Exeter and the Black Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A-Z of Exeter – Places – People – History, by Chris Hallam

Published by Amberley: October 15th 2019

For 2,000 years, the Devon city of Exeter has played a small but vital role in our nation’s history. There have been highs and lows. For centuries, it was one of the top cities in the land, elevated into a golden age of prosperity. But the city has also suffered countless incursions from a wide range of invaders both foreign and English. It came close to defeating William the Conqueror, remained defiant in the face of German bombing, fought on both sides in the English Civil War and has battled fires, plagues, sieges and pretenders to the throne.

This is Exeter’s story, told for the first time in alphabetical order.

Chapter headings include:

The Civil War

JK Rowling

The Exeter Blitz

The Great Theatre Fire

Witches on trial

Chris Hallam was born in Peterborough and settled in Exeter in 2005 where he now lives with his wife. He has written for a large number of local and national magazines including DVD Monthly, Yours Retro, Infinity, Geeky Monkey and Best of British. He also wrote The Smurfs annual 2014 and co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter in 2018.