The Black Death
Location: The Harbour, Weymouth
Bring out your Dead
In the late middle ages, the dreadful plague known as the Black Death swept in from Asia claiming a third of Europe's population in just two years.
Its arrival to England through Weymouth on the 25th June 1348. Is documented in the Grey Friars Chronicle.
'In this year 1348 in Melcombe, in the county of Dorset, a little before the feast of St. John the Baptist, two ships, one of them from Bristol came alongside. One of the sailors had brought with him from Gascony the seeds of the terrible pestilence and through him the men of that town of Melcombe were the first in England to be infected.'
Villages and hamlets on the outskirts of Weymouth soon fell victim to the plague causing the villagers to abandon their settlements and seek refuge in other parts of the county; this caused the infection to spread over a wide area, until it eventually reached the major cities.
The Death took a heavy toll on the people of Portland, that the quarries and fields ceased to be worked and the coastal defences were left deserted. Edward III, in 1352 ordered the movement of the islanders to be restricted.
The bubonic plague was transmitted to humans by the bite of a flea, the flea itself being infected by the black rat upon which it lived. Both rats and fleas thrived in unsanitised conditions of the time.
One bite from a flea could cause the most horrifying symptoms. The first sign being a blackish rash followed by large swellings in the armpit, groin and neck area. Preceding death the victim would develop a fever and begin to hallucinate.
The bubonic plague continued to affect Europe for centuries, its last manifestation in Britain being the Great plague of the 1660's.