When the Plague visited Cheshire

THE SARS virus and the current global concern is put into perspective if one considers how the population fared in former times...when the plague visited and medicine was practically non-existent.

Cheshire, in common with the rest of England had its several visitations of the plague and the records make very interesting, and very sad, reading.

The Black Death of the fourteenth century visited Cheshire and the county suffered heavily.
In 1348 there was an abnormally wet half year, with rain practically every day from Midsummer to Christmas, so what with the bad harvest and the plague the common people suffered much.

There is ample evidence that quite a number of the clergy succumbed and that for several years many farms were greatly r educed in value because of the scarcity of labour, which made it impossible for them to be worked.

In 1507 the "sweating sickness" visited Chester when ninety-one householders died in three days and "all but four of them widows".

Ten years later Chester was again visited by a "great plague" and "for want of trading the grass did grow a foot high at the Cross and in other streets".

This is believed to have been the true plague following the sweating sickness.

In 1558 the plague again visited the county and other neighbouring counties. A few died in Chester, but many fled to the open country to escape it. Slight as the visitation appears to have been, Chester was "weakened by the prevalence of the plague", according to a State paper in February 1559.

Chester was visited again in 1574, but, fortunately, there were few deaths, rnainly because of the precautions taken by the civic authority, such as the prohibiting of citizens from receiving any lodgers who had come from supected neighbourhoods.

Two years later most of the members of the Antrobus family in Northwich died, and the household linen, valued at 13s. 4d, was put into the river to prevent its further use, an act which, in 1592, was the subject of an action by the son who claimed compensation for this destruction.

Early in the seventeenth century the plague again came to Chester, commencing in St. John’s Lane, at the home of one, Glover. Here seven persons died in a short time, and the plague great increased until sixty died weekly. Michaelmas Fair was not kept because of the prevalence of the disease. All infected persons were removed from their homes and conveyed into houses and and cabins built at the water side, near the New Tower, and were there relieved at the cost of the city. In a little over a month, to October 13, 1603, six hundred and fifty died of the plague.

Despite the many deaths the plague continued to rage in Chester, and from October 14, 1603, to March 20, 1604, a further eight hundred and twelve persons died.

In this year of 1604, Nantwich was visited. The parish registers in July 1604 records the plague as "being brought out of Chester".

Northwich also appears to have been visited during this year, as it is named, with Nantwich and Chester, as being in need of relief, for it was "infected with the plague". Owing to the plague in Chester in 1605 the Court of Exchequer was removed to Tarvin, and the County Assizes were held in Nantwich.

Stockport was visited by the plague during the years 1605 and 1606 as witness the evidence of the parish registers, for some fifty-one persons are recorded as having died from it.

Macclesfield had an even more serious visitation. Over seventy entries, occupying two pages of the parish registers speak of "Burials in Macclesfield since God's visitations. In 1608 an epidemic started at "The Talbot" in Chester, when fourteen persons died, and again in 1610 many more died.
In 1625 the plague at Malpas was very severe, and seemingly several families were exterminated by the disease. One entry in the registers is interesting and pathetic.

It reads: "Richard Dawson, brother to the above named 'Thomas Dawson of Bradley, being sicke of the plague, and perceyvei,)g lie must (lie at vt time, arose out of his bed, and made his grave, and caused his nefew, John Dawson, to cast straw into the grave, w'ch was not farre from the howse, and went and layd him down in the sayd grave, and caused clothes to be layd uppon, and so dep'ted out of this world; this be did because he was a strong man, and heavier than his said nefew and another wench were able to bury. He died about the XXlVth of August. This much was I credibly tould he did 1625 . . ."

In 1637 Congleton was visited by a plague of a particularly virulent type. The authorities, under John Bradshaw, the Mayor, tackled the epidemic with promptness and forthrightness.

It ordered that "no lnholder, Ale house keeper, Victualler or other pson of this Towvne whatsoever shall lodge, or receive into his or theire houses, anie carrier, maltster or other pson travelling from Darbey, or from anie other place infected or suspected, and generally reported to be infected whatsoever, or receive ,anie corne, graine, malte or other Commodity
from anie comon carrier that shall not bring with him a sufficient certificate that the same malte, graine, or other comoditie came not from anie place infected or suspected..."

It was believed that this infection was brought from London in a box of wearing apparel. The plague reached the town a few days before Christmas, and attacked the Laplove family, several of whom quickly became victims. It soon spread from house to house, so much so that the streets of the town became deserted and overgrown with grass. This attack lasted for two years; the authorities doing everything possible for the stricken town.

In passing, it may be recorded that the Laplove family, with the exception of one little girl, was entirely wiped out, five being recorded in the Astbury parish registers as having been buried in two days.