Episode 38: The Black Death: London's First Plague

Even after 671 years the Black Death has left its mark on London reminding us of the devastation that disease can inflict on communities. With the help of my colleague Ian McDiarmid we are going to investigate London during the Black Death which wiped out half of the population within 9 months.

We will look at how the Black Death got its name, how it spread, what people thought was causing it and what the authorities did to try and stop it.

We will look at how we buried our dead and challenge some of the myths surrounding the Black Death in London.

So, get a cup of tea and join us for a 20 minute delve into London's first plague.

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Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to our London History Podcast, where we share our love of London, its people, places, and history in 20 minute episodes. I am your host, Hazel Baker, qualified London tour guide and CEO of London Guided Walks. You can follow us on Twitter @guided_walks, or find us on Instagram @walk_london, or indeed we're also on Facebook and we're London Guided Walks.

We have lots of lovely guided walks and private tours, treasure hunts, and virtual tours for Londoners and visitors alike. You can check all of those out on our website, londonguidedwalks.co.uk. And don't forget, our blog is regularly updated with posts written by our passionate team of qualified London tour guides and there are hundreds to choose from, all absolutely free. So without further ado, let's get on with the show.

What we discuss:

2020 and beginning of 2021 haven't been all that fun. But you know what? We have had it worse. Joining me in the studio today is City of London tour guide Ian McDiarmid and we are going to be talking The Black Death. Hello!

The Black Death is the name given to the first wave of the plague that swept across Europe in the 1300s. It was the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history. It resulted in the deaths of up to 75 to 200 million people in Europe, Asia and North Africa peaking in London from 1348 to 1349. The Black Death was the result of a highly infectious disease spread by fleas, that bit their hosts, usually rats and humans and introduced the bacteria Yersinia Pestis that caused the disease into their hosts' bodies.

Now Ian, considering the size of these tiny, tiny fleas, how did they manage to do so much damage?

We know how it's caused now, but when in 1349, what did they think?

I had read that the King had requested that London's streets being cleaned and the response was that they couldn't because the street cleaners had already died of the place.

Your medieval walks' a very good one by the way.

So here's a big one. How did the black death get its name?

I think the dreadful deaths don't you?

You kind of hinted about the name being descriptive and we have these buboes didn't we?

I have recently read an article, which suggests that London had a combination of bubonic and pneumonic to deal with. Is that true?

And if you want to read any more about it, we're going to include a lot of the links to our reading for your further reading in the show notes and you can access that by going to londonguidedwalks.co.uk/podcast and clicking on The Black Death link.

What did the authorities try to do to stop The Black Death?

What did they find when they did the dig at Charterhouse Square?

So the most of the damage was done by summer at 1349. But what were the consequences of this for London and Londoners?

And then we must say that that's actually more dramatic in London, isn't it? 

Even after 671 years, The Black Death has left its mark on London, reminding us of the devastation that disease can inflict on communities.

If you've visited Westminster Abbey, you may have noticed a large slab in the Southern cloister. This is believed to cover the remains of the Abbot of Westminster and 27 of his monks who were taken by The Black Death.

And I've got some news as well in, as a consequence of all of our hard work for this lockdown podcast. We have now reached 20,000 downloads.

Thank you very much for your contributions and thank you very much for everybody listening. And don't forget, this is absolutely free. So share the love of London and our London History Podcast with your friends and family. We'll see you next week for something a lot more fun!

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