Exeter and the Black Death

Nobody would deny that 2020 has been a very challenging year for many people as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt throughout the world. However, it is worth remembering that hard as things are now, there have often been much darker times in the past, as this extract from my book, A-Z of Exeter – Places, People, History (Amberley, 2019) reminds us:

“Although historical detail on the outbreaks is perhaps mercifully rather lacking, the several outbreaks of plague to hit the city in medieval times were probably the worst things to ever happen in Exeter.

Just as the disastrous 1918-19 influenza pandemic was contributed to by the return of servicemen from the First World War, the return of warriors from the Sixth Crusade probably helped facilitate the spread the plague to many areas including Exeter in 1234. It is thought more than two thirds of the city’s population died. Life for the remaining 30% (or so) during this dark period could not have been very pleasant either.

In 1349-1351, the survivors’ great-grandchildren went through much the same thing when The Black Death hit the city with particular severity. This time, half of the city was wiped out. A further third were killed when the plague returned eleven years’ later. Amongst other things, the outbreaks led to a delay in the competition of the construction of Exeter Cathedral.

In general, it is believed the global population fell from 450 million to 375 million as a result of the Black Death with the population not returning to its previous level for around 200 years.

The plague returned again in 1479-80 and again (now after the medieval era) in 1542, claiming the life of the father of Tudro historian John Hooker amongst many others.

Later, the city braced itself for the arrival of the Great Plague in 1665. Preparations were made. Fear was widespread. Mercifully, this time, Exeter was spared.

Exeter has also been subject to other periodic outbreaks of disease. Just over 400 people were killed by a cholera outbreak in Exeter and St Thomas in 1832.”

A-Z of Exeter – Places, People, History (2019) is available now from Amberley books. https://amzn.to/2WpWHFH

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