London under Black Death attack

Black Death - London

According to historical accounts, a bright comet, shot across the skyline of London in the winter of 1664… Fear abounded, questioning what events were to take place.

17th century London was much different, than we see it today.  It was surrounded by a city wall, and gates located at; Ludgate, Newgate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate and Cripplegate, which covered an area of some four-hundred and fifty acres.

Property varied from large houses with many servants, to town houses, and timbered framed Tudor styled houses and tenement styled properties to house the poor of that time.

Sanitation … what sanitation!  For they had open drains, you have to remember sewers did not come into use, until the 19th century.  Sewage, rubbish and slops were tossed into the streets.

London was overcrowded as pedestrians and horse-drawn hackney carriages fought their way along roads.

Shanty towns were built outside the city walls, they consisted of wooden shacks, and sanitation, did not exist, so it became a breeding ground for diseases.  It is believed some 250,000 people resided in these rat-infested slums.

As with many diseases at that time, “Bubonic Plague” was not understood, but feared by many… they would blame the cause on anything from weather, livestock sickness or abnormal animal behaviour.

In 1662 an approximate census, stated that some 384,000 people were believed to be living within the City of London, and by 1665 it had increased to 460,000.

Reports of the Black Death Plague reached the ears of those in England in the early part of the 1660’s.

Ships destined for London from the continent, arriving from the autumn of 1663, were quarantined on Canvey Island for thirty days before travelling up river to London Docks.  In May 1664 quarantines were increased to forty days as the continental plague increased.

The first appearance of the Black Death Plague appeared in the English port of Melcombe Regis on the 8th May 1348.  Many died as it ran rampant across England, and subsided in 1350.

The plague did not strike us and go away completely, it returned many times in small outbreaks over the next few centuries.

1361-62, 1369, 1378-83, 1389-93, 1471, 1479-80, 1498, 1535, 1543, 1563 and 1589.

From 1603 “The Bills of Mortality” were published on a regular basis, which showed registered recorded deaths, as a result of the plague.

1603 = 33,347 plague victims.

1625 = 41,313 plague victims.

1640-46 = 11,000 plague victims.

1647 = 3,597 plague victims.

The Great Plague of London, first infested the docklands on the outskirts of London and the parish of St.Giles in the Fields, areas consisting of the poor, living in poor sanitation, and housing.  Firstly in December 1664 and then again in February 1665 which totalled up to 400 deaths per week during this period, yet few were officially listed as plague deaths.

Yet quarantine rules were implemented, any house found with infected inhabitants, was sealed shut with them inside.

As the warm weather arrived in May, so the deaths started increasing.

By July 1665, the plague had become rampant in the City of London, and King Charles II, like many other important people, took their families out of the city.

Many poor died from this wretched plague, some from starvation and then thirst caused by the hot summer of that year.

As the number of deaths rose, burial grounds filled quickly … public alarmed by the number of bodies being taken for burial.  Streets had become empty, except for carts carrying away the dead bodies.

Some 2,000 were dying at the hottest time of the summer, each and every week, by September the number had risen to 7,000 per week and the plague was well out of control.

By late autumn, the death toll started dropping and by February 1666, it was deemed safe for the King to return to London.

The occasional plague death, continued until the summer of 1666, and the last officially recorded death from the plague was registered in 1679.

The estimated death rate of the London plague is believed to have reached some 200,000 souls.

The Great Plague of London affected the poor, as they had nowhere else to go…

The plague may have died… more than likely just dormant, so we should be on our guard in case it should return.


Sir Christopher Wren


Sir Christopher Wren

Christopher Wren was born on the 20th October 1632, in East Knoyle, Wiltshire.  His father Christopher Wren, was rector of East Knoyle, and later Dean of Windsor, and mother Mary Cox, daughter of Wiltshire squire Robert Cox.

His early education was under the tutorage of Rev. William Shepherd.  Then between 1641 and 1646 attended Westminster School, where he received a thorough grounding in Latin, Mathematics, and learnt to draw, which led to an interest in design and construction.

In June 1650, Wren studied Latin and the works of Aristotle at Wadham College, Oxford.  Whilst there became associated with John Wilkins, and the Wilkins Circle; Mathematicians, Creative Workers and Philosophers, whose works led to the formation of the Royal Society.

In 1651 graduated with a B.A. and in 1653 had attained an M.A. and elected a fellow of All Souls College, and actively pursued a period of research and experimentation.

In 1657 Wren was appointed Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College in London.

For it was in 1662, that Lord Brouncker, Mr Boyle, Mr Bruce, Sir Robert Moray, Sir Paul Neile, Dr Wilkins, Dr Goddard, Dr Petty, Mr Ball, Mr Rooke, Mr Hill and Mr Wren, proposed the formation of a socity; “For the promotion of Physico-Mathematicall Experimental Learning.”  They received a Royal Charter from Charles II, and so “The Royal Society,” was formed.  Wren became president of the Royal Society from 1680-1682.

In 1661, Wren was elected as Savilian Professor at Oxford, and Surveyor of Works to Charles II.

Wren’s scientific work covered, astronomy optics, longitude, cosmology, mechanics, microscopy, surveying, medicine and meteorology.  It was at this time his thoughts were drawn into the world of architecture.

In 1665, Wren was asked to redesign the now ruined St.Paul’s Cathedral, but before he could submit his initial plans, two-thirds of London was destroyed by fire.

The Great Fire of London saw the Destruction of 13,500 houses, 87 churches, The Royal Exchange, St,Paul’s Cathedral, Bridewell Palace, City Prisons etc.

King Charles II appointed six commissioners to redesign the city, built out of brick with larger roadways.  Sir Christopher Wren was appointed to design and oversee the construction of 50 churches and St.Paul’s Cathedral, which must be considered one of his highest achievements, and on the 14th November 1673 he was knighted.

It was not until June 1675, that the first stone was laid for St.Paul’s Cathedral.  The design resembled that of St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with saucer domes inspired by the works of Francois Mansart’s Val-de Grace in Paris.

The Cathedral was built out of Portland stone, sat on soft London earth in a Renaissance style, which represents Wren’s version of an English Baroque building.  It rises 365 feet in height, domination Landon’s skyline.

As Kings Surveyor of Works in 1669, he played his part in the re-building of London, and was responsible for fifty-one new churches, and knighted on the 14th November 1673.

He dabbled his foot a bit in politics, and in 1680 became Member of Parliament for Old Windsor, then again in 1689 and 1690, but never took his seat.

In 1669 Wren married Faith Coghill, daughter of Sir John Coghill of Bletchingdon, and they had two children; Gilbert who died of convulsions and Christopher, who trained to be an architect.  His wife Faith died in September 1675 of smallpox and was buried in St.Martin-in-the-Fields alongside her son Gilbert.

In 1677 Wren re-married Jane Fitzwilliam daughter of William Fitzwilliam, 2nd Baron Fitzwilliam.  They had two children, Jane and Billy.  His wife Jane died of tuberculosis in 1680, and was buried alongside his first wife Faith in the Chancel of St.Martin-in-the-Fields.

On the 25th February 1723, Sir Christopher Wren died aged 90, and was laid to rest on 5th March 1726, in St.Paul’s Cathedral crypt.  The inscription inscribed in a circle of black marble reads:  Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good.  Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.