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”