Books Maps Manuscripts Objects Periodicals Sketches

1664 - 1666

'Ring-a-ring o'roses, A pocket full of poesies, Atishoo! Atishoo! We all fall down.'The ring of roses is the rash that was one of the early symptoms of the plague, the poesies were bunches of flowers carried to ward off the smell of decay, and the 'atishoo' represents the sneezing fits that characterized the later stages of the illness. This small 1665 publication offers 57 receipts - recipes - that could be used to prevent catching the plague. On reading chapter 22, it is a wonder where Londoners would obtain the much-needed scorpions and the unicorn's horn from. In 1665, some 100,000 died in London, out of an estimated population of 460,000.

W.J., A collection of seven and fifty approved receipts good against the plague. London: Printed by Peter Lillicrap, for John Wingfield at the Bible and Anchor in Tower Street near Mark-land end, 1665. Med Hist. WC 355 JB16.

From the winter of 1664-65 until spring of 1666, London suffered an epidemic of the plague.The disease, carried by fleas that had fed on the blood of infected rats, was first detected in St. Giles-in-the-Fields(a suburb lying west of the City of London). Closely packed houses, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions accelerated the spread. Such visitations were frequent: outbreaks of bubonic plague also occurred in London in 1563, 1603 and 1625. The advice printed in The Newes on monitoring outbreaks and appointing watchmen and 'able and discreet Chirurgeons'(surgeons) was no doubt tried and tested.

The Newes, No.52, 6 July 1665 (facsimile). DeB Ec 1588 F.

This medieval manuscript, a rather sad paper copy of 195 sermons for the Temporal by Conrad of Brundelsheim (d. 1321), is a survivor. The inked inscription on the front endpaper reads: 'This book was water stained & spoilt in the Great Fire of London, A.D. 1666.' Somehow this ragged survivor (perhaps from one of the 89 church libraries engulfed by flames) ended up in the library of Dr Georg Franz Kloss of Frankfurt, and then, after book sales in London in 1828 and 1835, in the library of Canon William Arderne Shoults. The Shoults Collection is now housed in Special Collections, University of Otago.

Conrad of Brundelsheim, Sermones de tempore, Germany, 14th-15th century. Shoults MS 3.