On this day … 30 April 1631

It was recorded that the effect of the plague that had reached Preston the previous November was so severe that 1,390 townsfolk had been provided with relief by the county authorities that week.

This was the week with the highest number receiving relief. Subsequently, the numbers declined. This was not because the need lessened, rather it was that the plague was so cruelly reducing the population of the town that far fewer were still alive to need it.

The town’s ongoing need for help is detailed in the papers of the Kenyon family. Roger Kenyon had been receiving weekly reports about the number of people in the town receiving relief, with provisions left at a safe distance on the outskirts of the town for fear of contagion. Kenyon’s letter to the Lancashire magistrates who had authorised a collection of £60 a week to fund the relief, ends on a chilling note, that illustrates that fear of contagion:

I have perused and examined the accounts of the distribution of the moneys levied in the county for the relief of the infected and poor people of Preston … I do not purpose to receive any more books till God make it less dangerous.

Just as chilling was the heading in the parish register for the month of November 1630 (below), ‘heare begineth the visitation of Allmighty god, the plague’. By the time it had finished with the town, more than 1,100 were dead, with 599 buried in July and August 1633 alone.

Announcement of plague in the 1630 Preston parish register

For a while some people in the town attempted to deny that the illness was the plague, as Alexander Rigby, of Middleton Hall in Goosnargh, noted in a letter to his brother describing the arrival of the disease, ‘which our tradesmen will not call the plage’.

Alexander wrote the letter from his town house in Preston. He sent his children away, but, for himself, ‘I am loath to remove rashly, because I would not wrong the towne by my example.’

It was reported that, ‘the town was depopulated and corn rotted upon the ground for want of reapers’. By August, death and flight had so reduced the population that there were reportedly only 887 people still living in the town, compared with some 3,000 inhabitants a year earlier.

It took the town some years to recover, as a petition to the Privy Council from the town’s drapers attests:

Your petitioners at the present doe consist of very neere 80 poore persons … But nowe soe it is, that the said Burrough having beene within these three years last past grieviously visited with the Plague and Pestilence which infec’con continued amongst them a whole yeare or thereabouts; and thereby your Petitioners and others of the surviveing inhabitants for that tyme are altogether barred from the exercise of their trades, and soe are become very muche impoverished and weakened in their estates.

The outbreak was the worst suffered by the town since the Black Death in the fourteenth century carried off as many as possibly 3,000 in the parish. Later in the seventeenth century, smallpox was the disease afflicting the town, but on nothing like the scale of those two visitations of the plague (see post 3 January below)

Clemesha’s History of Preston
The former county archivist R. Sharpe France wrote a lengthy History of the Plague in Lancashire with a great deal of material on Preston for the journal of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire: https://www.hslc.org.uk/journal/vol-90-1938/
For the Black Death in Preston: https://prestonhistory.com/subjects/all-change-in-14th-century-preston/

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