In the early 1330's an outbreak of the bubonic Plague started in China. In October
1347 Italian merchant ships carried the Plague to Italy, and then to Europe.
By August 1348 the Plague reached England, where it was known as the Black Death because
of black pustules forming on the skin.
The disease is a bacteria called yersina pestis
whose main carriers were fleas who had fed off dying bodies, the fleas lived on the
Black Rat or humans.
During the next 5 years, one third of the population of europe was dead.
The main spread of the disease was from the ports, in our area the Cinque Ports were
the main starting point, and the disease radiated out along the main trade routes.
This was possibly due to fleas trapped in bundles of cloth from the continent,
by infected fleas living on humans, or by humans carrying the sickness. It is also
possible that smugglers who were exporting wool (made illegal in the early 1300's by
Edward I) from the Romney Marshes to europe, brought the Plague back on one of their
expeditions into the local villages.
A number of villages in the area have their churches some distance from the village centres
this is believed to be caused by the survivors not wanting to live near the burial places
of so many Plague victims. We have identified a number of villages in the area where the
church is away from the centre of population.
Also in the small towns of Rye and Winchelsea are areas known as Deadman's Lane believed
to be originally where the Plague victims were buried. Later on these areas were
used to bury the dead from the raids by the French during the Hundred Years War .
The Black Death was seasonal, and seemed to disappear in the winter, this was felt to be
due to the fleas laying dormant, then re-emerging in spring as the fleas became more common.
The Plague seemed to initially kill those not naturally immune to the disease, and as time
went by and resistance grew, it is believed that the spring re-emergence was due in part to
the poor diet through the winter reducing the resistance of the less wealthy population.
The five years from 1348 to 1353 were the worst years, then the outbreaks grew less,
finally disappeared after the last outbreak in London in 1665.