and require: and
if the watchman be sent upon any business, to lock up the house and take the key with him; and the watchman by day to attend
until ten of the clock at night, and the watchman by night until six in the morning.
"That there be a special
care to appoint women searchers in every parish, such as are of honest reputation, and of the best sort as can be got in this
kind; and these to be sworn to make due search and true report to the utmost of their knowledge whether the persons whose
bodies they are appointed to search do die of the infection, or of what other diseases, as near as they can. And that the
physicians who shall be appointed for cure and prevention of the infection do call before them the said searchers who are,
or shall be, appointed for the several parishes under their respective cares, to the end they may consider whether they are
fitly qualified for that employment, and charge them from time to time as they shall see cause, if they appear defective in
"That no searcher during this time of visitation be permitted to use any public work or employment, or keep
any shop or stall, or be employed as a laundress, or in any other common employment whatsoever.
better assistance of the searchers, forasmuch as there hath been heretofore great abuse in misreporting the disease, to the
further spreading of the infection, it is therefore ordered that there be chosen and appointed able and discreet chirurgeons,
besides those that do already belong to the pest-house, amongst whom the city and Liberties to be quartered as the places
lie most apt and convenient; and every of these to have one quarter for his limit; and the said chirurgeons in every of their
limits to join with the searchers for the view of the body, to the end there may be a true report made of the disease.
further, that the said chirurgeons shall visit and search such- like persons as shall either send for them or be named and
directed unto them by the examiners of every parish, and inform themselves of the disease of the said parties.
as the said chirurgeons are to be sequestered from all other cures, and kept only to this disease of the infection, it is
ordered that every of the said chirurgeons shall have twelve-pence a body searched by them, to be paid out of the goods of
the party searched, if he be able, or otherwise by the parish.
"If any nurse-keeper shall remove herself
out of any infected house before twenty-eight days after the decease of any person dying of the infection, the house to which
the said nurse-keeper doth so remove herself shall be shut up until the said twenty-eight days be expired."
Infected Houses And Persons Sick Of The Plague.
Notice to be given of the Sickness.
"The master of every house, as
soon as any one in his house complaineth, either of blotch or purple, or swelling in any part of his body, or falleth otherwise
dangerously sick, without apparent cause of some other disease, shall give knowledge thereof to the examiner of health within
two hours after the said sign shall appear.
Sequestration of the Sick.
"As soon as any man shall be found by this
examiner, chirurgeon, or searcher to be sick of the plague, he shall the same night be sequestered in the same house; and
in case he be so sequestered, then though he afterwards die not, the house wherein he sickened should be shut up for a month,
after the use of the due preservatives taken by the rest. Airing the Stuff.
"For sequestration of the goods and stuff
of the infection, their bedding and apparel and hangings of chambers must be well aired with fire and such perfumes as are
requisite within the infected house before they be taken again to use. This to be done by the appointment of an examiner.
Shutting up of the House.
"If any person shall have visited any man known to be infected of the plague, or entered
willingly into any known infected house, being not allowed, the house wherein he inhabiteth shall be shut up for certain days
by the examiner's direction.
None to be removed out of infected Houses, but, &C.
"Item, that none be removed out
of the house where he falleth sick of the infection into any other house in the city (except it be to the pest- house or a
tent, or unto some such house which the owner of the said visited house holdeth in his own hands and occupieth by his own
servants); and so as security be given to the parish whither such remove is made, that the attendance and charge about the
said visited persons shall be observed and charged in all the particularities before expressed, without any cost of that parish
to which any such remove shall happen to be made, and this remove to be done by night. And it shall be lawful to any person
that hath two houses to remove either his sound or his infected people to his spare house at his choice, so as, if he send
away first his sound, he not after send thither his sick, nor again unto the sick the sound; and that the same which he sendeth
be for one week at the least shut up and secluded from company, for fear of some infection at the first not appearing.
of the Dead.
"That the burial of the dead by this visitation be at most convenient hours, always either before sun-rising
or after sun-setting, with the privity of the churchwardens or constable, and not otherwise; and that no neighbours nor friends
be suffered to accompany the corpse to church, or to enter the house visited, upon pain of having his house shut up or be
"And that no corpse dying of infection shall be buried, or remain in any church in time of common prayer,
sermon, or lecture. And that no children be suffered at time of burial of any corpse in any church, churchyard, or burying-place
to come near the corpse, coffin, or grave. And that all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.
"And further, all
public assemblies at other burials are to be foreborne during the continuance of this visitation.
No infected Stuff to
"That no clothes, stuff, bedding, or garments be suffered to be carried or conveyed out of any infected houses,
and that the criers and carriers abroad of bedding or old apparel to be sold or pawned be utterly prohibited and restrained,
and no brokers of bedding or old apparel be permitted to make any outward show, or hang forth on their stalls, shop-boards,
or windows, towards any street, lane, common way, or passage, any old bedding or apparel to be sold, upon pain of imprisonment.
And if any broker or other person shall buy any bedding, apparel, or other stuff out of any infected house within two months
after the infection hath been there, his house shall be shut up as infected, and so shall continue shut up twenty days at
No Person to be conveyed out of any infected House.
"If any person visited do fortune, by negligent looking
unto, or by any other means, to come or be conveyed from a place infected to any other place, the parish from whence such
party hath come or been conveyed, upon notice thereof given, shall at their charge cause the said party so visited and escaped
to be carried and brought back again by night, and the parties in this case offending to be punished at the direction of the
alderman of the ward, and the house of the receiver of such visited person to be shut up for twenty days.
House to be marked.
"That every house visited be marked with a red cross of a foot long in the middle of the door, evident
to be seen, and with these usual printed words, that is to say, "Lord, have mercy upon us," to be set close over the same
cross, there to continue until lawful opening of the same house.
Every visited House to be watched.
"That the constables
see every house shut up, and to be attended with watchmen, which may keep them in, and minister necessaries unto them at their
own charges, if they be able, or at the common charge, if they are unable; the shutting up to be for the space of four weeks
after all be whole.
"That precise order to be taken that the searchers, chirurgeons, keepers, and buriers are not to pass
the streets without holding a red rod or wand of three feet in length in their hands, open and evident to be seen, and are
not to go into any other house than into their own, or into that whereunto they are directed or sent for; but to forbear and
abstain from company, especially when they have been lately used in any such business or attendance.
where several inmate,-c are in one and the same house, and any person in that house happens to be infected, no other person
or family of such house shall be suffered to remove him or themselves without a certificate from the examiners of health of
that parish; or in default thereof, the house whither he or they so remove shall be shut up as in case of visitation.
"That care be taken of hackney-coachmen, that they may not (as some of them have been observed to do after carrying of
infected persons to the pest-house and other places) be admitted to common use till their coaches be well aired, and have
stood unemployed by the space of five or six days after such service."
Orders For Cleansing And Keeping Of The Streets
The Streets to be kept Clean.
"First, it is thought necessary, and so ordered, that every householder do cause
the street to be daily prepared before his door, and so to keep it clean swept all the week long.
That Rakers take it
from out the Houses.
"That the sweeping and filth of houses be daily carried away by the rakers, and that the raker shall
give notice of his coming by the blowing of a horn, as hitherto hath been done.
Laystalls to be made far off from the
"That the laystalls be removed as far as may be out of the city and common passages, and that no nightman or other
be suffered to empty a vault into any garden near about the city.
Care to be had of unwholesome Fish or Flesh, and of
"That special care be taken that no stinking fish, or unwholesome flesh, or musty corn, or other corrupt fruits
of what sort soever, be suffered to be sold about the city, or any part of the same.
"That the brewers and tippling-houses
he looked unto for musty and unwholesome casks.
"That no hogs, dogs, or cats, or tame pigeons, or conies, be suffered
to be kept within any part of the city, or any swine to be or stray in the streets or lanes, but that such swine be impounded
by the beadle or any other officer, and the owner punished according to Act of Common Council, and that the dogs be killed
by the dog-killers appointed for that purpose."
Orders Concerning Loose Persons And Idle Assemblies.
as nothing is more complained of than the multitude of rogues and wandering beggars that swarm in every place about the city,
being a great cause of the spreading of the infection, and will not be avoided, notwithstanding any orders that have been
given to the contrary: It is therefore now ordered, that such constables, and others whom this matter may any way concern,
take special care that no wandering beggars be suffered in the streets of this city in any fashion or manner whatsoever, upon
the penalty provided by the law, to be duly and severely executed upon them.
"That all plays, bear-baitings,
games, singing of ballads, buckler- play, or such-like causes of assemblies of people be utterly prohibited, and the parties
offending severely punished by every alderman in his ward.
"That all public feasting, and particularly
by the companies of this city, and dinners at taverns, ale-houses, and other places of common entertainment, be forborne till
further order and allowance; and that the money thereby spared be preserved and employed for the benefit and relief of the
poor visited with the infection.
"That disorderly tippling in taverns, ale-houses, coffee-houses,
and cellars be severely looked unto, as the common sin of this time and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague. And that
no company or person be suffered to remain or come into any tavern, ale-house, or coffee-house to drink after nine of the
clock in the evening, according to the ancient law and custom of this city, upon the penalties ordained in that behalf.
for the better execution of these orders, and such other rules and directions as, upon further consideration, shall be found
needful: It is ordered and enjoined that the aldermen, deputies, and common councilmen shall meet together weekly, once, twice,
thrice or oftener (as cause shall require), at some one general place accustomed in their respective wards (being clear from
infection of the plague), to consult how the said orders may be duly put in execution; not intending that any dwelling in
or near places infected shall come to the said meeting while their coming may be doubtful. And the said aldermen, and deputies,
and common councilmen in their several wards may put in execution any other good orders that by them at their said meetings
shall be conceived and devised for preservation of his Majesty's subjects from the infection.
"Sir John Lawrence, Lord
Mayor. Sir George Waterman Sir Charles Doe, Sheriffs."
I need not say that these orders extended only to such places as
were within the Lord Mayor's jurisdiction, so it is requisite to observe that the justices of Peace within those parishes
and places as were called the Hamlets and out-parts took the same method. As I remember, the orders for shutting up of houses
did not take Place so soon on our side, because, as I said before, the plague did not reach to these eastern parts of the
town at least, nor begin to be very violent, till the beginning of August. For example, the whole bill from the 11th to the
18th of July was 1761, yet there died but 71 of the plague in all those parishes we call the Tower Hamlets, and they were
as follows: -
The next week And to the 1st
was thus: of Aug. thus:
Aldgate 14 34 65
Stepney 33 58 76
21 48 79
St Katherine, Tower 2 4 4
Trinity, Minories 1 1 4
--- --- ---
71 145 228
It was indeed coming
on amain, for the burials that same week were in the next adjoining parishes thus: -
The next week
the 1st of
increased, as: Aug. thus:
St Leonard's, Shoreditch 64 84 110
St Botolph's, Bishopsgate 65 105 116
Giles's, Cripplegate 213 421 554
--- --- ---
342 610 780
This shutting up of houses was at first counted a very
cruel and unchristian method, and the poor people so confined made bitter lamentations. Complaints of the severity of it were
also daily brought to my Lord Mayor, of houses causelessly (and some maliciously) shut up. I cannot say; but upon inquiry
many that complained so loudly were found in a condition to be continued; and others again, inspection being made upon the
sick person, and the sickness not appearing infectious, or if uncertain, yet on his being content to be carried to the pest-house,
It is true that the locking up the doors of people's houses, and setting a watchman there night and day
to prevent their stirring out or any coming to them, when perhaps the sound people in the family might have escaped if they
had been removed from the sick, looked very hard and cruel; and many people perished in these miserable confinements which,
"tis reasonable to believe, would not have been distempered if they had had liberty, though the plague was in the house; at
which the people were very clamorous and uneasy at first, and several violences were committed and injuries offered to the
men who were set to watch the houses so shut up; also several people broke out by force in many places, as I shall observe
by-and-by. But it was a public good that justified the private mischief, and there was no obtaining the least mitigation by
any application to magistrates or government at that time, at least not that I heard of. This put the people upon all manner
of stratagem in order, if possible, to get out; and it would fill a little volume to set down the arts used by the people
of such houses to shut the eyes of the watchmen who were employed, to deceive them, and to escape or break out from them,
in which frequent scuffles and some mischief happened; of which by itself.
As I went along Houndsditch one morning about
eight o'clock there was a great noise. It is true, indeed, there was not much crowd, because people were not very free to
gather together, or to stay long together when they were there; nor did I stay long there. But the outcry was loud enough
to prompt my curiosity, and I called to one that looked out of a window, and asked what was the matter.
A watchman, it
seems, had been employed to keep his post at the door of a house which was infected, or said to be infected, and was shut
up. He had been there all night for two nights together, as he told his story, and the day-watchman had been there one day,
and was now come to relieve him. All this while no noise had been heard in the house, no light had been seen; they called
for nothing, sent him of no errands, which used to be the chief business of the watchmen; neither had they given him any disturbance,
as he said, from the Monday afternoon, when he heard great crying and screaming in the house, which, as he supposed, was occasioned
by some of the family dying just at that time. It seems, the night before, the dead-cart, as it was called, had been stopped
there, and a servant-maid had been brought down to the door dead, and the buriers or bearers, as they were called, put her
into the cart, wrapt only in a green rug, and carried her away.
The watchman had knocked at the door, it seems, when he
heard that noise and crying, as above, and nobody answered a great while; but at last one looked out and said with an angry,
quick tone, and yet a kind of crying voice, or a voice of one that was crying, "What d'ye want, that ye make such a knocking?"
He answered, "I am the watchman! How do you do? What is the matter?" The person answered, "What is that to you? Stop the dead-cart."
This, it seems, was about one o'clock. Soon after, as the fellow said, he stopped the dead-cart, and then knocked again, but
nobody answered. He continued knocking, and the bellman called out several times, "Bring out your dead"; but nobody answered,
till the man that drove the cart, being called to other houses, would stay no longer, and drove away.
The watchman knew
not what to make of all this, so he let them alone till the morning-man or day-watchman, as they called him, came to relieve
him. Giving him an account of the particulars, they knocked at the door a great while, but nobody answered; and they observed
that the window or casement at which the person had looked out who had answered before continued open, being up two pair of
Upon this the two men, to satisfy their curiosity, got a long ladder, and one of them went up to the window and
looked into the room, where he saw a woman lying dead upon the floor in a dismal manner, having no clothes on her but her
shift. But though he called aloud, and putting in his long staff, knocked hard on the floor, yet nobody stirred or answered;
neither could he hear any noise in the house.
He came down again upon this, and acquainted his fellow, who went up also;
and finding it just so, they resolved to acquaint either the Lord Mayor or some other magistrate of it, but did not offer
to go in at the window. The magistrate, it seems, upon the information of the two men, ordered the house to be broke open,
a constable and other persons being appointed to be present, that nothing might be plundered; and accordingly it was so done,
when nobody was found in the house but that young woman, who having been infected and past recovery, the rest had left her
to die by herself, and were every one gone, having found some way to delude the watchman, and to get open the door, or get
out at some back-door, or over the tops of the houses, so that he knew nothing of it; and as to those cries and shrieks which
he heard, it was supposed they were the passionate cries of the family at the bitter parting, which, to be sure, it was to
them all, this being the sister to the mistress of the family. The man of the house, his wife, several children, and servants,
being all gone and fled, whether sick or sound, that I could never learn; nor, indeed, did I make much inquiry after it.
such escapes were made out of infected houses, as particularly when the watchman was sent of some errand; for it was his business
to go of any errand that the family sent him of; that is to say, for necessaries, such as food and physic; to fetch physicians,
if they would come, or surgeons, or nurses, or to order the dead-cart, and the like; but with this condition, too, that when
he went he was to lock up the outer door of the house and take the key away with him, To evade this, and cheat the watchmen,
people got two or three keys made to their locks, or they found ways to unscrew the locks such as were screwed on, and so
take off the lock, being in the inside of the house, and while they sent away the watchman to the market, to the bakehouse,
or for one trifle or another, open the door and go out as often as they pleased. But this being found out, the officers afterwards
had orders to padlock up the doors on the outside, and place bolts on them as they thought fit.
At another house, as I
was informed, in the street next within Aldgate, a whole family was shut up and locked in because the maid- servant was taken
sick. The master of the house had complained by his friends to the next alderman and to the Lord Mayor, and had consented
to have the maid carried to the pest-house, but was refused; so the door was marked with a red cross, a padlock on the outside,
as above, and a watchman set to keep the door, according to public order.
After the master of the house found there was
no remedy, but that he, his wife, and his children were to be locked up with this poor distempered servant, he called to the
watchman, and told him he must go then and fetch a nurse for them to attend this poor girl, for that it would be certain death
to them all to oblige them to nurse her; and told him plainly that if he would not do this, the maid must perish either of
the distemper or be starved for want of food, for he was resolved none of his family should go near her; and she lay in the
garret four storey high, where she could not cry out, or call to anybody for help.
The watchman consented to that, and
went and fetched a nurse, as he was appointed, and brought her to them the same evening. During this interval the master of
the house took his opportunity to break a large hole through his shop into a bulk or stall, where formerly a cobbler had sat,
before or under his shop-window; but the tenant, as may be supposed at such a dismal time as that, was dead or removed, and
so he had the key in his own keeping. Having made his way into this stall, which he could not have done if the man had been
at the door, the noise he was obliged to make being such as would have alarmed the watchman; I say, having made his way into
this stall, he sat still till the watchman returned with the nurse, and all the next day also. But the night following, having
contrived to send the watchman of another trifling errand, which, as I take it, was to an apothecary's for a plaister for
the maid, which he was to stay for the making up, or some other such errand that might secure his staying some time; in that
time he conveyed himself and all his family out of the house, and left the nurse and the watchman to bury the poor wench -
that is, throw her into the cart - and take care of the house.
I could give a great many such stories as these, diverting
enough, which in the long course of that dismal year I met with - that is, heard of - and which are very certain to be true,
or very near the truth; that is to say, true in the general: for no man could at such a time learn all the particulars. There
was likewise violence used with the watchmen, as was reported, in abundance of places; and I believe that from the beginning
of the visitation to the end, there was not less than eighteen or twenty of them killed, or so wounded as to be taken up for
dead, which was supposed to be done by the people in the infected houses which were shut up, and where they attempted to come
out and were opposed.
Nor, indeed, could less be expected, for here were so many prisons in the town as there were houses
shut up; and as the people shut up or imprisoned so were guilty of no crime, only shut up because miserable, it was really
the more intolerable to them.
It had also this difference, that every prison, as we may call it, had but one jailer, and
as he had the whole house to guard, and that many houses were so situated as that they had several ways out, some more, some
less, and some into several streets, it was impossible for one man so to guard all the passages as to prevent the escape of
people made desperate by the fright of their circumstances, by the resentment of their usage, or by the raging of the distemper
itself; so that they would talk to the watchman on one side of the house, while the family made their escape at another.
example, in Coleman Street there are abundance of alleys, as appears still. A house was shut up in that they call White's
Alley; and this house had a back-window, not a door, into a court which had a passage into Bell Alley. A watchman was set
by the constable at the door of this house, and there he stood, or his comrade, night and day, while the family went all away
in the evening out at that window into the court, and left the poor fellows warding and watching for near a fortnight.
far from the same place they blew up a watchman with gunpowder, and burned the poor fellow dreadfully; and while he made hideous
cries, and nobody would venture to come near to help him, the whole family that were able to stir got out at the windows one
storey high, two that were left sick calling out for help. Care was taken to give them nurses to look after them, but the
persons fled were never found, till after the plague was abated they returned; but as nothing could be proved, so nothing
could be done to them.
It is to be considered, too, that as these were prisons without bars and bolts, which our common
prisons are furnished with, so the people let themselves down out of their windows, even in the face of the watchman, bringing
swords or pistols in their hands, and threatening the poor wretch to shoot him if he stirred or called for help.
cases, some had gardens, and walls or pales, between them and their neighbours, or yards and back-houses; and these, by friendship
and entreaties, would get leave to get over those walls or pales, and so go out at their neighbours' doors; or, by giving
money to their servants, get them to let them through in the night; so that in short, the shutting up of houses was in no
wise to be depended upon. Neither did it answer the end at all, serving more to make the people desperate, and drive them
to such extremities as that they would break out at all adventures.
And that which was still worse, those that did thus
break out spread the infection farther by their wandering about with the distemper upon them, in their desperate circumstances,
than they would otherwise have done; for whoever considers all the particulars in such cases must acknowledge, and we cannot
doubt but the severity of those confinements made many people desperate, and made them run out of their houses at all hazards,
and with the plague visibly upon them, not knowing either whither to go or what to do, or, indeed, what they did; and many
that did so were driven to dreadful exigencies and extremities, and perished in the streets or fields for mere want, or dropped
down by the raging violence of the fever upon them. Others wandered into the country, and went forward any way, as their desperation
guided them, not knowing whither they went or would go: till, faint and tired, and not getting any relief, the houses and
villages on the road refusing to admit them to lodge whether infected or no, they have perished by the roadside or gotten
into barns and died there, none daring to come to them or relieve them, though perhaps not infected, for nobody would believe
On the other hand, when the plague at first seized a family that is to say, when any body of the family had gone
out and unwarily or otherwise catched the distemper and brought it home - it was certainly known by the family before it was
known to the officers, who, as you will see by the order, were appointed to examine into the circumstances of all sick persons
when they heard of their being sick.
In this interval, between their being taken sick and the examiners coming, the master
of the house had leisure and liberty to remove himself or all his family, if he knew whither to go, and many did so. But the
great disaster was that many did thus after they were really infected themselves, and so carried the disease into the houses
of those who were so hospitable as to receive them; which, it must be confessed, was very cruel and ungrateful.
was in part the reason of the general notion, or scandal rather, which went about of the temper of people infected: namely,
that they did not take the least care or make any scruple of infecting others, though I cannot say but there might be some
truth in it too, but not so general as was reported. What natural reason could be given for so wicked a thing at a time when
they might conclude themselves just going to appear at the bar of Divine justice I know not. I am very well satisfied that
it cannot be reconciled to religion and principle any more than it can be to generosity and Humanity, but I may speak of that
I am speaking now of people made desperate by the apprehensions of their being shut up, and their breaking out
by stratagem or force, either before or after they were shut up, whose misery was not lessened when they were out, but sadly
increased. On the other hand, many that thus got away had retreats to go to and other houses, where they locked themselves
up and kept hid till the plague was over; and many families, foreseeing the approach of the distemper, laid up stores of provisions
sufficient for their whole families, and shut themselves up, and that so entirely that they were neither seen or heard of
till the infection was quite ceased, and then came abroad sound and well. I might recollect several such as these, and give
you the particulars of their management; for doubtless it was the most effectual secure step that could be taken for such
whose circumstances would not admit them to remove, or who had not retreats abroad proper for the case; for in being thus
shut up they were as if they had been a hundred miles off. Nor do I remember that any one of those families miscarried. Among
these, several Dutch merchants were particularly remarkable, who kept their houses like little garrisons besieged suffering
none to go in or out or come near them, particularly one in a court in Throgmorton Street whose house looked into Draper's
But I come back to the case of families infected and shut up by the magistrates. The misery of those families
is not to be expressed; and it was generally in such houses that we heard the most dismal shrieks and outcries of the poor
people, terrified and even frighted to death by the sight of the condition of their dearest relations, and by the terror of
being imprisoned as they were.
I remember, and while I am writing this story I think I hear the very sound of it, a certain
lady had an only daughter, a young maiden about nineteen years old, and who was possessed of a very considerable fortune.
They were only lodgers in the house where they were. The young woman, her mother, and the maid had been abroad on some occasion,
I do not remember what, for the house was not shut up; but about two hours after they came home the young lady complained
she was not well; in a quarter of an hour more she vomited and had a violent pain in her head. 'Pray God", says her mother,
in a terrible fright, "my child has not the distemper!" The pain in her head increasing, her mother ordered the bed to be
warmed, and resolved to put her to bed, and prepared to give her things to sweat, which was the ordinary remedy to be taken
when the first apprehensions of the distemper began.
While the bed was airing the mother undressed the young woman, and
just as she was laid down in the bed, she, looking upon her body with a candle, immediately discovered the fatal tokens on
the inside of her thighs. Her mother, not being able to contain herself, threw down her candle and shrieked out in such a
frightful manner that it was enough to place horror upon the stoutest heart in the world; nor was it one scream or one cry,
but the fright having seized her spirits, she -fainted first, then recovered, then ran all over the house, up the stairs and
down the stairs, like one distracted, and indeed really was distracted, and continued screeching and crying out for several
hours void of all sense, or at least government of her senses, and, as I was told, never came thoroughly to herself again.
As to the young maiden, she was a dead corpse from that moment, for the gangrene which occasions the spots had spread [over]
her whole body, and she died in less than two hours. But still the mother continued crying out, not knowing anything more
of her child, several hours after she was dead. It is so long ago that I am not certain, but I think the mother never recovered,
but died in two or three weeks after.
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