The years 1346-53 saw huge levels of the population wiped out by a deadly plague, known as the ‘Black Death’. With so much of the Continent’s supplies being transported by ships, rats were everywhere and had easy access to move to and from locations, carrying all manner of disease and bacteria.
With no knowledge of hygiene or the potential problems that could arise with the spread of germs, residents in the affected countries had no idea how to control the spread of disease. Dead bodies, human and animal faeces and rodents all dwelled on the streets of London; the stench would have been overpowering. This environment offered the ideal breeding ground for bacteria and the perfect conditions for diseases such as the Black Death.
Unlike today, there were no main roads in the city. Transport consisted mainly of horses and carts, and a large percentage of people had to travel on foot. With such slow modes of transportation, fresh food and produce was not widely available, and anything that was fresh didn’t remain so for very long. Preserving foods in the 14th, 15 th and 16 th centuries consisted mainly of salting foods, as there was no refrigeration. Now, you can imagine what this meant for decomposing bodies.
Sadly, the only form of control people knew of in the 14th century was to lock away entire families if one or more members had been contaminated. Their door would be marked with a red cross, and they were not to come out for 40 days and 40 nights. In almost all cases, the family died within the first seven days, and all that was left by the 40th day was a mound of rotting corpses.
Nearly 200 years later, when the plague hit again, there was still no cure and people still didn’t know any better. The population was not aware of germs, how they spread or how to avoid them. The disease was able to manifest itself in communities and it spread very quickly. Some ‘doctors’ had an array of techniques that were thought to help patients. However, much of this was speculation, and there was little to no medical research behind it.
London has changed a great deal over the centuries and has withstood many trials, including two World Wars, the Great Fire, plagues and terrorist attacks. While you may think it is completely unrecognisable now, there are still some pockets of London that bare the scars of the past, for all to see – if you know where to look.
A tour guide is one of the best ways to view London. They have an answer to (nearly) everything and will make sure they share all their hidden tips and tricks with you so that your visit is the best it can be. For more information on our London Tours, including Jack the Ripper and The Krays tours, get in touch! We look forward to showing you around this incredible city.