There have been many outbreaks of plague across the World but the Great Plague of 1665 was the last major outbreak in England. It is said to have come to London from Dutch trading ships and it spread at an alarming rate through the city. Meanwhile the people of Eyam (a tiny village over 150 miles away in Derbyshire) probably thought they were safe from the Great Plague. Unfortunately, they too were about to experience its devastating effects.
To celebrate the 350th year after the Great Plague ended we are releasing two sets of worksheets; one about the Great Plague in London and the other about the village of Eyam, the people of whom put themselves under quarantine in an attempt to prevent the spread of disease across the country.
It is thought that the Great Plague was spread by fleas that lived on the blood of black rats. Due to the poor sanitation in London the Great Plague spread quickly. Once someone had died of the plague in a house, a red cross was painted on the door along with the words ‘Lord have mercy upon us’. To try to prevent the spread of disease the doors to these houses were locked with the people inside for forty days with a watchman on guard outside. Most of the people living in these houses died, either from the plague or from abandonment.
In Eyam a tailor called Alexander Hadfield ordered a box of cloth from London. When it arrived it was opened by his assistant George Viccars who, finding that the cloth inside was damp, hung it up in front of the fire to dry. It is believed that the cloth had rat fleas or eggs on it and when George opened it up they fell out. He was probably bitten by one of the fleas and he died of the plague about a week later, on 7th September 1665. It was not long before the plague had a stronghold in the village. At that time no one understood why or how the disease was spreading, some people came to the conclusion that it was God’s wrath on sinful people and so it had to be endured whatever the cost. The people of Eyam were very frightened and some families decided to leave the village and go and stay with friends or family elsewhere. Read the worksheet to find out about the quarantine that the village imposed upon themselves and discover what happened to some of the families.