Plague and Water

In 1840 Dr Rawson published ‘An Inquiry into the History and Influence of the Lichfield Waters: intended to show the Necessity of an Immediate and Final Drainage of the Pools’. The work was originally anonymous according to medical journal The Lancet.

According to the Lancet, Dr Rawson “contends that the stagnant pools around Lichfield are injurious to the health of the inhabitants, and urges several reasons for draining, and filling them up. This is objected to by certain lovers of the picturesque; and by another very opposite class of persons, who button up their breeches-pockets very closely, that the money may fructify there,when a call is made upon them for any public purpose”.

Part of Dr Rawson’s argument was that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Lichfield suffered five or six plagues. Although the whole of England had been affected, Dr Rawson argued that the effects in Lichfield were disproportionate for its size.

The doctor used statistics quoted in ‘ Harwood’s History,’ to produce the following table:

Statistics of the Plague in Lichfield, in 1645-6.


Beacon-street, Gaia-lane, Shaw-lane, Close, value £8.—Chiefly on ridge land, and all well ventilated, except the vicarage. The Close ditch was drained in 1643, and part of Beacon-street burned down, during the plague.


Market-street, value £4 18s 4d; deaths 38; per cent. 18.—Defended by domestic comforts.

Dam-street, Butcher-row, Tamworthstreet, Boar-street, the Woman’s Chyping, value £4 14s 8d ; deaths 200; per cent. 16. —Exposed to external ventilation, except one side of Butcher-row; but partly adjoining the most infected districts, and containing a common channel, with stagnant water in it.

Stow-street, Lombard-street, Bird-street, Sandford-street, value £4 2s 7d; deaths 282; per cent. 41.—The extreme parts, small houses close to the pools. Bird-street, in the centre, being so narrow, that it has since been widened by act of Parliament.

Green-hill, George-lane, St. John-street, Frog-lane, Wade-street, value £3 13s 7d; deaths 321; per cent. 47.—Partly intersected by the Common Ditch and Common Muck-hill of the town, parallel to, but under the level of which were Frog-lane and Wade-street, while John-street was hemmed in between these and the Bishop’s Marsh.”

Statistics wise 51 per cent of Lichfield’s population died of plague in 1593-4, and 32 per cent, in 1645-6.

So, yet another miserable subject I’m sorry. I’ll try and find something a little more cheerful for next time……

9 thoughts on “Plague and Water

  1. Interesting that it had such a long-term effect on the population with the depletion of a whole age group.Reminds me of the fertility stats: post World War One, fertility dropped to its lowest recorded level, as so many young men had been killed.


  2. This has made my think….if a generation of children was lost, then obviously they wouldn't have any children themselves nor grandchildren either. However, I have read something today (by the South Staffs Archaeology & History Society) saying that the population of Lichfield actually increased during this period, most likely due to immigration.


  3. Minster Pool was created in 1310 under the orders of Bishop Langton. Although in around 1085 mining for the sandstone for the then Cathedral was done where Minster Pool is today, so part of the Minster Pool dates back to the 11th Century. These sandstone deposits were found during the Victorian engineering of this area. There are two Brooks running through this area, Leamonsley and Trunkfield Brook’s. Opposite the Garden of Remembrance are the memorial gardens more commonly known when I was young as the “Rec” abbreviation for recreational, although some people call it the “Wreck” due to the statue of Captain Smith and the Titanic. In the area where there is a statue of Captain Smith was the Bishops Fish Pool which was quite large (Minster and Bishops Pools were formed when the original medieval bridge was built and split one pool in to two). In the Victorian era the old bridge which stood since the medieval period was replaced with the one found today and the Bishops Fish Pool was filled in with deposits from the dredged Minster Pool.

    I think there was a legend that the bodies that were buried were done so outside the City walls so to protect those within the City walls.


    • I didn’t know it was referred to as the Wreck! Again, there’s no subsitute sometimes for local knowledge!
      I did wonder what had happened to those who died of the plague. I also wonder if there are any photos of the old bridge? Thanks for the information!


  4. There is a painting of the old bridge on the Staffordshire Past track, but no photos no one had a camera in the early 19th Century lol


  5. Pingback: Elegy Written in a Lichfield Churchyard | Lichfield Lore

  6. Hi, I wonder if you could help. Back when I was a nipper at Sunday school some one told me that the meaning of Lichfield meant “field of death”. Due to the out break of the plague. A bishop arrived at the out skirts and just saw fields of dead people and that is how the city got it’s name. Is there any truth in this??


    • Hi Ian! The ‘Field of the Dead’ explanation for the name has always been popular and ties in with a legend that there was a massacre of Christian Martyrs at Christian Field. There are variations on the legend. Some say there were a thousand martyrs, others say that there were three Christian Kings involved and that they are buried at Borrowcop Hill. The legend is depicted on the city seal, which can be found in all sorts of places including the railway bridge at St John Street, the Guild Hall and the Martyrs’ Plaque in Beacon Park. However… there is no evidence at all for the legend and place name experts believe that Lichfield actually means something more like ‘Field by the Grey Wood’. It’s interesting that you were told yet another version of the story, and one I hadn’t heard! It’s a great bit of folklore though!


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