A Conversation for Eyam - the Plague Village - Derbyshire, UK
Salamander the Mugwump Started conversation Jul 12, 2000
That was interesting. I expect there are quite a few old plague sites. One of my brothers lives on the site of one in Northamptonshire. I don't know much about it except that there isn't really a village there at all now. But a hand full of scattered farms, houses and a motor repair shop have the village name as their address.
Metal Chicken Posted Jul 12, 2000
At least the village name survived. Loads of villages and smaller settlements disappeared off the map altogether during the plague ridden centuries. Sometimes all that's left nowadays is a slightly bumpy field and a vague local legend about a lost village.
Salamander the Mugwump Posted Jul 13, 2000
There are programmes about plagues on tv quite often and I would imagine that means that people are fascinated by them. I know I am and I have to admit that I find it a bit embarrassing. It seems almost like morbid curiosity and "rubber necking", but I don't think that's really what it is at all. Your article was thought provoking. It stirs up empathy for those people and thoughts of your own mortality and the mortality of all the people you love. It's almost unimaginable - you don't want to, but your mind has to go there.
A couple of programmes that have been on fairly recently stick out in my mind. The first was about various plagues that are still alive and well and probably coming our way sooner or later. There was a part about bubonic plague and they were saying it's doing awfully well in California where it lives in a widespread population of ground squirrels. The squirrels are caught and tested regularly to gauge the progress of the disease. They showed pictures of some poor camper who had caught it sleeping on the ground not far from the burrow of a dead squirrel. I think, though I'm not entirely sure, that the area surrounded Los Angeles. They said they wouldn't exterminate the squirrels because then the fleas would have to find other hosts like city rats, domestic pets and humans. They didn't want to disturb the equilibrium and trigger a disaster.
The second programme was about the eruption of a super volcano (a caldera) some short time before the outbreak of the black death. I think the volcano was Krakatoa. It was such a huge eruption that it had enormous consequences and the programme makers connected it to an incredible number of events that, previously, seemed unconnected or only very loosely connected. Anyway, they speculated that the black death swept across Europe because the global climate had been changed by this eruption. I think they said it triggered an ice age (could have been a mini-ice age, not quite sure). This lead to outbreaks of plague because the fleas that carry the disease can hop about quite happily, biting their victims and not passing it on if the weather is fairly warm, but when it gets cold, the plague bacillus causes a blockage in the fleas' stomachs and this (for reasons I can't remember) causes the flea to pass on the disease.
Sorry that was so long, Chuck.
Metal Chicken Posted Jul 18, 2000
Sorry it took me so long to read, digest and get round to replying.
The fascination with plagues is definitely widespread. It takes some kind of enormous disaster to remind us of our vulnerability and powerlessness against the forces of nature. We may have drugs to deal with Bubonic plague now, but there are plenty of doomsayers out there predicting plagues of diseases we have no defences against. Hence all the media excitement about flesh-eating superbugs, Ebola, BSE and the like.
I don't remember the TV programme linking eruptions at Krakatoa with the Great Plague. The museum at Eyam has a little section on the genesis and spread of the plague. I can't remember much now but I do remember the bit about the blocked-up fleas regurgitating infection.
I'm not sure about the temperature drop theory though - plague was more of a summer disease here. The death toll in Eyam, for example, dropped significantly over the Winter and then climbed again in the summer months the following year.
Another mystery is why the plague virtually disappeared at the end of the 17th century after 300 hundred years of terrorising Europe. Was it changes in lifestyle or environment or due to a decreasing population of black rats or something else entirely? Nobody knows for sure but as with most aspects of this history, it certainly provides food for thought.
Salamander the Mugwump Posted Jul 19, 2000
What you say about the plague increasing in summer and decreasing in winter makes perfect sense. Any dog or cat owner knows that the season of forking out for flea preparations is summer. If the winter's cold and you have no central heating (and who did 300 and more years ago), fleas aren't a problem. I've obviously forgotten some key points from that programme. It was shown months ago. The dog's were probably driving me mad to play with them while I was trying to watch it. You know how it is.
Perhaps, even though the global climate got a few degrees colder, the summers were still warm enough for fleas to hatch and hassle. I'm going to have a rootle about on the internet and see if I can find anything about that programme. It was full of ideas to explain all sorts of things but I don't remember there being much by way of solid proof. I suppose quite a lot of history is like that - it happened so long ago that all you can do, in the absence of actual evidence, is speculate. I can't even remember which station it was on. At least I have a feeling it was on one of the terrestrial channels. I'll come back and tell you what I find - even if I don't find what I'm looking for, which I probably won't.
In the meantime, I just remembered a poem by William Blake that was included in yet another documentary on plagues that I saw 2 or 3 years ago. Maybe you know it:
O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Like Ring a Ring a Roses, another artistic product of plague and disease.
Salamander the Mugwump Posted Jul 19, 2000
I've found it. The programme was "Secrets of the Dead" and the episode was called "Catastrophe! The Day the Sun Went Out'' . I got the timing wrong though. Krakatoa (then a huge underwater caldera) went off in the 6th century and, according to the theory of a British Historian, David Keys, it caused a sort of nuclear winter, one of the effect of which was to start the first outbreak of bubonic plague to strike western Europe. The initial problem was that an increase in rainfall triggered a breeding surge in the East African rat population which changed the predator/prey ratio and enabled the rats (and their passengers) to spread quickly to Alexandria in Egypt then, by hitching rides on ships, they got to Constantinople (Istanbul) where that city's population took a dramatic dive - and from there, the gateway to Europe, the world was their oyster.
In David Keys' own words: "The climatic situation (probably cooler, drier weather followed by floods) helped the plague bacillus in three key ways. Cooler weather increased the population of the fleas which carried the bacillus in their gut. It also forced the fleas to bite more rodents and other mammals because cooler temperatures prevented the bacillus releasing a natural anti-coagulant in the flea's gut, a failure which resulted in the flea becoming ravenously hungry as its gut was blocked by blood clots. Third the climatic chaos destabilized the relationship between predators and their rodent prey - a destabilization which led to a breeding explosion by the flea's rodent hosts."
Metal Chicken, how could I have imagined that I wouldn't find it on the internet, where just about anything can be found?
Metal Chicken Posted Jul 19, 2000
I see what you were getting at now. Incidentally, there's some Secrets of the Dead showing again now on Channel 4. If they're repeating the last lot I might get another chance to see it. Except that it's bound to be on in the next 2 weeks while I'm on holiday of course.
Excellent researching Salamander! Thanks
Salamander the Mugwump Posted Jul 22, 2000
Thanks for pointing out that "Secrets of the Dead" is back. I missed the first one. If you can get the BBC Knowledge channel, there's an interesting programme on today (repeated several times). It's "The Late Show Special" and today's episode is "The New Middle Ages". It's on at 5pm and 9pm (I watched it at 1 pm). A large chunk of it is given over to the idea that various diseases of the dark and middle ages are making a come-back. Worth a look.
Metal Chicken Posted Jul 22, 2000
Key: Complain about this post
- 1: Salamander the Mugwump (Jul 12, 2000)
- 2: Metal Chicken (Jul 12, 2000)
- 3: Salamander the Mugwump (Jul 13, 2000)
- 4: Metal Chicken (Jul 18, 2000)
- 5: Salamander the Mugwump (Jul 19, 2000)
- 6: Salamander the Mugwump (Jul 19, 2000)
- 7: Metal Chicken (Jul 19, 2000)
- 8: Salamander the Mugwump (Jul 22, 2000)
- 9: Metal Chicken (Jul 22, 2000)