The London Plague of 1665
By Gene Openshaw
The Grim Reaper — in the form of the bacteria Yersinia pestis (bubonic plague) — rode through London atop a black rat, killing one in six, while leaving the buildings standing. (The next year, the buildings burned.) It started in the spring as "the Poore's Plague," neglected until it spread to richer neighborhoods. During the especially hot summer, 5,000 died each week. By December, St. Bride's congregation was 2,111 souls fewer.
Victims passed through several days of agony: headaches, vomiting, fever, shivering, swollen tongue, and swollen buboes (lumps) on the groin glands. After your skin turned blotchy black (the "Black Death"), you died, and "Searchers of the Dead" carted you off to a mass grave.
The disease was blamed on dogs and cats, and paid dog-killers destroyed tens of thousands of pets, bringing even more rats. People who didn't die tried to leave. The Lord Mayor quarantined the whole city within the walls, so the only way out was to produce (or afford) a "certificate of health."
By fall, London was a ghost town, and throughout England, people avoided Londoners like the Plague. It took the Great Fire of 1666 to fully cleanse the city of the disease.