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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Living with the plague

The plague arrives

When the Great Plague struck London in 1665, the country was only too aware of the devastation this kind of epidemic could wreak. The Black Death was first diagnosed in 1348 and wiped out nearly a third of England’s population. No-one knew the cause and it was not until the 20th Century that scientific research revealed that both the bubonic and the pneumonic plague were caused by rats.

Eyam house
George Viccars' house
© Courtesy of Derbyshire County Council Cultural and Community Services
Like the Black Death, the Great Plague was by no means confined to London. Trade and flight from infected areas caused the disease to spread to other urban and rural areas including Newcastle, Southampton, and Eyam. Tailor, George Viccars, brought the plague to Eyam in August 1665, by bringing a box full of cloth infected with fleas carrying the disease. The disease soon established a deadly hold over Eyam, claiming six victims in the first three weeks after Viccars’ death. Numbers petered out the following year when only two victims died of the plague in May, giving the villagers false hope of a reprieve. However, the summer months of June 1666 brought more deaths and an extraordinary decision.


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