The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

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The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:15 am

This is the area of London in which I work, shown on a modern-day street map:



Pay particular attention to the street called "Houndsditch".

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:28 am

This is Daniel Defoe's desciption in "A Journal of the Plague Year" of the Great Pit at Aldgate in 1665, the year the Bubonic Plague decimated the population of London:


The London Plague Pits of 1665

Daniel Defoe, in his book, A Journal of the Plague Year, describes the terrible pits dug to bury victims of the Great Plague of London. Although this book is a fictionalised account as Defoe was a young child at the time, he was a journalist so he used stories he'd heard, public records and accounts written by other people for much of the information.

I went all the first part of the time freely about the streets, though not so freely as to run myself into apparent danger, except when they dug the great pit in the churchyard of our parish of Aldgate. A terrible pit it was, and I could not resist my curiosity to go and see it. As near as I may judge, it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet deep; but it was said they dug it near twenty feet deep afterwards in one part of it, till they could go no deeper for the water; for they had, it seems, dug several large pits before this. For though the plague was long a-coming to our parish, yet, when it did come, there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence as in the two parishes of Aldgate and Whitechappel.

I say they had dug several pits in another ground, when the distemper began to spread in our parish, and especially when the dead-carts began to go about, which was not, in our parish, till the beginning of August. Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger holes wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August, came to from 200 to 400 a week; and they could not well dig them larger, because of the order of the magistrates confining them to leave no bodies within six feet of the surface; and the water coming on at about seventeen or eighteen feet, they could not well, I say, put more in one pit. But now, at the beginning of September, the plague raging in a dreadful manner, and the number of burials in our parish increasing to more than was ever buried in any parish about London of no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug - for such it was, rather than a pit.

They had supposed this pit would have supplied them for a month or more when they dug it, and some blamed the churchwardens for suffering such a frightful thing, telling them they were making preparations to bury the whole parish, and the like; but time made it appear the churchwardens knew the condition of the parish better than they did: for, the pit being finished the 4th of September, I think, they began to bury in it the 6th, and by the 20th, which was just two weeks, they had thrown into it 1114 bodies when they were obliged to fill it up, the bodies being then come to lie within six feet of the surface. I doubt not but there may be some ancient persons alive in the parish who can justify the fact of this, and are able to show even in what place of the churchyard the pit lay better than I can. The mark of it also was many years to be seen in the churchyard on the surface, lying in length parallel with the passage which goes by the west wall of the churchyard out of Houndsditch, and turns east again into Whitechappel, coming out near the Three Nuns' Inn.

It was about the 10th of September that my curiosity led, or rather drove, me to go and see this pit again, when there had been near 400 people buried in it; and I was not content to see it in the day-time, as I had done before, for then there would have been nothing to have been seen but the loose earth; for all the bodies that were thrown in were immediately covered with earth by those they called the buriers, which at other times were called bearers; but I resolved to go in the night and see some of them thrown in.

There was a strict order to prevent people coming to those pits, and that was only to prevent infection. But after some time that order was more necessary, for people that were infected and near their end, and delirious also, would run to those pits, wrapt in blankets or rugs, and throw themselves in, and, as they said, bury themselves. I cannot say that the officers suffered any willingly to lie there; but I have heard that in a great pit in Finsbury, in the parish of Cripplegate, it lying open then to the fields, for it was not then walled about, [many] came and threw themselves in, and expired there, before they threw any earth upon them; and that when they came to bury others and found them there, they were quite dead, though not cold.

This may serve a little to describe the dreadful condition of that day, though it is impossible to say anything that is able to give a true idea of it to those who did not see it, other than this, that it was indeed very, very, very dreadful, and such as no tongue can express.



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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:41 am



Pieter Bruegel's The Triumph of Death (c. 1562) reflects the social upheaval and terror that followed the plague which devastated Europe a century before the Great London epidemic.

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:44 am


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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:51 am


‘The Great Pit in Aldgate’, 1665.

Engraving made c 1865 by Davenport after Cruikshank, showing men with torches in a churchyard, preparing to empty bodies into an open grave during the Plague of London. The bubonic plague is a disease caused by Yersinia pestis, an infection carried by fleas living as parasites on rats. The plague hit London in late 1664, having ravaged Holland the previous year, and killed around 100,000 people in and around the city. Regular outbreaks of bubonic plague occurred in Britain and Europe in Medieval times and continued until the 17th century. Illustration from ‘A journal of the plague year, or, Memorials of the great pestilence in London, in 1665’, by Daniel Defoe (1661?-1731), published in London in 1835.



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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:54 am

Here is a picture of Aldgate Tube station:



You'll note that it resembles a vast...er...pit, at least 30 feet deep.

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 1:59 am

From the "London Underground Ghosts" website:

The London Underground is more than 140 years old, 253 miles long and carves its way beneath London's most historic sites, disturbing what was laid to rest centuries ago. It is no surprise that many strange tales and ghostly sightings are associated with the Underground.

Plague pits dug during the outbreak of Bubonic plague in the 17th century have proved a hindrance in building the Underground. Firstly because they were dug so deep to prevent the spread of infection and secondly because no-one knows how many there are or where they are located. The Victoria Line, built in the late 1960s ran into trouble when the tunnel boring machine went straight into a long-forgotten plague pit at Green Park.

One case in point is the London Depot on the Bakerloo Line. At the south end lie two tunnels; one exits to the line at Elephant & Castle, the other to a dead end to stop runaway trains. Behind the wall lies one of London's many plague pits dug in the bubonic plague crisis. No ghostly activity has been reported but few staff are willing to go down there, particularly at night.

The next time you're travelling on the London Underground bear in mind that, while you're looking at the destination board for the next train, you can't see who, or what is behind you. Mind the Ghosts...


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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:24 am

General Custer's name cropped up a few times in ATUI discussions last year and I remember remarking then how impressed I'd been with Nathaniel Philbrick's "The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Big Horn". One particular episode lodged in my mind: early in the campaign Custer and his brother had desecrated a native American burial ground, to the disquiet of many of his officers and men who reasoned, "No good will come of this".

Why bring Custer into this? Well, as it is with the bones of native American indians, so it is with the remains of 17th c Londoners. Study the photo of Aldgate Tube station (above) and it's difficult to believe that many bodies were not disturbed in the excavations carried out to construct the station, which opened for business in 1876.

I've worked there for nearly 4 years and I'm convinced the place is jinxed.

For one thing, it's absolutely freezing: the coldest station I've ever worked on. A mighty wind howls up out of the Thames, Summer and Winter, into the front door and out into St Botolph's Street at the station rear. I'm reminded of the scene in "The Omen" when defrocked priest and recusant coven member Patrick Troughton attempts to seek sanctuary in a church from the pursuing storm-demons, only to be impaled by a lightning-conductor dislodged from the steeple. The place has an uncanny micro-climate of its own. On my way to work, I step out of nearby Aldgate East Station (see map above) and I'm not 15 yards down the road in the direction of Aldgate Tube before it starts: "Woooooo!" goes the wind. Very odd indeed....

For another, only demonic forces could account for the diabolical service on the Circle and Metropolitan Lines serving the station, to the great stress and distress of staff and customers alike.

And another thing, contractors involved on the recent refurbishment of the station were very uneasy about working in the disused areas and gave alarming accounts of ghostly whistling and other strange noises.

It's accursed, I tell you. The resident demons are making my working life a misery. affraid



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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:38 am

...and, as though working amongst the unquiet spirits of Bubonic plague victims wasn't bad enough, take a look at this article from "The Londonist":

Crossrail Dig Uncovers Hundreds Of ‘Lunatic’ Skeletons

By M@ · April 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm ·
An ancient graveyard has been uncovered at a Crossrail site close to Liverpool Street station. The remains are thought to belong to inmates of St Bethlehem Hospital, more commonly known as ‘Bedlam‘.

The hospital stood at this site between 1247 and 1815, when it decamped to the building that is now the Imperial War Museum. During those long centuries, the hospital housed thousands of patients with mental health issues (or lunatics, to use the historic and more direct parlance). The dig at Liverpool Street is now bringing those unfortunates to light for the first time in hundreds of years.

The John Rocque map of 1746 shows the scale of the graveyard, which lies partly under the station and partly under Liverpool Street:



The bodies will be removed for study. Some will be retained by the Museum of London while others will be re-interred, presumably at the City Of London Cemetery.

Although the Crossrail digs will cause many inconveniences for years to come, this find highlights one of the plus points. The deep excavations at numerous central London locations are sure to be a boon for archaeologists and those interested in the history of London.



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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:44 am

...and this from The History Blog website:

Bedlam gives up hundreds of long-dead lunatics



Archaeologists surveying a future site of the massive Crossrail project next to the Liverpool Street railway station have uncovered over a hundred skeletons in a burial ground that was used to inter patients from the infamous St. Bethlehem Hospital, aka Bedlam, starting in 1569.

So far they’ve only dug a trial pit and found over a hundred skeletons starting just five feet below street level. Since the site is far larger than the small exploratory trench, lead archaeologist Jay Carver calculates that they will find hundreds more once the entire site is excavated, maybe even thousands.

This isn’t the first time the area has burst forth a glorious danse macabre courtesy of Bedlam’s hundreds of years of continuous use, first as a priory for the religious of the Order of the Star of Bethlehem in the 13th century, until the insane asylum that would become synonymous with a maddening racket moved to that location in the late 17th century. Four hundred skeletons were found next door when the office pedestrian complex Broadgate Centre was built during the 1980s.

The burial ground continued to be used until the 19th century for local residents when other intown cemeteries ran out of space, so not all of these skeletons are mental patients who died in the famously deplorable conditions of Bedlam; however, the huge numbers involved means there will be a high concentration of 16th century remains, both of the hospitalized and of the city poor.

‘It’s interesting on the archaeological side because the 16th century is a time of immense poverty really in the outer areas of the city of London. Sites of this type haven’t always been fully investigated,’ Carver said.

The team also uncovered pottery fragments, clay pipes, animal bone artefacts, including knife handles, and, as yet, unidentified implements in association with the burials.

The bodies will be studied at the Museum of London prior to reburial. Researchers will examine the gender distribution, their ages, and signs of chronic and terminal illness. The remains will then be re-interred locally, as per government regulations, but where exactly hasn’t been determined yet. Most of the bodies found in the ’80s were reburied under Broadgate Centre itself. East London Cemetery has accommodated past archaeological remains, but even they may not have the space for the numbers of skeletons expected to be found over the next two years of excavation.

St. Bethlehem Hospital was the world’s first hospital dedicated to the treatment of mental illness. I use the word “treatment” loosely, however, since mainly patients were kept in a chaotic, filthy, prison-like environment. They weren’t even called patients until 1700. Before that they were all “inmates” and there was no distinction made between curable and incurable cases.

In the 18th century, rich people would pay to visit the crazies and hoot at the spectacle behind their fans. Satirist William Hogarth depicted just such a scene in the last painting from his A Rake’s Progress series, where the titular rake’s moral degradation leads him from foppery to gambling to whoremongering to debtor’s prison to an ignominious naked finale as a shackled madman among the madmen of Bedlam, their wretchedness providing entertainment for his one-time society equals.


The Rake's Progress: William Hogarth.


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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 3:48 am

^

I might have known.

Our useless and vindictive Management's offices at Liverpool Street are constructed on the graves of a thousand lunatics!

It's all beginning to make sense. pale

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:40 am

...but, anyway, back now to the other end of Houndsditch where Daniel Defoe is still sniffing around the Great Pit of Aldgate:

I got admittance into the churchyard by being acquainted with the sexton who attended; who, though he did not refuse me at all, yet earnestly persuaded me not to go, telling me very seriously (for he was a good, religious, and sensible man) that it was indeed their business and duty to venture, and to run all hazards, and that in it they might hope to be preserved; but that I had no apparent call to it but my own curiosity, which, he said, he believed I would not pretend was sufficient to justify my running that hazard. I told him I had been pressed in my mind to go, and that perhaps it might be an instructing sight, that might not be without its uses. 'Nay,' says the good man, 'if you will venture upon that score, name of God go in; for, depend upon it, 'twill be a sermon to you, it may be, the best that ever you heard in your life. 'Tis a speaking sight,' says he, 'and has a voice with it, and a loud one, to call us all to repentance'; and with that he opened the door and said, 'Go, if you will.'

His discourse had shocked my resolution a little, and I stood wavering for a good while, but just at that interval I saw two links come over from the end of the Minories, and heard the bellman, and then appeared a dead-cart, as they called it, coming over the streets; so I could no longer resist my desire of seeing it, and went in. There was nobody, as I could perceive at first, in the churchyard, or going into it, but the buriers and the fellow that drove the cart, or rather led the horse and cart; but when they came up to the pit they saw a man go to and again, muffled up in a brown Cloak, and making motions with his hands under his cloak, as if he was in great agony, and the buriers immediately gathered about him, supposing he was one of those poor delirious or desperate creatures that used to pretend, as I have said, to bury themselves. He said nothing as he walked about, but two or three times groaned very deeply and loud, and sighed as he would break his heart.

When the buriers came up to him they soon found he was neither a person infected and desperate, as I have observed above, or a person distempered -in mind, but one oppressed with a dreadful weight of grief indeed, having his wife and several of his children all in the cart that was just come in with him, and he followed in an agony and excess of sorrow. He mourned heartily, as it was easy to see, but with a kind of masculine grief that could not give itself vent by tears; and calmly defying the buriers to let him alone, said he would only see the bodies thrown in and go away, so they left importuning him. But no sooner was the cart turned round and the bodies shot into the pit promiscuously, which was a surprise to him, for he at least expected they would have been decently laid in, though indeed he was afterwards convinced that was impracticable; I say, no sooner did he see the sight but he cried out aloud, unable to contain himself. I could not hear what he said, but he went backward two or three steps and fell down in a swoon. The buriers ran to him and took him up, and in a little while he came to himself, and they led him away to the Pie Tavern over against the end of Houndsditch, where, it seems, the man was known, and where they took care of him. He looked into the pit again as he went away, but the buriers had covered the bodies so immediately with throwing in earth, that though there was light enough, for there were lanterns, and candles in them, placed all night round the sides of the pit, upon heaps of earth, seven or eight, or perhaps more, yet nothing could be seen.

This was a mournful scene indeed, and affected me almost as much as the rest; but the other was awful and full of terror. The cart had in it sixteen or seventeen bodies; some were wrapt up in linen sheets, some in rags, some little other than naked, or so loose that what covering they had fell from them in the shooting out of the cart, and they fell quite naked among the rest; but the matter was not much to them, or the indecency much to any one else, seeing they were all dead, and were to be huddled together into the common grave of mankind, as we may call it, for here was no difference made, but poor and rich went together; there was no other way of burials, neither was it possible there should, for coffins were not to be had for the prodigious numbers that fell in such a calamity as this.

It was reported by way of scandal upon the buriers, that if any corpse was delivered to them decently wound up, as we called it then, in a winding-sheet tied over the head and feet, which some did, and which was generally of good linen; I say, it was reported that the buriers were so wicked as to strip them in the cart and carry them quite naked to the ground. But as I cannot easily credit anything so vile among Christians, and at a time so filled with terrors as that was, I can only relate it and leave it undetermined.

Innumerable stories also went about of the cruel behaviours and practices of nurses who tended the sick, and of their hastening on the fate of those they tended in their sickness. But I shall say more of this in its place.

I was indeed shocked with this sight; it almost overwhelmed me, and I went away with my heart most afflicted, and full of the afflicting thoughts, such as I cannot describe. just at my going out of the church, and turning up the street towards my own house, I saw another cart with links, and a bellman going before, coming out of Harrow Alley in the Butcher Row, on the other side of the way, and being, as I perceived, very full of dead bodies, it went directly over the street also toward the church. I stood a while, but I had no stomach to go back again to see the same dismal scene over again, so I went directly home, where I could not but consider with thankfulness the risk I had run, believing I had gotten no injury, as indeed I had not.

(A Journal of The Plague Year- Daniel Defoe)

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:46 am

Samuel Pepys' Account of the Great Plague of London

Samuel Pepys was born in Fleet Street, London, in 1633. At the time he was writing these descriptions of the Plague in his diary he was working as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, a position of responsibility and some power. He died in 1703.

30th April 1665
...Great fears of the sicknesse here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.

7th June 1665
It being the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England in the beginning of June...This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and 'Lord have mercy upon us' writ there—which was a sad sight to me being the first of that kind that to my remembrance I ever saw...

20th June 1665
...This day I informed myself that there died four or five at Westminster of the plague, in one alley in several houses upon Sunday last - Bell Alley, over against the Palace gate....

12th August 1665
The people die so, that now it seems they are fain to carry the dead to be buried by daylight, the nights not sufficing to do it in. And my Lord Mayor commands people to be within at 9 at night, all (as they say) that the sick may have liberty to go abroad for ayre.

3rd September 1665
Up, and put on my coloured silk suit, very fine, and my new periwig, bought a good while since, but darst not wear it because the plague was in Westminster when I bought it. And it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done as to periwigs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire for fear of the infection—that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague.

16th October 1665
But Lord, how empty the streets are, and melancholy, so many poor sick people in the streets, full of sores, and so many sad stories overheard as I walk, everybody talking of this dead, and that man sick, and so many in this place, and so many in that. And they tell me that in Westminster there is never a physician, and but one apothecary left, all being dead—but that there are great hopes of a decrease this week: God send it.

22nd November 1665
I heard this day that the plague is come very low; that is, 600 and odd - and great hopes of a further decrease, because of this day's being a very exceeding hard frost...

10th January 1666
To the Change, and there hear, to our grief, how the plague is increased this week from 70 to 89.

22nd January 1666
To the Crowne tavern behind the Exchange by appointment and there met the first meeting of Gresham College since the plague. Dr Goddard did fill us with talk in defence of his and his fellow physicians going out of town in the plague-time; saying that their particular patients were most gone of town....

23rd January 1666
Up and to the office and then to dinner. After dinner, to the office again all the afternoon, and much business with me. Good news, beyond all expectations, of the decrease of the plague; being now but 79...

7th February 1666
It being the fast day [for the plague], I stayed home all day to set things to right in my chamber in the same condition it was before the Plague.....

(Diaries of Samuel Pepys)

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:50 am

The Great Plague of London


Outbreaks of plague, the Black Death, had occurred in Britain and Europe periodically for centuries. In 1663 Holland suffered another outbreak and as a consequence Charles II stopped all trade with the country to prevent its spread into the United Kingdom.

In spite of this, outbreaks in the poorest parts of London began to occur. By early April 1665 almost 400 deaths were recorded in one week from the Plague.

The more prosperous residents of the city started moving their families to their country homes and by June, unusually hot, everybody who could leave London did so.

People showing symptoms of the Black Death were locked in their home together with their family for 40 days after the plague victim had either died or recovered. Guards were set to stop people breaking out of the locked houses.

Some servants left behind by fleeing aristocracy and prosperous merchants were employed driving the death carts carrying plague victims and others took to looting and robbery.

The death toll mounted to such an extent that graveyards soon became full. Vacant land was used for 'plague pits' and quicklime was used in them. In spite of grave diggers literally working night and day, they could not keep up with deaths and so corpses were piled up awaiting burial.

The deaths increased steadily so that by the middle of August it had risen to over 6000 in one week. After this, the death toll very gradually declined although many people were still dying. As late as November, 900 people died in one week.

During the summer, whilst the plague raged in London, outbreaks were seen outside the capital. As fear of the plague increased in the surrounding countryside so refugees from London became more and more unwelcome. Towns posted armed guards to keep them out.

Thousands of Londoners lived on boats on the River Thames during the height of the plague and many of these survived.

By Christmas of 1665 life started to return to normal in London. Just over a month later the King returned to St James's Palace, so encouraging other people to return.

One legacy of the plague passed down the generations was a nursery rhyme:

Ring a ring o' roses
A pocketful of posies.
Atishoo! Atishoo!
We all fall down.

The ring of roses was the rash seen on plague victims, the posies were the nosegays carried and smelt, thought to prevent somebody catching the plague, atishoo is the sneezing of the victim and 'we all fall down' means dying.


Copyright © 2001 by Carol Fisher



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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 8:02 am

In those days, the science of Epidemiology was in its infancy and nobody really understood how the Plague was spread (in fact from fleas carried by rats).

It was generally assumed that the spread of the contagion had something to do with contaminated air (which is why people carried scented nosegays around) but there was a dim perception, too, that there might be some animal-related agency at work- with the result that all the dogs and cats in the City were ordered to be slaughtered.

This measure, of course, was completely counter-productive for there was no natural predator now left to inhibit the multiplication of the flea-bearing rat population.

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Fri Jun 17, 2011 8:20 am

Slightly disturbing London Tube map:



"Slightly Disturbing Tube Map". The map shows where Tube lines have cut through plague pits, former slums and cholera sites, and also where all the ghosts and that hang out. For good measure, it also shows where all the abandoned stations are, and also all the stations that were destroyed and such during the war.

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Mon Feb 06, 2012 1:31 pm

Evidence that Aldgate Tube station, at which I work, is haunted (by the unquiet spirits of Bubonic plague victims?) continues to mount.

My friend and colleague George records a number of strange coincidences, far more than any statistical average would indicate.

But here's my own most recent instance of unaccountable synchronicity:

It's the morning Peak and I'm being given a hard time by the usual City oik because a couple of trains have been cancelled:

- Why does that describer board say 'Good Service' when it's obviously not?

- Because the information on that board arrives on a feed from the Network Control Centre. It's largely fictitious, and bears only a tentative relationship to reality.

- You're trying to fob me off.

-No, I'm not. If you want 'fobbing off', I suggest you contact Customer Services (I hand the oik a card). They'll be able to 'fob you off' far more effectively than I can. What I'm telling you is the Truth.

-What's your name?

(I spell out my name emphatically, leave the City oik to his own devices and turn to my colleagues Paul and Darren.)

- I've just had another Basil Fawlty moment. (I relate the exchange above).

- Well, you told him the Truth. The information on the describer board is bullshit. It's described as a 'Good Service' to conserve some Manager's bonus.

- Of course. The man was quite obviously a cunt. Just after his pound of flesh. Waiting for the prole to grovel. Well, fuck him.

- Er...maybe you shouldn't be saying 'cunt' quite so loud?

- Why not? If it was good enough for Chaucer, it's good enough for me.

- The Canterbury Tales man?

- A local lad. Worked as Comptroller of the King's Excise at Aldgate. My use of the word 'CUNT' simply upholds centuries of tradition.

(At this point Darren, a Group Reserve staff member, is called back to Liverpool Street station where a minute later he receives a text from his wife on the Wikipedia definition of "Cunt'.)

How strange is THAT?


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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  pinhedz on Mon Feb 06, 2012 1:41 pm

eddie wrote: ... all the dogs and cats in the City were ordered to be slaughtered.

This measure, of course, was completely counter-productive for there was no natural predator now left to inhibit the multiplication of the flea-bearing rat population.
People were screaming: "Do something!"

There were a few that were saying: "Let's consider this carefully--killing the dogs and cats might not be the solution." monkey

Such people were labelled "plague deniers" back in the day, and risked being lynched and their heads impaled on stakes. silent

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:11 am

Brush with the Black Death: how artists painted through the plague

From 1347 to the late 17th century, Europe was stalked by the Black Death, yet art not only survived, it flourished. So why are modern Europeans so afraid of epidemics?

Jonathan Jones
The Guardian


Van Dyck's Saint Rosalie Interceding for the Plague-Stricken of Palermo, 1624 (detail) is on display at Van Dyck in Sicily: Painting and the Plague at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

The age when European art rose to glory was an age of disease and death. In 1347 the Black Death – probably bubonic plague – was brought by a Genoese ship to Sicily. In the next few years, it is estimated to have killed about a third of the entire population of Europe. Some cities, such as Venice, lost more like 60% of their people.

The Renaissance was just getting started, and the plague, too, was at the beginning of its reign of terror. The Black Death was more than a medieval explosion of horror: it kept coming back. For the next 300 years and longer, plague became a regular part of life – and death – in Europe. Terrible outbreaks periodically devastated cities. One of the very last, and most terrifying, of these plagues hit London in 1665 and is described in chilling detail in one of the first historical novels, Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year.

Another catastrophic attack of plague massacred the people of Palermo in Sicily in the 1620s, and this outbreak is chronicled in a new exhibition, Van Dyck in Sicily: Painting and the Plague, 1624-5, at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Van Dyck, the gifted Flemish painter, had been working in Genoa, where brilliant works by him survive. But when he moved on to Palermo he soon found himself surrounded by death and panic. The exhibition shows his art in this eerie light.

It is a fascinating perspective, yet it is just the tip of an iceberg, for if you think about it, the entire story of the Renaissance and baroque periods in art is sealed inside the kingdom of the plague. Pestilence had all of Europe in its grip from 1347 to the late 17th century, with outbreaks in southern Europe recurring in the 1700s. This means the lives of all the "Old Masters" were experienced in its shadow: Michelangelo, Rembrandt and the rest all faced the danger that mortal contagion could at any moment seize their city.

Some great artists, probably including Hans Holbein and Titian, died of it. Others tried to fight it with art, like Tintoretto – who painted his greatest works in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice, a building dedicated to a plague-protective saint.

Yet the strangest thing, today, is this.

The art of these centuries abounds in images of death, sure, yet it is also full of joy. The Europeans of the 1500s and 1600s created incredible treasures and beacons of civilisation. Far from being driven to despair by pestilence, it is as if they were spurred to assert the glory of life.

In the 21st century, nameless terrors grip us. We fear epidemics that never come. We imagine that if a natural catastrophe hit our society, the result would be total collapse. Yet history is actually full of optimistic messages. People have endured disasters that modern Europeans can barely comprehend, and come out not just fighting but winning – just look at St Paul's cathedral, a hopeful dome that rose from a city blighted by the 1665 plague, and the Great Fire soon afterwards that necessitated Wren's rebuilding.

Human beings have a shocking resilience. They also have the power to rise above self-pity. If that does not seem obvious today, just consider St Paul's, serene in the London sky, a message to us from an age of everyday heroism.

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:12 pm

Art after death: Van Dyck's Painting and the Plague – in pictures

In 1624, Anthony van Dyck moved from Genoa to Palermo in Sicily. Soon after his arrival, the city was struck by a plague which killed most of the population. Van Dyck in Sicily: Painting and the Plague, 1624-25 focuses on the artist's work during this period. At Dulwich Picture Gallery, London until 27 May 2012

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 February 2012 17.34 GMT

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Re: The Bubonic plague pits of old London town

Post  eddie on Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:13 pm


Sir Anthony van Dyck, Saint Rosalie Interceding for the Plague-Stricken of Palermo, 1624. Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

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