A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.
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From the restoration of Charles II. to the destruction of London by the great fire in 1666.
King Charles II. was proclaimed May the 8th 1660, at the usual places with great state; the two houses attended, as did the lord-mayor, aldermen, recorder, and sheriffs, with the trained bands. In the mean time the city deputies arrived at the Hague, where in the name of the city of London they presented his majesty with 10,000l. they were graciously received, and had the honour of knighthood conferred on them. The king told them, that he ever had a particular affection for the city of London, the place of his birth; and that he was exceedingly pleased at their bearing so good a part in his restoration, for which he returned them his thanks.
The king landed at Dover on the 26th, and on the 29th which was his birth day, he was met in St. George's fields by the lord-mayor and aldermen of London; the former of whom presenting him with the city sword, received it back with the honour of knighthood. The king here partook of a collation in a magnificent tent pitched for the occasion; after which he was conducted through London to Whitehall with triumphal pomp; the corporations and trained bands lining the streets and the conduits running with diverts sorts of wine. The order of this magnificent cavalcade, is thus delivered down to us.
Still farther to obliterate the remembrance of all former animosities, the corporation, on July 5th, entertained the king, his brothers, the great officers of state, and both houses of parliament at Guildhall.
Monarchy being now restored, prelacy was revived, and the streams of government returned to their former channels. The interest of money had been reduced from 8 to 6 per cent. in 1651; but this, though a proper measure, being thought to be done by improper hands, it now was enacted by the compleat legislative authority (fn. 1), and furnishes a convincing proof, that commerce had suffered no material injury during the late commotions.
Tea which is now in such general use as to be considered as a necessary of life among all ranks of people; is first mentioned in the statutes of this year, by the act which settled on the king during his life an excise on malt liquors, cyder, perry, mead, spirits, or strong waters, coffee, tea, sherbet and chocolate (fn. 2).
The exile and distresses of Charles, had furnished him with more experience of mankind than usually falls to the share of kings; he was sociable in his disposition, rather dissolute in his morals; and his court wore an appearance of gaiety quite opposite to the sour manners of the sectaries that had so long enjoyed the power of the kingdom: in short grimace and fanaticism were giving place to licentiousness. Yet the fumes of enthusiasm did not subside at once, or evaporate quietly, without shewing another instance of what madness they were capable of inspiring. On Venner a cooper, and preacher among the Millen narians, or fifth-monarchy men, irritated at the confinement of some of his flock for their extravagancies; assembled about sixty of his followers in their meeting house in Swan-alley Coleman-street, on Sunday January 6th 1661, and formed a design the most frantic that heated imaginations could conceive. Possessed with the delusion "That no weapons formed against them should prosper, nor a hair of their heads be touched; and that one of them should chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight;" they determined to erect a fifth monarchy for the personal reign of Jesus Christ upon earth. In their declaration they professed "that they would never sheathe their swords till Babylon [monarchy] became an hissing and a curse, and there be left neither remnant, son nor nephew. That, when they had led captivity captive in England, they would go into France, Spain, Germany, &c. and rather die than take the wicked oaths of supremacy and allegiance: that they would not make any league with monarchists; but would rise up against the carnal, to possess the gate, or the world, To bind their kings in chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron."
When they were sufficiently intoxicated for this glorious enterprize, they sallied forth well armed and declared for King Jesus. They marched into St. Paul's church-yard, where questioning one unhappy man, who he was for, and he answering "for God and King Charles," they instantly murdered him. The lord-mayor, Sir Richard Brown receiving notice of this insurrection, hastened with a party of the trained bands to suppress it, but was soon routed by these insatuated enemies: they then marched up one street and down another, proclaiming King Jesus, who they said was their invisible leader; but being informed that a party of horse was sent against them they thought proper to retreat. In Beech-lane, they killed a headborough who ventured to obstruct them; and retired to Cane-wood near Hampstead, where they passed the night. The next morning a party of horse and foot drove them out of the wood, and took some of them prisoners; but the remainder of them assembled and returned to London the next day, where they divided into two parties. The one advanced toward Leadenhall, but being pursued by a body of the trained bands, they were dispersed after a smart skirmish in Little Eastcheap: Venner at the head of the other attempted to surprize the lord-mayor at Haberdasher's-hall in Maiden-lane; but not meeting with him there, they were encountered in Woodstreet by a party of the trained bands whom they again desperately withstood. But a body of horse arriving, Venner was at length wounded and taken, and two others killed; on which the rest retreated in good order toward Cripplegate, where they took possession of an alehouse, which was obstinately defended until seven of them were killed. The subduing these mad enthusiasts cost the lives of 20 of the king's troops beside some of the trained bands and others: of the insurgents about 20 were killed, 14 were taken, 11 of whom were executed; and these persisted to the last in affirming, that if they were deceived, it was the Lord that had deceived them (fn. 3).
The king's coronation was appointed for the 23d of April, and on the day preceding, conformable to antient custom, he rode in solemn cavalcade from the Tower of London through the city to Westminster. The city on this occasion exhibited the utmost splendour and magnificence; four emblematical triumphal arches were erected; the one in Leaden-hall-street, of the Doric order, representing his majesty's arrival; the second near the Royal-Exchange in Cornhill, was adorned with naval trophies; the third in Cheapside, near the end of Woodstreet, of the Corinthian and Composite orders, represented Concord; and the fourth which stood in Fleet-street near Whitefriars, of the Doric and Ionic orders, exhibited the emblems of Plenty. As the king passed through the city, the London ministers attended him with acclamations, and by the hands of Mr. Arthur Jackson, presented him with a bible richly adorned; which when he received, he assured them it should be the rule of his actions (fn. 4). How well he observed this promise, let the historians of his profligate life and inglorious reign declare.
The number of hackney coaches in London and Westminster, now amounted to 400, and in consideration of the extraordinary wearing of the pavement by their means, it was enacted that all hackney coaches should pay 5l. a year toward paving and cleansing the streets: and that every load of hay should pay 6d, and of straw 2d. The same statute also impowered the city to enlarge the passages into Stocks market; from the Fleet conduit into St. Paul's church-yard; the passage and gate-way out of Cheapside into St. Paul's church-yard; the passage at St. Dunstan's-church Fleet-street; from Cheapside into Bucklersbury; the passage at Temple-bar; and several more in the out parts. It also directed the following streets to be paved; Pall-mall, St. James's-street, Hedge-lane, and from Petty France to St. James's house (fn. 5).
The king by letters patent dated April 10th 1662, confirmed to the corporation of London, their property in the Irish estates, of which they had been deprived by a decree of the Star-chamber. The original grant by king James I. has been already mentioned in its proper place (fn. 6); and it may be farther observed on occasion of this confirmation; by which those estates are now held; that after the original grant, the committee nominated by the city were then incorporated by the name of the society of the governor and assistants, London, of the new plantation in Ulster, within the realm of Ireland. It was directed that the committee should consist of a governor, deputy-governor, and twenty-four assistants; whereof the governor and five of the assistants were to be aldermen; the recorder for the time being to be an assistant, and the deputy-governor and the rest of the assistants to be commoners.
To this society and their successors King James granted, the city, fort, and town of Derry, and the whole island of Derry, town of Colerain, and all the castles, towns, villages, and lands, in the county of Londonderry: to hold the city of Londonderry and 4000 acres of land adjoining upon Derry side, and the town of Colerain and 3000 acres next adjoining, of the king, his heirs, and successors, in free burgage, as of his castle of Dublin: and to hold the rest of the castles, manors, lands, and tenements, of the king, and his heirs and successors, as of the castle of Dublin, by fealty only, in free and common soccage, and not in capite, or by knight's service. In pursuance of which charter the city expended great sums of money to improve the premises, and divided the whole county of Londonderry into thirteen parts: the first part, containing the city of Londonderry and town of Colerain, and some lands adjoining to each of them and the fisheries, was retained by the society in their own possession, to defray the charge of the general work of the plantation, and to answer the other purposes of the charter; and the surplus, if any, to be divided amongst the twelve companies and other of the companies that had contributed toward the expence of the plantation. The other parts being divided into twelve lots, as near in value as could possibly be done, the twelve companies drew lots for them: and the society created or erected each lot into a manor, by virtue of the said grant; and by licence from the crown conveyed to each of the companies the lands fallen to it by lot, to hold the same in perpetuity.
This was the condition of the Irish estate, at the time the Star-chamber wrested it out of the hands of the citizens of London, under a pretence that the charter had been unduly obtained, and the conditions not fulfilled.
Oliver Cromwell, in the year 1657, restored this estate to the citizens by a new charter; under which the society made new conveyances to the twelve companies of their respective parts or lots. King Charles II. without taking any notice of Oliver's charter, granted the said lands, &c. again to the city of London, and incorporated the society for the plantation in Ulster a-new: and by a charter of licence empowered them to re-grant the manors and lands to the respective companies. The society accordingly conveyed to each of the twelve companies the manor and lands which formerly belonged to it, which they have quietly enjoyed ever since.
The members of the society are chosen annually, and all bye laws made by the corporation of Londonderry, must be confirmed by them before they are valid. The right of presentation to the churches in Londonderry and Colerain is in the society, who have a general agent in Ireland, to conduct their affairs there; and a receiver to collect their rents.
The settlement of internal peace now allowing the citizens leisure to turn their attention to the advancement and regulation of their commerce; the lordmayor &c. petitioned the house of commons this year, to erect four new corporations or exclusive companies of merchants, for confining the trade to France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, wholly to natives: the plea for this request was, that most part of the export trade was in the hands of aliens, on whom they wanted to impose double duties for all draperies by them exported. They also, and sundry merchants of London in behalf of themselves and the English merchants of the out ports, petitioned that the companies already incorporated, as the Merchant Adventurers, of the Levant, of Eastland, of Russia, and of EastIndia; might be farther privileged and confirmed by parliament, exclusive of foreigners. But the house of commons considering it imprudent to check our export trade by imposing new fetters on it, these ill judged applications happily came to nothing (fn. 7).
The following year was distinguished by the institution of the Royal Society; that name being then conferred by the king on a philosophical society of learned men in London, who first began to associate weekly in the year 1645; the idea of the society being said to be originally formed by Mr. Theodore Haak a German then resident in London. About the year 1648, some of them removing to Oxford, these met there in like manner, and joined the others on their return (fn. 8). After meeting at first privately at each other's houses, they at length met in Gresham college, until the death of the protector; when the confusions that ensued, and the college being converted into a barrack, dispersed them. On the restoration their meetings were resumed, they purchased instruments for the making experiments, and entered into an obligation to defray the necessary expences for the support of their laudable scheme of improving experimental knowledge; until they were honoured with the royal sanction and patronage. Their charter was dated April the 22d 1663, and the king presented them with a handsome gilt silver mace to be carried before the president, beside other benefactions. This society has since its formation made itself sufficiently known by the many valuable improvements and discoveries communicated to the world in their Philosophical Transactions.
As an acknowledgement of the assistance afforded by the corporation of London toward his restoration, and other instances of loyalty, the king this year granted the citizens the confirmation of all their former chartered liberties: which after a recital of the charters conferred on the city by his royal predecessors, ratifies them in the form contained in No. XLVII of our Appendix.
By a statute passed about this time for the regulation of the silk trade in London (fn. 9), we are informed to what a flourishing state the silk manufacture had then arrived; for it is in that act recited " that the silk throwers in London having petitioned the parliament for an enlargement of their former charter, they therein represent that above 40,000 men women and children, are employed therein :" and it was enacted "that no one should set up that trade, but such as should have served seven years apprenticeship to it, and should make themselves free of that company."
In proportion as trade increased, so the principles of commerce came to be better understood. There is not perhaps a more evident proposition than that so long as a nation continues to import more commodities, value for value, than they can export, the balance of trade must be paid in coin or bullion. England was long in this situation, and as the effects of deficiency in export trade could not but be felt, the legislature had from time to time endeavoured to remedy it by frequent prohibitions of exporting gold and silver (fn. 10). The inexpediency of such restrictions was now discovered; and free liberty was allowed of carrying these metals abroad in express words. The reasons are given in the following clause of the statute. "And forasmuch as several considerable and advantageous trades, cannot be conveniently driven and carried on, without the species of money and bullion, and that it is found by experience, that they are carried in greatest abundance (as to a common market) to such places as give free liberty for exporting the same; and the better to keep in and increase the current coins of this kingdom, Be it enacted that it shall be lawful to export out of any custom-house or port of England, all sorts of foreign coin, or bullion of gold or silver, first entering the same at the custom-house, without paying any duty or custom for the same (fn. 11)."
But though this licence was found expedient at the time it was adopted, and though our forefathers have been censured for not permitting it sooner; yet the mistake is in the censurers, if they judge by rules not applicable to times. Let us for a moment try what apology can be framed for our ancestors in withholding all the specie they could retain. Had the free exportation of coin or bullion been allowed while our imports were great, our exports small, and money scarce; foreigners would have exhausted us so much as not to leave sufficient coin for home circulation; our trade both at home and abroad would in the result have been reduced to bare necessaries obtained by meer barter, and the nation have sunk back to barbarism. The legislature was not all this while inattentive to the only practicable means of encouraging manufactures at home, to bring the balance to the right side; for merchant strangers or aliens, who managed the chief of our foreign trade, were obliged to lay out the money they received here, in English commodities (fn. 12) : and that this was as good a regulation as the circumstances of the times admitted, appears, if we find that manufactures and trade continued improving under such management. But the discovery of America had now altered the state of affairs in Europe; the continual influx of bullion from the west relieved us from the apprehension of being drained of our specie; and hence gold and silver came to be considered as much in the light of commodities for traffic as the produce of our own lands and labour.
The prosecution of trade began to be a general object of attention; and the nation thinking themselves ill treated by the Dutch in some commercial transactions not material to enter into; a rupture ensued during the recess of parliament in 1664, and Charles was therefore destitute of supplies to carry on the war. In this exigence he negociated with the city of London for a loan of 100,000l. which was chearfully advanced: a circumstance which may be mentioned to their honour; for the citizens can never be reproached with denying assistance to government when they approve of the purpose for which their aid is required. Another 100,000l. was wanted; it was produced with the same alacrity: and this ready concurrence was so well taken by parliament, when it met, that a vote of thanks was agreed to, and sent to the court of common council November 25th by a deputation from both houses.
In the year 1663 the plague made shocking ravages in Amsterdam and Hamburgh, which occasioned their neighbours to cut off all communication with those places: our government had timely notice of it, and several councils were held with great privacy to consider of measures to prevent its importation, but all in vain; for about the close of the year 1664, it was brought over to London in some Levant goods that came from Holland.
The narrowness of the streets and lanes in London, the closeness of the houses, and their being crouded with families (fn. 13), rendered the inhabitants very liable to suffer by infectious disorders in sickly seasons; and the plague was almost continually among the diseases enumerated in the bills of mortality. The goods above mentioned were carried to a house in Long Acre near Drury Lane, where they were first opened. Here two Frenchmen died, the disorder communicated to other houses in the neighbourhood, and infected the parish officers who were employed about the dead. Another Frenchman who lived near the infected houses, removed for fear of the distemper into Bearbinder-lane, where he died; and thus the plague got into the city.
The farther progress of this cruel disorder was stopped during a hard frost which set in this winter and continued till March 1665; when its virulence was revived by the advance of the spring: at first it seized one here, then another a mile or more distant, after which it appeared again where it was observed before, just as accident furnished it with conveyance, and according to the time when persons contracted the distemper.
The usual symptons of infection, for it is not proposed to enter into a strict medical consideration of the plague, are thus enumerated by Dr. Hodges, who lived in London at that fatal time, and attended patients in all stages of the disorder. First, a horror, vomiting, delirium, dizziness, head ach, and stupefaction; then a fever, watching, palpitation of the heart, bleeding at the nose, and a great heat about the precordia: but the signs more peculiar to the pestilence were those pustules which the common people called blains, buboes, carbuncles, spots, and those marks called tokens. The buboes were hard painful tumours, with inflammation and gathering upon the glands, behind the ears, the armpits, and the groin. These tumours at their first appearance were hard, and the event of the disorder was prognosticated from their sudden or flow increase, from their genuine or untoward suppuration, and from the virulence of their contents. The pestilential spots appeared chiefly in the neck, breast, and back, and were not easily distinguishable from fleabites. The genuine pestilential characters, commonly called tokens, as being the forewarnings of death, were minute distinct blasts, which had their origin from within, and rose up in little pyramidal protuberances, sometimes as small as pin-heads, other times as large as a silver penny, having the pestilential poison chiefly collected at their bases; gradually tainting the neighbouring parts, and reaching the surface, as the configuration of the vessels and pores favoured their spreading. They were also derivable from external causes, as from the injuries of air, when the pestilential miasmata were pent up and condensed; and by that means their virulence increased so, that life was immediately extinguished when they reached the nobler organs.
In the treatment of the sick, all physicians agreed in throwing out the pestilential malignity as soon as possible by alexipharmics, and to these as soon as the belly was loosened, recourse was had as to a sacred refuge: in extremity some had recourse to mineral preparations, as mineral bezoar, sulphur auratum, aurum vitæ, &c. in order to drive out the pestilence by meer force. For external applications they used blisters and cataplasms; the buboes were opened by incision; and the eschar formed by the virulent ichor, discharged by the carbuncles, was chiefly got off by actual cautery: nor were the blisters, ulcers, or incisions, suffered to heal until the malignity of the disease was spent. But such was the delusory appearance of this pestilence, that many patients were lost, when they were thought in a safe recovery; whereas others survived who were given over for lost; much to the discredit of the medical art.
The apprehensions of the people were greatly increased by the crafty predictions of fortune-tellers, cunning-men, astrologers, and quacks; who hung out their signs in every street, and found their account in heightening the general terror: nor was their trade stopped, until these men of superior knowledge in the decrees of providence, were themselves swept away in the common calamity. As soon as the magistrates found that the contagion extended into several parishes, an order was issued for shutting up infected houses, to stop the communication of the disorder. These houses had red crosses painted on the doors, with this inscription, Lord have mercy upon us; and watchmen were placed before them, who were duly relieved, to hand necessaries and medicines in to the confined families, and to restrain them from coming abroad until forty days after recovery. But though these regulations were strictly executed, the propriety of them was much controverted, and the hardship universally complained of: for if a fresh person was seized in the same house, but a day before this quarantine expired, it was again renewed; which intolerable tedious imprisonment of the healthy with the sick, frequently ended with the deaths of whole families. Neither did this confinement of the sick prove effectual; for each house having but one guard, and many houses having avenues behind, it was impossible to secure all passages: so that some would amuse the watchmen with discourse on one side of the house, while the rest of the family made their escape at the other; until at length the men were left to watch empty houses. Some watchmen were publicly whipped through the streets for taking bribes to let persons out privately; and where such opportunities did not offer, the watchmen were sometimes ill treated: one near Coleman-street was blown up by gunpowder, and while he lay disabled by the explosion, those who had strength escaped out of the house. Some persons also would let themselves down from the windows, armed with swords and pistols in the sight of the watchmen, and threaten them with instant death, if they called out or stirred. Many of them were even killed in disputes with those they were charged with the care of guarding.
It is a sad, though true character of human nature, to remark, that there are always miscreants ready to take advantage of public calamities; and what greatly contributed to the loss of persons thus shut up, was the villanous behaviour of some nurses. These wretches from an inhuman greediness to plunder the dead, would not only strangle their patients and charge their deaths to the distemper in their throats; but would secretly convey the pestilential taint from the sores of the sick to those who were well. Yet though they were without witnesses in these diabolical practices, they often fell themselves the just victims of their own unguarded presumption.
Dogs and cats, being domestic animals, apt to run from house to house, and being supposed to convey the noxious effluvia in their fur or hair; an early order was made by the lord-mayor and other magistrates, by the advice of physicians, that they should all be immediately killed: and an officer was appointed for that purpose. It was computed that 40,000 dogs, and five times as many cats, were massacred in consequence of this proscription; and all possible endeavours were used to exterminate rats and mice by poison on the same account.
It was inconceivable, as the plague increased, with what precipitation such inhabitants of the city as were able to leave it, deserted into the country: for some weeks it was difficult to get to the lord-mayor's door, for the throngs that crouded in to get passes and certificates of health; without which none were permitted to travel through, or lodge in, any towns on the road. The nobility, gentry, and richer tradesmen, retired first, and in the broad streets leading out of town, nothing was to be seen but waggons and carts, loaded with goods, and servants; coaches full of families, and horsemen, all hurrying away; with empty carriages returning for fresh loads.
Some families that had no country retreats, laid up a store of provisions, and shut themselves up so carefully, as not to be heard of or seen, until the plague ceased; when they came abroad safe and well: among these were several Dutch merchants, who kept their houses like garrisons besieged, suffering no one to go out or come in, and thus preserved themselves in health. Many merchants and ship-owners shut themselves up on board ships, and as the plague increased removed down the river; nor was it heard that the disorder reached any vessels below Deptford. Poorer persons took refuge in hoys, smacks, and fishing boats, but these took the infection; others went up the river in boats, lodging by night in tents made of their fails, on shore: for though the country people would supply them with provisions, they would not receive them into their houses. The poor who ran abroad in their extremities into the country, were often ill used and driven back, which caused great exclamation against the cruelty of the country towns; but self-preservation extinguished humanity, and yet notwithstanding all their care, there was not a town within twenty miles but suffered more or less by the disorder.
Thus the distemper was left chiefly to prey on the common people; which it did to such a degree, as to obtain the name of the poor's plague. The lordmayor, sheriffs, aldermen, or their deputies, with many of the commoncouncil, very humanely to compose the minds of the people as much as possible, published their resolution not to quit the city, but to be always ready at hand to preserve order, and do justice on all occasions. The lord-mayor held councils every day, making necessary dispositions for preserving the public peace; the people were treated with all the gentleness circumstances would allow; while presumptuous rogues, housebreakers, and plunderers of the sick or dead, were duly punished, and severe declarations issued against them.
It was one of their principal concerns to see the regulations for the freedom and good supply of the markets, observed; and every market day the lordmayor, Sir John Lawrence, or the sheriffs, attended vigilantly on horseback, to see their orders executed. The necessity of going to market was greatly contributory to the ruin of the city, as there the people caught the infection one of another, and it was suspected that even the provisions were tainted: all imaginable precautions were however used in these negociations; for customers took the meat from off the hooks themselves, that they might not receive it from the butcher; and for his security, dropped their money into pans of vinegar; always carrying small money with them, that they might receive no change. Every one that could procure them carried scents and perfumes about them, while the poorest inhabitants were forced on all occasions to run all hazards.
The infection, notwithstanding every caution, continued through the months of May and June (fn. 14), with more or less severity; sometimes raging in one part, and then in another: about the latter end of June, above twenty parishes were infected, and their majesties removed from Whitehall to Hampton-court. Government was not however inattentive to the distresses of the metropolis; for beside appointing a monthly fast for public prayer, the king commanded the college of physicians to compose and publish an English directory of general advice in this calamitous season. Some of the college were appointed to attend the sick on all occasions, and two out of the court of aldermen were required to see this hazardous duty performed: nor were other eminent physicians wanting who voluntarily and couragiously gave their assistance in so dangerous an employment; eight or nine of whom were destroyed in the duty.
In the first week of July, the bill rose to 725, the next week to 1089, the third week to 1843, and the next week to 2010. About the middle of the month, the disorder which had chiefly raged in St. Giles's, Holborn, and toward Westminster, began to travel eastward, and over the river to Lambeth and Southwark: but kept principally in the out parishes which were fullest of poor. When it abated in the western parishes, it exerted its violence in Clerkenwell, Cripplegate, Shoreditch, Bishopsgate, Aldersgate, Whitechapel, and Stepney. In the months of August and September the disorder made most terrible slaughter; three, four, or five thousand died in a week; the deaths one week amounted to 8000, and were believed to extend to 10,000! for the registers in such confusion were not kept with great accuracy.
Under these shocking circumstances, when the people were in the greatest want of spiritual consolation, they were in general forsaken by their parochial ministers; and sad as the minds of the people were, there were not wanting some who satirized them in lampoons, for this scandalous desertion of their distressed flocks. When on some church doors were written, Here is a pulpit to let, and on others, A pulpit to be sold, then it was that the ejected nonconforming ministers, shewed that disinterested concern for the people, that constitutes the true essence of the clerical character: for unmindful of their legal disability and regardless of the surrounding danger, they resolutely mounted the vacant pulpits, often twice a day, and soothed the griefs of crouded audiences by their pious discourses and other religious exercises.
When deaths became so numerous, the church-yards were unable to contain the bodies, and the usual modes of interment were no longer observed: occasional pits of great capacity were dug in several parts, to which the dead were brought by cartloads, collected by the ring of a bell, and the doleful cry of Bring out your dead! They were put into the carts with no other covering than rugs or sheets tied round them by their friends, if they had any surviving; and were shot down in promiscuous heaps! Sometimes the drivers of these carts would drop in their employments, and the carts would be found without any conductor; in the parish of Stepney it was said they lost within the year, 116 sextons, grave-diggers, and their assistants!
Trade was at a stand, shops were shut up, every day looked like a solemn sabbath; few were to be seen in the streets; and neither cart nor coach appeared but such as were employed for immediate acts of necessity: grass grew in the most public streets, and in the Royal-Exchange; and the broad street in Whitechapel might be mistaken for a green field. Those families who carried on retail trades, or subsisted by labour, were now supported by charity, which is recorded to have been worthily extended by those who had ability to bestow it. The king contributed 1000l. a week; and Dr. Sheldon archbishop of Canterbury, who remained at Lambeth the whole time, beside his own benefactions, procured great sums to be remitted from the dioceses under his jurisdiction, by his affecting letters to the bishops; Monk now duke of Albemarle, with lord Craven, remained in London, and exerted all their abilities to alleviate the distresses they were witness to. Though the city was in general abandoned by the rich, yet these did not forget those who were left behind; large sums were sent up by them to the magistrates, as well as from the trading towns in the remotest parts of England. The degree of general distress in the metropolis may be supposed void of exaggeration, when it is said that beside private charities, the lord mayor and aldermen were enabled to bestow 100,000l. a week for several weeks together to the poor!
That nothing might be left untried to disperse the contagion, large fires were ordered to be made in the public streets; yet the physicians were very diffident of the success of this expensive experiment, and the trial soon decided in favour of their doubts. Coals were then 4l. per chaldron, and 200 chaldron were applied in making fires at the Custom-house, Billingsgate, at the Bridge-foot, Three cranes, Queenhithe, Bridewell-gate, the corner of Leadenhall and Gracechurchstreets, at the north and south gates of the Royal Exchange, Guildhall, Blackwell-hall, at the lord mayor's door in St. Helen's, at Bow church, and at the western end of St. Paul's cathedral (fn. 15). These fires continued for three days, and were then almost extinguished by a smart rain; but the following night, from whatever cause it might proceed, was the most fatal of the whole, for more than 4000 then expired! and this unfortunate event was a discouragement to any farther attempts of that nature.
When the disease was at the greatest height, little regard was had to the giving medical assistance, for many of the most eminent physicians and surgeons were already dead; and it was in vain to keep houses shut up, when they were mostly empty with their doors and windows open and shattering with the wind. At length the disorder after having braved the art of man, gave way to the course of nature at the decline of the summer season; when though the numbers of the infected were not observed to lessen, yet the disorder grew weaker; more in proportion recovered, and the deaths sensibly diminished. When this began to be perceived, the dread that had invaded the minds of the people wore off, and contributed to their recovery; and whereas in the height of the disorder it usually killed persons in two or three days, and not above one in five recovered; now it did not kill under eight or ten days, and not above two in five miscarried: the nurses also grew either more cautious or more faithful; so that after a little while a dawn of health appeared as suddenly as it was unexpected. In the beginning of November the face of affairs was quite altered; though the funerals were yet frequent, yet the citizens began to return without fear, and in December they crouded back as fast as they had fled in the spring. Such as were cautious took great care in seasoning their houses, and abundance of costly things were consumed which not only answered their own particular purposes, but filled the air with grateful smells, which were serviceable to their neighbours: some burnt pitch, brimstone, and gunpowder, to purge their houses and goods; while others through eagerness and carelessness entered their dwellings without any preparation. Earl Craven and the other justices of Westminster caused the bedding and goods of infected houses to be well dried and aired, the rooms to be new whitewashed, and the churchyards to be covered two feet thick with fresh earth; to prevent as far as possible any revival of the pestilential taint.
The winter gave the most effectual check toward suppressing this great enemy of mankind; and though some remains of the contagion appeared in the succeeding spring, it was no more than could be easily conquered by medicine, and the city thus got rid of the infection and returned to perfect health.
The bills of mortality computed the number of burials this year at 97,306, of which 68,596 were attributed to the plague; but this estimate was universally received as very erroneous, as it was not difficult to shew from circumstances that the account was manifestly defective. At the beginning of the disorder there were great knavery and collusion in the reports of deaths; for while it was possible to conceal the infection, they were attributed to fevers of all kinds, which began to swell the bills; this was done to prevent houses being shut up, and families being shunned by their neighbours. Add to this that the dead carts working in the dark, no exact accounts were kept; the clerks and sextons being naturally averse to so dangerous a duty, and frequently falling sick themselves before such accounts as they had, were delivered in. Quakers and Jews also who had separate burial grounds, were not mentioned in the weekly bills; nor was any register taken of those who died on board vessels of all kinds in the river. It was well known that numbers of poor despairing creatures wandered out of town into the fields, woods and other remote places, where they died of the infection and of want. The inhabitants of the villages would carry food to these distracted refugees and set it at a distance for them; and frequently found them dead afterward with the victuals untouched. The country people would then dig holes and drag the bodies into them with long poles having hooks at the ends, carefully standing to the windward; and throw the earth over them as far as they could cast it. On the whole it was the opinion of eye witnesses, that the plague destroyed 100,000 at least. The yearly bill mentions but one parish that remained quite exempt from infection, which was that of St. John the Evangelist in Watling street.
As to foreign trade during this year, it was almost extinct; as no port in France, Flanders, Spain, or Italy, would admit our ships, or correspond with us; the Turks only, and the Grecian isles, to whom the plague was familiar, were not so scrupulous. The Flemings and Dutch made great advantage of this circumstance, by buying English goods in those parts of England that remained clear of infection, carrying them home, and then exporting them again as their own.
The parliament was this year held at Oxford, and the receipt of his majesty's exchequer, at Nonsuch in Surry; from whence it was removed back to Westminster January 5th 1666, by proclamation. February 2d the lord-mayor and sheriffs waited on his majesty at Whitehall, with an address from the city to welcome his happy return after so melancholy an absence: he received them kindly and knighted the sheriffs aldermen Robert Hanson, and William Hooker (fn. 16).
Those citizens who had returned to their habitations, and the new comers who occupied the houses emptied by the plague, were scarcely settled in them, before they were turned out by a disaster more sudden than the former; as will appear by the following general account published at the time, which is taken verbatim.
"The ordinary course of this paper having been interrupted by a sad and lamentable accident of fire lately happened in the city of London: it hath been thought fit for satisfying the minds of so many of his majesties good subjects who must needs be concerned for the issue of so great an accident, to give this short, but true accompt of it.
On the second instant, at one of the clock of the morning, there happened to break out, a sad and deplorable fire, in Pudding-lane neer Fishstreet, which falling out at that hour of the night, and in a quarter of the town so close built with wooden pitched houses, spread itself so far before day, and with such distraction to the inhabitants and neighbours, that care was not taken for the timely preventing the further diffusion of it, by pulling down houses, as ought to have been; so that this lamentable fire in a short time became too big to be mastred by any engines or working neer it. It fell out most unhappily too, that a violent easterly wind fomented it, and kept it burning all that day, and the night following, spreading itself up to Grace-Churchstreet, and downwards from Cannon-street to the water-side, as far as the Three Cranes in the Vintrey.
The people in all parts about it distracted by the vastness of it, and their particular care to carry away their goods, many attempts were made to prevent the spreading of it by pulling down houses, and making great intervals, but all in vain, the fire seising upon the timber and rubbish and so continuing itself, even through those spaces, and raging in a bright flame all Monday and Tuesday, notwithstanding his majesties own, and his royal highness's indefatigable and personal pains to apply all possible remedies to prevent it, calling upon and helping the people with their guards, and a great number of nobility and gentry unwearied assisting therein, for which they were requited with a thousand blessings from the poor distressed people. By the favour of God, the wind slackned a little on Tuesday night and the flames meeting with brick-buildings at the Temple, by little and little it was observed to lose its force on that side, so that on Wednesday morning we began to hope well, and his royal highness never despairing or slackning his personal care, wrought so well that day, assisted in some parts by the lords of the councel before and behind it, that a stop was put to it at the Temple-Church, neer HolbornBridge, Pie-Corner, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, neer the lower end of Coleman-street, at the end of Basing-hall-street, by the Postern, at the upper end of Bishopsgate-street, and Leadenhall-street, at the standard in Cornhill, at the church in Fan-church-street, neer Clothworkers-Hall in Mincing-lane, at the middle of Mark-lane, and at the Tower-dock.
On Thursday by the blessing of God it was wholly beat down and extinguished. But so as that evening it unhappily burst out again a fresh at the Temple, by the falling of some sparks (as is supposed) upon a pile of wooden buildings; but his royal highness, who watched there that whole night in person, by the great labours and diligence used, and especially by applying powder to blow up the houses about it, before day most happily mastered it.
Divers strangers, Dutch, and French were, during the fire, apprehended, upon suspicion that they contributed mischievously to it, who are all imprisoned, and informations prepared to make a severe inquisition, thereupon by my lord chief justice Keeling, assisted by some of the lords of the privy-councel, and some principal members of the city, notwithstanding which suspicions, the manner of the burning all along in a train, and so blowen forwards in all its way by strong winds, makes us conclude the whole was an effect of an unhappy chance, or to speak better, the heavy hand of God upon us for our sins, shewing us the terrour of his judgment in thus raising the fire, and immediately after his miraculous and never enough to be acknowledged mercy in putting a stop to it when we were in the last despair, and that all attempts for the quenching it however industriously pursued, seemed insufficient. His majesty then sat hourly in councel, and ever since hath continued making rounds about the city in all parts of it where the danger and mischief was greatest, till this morning that he hath sent his grace the duke of Albemarle, whom he hath called for to assist him in this great occasion, to put his happy and successful hand to the finishing this memorable deliverance.
"About the Tower the seasonable orders given for plucking down houses to secure the magazins of powder, was more especially successful, that part being up the wind, notwithstanding which it came almost to the very gates of it, so as by this early provision, the several stores of war lodged in the Tower were entirely saved: and we have further this infinite cause to give God thanks, that the fire did not happen in any of those places where his majesties naval stores are kept, so as though it hath pleased God to visit us with his own hand, he hath not, by disfurnishing us with the means of carrying on the war, subjected us to our enemies.
"It must be observed, that this fire happened in a part of the town, where tho' the commodities were very rich, yet they were so bulky that they could not well be removed, so that the inhabitants of that part where it first began have sustained very great loss, but by the best enquiry we can make, the other parts of the town, where the commodities were of great value, took the alarum so early, that they saved most of their goods of value, which possibly may have diminished the loss, tho' some think, that if the whole industry of the inhabitants had been applyed to the stopping of the fire, and not to the saving their particular goods, the success might have been much better, not only to the publick, but to many of them in their own particulars.
"Through this sad accident it is easy to be imagined how many persons were necessitated to remove themselves and goods into the open fields, where they were forced to continue some time, which could not but work compassion in the beholders; but his majesties care was most signal in this occasion, who, besides his personal pains, was frequent in consulting all wayes for relieving those distressed persons; which produced so good effect, aswell by his majesties proclamations, and the orders issued to neighbour justices of the peace to encourage the sending in provisions to the markets, which are publickly known, as by other directions, that when his majesty, fearing lest other orders might not yet have been sufficient, had commanded the victualler of his navy to send bread into Moore-fields for the relief of the poor, which for the more speedy supply he sent in bisket out of the sea stores; it was found that the markets had been already so well supplyed, that the people, being unaccustomed to that kind of bread, declined it, and so it was returned in great part to his majesties stores again, without any use made of it.
"And we cannot but observe to the consideration of all his majesties enemies, who endeavour to persuade the world abroad of great parties and disaffection at home against his majesties government; that a greater instance of the affections of this city could never be given than hath been now given in this sad and deplorable accident, when if at any time disorder might have been expected from the losses, distraction, and almost desperation of some persons in their private fortunes, thousands of people not having had habitations to cover them. And yet in all this time it hath been so far from any appearance of designs or attempts against his majesties government, that his majesty and his royal brother, out of their care to stop and prevent the fire, frequently exposing their persons with very small attendants in all parts of the town, sometimes even to be intermixed with those who laboured in the business, yet nevertheless there hath not been observed so much as a murmuring word to fall from any, but on the contrary, even those persons whose losses rendered their conditions most desperate, and to be sit objects of others prayers, beholding those frequent instances of his majesties care of his people, forgot their own misery, and filled the streets with their prayers for his majesty whose trouble they seemed to compassionate before their own."
To this general account from the Gazette, some other particulars may be added. The fire first broke out at the house of one Farryner a baker in Puddinglane, whose house was a wooden building, pitched on the outside, as all the rest in that lane also were: the lane was exceeding narrow, and the projecting stories on each side almost met at the top; for the new regulations in building took place only as old houses were occasionally rebuilt. The house where the fire began being full of faggots and brush-wood, the fire raged with great fury, and spreading four ways at once, fell upon the Star-inn then full of hay and straw; in Thames-street it found magazines of all kinds of combustibles. The buildings on London-bridge were soon consumed, together with the water machines underneath; whereby the people were deprived of water from that source (fn. 17). The fire soon crossed Cornhill by the train of wood that lay in the street from houses pulled down to prevent its spreading, and then proceeded on both sides with equal fury.
A strange concurrence of causes contributed to extend the conflagration. The combustible nature of the buildings in general, has been already hinted. It began on a Saturday night when many of the principal citizens were retired to their country houses and lodgings, and only their servants left at home; and at a time of the year when many more were on journeys transacting country business. The warmth of the summer had so dried the timber that it was never more apt to kindle; and a strong dry easterly wind blew all the time: the New-River water unexpectedly failed, and the London bridge water works were burnt down. Beside there was a general negligence at first in the most effectual means for quenching the fire, from a confidence of its stopping at favourable openings; which at length turned to consternation and confusion, and people sought rather to save their goods by flight, than to save their own and their neighbours houses.
It appeared by the certificate of Jonas Moore and Ralph Gatrix, the surveyors appointed to examine the ruins, that the fire overran 373 acres within the walls; and burnt 13,200 houses, 89 parish churches, beside chapels; and that 11 parishes within the walls, only remained standing. To this account may be subjoined, the Royal-Exchange, Custom-house, Guildhall, Blackwell-hall, St. Paul's cathedral, Bridewell, the two compters, fifty two halls of the city companies, and three city gates. The loss has been computed at 10,000,000 sterling (fn. 18).
The natural means by which this conflagration was produced, have been specified, and might be thought sufficient; but in accidents that exceed the common magnitude, people are gratified in attributing them to extraordinary causes: and when they are so disposed, circumstances are seldom wanting that with a little address may be made to coincide with what they labour to prove. Some ascribed this fire to the republicans, but the readiest and most agreeable conjecture was that it was fired by the papists; and many persons were apprehended though no evidence could be brought to establish the guilt of any of them. But as in New England a little time afterward, some poor superannuated women were terrified into the acknowledgment of their being witches; so here a lunatic Frenchman Robert Hubert, confessed himself to be the incendiary, and was executed for it; though Laurence Peterson, the master of the vessel that brought him over, declared afterward on his examination, that Hubert was not landed until two days after the fire.
Among other suspicions, one was that the king and duke of York were the authors of the calamity (fn. 19); but as no reason is assigned for this conjecture, the most probable ground it can stand upon, will be another supposition; that it might be done to destroy an old ill contrived city, to restore it on a better model. How far this reasoning on meer possibility may be just, or whether the supposed end could atone for the means, are points on which the reader must be left to exercise his own judgment.
While the first terrors of this disaster lasted, many eminent ministers both of the established church and nonconformists, preached to the people in the midst of the ruins; conventicles abounded in every part, and it was thought hard to hinder men from worshipping God any way they could, when there were no churches left to receive them: tabernacles were however soon raised in many places for divine service until churches were rebuilt.
In the mean time Gresham college was converted into an exchange for the merchants; the public business of the city was transacted in the apartments, instead of Guildhall: and the Royal Society being thus excluded from Gresham college, Henry Howard brother of the duke of Norfolk accommodated them with apartments in Arundel house, and presented them with the whole Norfolkian library (fn. 20). The Excise office was kept in Southampton fields near Bedford house; the general Post-office was removed to the two black pillars in Bridgesstreet Covent-Garden; the affairs of the Custom-house were transacted in Marklane, at a house called Lord Baynings; the king's warbrobe was removed to York Buildings, from Puddle-wharf where the former office was consumed; and the offices belonging to Doctors-Commons, were held in Exeter house in the Strand (fn. 21).
The burning of London, though it occasioned great temporary distress, yet afforded an opportunity that never happened before, and in all human probability never may again, of restoring the city with more uniformity, conveniency, and wholesomeness, than could be expected in a town of progressive growth. The streets were before, narrow, crooked and incommodious; the houses chiefly of wood, dark, close, and ill contrived; with their several stories projecting beyond each other, as they rose, over the narrow streets. The free circulation of the air, was by these means obstructed; and the people breathed a stagnant unwholesome element, replete with foul effluvia, sufficient of itself to generate putrid disorders, and disposed to harbour any pestilential taint it might receive: and how obnoxious such wooden buildings were to the extension of fires, the late instance sufficiently indicated. That these obvious remarks were not overlooked, will appear from the proclamation issued in a few days after the fire, to prohibit the building of houses until due regulations were made for their re-edification. See Appendix No. XLVIII.