Tracking Epidemic Disease in 17th Century London

Posted in Bills of Mortality, Uncategorized with tags on 06/05/2020 by Craig Spence

Two panels from a contemporary broadsheet that shows the role and activities of the Searchers

Two panels from a contemporary broadsheet (1665/6) showing the work of the Searchers who collected the cause of death data for the Bills of Mortality: in the lefthand panel they are present in a house afflicted by plague, while in the righthand panel the women walk the streets of London carrying their ‘wands of office’. [Nine images of the plague in London, 17th century]. Wellcome Collection. (CC BY 4.0)

I’ve so far resisted writing about the Bills of Mortality and plague and Covid-19, I don’t have a great deal of time for historians who jump on bandwagons (especially when they do so outside their specific area of expertise) but I do think to reflect in a thoughtful and measured way in response to contemporary events is an essential historical activity and as the lockdown and isolation drag on, I feel that I may have something to offer. So, I’ll drop a blog post here on just this topic. Read it if you want to but if you feel it’s not yet time for reflection then by all means leave it for later.

Rather than revelling in the massive numbers of plague casualties that the Bills stand witness to, and which are undoubtedly the most over-reproduced images of the weekly Bills across all types of outputs, I want to focus on the efforts that were made to identify and track the earliest occurrences of plague deaths. As we are all aware obtaining a true picture of contagion and associated death rates during an epidemic is far from easy – and it wasn’t easy for seventeenth-century Londoners either. But that is precisely what the Bills of Mortality were for.

The Bills, or at least the organised collection of cause of death information, was established at the end of the sixteenth century by the rulers of the City of London expressly to forewarn of plague. Clearly, my own use of Bills data, to support an understanding of early modern accidents, is tangential to this primary foundational purpose. While it’s possible to have some confidence in the accuracy of the Bills when reporting an accidental death, the veracity of the observations of the Searchers and the reporting by the Parish Clerks become more problematic during times of epidemic. Indeed, many early plague deaths remained unreported as such during the opening months of 1665 as London’s Great Plague became established. Whether this ‘failure’ was the result of corruption amongst Searchers and Clerks, misguided attempts to protect the character of their parishes and neighbourhoods, or simple incompetence/omission in a pressured environment is impossible to tell. Nevertheless, such failures, or the perception of them, came to taint the servants of this system through the eyes of commentators and later historians despite good evidence that outside of times of crisis the system worked well, albeit within the limits of early modern medical diagnostics.

There is some evidence to support the belief that the presence of plague in London was appreciated, at least in governmental circles, earlier than the Bills report the first deaths. During April the Privy Council discussed events in St Giles in the Fields after the first households were shut up and which resulted in neighbours riotously ‘liberating’ the infected inhabitants. And by 12 May the King and his advisors had decided to form a special Committee of the Privy Council ‘to consider of the best means of preventing the spreading of the infection of the plague’. The most senior members of King Charles II’s court/government were to attend and they, in turn, called for expert guidance from leading physicians. Their most immediate instructions were for the obviously infected parish of St Giles in the Fields to enforce household quarantines and to set about building a new/temporary ‘pest house’ to help cope with the expected wave of infections.

Private correspondence from the time also talks of the wider circulation of plague before it became an established feature of the Bills of Mortality. For example, during April and May John Allin, a former vicar of Rye in Sussex who was then resident in Southwark, noted in his correspondence that he ‘heard yesterday there are 2 houses shut up in Drury Lane for the sickness’ – this was on 27 April. In a perceptive comment he noted on 26 May that ‘ye bill mentioned 3 last weeke, and 14 this weeke, but its rather believed to be treble the number’.

Bill of Mortality listing of parish mortality from 2nd May to the 9th 1665

Bill of Mortality for Week Commencing 2 May 1665 – London’s Dreadful Visitation: or, a Collection of all the Bills of Mortality for this Present Year [London: Printed by E[leanor] Cotes (for the Company of Parish Clerks), 1665]. Wellcome Collection. (CC BY 4.0).

If, however, we take the Bills of Mortality at face value then it is possible to drill down to the level of parish records to identify individual incidents. According to the Bills, the first significant reporting of plague came during the week commencing 2 May 1665. The Bill of Mortality for that week reported one plague death in St Andrew Holborn, three in St Giles in the Fields and 4 in St Clements Danes. These were all external to the boundary of the City of London and appear to have been perceived, at least by London’s elite, as of little consequence. In a similar way, the single plague death reported from the parish of St Mary Woolchurch which lay within the City walls was considered to have represented either an interloper from Westminster or the result of a simple misdiagnosis. The parish burial register provides no further clarification simply naming the plague sufferer as John May, who was buried on the 6 May.

The St Andrew Holborn burial was however more emphatically noted as the parish’s first plague death. On 2 May ‘Rose Farmer, a girl aged about 12 years of age’ who lived in Robin Hood Court off Shoe Lane was laid to rest, her register entry being supplemented with an emphatic marginal note that simply read ‘Plague’.

Extract from the parish burial register for St Andrew Holborn

Burial Register for St Andrew Holborn: LMA P82/AND/A/010/MS06673 [1653-1672]

The first publicly acknowledged cases within the City walls were noted during the first week of June. At this point reported metropolitan plague deaths had reached 112, breaking past the 100 deaths figure that Sir William Petty proposed as the marker of a confirmed plague epidemic.

Bill of Mortality showing parish mortality from the 6th of June to the 13th 1665

Bill of Mortality for Week Commencing 6 June 1665 London’s Dreadful Visitation [1665]. Wellcome Collection. (CC BY 4.0)

Two intra-mural deaths were reported as plague by the Bills, one in St Alban Wood Street the other at St Gabriel Fenchurch Street. The former was not noted as plague in the relevant burial register however there is circumstantial evidence that of the four burials that week the plague victim was probably ‘Mr Tyros Maid’. The unfortunate servant was interred on 10 June, and so would have been reported within the Bill for the week commencing 6 June, but her death had been preceded in that particular household by ‘Mr Tyros Man’ some two weeks earlier. It is therefore entirely possible that he was, in fact, the first resident of the City of London to succumb to plague, being buried on 26 May.

Burial register for St Alban Wood Street from 13th May to 13th June 1665

Burial Register for St Alban Wood Street: LMA P69/ALB/A/001/MS06527 [1662-1786]

Coincidentally, the reported plague victim at St Gabriel Fenchurch Street was also buried on 10 June and was also a servant. William Passon was employed by Dr Alexander Burnett who had the singular distinction of being Samuel Pepys physician. As a result, Pepys noted in his journal ‘In the evening home to supper; and there, to my great trouble, hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City [i.e. in the suburbs]); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr. Burnett, in Fenchurch Street: which in both points troubles me mightily.’ Burnett was praised by his neighbours for shutting up his house voluntarily once plague was diagnosed – he in effect self-isolated. While Burnett did not contract the disease at that point in time, he did succumb to it later in the year. Pepys diary entry for 25 August notes ‘I am told that Dr. Burnett, my physician, is this morning dead of the plague; which is strange, his man dying so long ago, and his house this month open again. Now himself dead. Poor unfortunate man!’

Entry for 10th June 1665 from the burial register of St Gabriel Fenchurch Street

Burial Register of St Gabriel Fenchurch Street: Entry dated 10 June 1665 – LMA P69/GAB/A/001/MS05293 [1571-1709]

Entry from the burial register for the parish of St Gabriel Fenchurch Street for 25th August 1665

Burial Register of St Gabriel Fenchurch Street: Entry dated 25 August 1665 – LMA P69/GAB/A/001/MS05293 [1571-1709]

From this point forward the Bills regularly reported plague deaths reaching a peak in mid-September when a weekly toll of 7,165 plague deaths was reported. Burials of plague victims continued in significant numbers through to the end of the year and in some parishes into early 1666.

Several writers and historians have used the Bills of Mortality to illustrate narrative accounts of the Great Plague and, more recently, to critically analyse the origins, progress and eventual decline of the epidemic. Indeed contemporaries, those who lived through the trauma of 1665, also made good use of the Bills to help them make sense of the extraordinary mortality of that year. Among narrative accounts, two stand out: Daniel Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year (published in 1722) and Walter George Bell’s The Great Plague in London (1924). A more recent and wider-ranging account can be found in The Great Plague (1999) and The Plagues of London (2008) both by Stephen Porter. For a more in-depth and critical discussion, attention should be paid to The Impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England (1990) by Paul Slack and London’s Dreaded Visitation: The Social Geography of the Great Plague of 1665 (1995) by Justin Champion.

The past provides a mirror against which we can consider our own actions and behaviours, from personal, national and international perspectives. The response to plague in the seventeenth century provides a number of surprising parallels to our current pandemic concerns – government emergency committees, self-isolation and quarantining, temporary ‘hospitals’, and the challenge of enumerating deaths and tracking disease spread (there is also a range of blaming behaviours which I haven’t had space to consider here but which in the seventeenth century were as equally flawed as those of the present-day). Nevertheless, such parallels are merely echoes from a different time, at once familiar and yet equally distant. What changes is the way we (or at least most of us) think about the crisis we face and how to cope with it as an immediate medical and social challenge, and the various paths we might follow going forward. History, and historians, can help us review, evaluate and where necessary challenge such responses now and in the future.

A time when smoking could result in sudden death

Posted in Accident with tags , , on 13/11/2019 by Craig Spence

Between 1671 and 1730 at least seventeen Londoners died as a result of smoking. This may not seem particularly surprising to modern eyes but at that time the consumption of tobacco was enjoyed by smoking it in clay pipes rather than cigarettes (or their e-version), and it was the pipe rather than the nicotine that presented an immediate hazard. Such pipes were manufactured in fire-hardened clay and comprised a relatively small bowl with a very long narrow stem. Contemporary images, together with osteo-archaeological evidence indicating long-term dental abrasion, make it clear that people from a wide range of backgrounds enjoyed smoking such pipes. But with a tobacco pipe firmly clamped in the mouth any unexpected fall or stumble could easily cause injury or even death.

In October 1702, for example, a woman in Westminster died after her ‘tobacco pipe struck accidentally into her brain’. The following year during the month of March a man in the parish of St Peter Paul’s Wharf died after his tobacco pipe ‘accidentally struck [him] in the throat’. The fact that falls were most frequently associated with this form of death is given weight by the Bill of Mortality for 17 November 1730 which reports quite unequivocally that a ‘man [was] accidentally killed by a tobacco pipe after a fall’ in St Dunstan Stepney. Violent behaviour can sometimes be linked to a tobacco pipe death. To give a pretty disturbing example, in the parish of St Giles Cripplegate in May 1719 ‘Hannah Harris[on], spinster, [was] killed with a tobacco pipe’. Her death was the result of being accidentally stabbed just below her left eye with the stem of her father’s pipe during an argument over money.

So, while smoking tobacco may not have been recognised as a health concern in its own right during the eighteenth century (even though many perceived it as a social annoyance) being stabbed in the head with a tobacco pipe was clearly something it was best to avoid.

Smokers and drinkers in tavern. One has fallen to the floor, has spilled his beer and broken the stem of his pipe.

This engraving shows a group of men enjoying beer and tobacco around 1790. The fallen man has luckily broken his tobacco pipe on the ground rather than driving it into his brains! (Wellcome Collection CC BY – Etching by J. Barlow, 1790, after S. Collins)

The dangers of breaching a fireground cordon: a lesson from history

Posted in Fires, Newspapers with tags , , on 22/06/2018 by Craig Spence

Glasgow City Council have warned people not to breach to cordon around the recently fire-ravaged Glasgow School of Art. Their concern is that those approaching or entering the site of the fire may be injured either on the site or if the buildings were to collapse. There is often a temptation amongst local residents and the curious to assume that as soon as a building fire is put out all can return to normal, but the experiences of a group of curious Londoner’s who explored the site of a significant London fire in 1730 suggests this might not be such a good idea.

On the morning of Tuesday 31 March 1730 a major conflagration broke out at the property of Mr Clinton, a distiller, near the junction of Fetter Lane and Fleet Street. The head of his still broke-away spraying flammable spirits throughout the building. Within the space of just ninety minutes not only was Mr Clinton’s house alight but so were those of his neighbours: Mr Kingham’s, a potter, Mr Allin’s, a shoemaker, and Mr Sawkins proprietor of the Magpye and Horseshoe. Residents, neighbours and firefighters rushed to fight the blaze and remove property from the endangered buildings. Suddenly two of the buildings collapsed: nine were immediately rescued from the debris, three of whom were killed instantly while the other six were ‘miserably bruised’. In addition a number of firefighters from more than one insurance company brigade were found to be missing and ‘tis feared, have perished in the ruins.’ (The Daily Journal, 1 April 1730) One of these was later named as ‘James Mitchell, a Fire-man’ (The Daily Courant, 3 April 1730). It took the best part of the day to extinguish the flames but the rescue/recovery effort continued until Friday by which time the death-toll had grown to sixteen.

It is likely that seeing the visible flames put out and observing firefighters and others carefully working through the debris as they retrieved bodies tempted some to take a chance to look over the site of the fire. The fate of those who breached what was probably at best an informal cordon was relayed by the Daily Courant on Sunday 5 April. ‘Saturday morning 2 men stood upon the ruins of the late fire at the end of Fetter Lane, which sinking down with them, they were scorched in a deplorable manner, in so much that their skin came off; one of them, whose name was Joseph Millington, was to have been married yesterday, but died on Saturday in St Bartholomew’s hospital.’

The fate of Millington/Billing[ton] and his companion was taken up by The Daily Journal on Monday, 6 April: ‘Last Saturday Morning about 8, Jonathan Billing, a Journeyman Printer, and John Wilkin­son, Servant to Mr. Thompson, a Glazier in Shoe Lane, standing upon one of the Vaults of the late Fire in Fleet-Street, the Rubbish gave Way, and they sunk into the same. They were taken out alive with all possible Haste, by Means of Ropes thrown in to their Assistance, and carried to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. The latter was burnt all over his Body and Face, in such a miserable Manner, that he died in a few Hours after he was dressed. The former, whose Hands and Body, from his Navel down­wards, were all stripped bare, in a most deplorable Manner, remained in the greatest Agonies till Yesterday Morning, when he expired.’

But even that episode was not enough to keep people away from the ruins as the report goes on to note that: ‘The same Day a Youth fell into the same Place, but was taken out without any great Damage.’ The editor of The Daily Journal felt this dangerous activity needed to be challenged and concluded the piece by stating that: ‘It is to be hoped these sad Examples may be a Means to prevent that fruitless and idle Curiosity, which Ieads unwary and rash People into such Hazards, as may be attended with Consequences so Fatal, when, if they escape Dan­ger, they cannot really do any good.’

So Glaswegians, if you want to avoid the fate of John and Jonathan it’s probably best to stay outside the cordon!

Encounters with the Dead

Posted in Murder, Newspapers, Uncategorized with tags , , on 30/10/2016 by Craig Spence

dancedead

Encounters with the dead were common in pre-modern society. With death rates from disease and illness high most people would come face-to-face with the dead at some time or other. But such events mostly occurred in private or at least domestic settings, environments where the encounter could be managed and socially regulated. In the early modern metropolis however the chance of public viewing of violent or unusual deaths was ever present.

It would seem that Londoners were particularly keen to look into the face of death. They thronged to the fields around Tyburn to witness the last death throes of the condemned, or journeyed to the waterside at Wapping to celebrate the execution of pirates. But London presented other opportunities to connect with the dead. Those recovered from rivers and ponds were often exposed to public view in an attempt to provide an identity. In March 1730 the Daily Courant reported that ‘on Thursday last in the afternoon a man was taken out of the New River Head near Sadler’s Wells, who is supposed to have been murdered and robbed, by his pockets being turned out, and being cut and mangled very much; he was carried to Clerkenwell burying ground, to be seen openly, if that any person should know to whom he belonged.’ That, via word of mouth, crowds would have gathered to view the corpse is not unlikely.

On another occasion when the drowned body of a woman was discovered on the Thames shoreline in 1754 it drew an audience. In particular James Gould a bargeman set aside the possible protestations of his wife and child as he diverted their Sunday walk to get a closer look. As he later recounted at the Old Bailey; ‘Upon Sunday the 18th of November, as I, my wife, and child, were coming from Chiswick to Hammersmith we heard of a drowned woman; I was determined to walk down to see her, and walked as far as the mud would let me go; she lay in the mud and water, but over-hawling her very strictly I lifted up her head’ and by doing so he gazed directly into the face of death. Others waited their turn until several men had recovered the body of Elizabeth Webb and carried it to drier land before taking a closer look. Henry Smith and Robert Boyle helped to ‘threw her upon a piece of board and carry her up to the Black-Lion and laid her there; there were five or six of us carried her up’. Boyle also observed that ‘I believe there were a hundred people on the bank side at that time.’

In what was perhaps an even more macabre engagement with the dead, a house fire in 1687 drew a certain type of audience. A pamphlet published in recognition of the catastrophic event (A True Account of that Dreadful Fire which happened in the House of Mr Samuel Seaton) noted that ‘The bodies … were carried to a neighbour’s house; and there lay as affrightening spectacles to people, who flocked to see them’. One can readily imagine the press of men, women and children at the doors and windows of the house as they jostled to catch a glimpse, or a smell, of the charred corpses of the seven recently deceased inhabitants including Mr Seaton, his wife and their new-born child.

“How many people were killed by the Great Fire of London?” Perhaps more than you thought?

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality with tags , , on 01/09/2016 by Craig Spence
While few died in the making of this blank area on the map of London, many more were killed filling it in again.


While few died in the making of this blank area on the map of London, many more were killed filling it in again.

“How many people were killed by the Great Fire of London?” A question often asked and on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire a question which merits an answer. The first thing to make clear is that, despite the terrible devastation caused by the flames of September 1666 which resulted in the loss of more than 13,000 buildings, very few people directly lost their lives in the inferno. The initial response to the Great Fire was not to fight the conflagration but instead pack-up and run-away. Despite the ferocity of the fire it nonetheless moved slowly enough that most Londoners could simply take evasive action; having said that a small number of people did die as a direct result of being caught up in the flames.

Unfortunately one of the few gaps in the publishing run of the weekly Bills of Mortality occurs at the time of the Great Fire. The Hall of the Parish Clerks Company, located in Broad Lane in the riverside parish of St Martin Vintry, was an early victim of the fire. While the clerks were able to remove many of their possessions and papers they did not have time or resources to save their heavy and cumbersome printing press. The press was sacrificed to the advancing flames on the night of Sunday 2 September. As a result there was a four week hiatus in the production of the weekly Bills. When they resumed on 25 September they did so in a limited way only reporting on the sixteen and fourteen parishes of the City Within and Without the Walls that were noted as ‘still standing’. Importantly no attempt was made in the weekly output to provide an aggregated catch-up for the missing four weeks.

So the weekly Bills provide no record of those who may have died as a direct result of the Fire. But it seems the Parish Clerks did keep or gather some sort of tally of mortality for the month of September as the numbers reported as ‘burnt’ in the Annual Bill of Mortality for 1666 exceeds the total derived from the forty-eight weekly Bills that were produced during that year. A comparison of the two figures suggests that no more than seven Londoners died by being burnt by the flames of the Great Fire.

Walter George Bell in his account of the Fire, first published in 1923, estimated no more than six had been burnt. He provided details for four of these victims, drawn from various sources. These included the maid servant of Farriner, the baker, who was left behind in Pudding Lane; an old women who was burnt while sheltering in the shadow of the walls of St Paul’s; Paul Lowell an 80 year old watchmaker who refused to leave his house in Shoe Lane; and an old man who also perished at St Paul’s and whom Samuel Pepys informs us died when he returned to collect a blanket he had left there. In fact at the time there was a general belief that despite the devastation no-one had died in the Fire, a view that was communicated readily as a form of English miracle.

But is it fair to say that the Great Fire of London killed very few people? Yes if we are talking of the four days of the Fire itself, but certainly not if the human cost of those forced into homelessness or those placed in hazard by the Great Rebuilding is considered. While it is difficult to estimate how many of the City’s ‘refugees’ died through cold, hunger or disease in the immediate aftermath it is possible to enumerate deaths associated with the reconstruction activities.

The Weekly Bills of Mortality supply evidence for numerous construction-related deaths within the devastated area over the following decade or so. During that period at least 75 building workers died as they fell from walls, ladders and scaffolds, were struck by stones, timber and bricks, or were crushed by falling earth and debris, across a range of City construction sites. Elements of the death toll can still be linked to the Fire through to the end of the century if the slower process of rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral and a number of the City churches is considered. At St Paul’s in particular workers were crushed by falling masonry or fell from the great heights of the walls, towers, pinnacles and dome.

So we, 350 years later, have a broad consensus that only a handful of Londoners died during the four days of the Great Fire in September 1666; but in April 1704 poor Widow Mullins might not have agreed with such an estimation as she accepted from the Commissioners for the Rebuilding of St Paul’s the sum of ‘£5 for her present subsistence’ following the death of her husband, a labourer lately killed on the cathedral works.

April 1730 and London newspapers report the deaths of firemen, porters and servants killed by collapsing buildings at a ‘great fire’ on Fleet Street

Posted in Newspapers with tags , , , , on 01/04/2016 by Craig Spence

Mr Clinton was a distiller; his shop conveniently located in Fleet Street was to be found close to the corner of Fetter Lane. On the morning of 31 March 1730 he began his day by firing up his still to produce another batch of alcoholic intoxicants. During this process, and for some unexplained reason, the still-head became detached from the apparatus. Hot alcohol spewed across the room and coming into contact with the naked flames below the distilling vat it burst explosively into flame.

The ensuing fire was intense and quickly spread throughout Clinton’s building. Unfortunately for his neighbours within an hour-and-a-half the fire had also spread to theirs. The properties of Mr Kingham (a potter), Mr Allin (a shoemaker) and Mr Sawkins (innholder at the ‘Magpye and Horseshoe’) were all affected.

Firemen of the London insurance offices were quickly on the scene and together with a crowd of porters, servants and passers-by attempted to both fight the fire and remove goods and belongings from the affected and adjacent houses. Well into their task there was a sudden rumbling and without warning two of the houses collapsed.

The London newspapers tell the story of that day, and the following four, in some detail. Reports of the total number of casualties vary but certainly six died and maybe as many as sixteen. Many others were injured and rushed to the London hospitals for treatment.

Among the dead was James Mitchell an insurance company fireman. Mitchell was a resident of Westminster and had begun his working life as a waterman’s apprentice in 1718. Keen to take advantage of the higher status and regular income offered by the role of fireman he had abandoned the waters of the river and turned instead to the fires of the city to provide his ‘trade’. Others who died included a footman and a porter.

On the third day after the fire and collapse the efforts of those toiling to rescue anyone still trapped in the debris were rewarded when a servant maid was pulled alive from the ruins. Incredibly she had survived the fire trapped in the partially fallen vault underneath the ‘Horseshoe alehouse’. She did not survive long however tragically dying within minutes of being freed. It is likely that she was a victim of ‘crush syndrome’, a form of traumatic fatal injury not formally identified until studies of victims of the London Blitz were undertaken some 210 years later.

The London Newspapers made concerted efforts to report this event; the Daily Courant, The Weekly Journal or British Gazette, The Weekly Journal, the Daily Journal and the Daily Post all covered the story. The printer of The Weekly Journal, Mr Read Sen. resident of Whitefriars Street, secured a closer insight into the events than he might have wished. Having taken his own [fire] engine to the scene of the conflagration he was close at hand when the buildings collapsed.  By which means he not only secured a first-hand account of the incident but also a broken leg!

The day a pint of beer saved a life in January 1730

Posted in Accident, Bills of Mortality, Murder, Newspapers, Suicide with tags , , , on 05/01/2014 by Craig Spence

Bad winter weather with bitter cold and thick fogs spread across London during January 1730. As a result there were several sudden deaths and accidental injuries. The Bill of Mortality for the week commencing 6 January shows only two sudden deaths: a child ‘found dead’ in the church yard of St Mary Magdalen in Bermondsey and another person reported as ‘murdered in the goal’ at St George Southwark. This last death was that of a newborn infant deliberately drowned by Sarah Townshend, the mother, who was at the time a felon ‘committed to the New Gaol’.

The following week’s Bill has a greater and more varied number of casualties. Published for the week commencing the 13 January the Bill reports six deaths:

1 killed accidentally by a fall at St Dunstan in the West;
2 drowned: one at St Mary Lambeth; one at St Martin in the Fields;
2 found dead: one, a girl, in the churchyard of Christchurch Spitalfields; one, a male infant, at St George in the East [Wapping];
1 hanged herself being lunatic at St James Westminster.

But of course there were also those who evaded death yet still received injury at this difficult time of year. The Daily Courant newspaper took great delight in reporting on Thursday 8 January 1730 that:

The same evening [Tuesday 6th], during the time of the prodigious fogs, a man mistaking his way, fell into the fleet ditch, by which accident he beat out one of his eyes, and was very much bruised.

Another man fell into the Common-shore [sewer] in King Street, Westminster; and a great many more accidents happened on the like occasion, both in the streets of London and Westminster; as also on the River Thames.

Perhaps the most interesting story of that edition is the one that refers to beer. While the labourer concerned received no injury it is his particularly close encounter with death, and escape, that made the event so newsworthy to the metropolitan readership:

The same day, a house pretty much out of repair in Bedfordbury fell down; a bricklayer’s labourer who was employed to pull off the pantyling to lighten it, had got off about 200 [tiles], and was gone to get himself a pint of beer being cold, when it fell down without doing any further damage.

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