Fire and Plague

At Creating Text(iles), a blog I’m very fond of, Ann noted that 2 September was the anniversary of the start of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

She had a link to this brief history of the fire. It repeats the common belief that the Fire halted the spread of the Great Plague by killing off the city’s rats (also here, here, and no doubt many other plaes online, often, I should point out, perfectly respectable sites).

Well, to continue a theme in recent posts, this is yet another of those Things We Forgot To Remember Properly. Firstly, the outbreak of plague in London had peaked a full year earlier. Secondly, the fire only really hit the City of London, and that part of London had not been among the areas worst hit by plague.

Debunkers here (you’ll need to scroll down), here, etc. This detailed essay about the patterns of plague outbreaks in 17th-century London contains a graph that clearly shows the peak in burials in around September 1665 (about half-way down the page).

Reading even a few sites on the Fire of 1666 throws up some painful parallels with much more recent events: a vulnerable city, warnings ignored, anti-fire measures neglected, a need afterwards to find scapegoats.

Act of God or Papist Plot?

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3 Responses to Fire and Plague

  1. eb says:

    It’s not about 1665, but this Thomas Dekker pamphlet (which you may already have seen) on 1603 is a great example of finding humor (sorry, humour) in the face of adversity.

  2. zhoen says:

    OH, I don’t know, It’s putting a very good face on it, isn’t it? To imagine they would all be dead of Plague if the fire hadn’t happened along to “save” them? Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Document better historical fact, and someone else will just come along and twist it around into a different (equally wrong) good story.


    Damn the data, full plot ahead!

  3. Jim says:

    The affects of plague, be it in london or anywhere else, are devastating.

    I want to know one thing! what if we kill all the rats in the world? would we still have any disease such as plague left with us?

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