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Great Plague

The Great Plague was a massive outbreak of disease in Britain that killed up to a fifth of London's population in 1665. It is generally believed to have been bubonic plague, an infection by the bacteria Yersinia pestis transmitted via a rat vector. Other infectious agents have also been suggested.

An account of the plague in London is given by Daniel Defoe in A Journal of the Plague Year[?].

Affected areas and extent

Though concentrated in London, the outbreak affected other areas of the country. Perhaps the most famous example was the the village of Eyam[?] in Derbyshire. The plague arrived in a parcel of cloth sent from London. The villagers imposed a quarantine on themselves to stop the further spread of the disease. Though successful, the village lost around 80% of its inhabitants.

The 1665 epidemic was in fact on a far smaller scale than the earlier "Black Death", a virulent outbreak of disease in Europe between 1347 and 1353, but was remembered afterwards as the "great" plague because it was one of the last widespread outbreaks in Europe.

"Ring of Roses" nursery rhyme

It is sometimes claimed that this particular incidence of the disease is commemorated in the children's nursery rhyme "Ring of Roses":

"A ring-a-ring of roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A tishoo, a tishoo,
We all fall down"

The ring of roses was the characteristic formation of buboes in the early stage of infections. The posies were flowers thought to ward off infection. The third line refers to sneezing, which was another early symptom. The last line refers to dying which is what commonly happened next.

A variant of the rhyme is:

"Ring around the rosies
Pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down"

However, this theory about this rhyme is nothing more than speculation: the rhyme was first published in 1881. A good summary of the argument against this theory may be found at [1] (http://www.snopes2.com/language/literary/rosie.htm).

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