Monday, 5 October 2015

1665: London's Last Great Plague

I forego mentioning many of the online lectures offered by Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution. Although often interesting relatively few deal with topics of direct interest for family history.

Just posted, recognizing the 350th anniversary of London's devastating outbreak of plague in which some 70,000 people died and the royal court moved to Oxford, is a lecture by Professor Vanessa Harding -- 1665: London's Last Great Plague

Understanding of 17th century London would be impoverished if not for regular weekly official handbills reporting the previous week’s deaths and causes of death known as Bills of Mortality.

As Harding points out:
The principal justification for collecting the information was to be able to detect the onset of an epidemic – a sustained rise in weekly death totals in the early summer was a pretty good indication – so that those with responsibilities could plan their strategies. But ordinary Londoners became expert at assessing the implications of the weekly Bill, especially as it charted the spread of plague from parish to parish.
It's a mark of how far we haven't come that, as far as I know, no such regular public source of  current statistics exists today. In Britain the best similar data I'm aware of, lacking detail on cause of death, is the ONS publication of Weekly Provisional Figures on Deaths Registered in England and Wales. The latest is for the week ending 28 August 2015.  Statistics Canada publishes annual Deaths, estimates, by province and territory. There are specialist annual publications in Canada on topics like cancer deaths so the information must exist. If anyone knows of a source, in whatever jurisdiction, please post a comment.

1 comment:

Hugh Reekie said...

The Plague is still with us. It is strongly present in groups of prairie dogs in the western USA. An angry domestic outdoor cat in Oregon bit his owner - who came down with the plague; he nearly died and and lost all his fingers.