The Black Death in Stamford

The worst outbreak of the bubonic plague – sometimes known as “the black death” or “the great pestilence” – was in 1348. It can be traced back to China at the beginning of the 1300’s. The disease is now known to be carried by fleas that live on rats and you won’t find more rats in close proximity than on a ship. As China was  one of the busiest trading areas in the world it didn’t take long for the sickness to be carried into Europe.

Sufferers main symptom was an outbreak of huge black boils that oozed blood and pus. This was followed by other painful symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever, sickness and delirium. Once victims were infected it could be passed on through the air. It was incredibly infectious and killed quickly; The Italian writer Boccaccio said its victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”
People were forced to abandon their loved ones in their suffering for fear of catching it themselves.

Little was known about the disease and medieval medicine had no cure. Many believed it to be a punishment from god and resorted to prayer or beatings in order to make penance for their sins. Some doctors attempted to treat it with blood letting, boil lancing and herbs.

Norfolk and the Eastern counties were some of the worst effected due to Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Norwich being positioned very close to one another. This, combined with the East coast having a large amount of seaports and inland towns relying heavily on river trade, had a devastating effect, thought to have reduced the population of the area by 30%.

Stamford was badly effected in 1348 and the years that followed. The disease tended to die out in Winter, due to fleas being dormant at this time, however it continued to return in the warmer months for centuries. In 1604 Stamford experienced the worst epidemic it had ever seen. It wiped out over 600 people – one third of the population. Harsh measures were adopted in attempt to stop contagion; travelling in or out of town was forbidden. The well-off infected families ordered to stay inside, tended to by private doctors, and a black put cross on the door to warn away others. The poor were simply carted off to the deserted fringes of town. Those who worked with the infected carried white sticks so others knew to avoid them. The possessions of the dead were burned and their bodies buried at night to avoid contact with people.

Despite the loss and devastation caused by the plague, there was a silver lining to the black cloud. A great deal of residents also inherited money and several families left their property to their parish to be repurposed to serve the town as schools or almshouses.

Some Stamford institutions established because of plague:

  • Edward Wells, a shoemaker, left his house and land to All Saints parish to create a school for poor children. Wells Petty School became All Saints School in Austin Street.
  • Richard Snowden, vicar of St John’s church, left money to build an almshouse, Snowden’s Hospital, to house 7 poor widows.

Interesting Facts

The nursery rhyme “Ring-a-ring-a-roses” is thought  to be about the plague.

  • Ring-a-ring o’ roses, – pattern on the skin of a plague victim.
  • A pocket full of posies, – herbs carried to ward off the pestilence.
  • Atishoo, atishoo, – sneezing symptoms.
  • We all fall down. – victim dropping dead!

An iconic image of the plague is the plague doctors bird-like mask.
“They wore a mask with a bird-like beak to protect them from being infected by the disease, which they believed was airborne. In fact, they thought disease was spread by miasma, a noxious form of ‘bad air.’ To battle this imaginary threat, the long beak was packed with sweet smells, such as dried flowers, herbs and spices such as mint, lemon baln, cloves, rose petals and myrrh. However, though the beak mask has become an iconic symbol of the Black Death, there is no evidence it was actually worn during the 14th Century epidemic. Medical historians have in fact attributed the invention of the ‘beak doctor’ costume to a French doctor named Charles de Lorme in 1619.” (1)
The plague doctors, who operated separately from the ‘GP’s of the time, were often second rate or newly qualified doctors unable to find work elsewhere, some not even qualified physicians at all. They were paid by the town authorities and were given special privileges. For example, plague doctors were allowed to perform

The worst outbreak of the bubonic plague – sometimes known as “the black death” or “the great pestilence” – was in 1348. It can be traced back to China at the beginning of the 1300’s. The disease is now known to be carried by fleas that live on rats and you won’t find more rats in close proximity than on a ship. As China was one of the busiest trading areas in the world it didn’t take long for the sickness to be carried into Europe.
Sufferers main symptom was an outbreak of huge black boils that oozed blood and pus. This was followed by other painful symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever, sickness and delirium. Once victims were infected it could be passed on through the air. It was incredibly infectious and killed quickly; The Italian writer Boccaccio said its victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”
People were forced to abandon their loved ones in their suffering for fear of catching it themselves.
Little was known about the disease and medieval medicine had no cure. Many believed it to be a punishment from god and resorted to prayer or beatings in order to make penance for their sins. Some doctors attempted to treat it with blood letting, boil lancing and herbs.
Norfolk and the Eastern counties were some of the worst effected due to Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Norwich being positioned very close to one another. This, combined with the East coast having a large amount of seaports and inland towns relying heavily on river trade, had a devastating effect, thought to have reduced the population of the area by 30%.
Stamford was badly effected in 1348 and the years that followed. The disease tended to die out in Winter, due to fleas being dormant at this time, however it continued to return in the warmer months for centuries. In 1604 Stamford experienced the worst epidemic it had ever seen. It wiped out over 600 people – one third of the population. Harsh measures were adopted in attempt to stop contagion; travelling in or out of town was forbidden. The well-off infected families ordered to stay inside, tended to by private doctors, and a black put cross on the door to warn away others. The poor were simply carted off to the deserted fringes of town. Those who worked with the infected carried white sticks so others knew to avoid them. The possessions of the dead were burned and their bodies buried at night to avoid contact with people.
Despite the loss and devastation caused by the plague, there was a silver lining to the black cloud. A great deal of residents also inherited money and several families left their property to their parish to be repurposed to serve the town as schools or almshouses.
Some Stamford institutions established because of plague:
• Edward Wells, a shoemaker, left his house and land to All Saints parish to create a school for poor children. Wells Petty School became All Saints School in Austin Street.
• Richard Snowden, vicar of St John’s church, left money to build an almshouse, Snowden’s Hospital, to house 7 poor widows.

Interesting Facts
The nursery rhyme “Ring-a-ring-a-roses” is thought to be about the plague.
• Ring-a-ring o’ roses, – pattern on the skin of a plague victim.
• A pocket full of posies, – herbs carried to ward off the pestilence.
• Atishoo, atishoo, – sneezing symptoms.
• We all fall down. – victim dropping dead!
An iconic image of the plague is the plague doctors bird-like mask.
“They wore a mask with a bird-like beak to protect them from being infected by the disease, which they believed was airborne. In fact, they thought disease was spread by miasma, a noxious form of ‘bad air.’ To battle this imaginary threat, the long beak was packed with sweet smells, such as dried flowers, herbs and spices such as mint, lemon baln, cloves, rose petals and myrrh. However, though the beak mask has become an iconic symbol of the Black Death, there is no evidence it was actually worn during the 14th Century epidemic. Medical historians have in fact attributed the invention of the ‘beak doctor’ costume to a French doctor named Charles de Lorme in 1619.” (1)
The plague doctors, who operated separately from the ‘GP’s of the time, were often second rate or newly qualified doctors unable to find work elsewhere, some not even qualified physicians at all. They were paid by the town authorities and were given special privileges. For example, plague doctors were allowed to perform autopsies, something that was generally forbidden in Medieval Europe, to research a cure for the plague. In fact these doctors were so valuable that in 1650, in Spain, two were captured while travelling and held to ransom – which was swiftly paid.
(1) – http://www.historyanswers.co.uk/people-politics/why-did-doctors-during-the-black-death-wear-beak-masks/ 

References

HISTORY.com, (2015). Black Death – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com. [online] Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/black-death [Accessed 9 Sep. 2015].

Lincstothepast.com, (2011). Plagues and Potions | Lincs to the Past. [online] Available at: http://www.lincstothepast.com/exhibitions/lincs-through-the-ages/plagues-potions-and-pills/ [Accessed 9 Sep. 2015].

Shrewsbury, J. (2005). A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles. Oxford University Press.

Visitoruk.com, (2015). History Article Around Stamford | Stamford and the Black Death. [online] Available at: http://www.visitoruk.com/Stamford/black-death-C1207-HL1114.html [Accessed 9 Sep. 2015].

White, F. (2014). Why did doctors during the Black Death wear ‘beak masks’? | All About History. [online] Historyanswers.co.uk. Available at: http://www.historyanswers.co.uk/people-politics/why-did-doctors-during-the-black-death-wear-beak-masks/ [Accessed 9 Sep. 2015].

Wikipedia, (2015). Plague doctor. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_doctor [Accessed 9 Sep. 2015].

 

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