Black Death

The Black Death 1348.

 

I’ll tell of a terrible ailment,

that ‘undreds of years in t’past.

Came out o’ th’east, on t’back of a rat

and polished folk off flippin’ fast.

 

It were named a “rootless phantom”

“t’Great Mortality” in fact

if its symptoms were found on your person

Colloquially speaking “you’re knacked”

 

Believed to have started in China

a province called Hubei they tell

It soon spread to Jiangxi and Shanxi

Killing people and ponies as well

 

Carried by t’Mongols from Asia

to t’Middle East on t’Silk road 

In Constantinople and old Trebizond

to Michael Panaretos’ abode

 

This Mick were a bit of a scholar

and he wrote an account at t’time

how people were dropping like flies to t’plague

and sometimes he put it in rhyme.

 

Th’affliction it spread like a rumour

and during that same bloody year

The “death” reached t’city of Kaffa 

Genoan hangout in t’Crimea.

 

 In them days invasion and conquer

were something they did every day

as Kaffa were rich and strategic

Invaders were soon on their way.

 

Some Tartars backed up with t’Venetians

Had plunder and pillage in mind

But sickness disrupted their siege of the place

And most of t’Venetians went blind.

 

T’plague were abroad in t’city an’ all

and people were dropping like flies

Some traders decided to leg it

and boarded their ships in disguise

 

Some ships ended up in Messina,

some wrecked and were grounded ashore

t’sailors infected the locals

an’ were aided by looting galore.

 

So th’Italians copped for it firstly

on their shores it appeared durin’ t’spring

With buboes, bad breath and blood poisoning

they couldn’t get shut of the thing.

 

Genoa and Venice were smitten

And t’Doges were taken aback

They were using gondolas for ‘earses

and that’s why they’re all painted black.

 

It raged through t’city of Florence

as Boccaccio were writing his tome

He‘d lost both his dad and ‘is step mum,

but were too old for t’fosterin’ home.

 

He tells of all t’folks desperation

In search of protection and cure

how medics were working their socks off

but everyday numbers were fewer.

 

T’first signs were lumps they called buboes

In t’groin or up under the arms

They could swell to t’size of an apple

and were noted for causing alarm.

 

 Black spots would appear on t’body

It’s what give th’affliction its name

Nobody knew were it come from

Nobody knew who to blame.

 

If struck by the mystery illness

You were lucky to see out the week

GPs and hospital surgeons

agreed that t’prognosis were bleak.

 

Could it be got from t’water?

Would it be catched on t’breeze?

Where had t’bloody thing come from?

They hadn’t a clue it were t’fleas!

 

Avoiding all t’sick and their houses

Were thought to keep one hale and hearty

Whilst others were wanderin’ t’streets on the razz

They were doomed, so why not just party?

 

It were soon on its way again northward

In Iberia causing despair

Spreading out from Marseille up to Avignon too

and giving Pope Clement a scare.

 

He knew if he fell to its clutches

T’prospects for Christians were dire

So he stayed cooped up warm in ‘is castle

putting plenty of coal onto t’fire.

 

Pope Clement were getting a sweat on

lack of vicars it had him on pins.

He decreed all who died from this horrible plague

would receive a remission from sins.

 

Europe and t’Middle East suffered

a Carnage of biblical terms

thousands fell victim in Syria alone

not even Damascus killed t’germs.

 

Finally knocking on fair England’s door

Bristol were t’first in its path.

Ten thousand souls were packed into t’town

an’ most of ‘em needed a bath.

 

 England were changin’ ‘er patron saint

As fast as they possibly could

From Edward t’Confessor to t’martyr St George

It did not an happ’orth o’ good.

 

According to t’Red Book of Bristol

t’town councillors fell like the rest

Fifteen had croaked by the end of the year

t’remainder were feeling quite stressed.

 

Out from th’Avon it flourished

By rivers by roads and by seas

to Devon and Gloucester and Oxford

an’ still no one sussed it were t’fleas.

 

On t’feast of all saints it hit London

soon cockneys were dropping like flies

T’cemeteries swelled by two hundred a day

so folk had to imper-ovise.

 

Catch-22 situation arose

when t’council made Edward see red

King wanted street cleaners out on their rounds

but council informed ‘im, “they’re dead!”

 

“I’m sick of folk makin’ excuses,

and cockin’ up th’ouskeepin’ plans!

I’m busy wi’ “Knights of the Garter”

An’ th’undred years war on me ‘ands!”

 

Problems got worse with t’mutation of t’plague

fray bubonic to pneumonic disease

so as well as a flea-bite to dose you wi’t’plague

you’d cop it, if some bugger sneezed.

 

So-called cures they were getting more silly

And none were a good guarantee.

Eating egg shell with treacle and marigold leaves

or drinking two glasses of pee.

 

Today we just sing “Ring o’ Roses” to t’kids.

Forgettin’ t’macabre past?

Pink rashes, wi’ posies to fend off foul smell

‘fore sneezin’ an’ breathin’ your last.

 

 In t’main it were killing all t’poor

but t’ruling class suffered as well

Its presence meant Parli-ament were prorogued

Which is posh for “put off for a spell”.

 

From a third to an ‘alf of all London

Were taken, in all by the plague.

At least three Archbishops of Canterb’ry

pegged it, but records are vague.

 

Edward t’third lost his missus

Philippa of Hainault her name

Westminster’s Abbot and two dozen monks

died as well, it were really a shame.

 

It were soon in the fens of East Anglia,

Wales and t’Black Country an’ all

so yokels and taffies and brummies took sick

as the plague searched for t’next port of call.

 

Villages vanished from t’surface o’ t’land

Tenements vacant an’ slain

Ambion, Tilgarsley, Tusmore

Taken bi “t’death” it were plain.

 

Em’rald isle weren’t escapin’ t’contagion

as t’sea carried boats to their coast

within months of infectin’ Kilkenny

thousands o’ th’irish were “toast”

 

In t’summer “up north” felt its ‘orrible breath

It were killing off lankys and tykes,

grimly up t’Pennines it made its cruel way

doomin’ Cumbrians and Geordies alike.

 

In Durham all t’folk were revoltin’

not just ‘cause of t’buboes an’ spots,

t’fear of infection were bad, but there were,

a rumoured incursion from t’scots.

 

King David an’ t’lads had bin thinkin’

that England were weak wi’ disease

So they gathered in t’forest o’ Selkirk

But they couldn’t see t’wood for all t’trees.

 

 Somehow t’Black Death got among ‘em?

Five thousand fell o’er in a week,

th’invasion were suddenly cancelled

as t’prospects of winning looked bleak.

 

They’d taken “the pestilence” with ‘em

 ‘omeward to t’thistle an’ th’eather

Where people would suffer as th’english ‘ad done

‘til plague took a break for t’cold weather.

 

Changes to t’fabric o’t’nation,

were caused bi  t’black death it’s a fact.

Controllin’ o’ t’workers an’ t’wages

Were managed bi th’ordinance act.

 

T’shortage of labour in England,

‘ad rattled elite god forbid.

If lads who did t’graft didn’t get proper pay

They’d work for a gaffer as did

 

Parliament weren’t up for playin’

an’ movin’ to quell their game quick

came up wi’ Th’ord’nance o’ labourers

an’orrible Thatcherite trick!

 

In controllin’ all t’wages o’ t’workers

an’ restrictin’ their movement as well.

Meant anyone turnin’ down t’local lords terms

were thrown into jail for a spell.

 

T’plague hung around for a year or two more

But that weren’t th’end of its reign

It killed through to t’fifteenth century

Re-visiting now and again.

 

It developed a likin’ for t’youngsters

So for years after first it arrived

The cullin’ of women an’ childer’

meant that England’s public were halved.

 

For two hundred years t’plague hung about

givin’ mankind a frequent reprise

Millions dead ‘cause the blood of a flea

had a bug called, “yersinia pestis”