Packed plague pits lie in the capital under busy streets just beneath Londoners’ feet

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An ongoing project organised by Historic UK is plotting locations of plague pits on an interactive map of London – and they are spread all over the city

The Black Death cemetery, East Smithfield, London
The Black Death cemetery, East Smithfield, London

Thousands of bodies lie beneath the streets of London with millions of people walking across packed plague pits each day.

Between the years of 1665 and 1666, the great plague of London took the lives of around 100,000 people, 20 per cent of the capital’s population at the time.

Living conditions were overcrowded and extremely unsanitary, providing a perfect environment for the bubonic plague to spread like wildfire.

With the plague gripping London and the death toll being so high, it begs the question of where exactly did the bodies of the deceased ended up?

The epidemic resulted in the need for a number of plague pits to be put into action across the city and surrounding countryside.

Most of these sites were originally the grounds of churches, but as the booming body count outgrew the graveyards, the pits were hastily constructed.

So where are these plague pits today? Historic UK have created an interactive map that details where many of the mass graves lie as part of an ongoing project.

Victims of the Great Plague of London are buried in a mass grave at Holy Well Mount, Shoreditch, London, 1665
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Image:

Hulton Archive / 2011 Getty Images)

The prevalence of these burial sites means that there’s likely to be thousands of bodies of plague victims buried beneath your very feet in London – quite the blood curdling thought.

Locating the graves is difficult with very little evidence to go on, but the map’s locations are based on various historical sources, including Daniel Defoe’s ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’, which was first published in 1722.

Social media channels and ongoing archaeological digs also help to inform of the whereabouts of the plague pits but unless the city was entirely excavated, it’s likely that many could remain a mystery.

The excavation of the Black Death cemetery
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Image:

2010 MOLA / Getty Images)

Deborah Johnson, who is working on the Historic UK project, told Huffington Post UK : “We have had lots of interaction from people regarding other possible plague pit sites in London, allowing us to update our information accordingly.

“We aim to produce the most accurate and comprehensive map of London’s plague pits.”

There is a story that details that when workers were constructing the Aldgate Station in the City of London in the 1860s, a large plague pit was uncovered. The mass grave was reportedly 40 feet in length and 16 feet in width, containing around 1000 bodies.

Historical books focusing on this site suggest that the bodies were buried with haste, without a ceremony or even a coffin.

In this instance, the skeletons were buried for two centuries before discovery, meaning that Londoners had walked the streets of London without the knowledge that 1000 corpses lay beneath their very feet.

The Great Plague of London
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Image:

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Much later, in 2013 when the Crossrail was being built, a plague pit thought to be the biggest ever discovered was found in Charterhouse Square, Farringdon.

Dozens of skeletons were discovered, but it is believed that up to 50,000 bodies could be buried in this vicinity.

The Museum of London was drafted in to excavate around the remains.

At the time, Jay Carver, from Crossrail, told Channel 4 News: “We found something that we don’t find very often and that’s a group of skeletons that we think died at a specific date and we have dating evidence to prove that from the pottery that was found in the graves with the skeletons.”

For funeral notices in your area visit funeral-notices.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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