1. ITV Report

The Black Death in London

The gruesome discovery isn't the first mass grave of plague victims to be discovered Photo: ITV News London

Workers on the Crossrail project have discovered a mass grave thought to contain the bodies of Londoners who died from the Black Plague.

This isn't the first time a large number of skeletons has been discovered during building work in the capital.

Twelve skeletons, lying in two neat rows, were found on the edge of Charterhouse Square in Farringdon in the City of London Credit: Crossrail

In October 2012, construction of a multi-million pound leisure centre in Elephant and Castle was suspended after the discovery of 500 skeletons. They were in crypts, some of which dated back to before the Black Death in the 1300s.

Watch Nick Thatcher's report from 4th October 2012

Pottery dated up until 1350 found in the graves by the Crossrail team and the layout of the skeletons all point to them being plague victims Credit: Crossrail

Black Death facts

  • The Black Death struck London in the autumn of 1348
  • During the next 18 months it killed half of all Londoners – perhaps 40,000 people
  • Most experts believe that it was bubonic plague
  • Symptoms included headaches, fever, vomiting, painful swellings on the neck, armpits and groin (buboes), blisters and bruises, coughing up blood
  • There were so many dead that Londoners had to dig mass graves. In some of the trenches, the bodies were piled on top of each other, up to five deep. Children’s bodies were placed in the small spaces between adults
  • Many people have heard of the Black Death of 1348 and the Great Plague of 1665. However, it is less well-known that these famous outbreaks are only two of nearly 40 that London suffered between 1348 and 1665
  • A major outbreak of the disease struck roughly every 20-30 years, killing around 20% of London’s population each time. There were lesser outbreaks in-between the major ones and sometimes the disease could continue for several years in a less serious form
  • The term ‘Black Death’ was first used in the 1800s. Medieval people called the disease the ‘Great Pestilence’
  • The plague lingered until the last reported case in 1679
  • The plague still exists today in countries like India and the United States

For more fascinating Black Death facts, visit the Museum of London website

Watch Nick Thatcher's report on the latest discovery of skeletons at the Crossrail site in Farringdon.

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