The Plague of August 1626....... During this period the Mayor and Justices ordered all cats and dogs to be kept in confinement.

Last year for Christmas I got ‘Leicester Monopoly’, today I dragged it on my shelf, opened it and tried desperately to find an ‘Escape Card’. All I found was a Community Chest and a Chance. A Community Chest which no doubt will be empty soon and a Chance, a chance for what?

Leicester is also a town of many firsts. We were the first Environment City, Leicester Market is the largest outdoor covered marketplace in Europe, Leicester is said to have more traffic lights than any other city in the UK and was the first to have both traffic lights and traffic wardens, Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, with a history going back at least 2,000 years. It appears in the Doomsday Book as ‘Ledecestre’, in 1841 Thomas Cook organised the world’s first package tour all the way from Leicester to Loughborough for a temperance meeting, BBC Radio Leicester was Britain’s first mainland local radio station when it began to broadcast in November 1967, Leicester was in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1961 when the city’s Tesco was the largest store in Europe.

So, the year 2020 will probably go down in history and the 30th June 2020 will go down in history as another one of Leicester’s great firsts………. The first city to go on local lockdown!!!!

But its not the first time Leicester has gone into lockdown. During its extremely colourful history, Leicester has suffered from several outbreaks of plague.

A document written on 4 November 1593 shows how much the town was suffering. When the plague broke out in September 1593, Leicester was for the most part quarantined. Its inhabitants were forbidden from leaving and few were allowed in. This may have curtailed the spread of infection, but it also retarded business. The town quickly began to suffer economically as trade and markets ceased and people ran out of money. A report of the town showed just how desperate the situation was. Out of twenty-one houses visited, twenty were infected with plague, with an average loss of between one and five people per house on one day alone. But it was also found that there were between five and six hundred people within Leicester unaffected by the plague but unable to work because of the epidemic and therefore on the verge of destitution. The epidemic was costing the town £20 a week to send out watchmen to tend to the sick and keep them isolated, as well as maintaining those unable to work.

The plague continued during the years 1610 and 1611. The assizes were held at Hinckley inplace of Leicester. So severe were the measures taken to confine the people infected with the plague in their houses that the watchmen were provided with bolts to shoot at anyone who might endeavour to escape from their confinement.

Each of the parishes of Leicester suffered, although St Martin's appears to have been worse hit. St Martin’s average rate of mortality for more than half a century had been thirty-two. It rose in this year to one hundred and sixty-three. In St Nicholas out of the thirty-one who died that year, fifteen died of the plague.  In St Mary's parish register those dying from the plague are distinguished from the ordinary burials by a P against each insertion. The average number of burials before this time was no more than eighteen but at this period those dying of the epidemic reached one hundred and sixty. The registers show that in some instances whole families were swept away with the disease. In All Saints Parish no distinctive mark appears in their records to denote those dying of this infection. The number dying reached seventy-eight whilst its average for the previous five years had been twenty deaths. At the end of the record for burials in 1611 is this remark  -

“This year there was a great plague in Leicester so that there died above 600 in the town”

Watchmen and Searchers were employed. Chains were put over bridges and all rights to enter a property, and to exit a property from the streets and lanes were forbidden. Each Parish had a Pest House which was brought into full use. In the absence of pestilence in the town, Pest Houses were used for ordinary purposes as dwelling houses.

During the years 1625 to 1626 fears of the existence of the plague in London and its appearance in Leicester had reached the inhabitants. On 11th July the authorities commanded Simson and Henshaw the popular carriers between Leicester and London to bring their journeys to an end until further preparations could be made. Watchmen were hired to watch all the gates and entrances of the town to prevent Londoners and other foreigners from coming in and spreading the infection and several tradesmen were fined for bringing wares in from London. Stokes a haberdasher secured some hats from London by the hands of a carrier who left them at a village near to Daventry. Stokes caught the contagion on his visit and died of it a few days later. The fear of the plague did not however deter the corporation from having a venison feast at the Town Hall, they hoped by locking the town gates every night to keep out the terrible foe would protect them.

 On the 25th July the Pest Houses were ordered to be made clear of their tenants, repaired, and made suitable for the returning disease. No one arriving from London or any other area  where the plague had established itself could lodge in Leicester.

A new pest house was built in the St Nicholas's parish. The disease rampant from the 26th of May until July or August 1626. During this period the mayor and justices ordered all cats and dogs to be kept in confinement. All pigs prevented from wandering about the streets and all waste to be removed out of the public ways. The plague was victorious through the areas of  Soar Lane at the North Gate, Red Cross and in St Mary's Close where some of the dead were buried.

In 1636  the much-dreaded plague again appeared among the inhabitants. On 15th August, the mayor and justices made an order that the carriers between Leicester and London should be prevented from continuing their usual journeys until such time as another order might be agreed upon. The Aldermen of the Wards held meetings with their Constables to warn every housekeeper not to receive any strangers into their lodgings until they had first informed the Mayor or Alderman of their Parish. Watchers were appointed again to take their posts from the hour of sunrise until nine o clock in the evening at the following places - St James's Chapel, The Horsefair leys, The Barrell Cross, Gallowtree Gate, The Spittlehouse, The Cow Pasture Gate, St Sunday's bridge and the West bridge.

Towards the end of the year the plague again arrived in the town, claiming its first victim in the White Hart Inn on Belgrave Gate. Mr Chapman the  Town Recorder wrote to the Mayor to say that the judges would not attend the approaching assizes in spring unless he could satisfy them that the plague had disappeared from the town.

Between the 30th of August 1638 and the 2nd of February 1639 forty-one people died and the number of houses visited was seventeen. A family of seven living in one house fell victims to the disease.

In January 1665, Plague was rife in London and precautionary measures were taken to prevent the introduction of the disease in Leicester. The course action which was taken in 1625 was again used 1665 but not to the same extent. Pest Houses were not erected nor were Searchers and Watchers appointed. The dead were buried in the graveyards according to the usual custom. Mortality rates did increase that year, but it is unsure whether Plague was to blame. In St Martin's parish death rates rose to sixty-five a number which had not been seen since 1610, 1666 and 1667, the number of deaths in  All Saints rose from an average of eighteen to thirty-seven. St Margaret's increased from thirty-seven to sixty-six and in St Mary's from twenty to forty.

In 1833, an article printed in the Leicester Journal suggested that another pandemic, Influenza may be the forerunner for the more dangerous complaints.

the article goes on to read……

” under the idea that this influenza may the precursor other more alarming disorders, and in this view of the subject is supported experience; for 1580 the influenza preceded the plague; in 1658 was followed a fatal epidemic fever; in 1713 the plague; in 1762 by violent dysentery; 1813 ophthalmia and dysentery; and in 1831 by the cholera. Without wishing to excite any unnecessary alarm, we join most heartily recommending all proper measures to affect the removal of nuisances which contaminate the air, and of themselves engender disease."



The plague is still around today but unlike Europe's medieval disastrous bubonic plague epidemic, the plague is now curable in most cases. It can successfully be treated with antibiotics and prompt treatment can lower your risk of death to approximately 11 percent.