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The Bourne Archive


Fenland Notes and Queries. Edited by Rev. W.D. Sweeting, Rector of Maxey.

Part 16. January  1893.

This quarterly periodical took the form of a forum in which people sent in questions about the history, ecology and so on of the Fens and the region’s environs and others replied with some sort of answer. Some ‘answers’ seem to have been spontaneous, so qualifying as ‘notes’.

Bookmarks: – Baston: Cambridge: Dullingham: Histon: Peterborough: Rampton: Ramsey: Stamford: Thorney.

Health and Social Welfare

346 – The Plague in the Fens. – In the parish registers, and perhaps nowhere else, may be found mention of the different visitations of the plague in country places. A few such notices are here gathered together, in the hope of ascertaining the names of other places in the district where such visitations occurred.

The earliest parochial registers are of the date 1538. The last great visitation in England was in 1666. In Cooper’s Annals of Cambridge*1 are notices of the plague having visited Cambridge in no less than 25 years between those dates, inclusive. In nearly all “the business of the University was more or less interrupted in consequence of the visitation. In some years it is called ‘the sweating sickness,’ in others ‘the sickness,’ or simply ‘the visitation,’ but more generally ‘the plague’.    The ‘pest houses,’ however, remained up till the year 1703, when they were ordered by the Corporation to be taken down.” In some of these years, probably, the number of deaths was inconsiderable. The worst years, for the country in general, seem to have been these : – 1563, 1582, 1587, 1602, 1603, 1605, 1625, 1635-6, 1665-6. Sometimes it was followed in the next year by the plague appearing in the provinces.

In Gibbons’ Ely Episcopal Records, among the notes on the register transcripts, are several references to this subject. But in comparatively few of the country parishes is there evidence of any great mortality from the plague. In the town of Cambridge itself there are notes in many of the registers. The following are examples : –

All Saints.

1638.  Mr. Rd. Hewes, fellow of Jesus, of plague June 13. (Numbers “of the plague” to 10 Oct.)

1666   Great numbers died “of ye plague” between 20 July and 26 Nov.

S. Benedict.

1666   An excessive mortality: many marked “+ plague.”

S. Clement.

1638   Jonathan Waterhouse was burd. At the pest house July 28.

1666   Thos. Coward died off the Plague. July 31. (Mr. Robert Marchaunte, Sara Lightfoote, wid., and many others, down to October.)

S. Giles.

1630   89 burials ; usual number about 15.

1666   The Burialls of the visited att the Green and att Ham ffrom 23 June to 28 Nov. (Between 30 and 40.)

At Dullingham, in 1603, there was an excessive mortality, prefaced in July thus : –“The following died of the plague,” and ending in November “Heer by Godes mercy ye plague ceased.” At Histon, in 1655, and at Rampton, in 1631, (in which year there were 30 deaths, the usual number being 2 or 3,) there is recorded an unusual mortality, but it is not expressly stated that it was from the plague. These three places are just outside the limits of the Fen district.

 At Ramsey we have this entry: –

1666.  Ramsey visited wth ye plague this year. 16 Jul. Elizabeth the wife of Thomas Middleton was buried in her own Garden.

It is seldom in this register that the interment is noted as being otherwise than in the churchyard. Those who died of the plague are frequently entered as “buried the same day.” In Burn’s History of Parish Registers, p. 102, it is said that the visitation was “in or about February 1665,” and that “it was introduced into the place by a gentleman, who first caught the infection by wearing a coat, the cloth of which came from London : the tailor who made the coat, with all his family, died, as did no less than the number above mentioned [400].” 2

Occasionally the number of deaths was so great that no attempt was made to enter the burials in the register. Thus we find in the Thorney book : –

1666. Circa hoc tempus pestis plurimos corripuit, quorum nomina huic libello inserta non habes. 3

At Peterborough the notices in the registers are numerous, and full of sad interest. Readers will perhaps excuse a quotation from what I published about eight years ago on the plague at this place.*4

Mention is made of three different times when the town suffered from this terrible scourge. Of the first there is no detailed account. In January 1574-5 it is stated “Heare began the Plague.” There is nothing to let us know how many persons died, or how long it raged. Thirty-tow years later we read a little more about a second visitation. In Dec.1606 we have: –“Henry Renoulds came ffrom London where he dwelte ; sick of ye plague , and being received by Wyllyam Browne, died in his house : The said William soone after fell sick of ye plague and died, so did his sonne, his daughtr, and his servant only his wife, and her mayde escaped with soars. The plague brought by this means to Peterburgh continued there, till September followinge.” In July, within four days, five persons of a family named Turner were buried, no doubt victims of this plague.

But the most severe visitation was that which raged for twenty months in 1665 to 1667. In Sep. 1665 is this note: –“About this time the plague was supposed to be brought by a woman a stranger, from London, who was entertained at the Woodgrounds in the 40 acres. And they whose names have + were some suspected and some apparently dying of that disease.” The first interment thus marked is on 22 Sep. 1665, the last on 9 May 1667. As nearly as I can tabulate the deaths I make out that there are no less than 462, “Besides some 6 or 8 buried in Dosthorp not registered.” Until May, that is for the first nine months, the deaths were comparatively few, the most in one month being 11 : but for the following five months the mortality was terrible: 57 died in June, 121 in July, 97 in August, 60 in September, 49 in October. Once, eleven were buried on one day. The great majority of these were buried at the Pesthouse; but the necessity of the case obliged numbers to be interred immediately, at the nearest spot; thus, pf 47 burials we read that they took place in his yard,” or “in his close,” or “in an orchard,” or “in their garden.” Others were buried at the Woodgrounds, at Crawthorne, at Oxney, at Newark, at Tanholt, at Eastfield, at the Fenwash, at S. John’s Close, at Gibbinsholme. While 351 were buried at the Pesthouse, and only 12 in the churchyard. The vicar remained at his post throughout.*5 I do not find that any member of his family fell a victim to the disease ; though a daughter of his predecessor, Paul Pank, did so. At the foot of four pages the vicar testifies his thankfulness for his preservation in short Latin lines, which may be thus translated : –

“Simon Gunton6 beneath the wings of divine mercy safe hitherto.”

“Simon Gunton preserved by the goodness of God.”

“Simon Gunton vicar, surviving through the mercy of God.”

“Simon Gunton vicar, saved by the goodness and grace of God.”

Notices of the plague at Stamford are given by our correspondent, Mr. J. Simpson, in Notes and Queries, 6th S. ii. 524. In 1574, 1580, 1602-3, 1624, and 1641, that town suffered from “the sickness called the plague.” In 1602 it was ordered “that a cabin should be erected” for those visited; this was built on the site of the Carmelite Friary. Nearly 600 died at this visitation.

It will be seen that the whole of the places above mentioned (with the exception of three that are not strictly in the Fenland) are large or important places. It would be interesting to know what record there is of visitations in the villages. The only instance that has come to my notice is Baston, a village of about 700 inhabitants, four miles north of Market Deeping. The following are the entries in the burial register : –

1582                     BURIALS IN THE PLAGE

17 Aug.           Elizabeth the wyffe of Wm Poynton Christopher her son and the Infant.

17                    Ellyn the wyffe of John Smyth.

18                    Anne the doughter of Wm Poynton.

19                    Wm Poynton and Peregryne his son.

20                   Robert the son of wyddow moyses.

22                    Elizabeth the doughter of  Wm Parker.

22                    John Gent Wende.

23                    Johan Harriote of Tetford.

23                    Johan the wyffe of Wm Bonnet.

24                    Margaret Butcher Bonnyt’s Chyld & Parnell Poynton Robert Poynton.

25                    Mother Poynton.

27                    Wm Knight.

29                    Wm Bonnet.

2 Sep.             Thomas Clerke.

3                      Elizabethe Smythe and Alice Moyses.

10                    Ruthe the sarvaunt to Ryc fflond.

10                    May the daughter of Elisabeth Kitchen.

13                    Wm the son of the sayde Elisabeth.

14                    Harri Clerke the son of Ellin Clerk.

14                    Sethe the son of Thomas Smyth.

14                    Mary Parker the doughter of Robt Parker.

14                    Rycd the son of Ellyn Clerke was (sic) Robert Parker his son were buried.

16                    Elisabeth Downes & Anne Smythe.

19                    Ricd Haynes and Rob’t Parker.

21                    Robt Smyth Elisabeth Wylburne Wm Tayler.

28                    John the son of Wm Donnes.

4 Oct.              Jane Gye Elisabeth Baker and Anthony Everet.

4                      Anne the wyffe of Wm Caster.

5                      Mother Caster.

5                      Thommas Donnes Jane wuff to Cutberd Hammar.

6                      Rycd the sarvant to Rob’t Jessop Anne the daughter of Cutberd Hammar.

8                      Sicilia Gye wyddow.

11                    Johan the wyffe of Greggori Henes and Greggori his son.

12                    Embe Borrowe wyddo was Buried.

14                    Ursulay the wyffe of John Wylburne.

15                    Margret Howe.

18                    Wm Browne laborer.

19                    Isabell the doughter Christabell Tayler.

21                    Ellimor the doughter of Cutberd Hammar.

25                    Habell the son of Thomas Baker.

28                    Wm Parkerson.

30                   Christabell Tayler wyddow.

31                    Alice Bronne.

1 Nov.             Oulde Johan dyed and was Buried.

8                      Anne Jordane the ser(vant) Wm Cope.

14                    Wm fforman.

16                    Thomas the son of John Henes.

18                    Alice Beverley.

23                    George lewis.

24                    Humffre Christopherson.

18 Dec.           Anne the doughter of John Haynes.

20                   John Haynes.

26                    Johan Caster the ser(vant) to Thurstone Wallet.

10 Feb.           Alice the wyffe of Thorstane Wallet.

14                    Wm Cooper.

Two baptisms and one death “not of the plage,” are omitted in this extract. Such a list may seem more than is required to be given at length, but it is useful as an example of the rise and fall of the epidemic. It seems at Baston to have been violent at first, 12 dying in the first week ; in the fifth week to have become more severe, and then to have continued at 2 or 3 (once 9) in the week, till it ceased altogether. We see also, from such a list, how in some instances and entire family would appear to have Succumbed to the visitation. In six months there are recorded 72 deaths. At that date this number would probably represent a sixth of perhaps a fifth, part of the entire population.

From the entry quoted in Art. 346 it appears that the plague was severe in Lincolnshire in 1665. A brief circulated for the relief of those that were visited within the dioceses of Lincoln and London seems to indicate that in those two districts relief was most needed. It can hardly be doubted that many Lincolnshire registers supply evidence of the localities where the plague appeared in that county.


Footnotes with an asterisk are those of FNQ.

1*.      Quoted in Notes and Queries, 3rd s. vi. 299, in a communication signed by the well-known initials, E. V.

2.         See also FNQ 42 400 Persons Destroyed by a Coat at Ramsey.

3.         Around this time the plague carried away many, so that the names have not been inserted into this memorandum book.

4*.     In a Lecture on The Old Registers of the Parish of S. John Baptist, Peterborough, delivered in 1884. In an appendix are tables of the monthly deaths and places of interment during the last visitation.

5*.     It does not bear strictly upon my subject, but it is interesting to compare with this devotion of the vicar, the alarm of one of the prebendaries of the day, Thomas Greaves, who procured from the bishop a license to absent himself altogether, on the ground that he could not “during the continuance of that contagious Sickness with safety reside there, nor read the Morning and Evening Prayers in the Cathedral Church as the Act of Uniformity doth require.”

6.       Simon Gunton is remembered for his book on Peterborough Cathedral.