We all love a bit of morbidity, don’t we? Well, I’m pretty sure it’s not just me anyway. A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Edinburgh. Just off the Royal Mile there is a well known street that goes by the name of Mary King’s Close. Everyone who’s remotely interested in ghosts has usually heard of this mysterious Close due to the myth that in 1645 the tenants became infected by the plague and were bricked up inside and left to die. Their terrible plague ridden ghosts are said to haunt the close with great abandon… In reality it would seem that this horrific event didn’t actually happen, but paranormal tours don’t try too hard to enlighten their customers. Well, where’s the fun in that? Anyway, it got me thinking – what happened to all the plague victims in London?
According to Daniel Defoe’s, A Journal of the Plague Year:
”Tis certain they died by heaps and were buried by heaps; that is to say, without account.’
The Bills of Mortality list 68,576 plague victims in the capital but it would appear that the true figure is probably nearer 100,000. That’s an awful lot of people. So where did these poor souls end up? There certainly aren’t enough individual graves littered around to account for them.
Well, the answer is that most of them were unceremoniously dumped into huge plague pits sprinkled in and around London. One of the earliest plague pits was dug in 1348 at Charterhouse Square for victims of the Black Death. The Black Death gained its nickname because the skin of victims turned black. Lovely. Tens of thousands of bodies were buried at Charterhouse Square. There was another great pit at Aldgate and also one at Finsbury Fields.
Whilst listing these pits of despair, we mustn’t forget the plague pit from the 17th century at Green Park which proved quite troublesome when the Underground network was being constructed in 1960 and construction workers managed to bore straight through the middle of it. What a shock that must have been. Another plague pit received unwanted attention when it was discovered in the London Depot on the Bakerloo Line. Although no paranormal activity as such has been reported, few staff are willing to go down to the tunnels, especially at night. Some people have no sense of adventure.
If you happen to be loitering around Bishopsgate during your lunch hour, you may notice that some office blocks do not occupy the full building plots, leaving some small areas empty. This is because these innocent little parcels of land are plague pit sites. Still hungry?
Recently, under the Surrey side of London Bridge, workers were horrified to discover the 17th century remains of suspected plague victims – although some skulls were found to have rather suspicious holes in them leading some to believe that their owners’ endings may have been rather more questionable. Builders working in the vaults aren’t best pleased about working there anymore because of the unexplained noises they hear and the mysterious figures glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.
Of course, there will always be someone who actively seeks out encounters with the plague ridden dead. And no, it’s not always me. Here we see a group of people called the Londonists doing what they do best – creeping around in the plague pit found under London Bridge:
Some people have all the fun.
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010