The Visit of the Great Plague to Nottingham

by Bill Carson

The below extract is from Cornelius Brown’s- Notes About Notts, 1874:

Most old writers agree in ascribing to Nottingham the merit of being a healthful town. One author, writing 140 years ago, says ” the air is esteemed as healthy as any part of England affords”. The situation of the town, the open spaces within it, and the efforts made to ensure the cleanliness of the streets, have gained for other large places, it is occasionally the home of disastrous epidemics. Deering says: “as healthful as Nottingham is, there mostly happens once in five years some distemperature in the air;” and he mentions an outbreak of smallpox in 1736, which caused 104 to be buried in St Mary’s churchyard in one month.

The year in which the plague visited Nottingham was 1667. Bamford, writing of the plague twenty four years before the above event, and when the disease was by no means uncommon, says: “it hath beene proved that clothes of infected persons layed up and not well ayred, being opened, though a yeere or more after, have instantly renewed the plague. Againe, we perceive by the smell that garments will retaine the sent of wormwood or muske for a long time; the cause is not in the sent by itself considered, but in the ayre, which is the subject of the sent. The plague in a garment is the poisoned ayre, being according to the nature thereof from the partie infected, and infecting the garment, though not perceived by smell”.

A curious fact is mentioned in connection with the outbreak of the plague. It is recorded that it made a cruel desolation in the higher part of Nottingham, but very few died in the lower. Especially in a street called Narrow Marsh, it was observed that the infection had no power, and that during  the whole of the time the plague raged, not one who lived in that street died of it.


Red Lion Street, Narrow Marsh, circa 1919.
Credit: Picture the Past

 This induced many of the richer sort of people to crowd thither and hire lodgings at any price; the preservation of the people was attributed to the effluvia of the tanner’s ouze (for there were then 47 tanner’s yards in that place), besides which they caused a smoke to be made by burning tanner’s knobs.


The Medieval Tannery in Broadmarsh, Nottingham. The tannery was in use from 1500 – 1640. Tanning is the process of making leather from animal skins. In medieval times it was used for making shoes, belts, gloves harnesses, armour and bottles – a viable and profitable business. The tannery is the only medieval underground tannery in the country, including the spectacular Pillar Cave dating back to 1250AD.
Credit: City of Caves


About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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