Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JUNE 24th

On this day in history in 1348, The Black Death arrived in Britain.

The Black Death was an outbreak of bubonic plague that entered Melcombe Regis in 1348, and within a year had killed nearly half the population.

The Black Death, began with a minor outbreak of bubonic plague, medical term Yersinia Pestis, which started in the Gobi Dessert. It was transmitted throughout China and reached Europe when a Kipchak army, besieging a Crimean trading post, catapulted plague-infested corpses over the city walls. Plague spread throughout Europe, carried by fleas in the fur of rats, and eventually reached the Dorset coast on 24th June 1348.

Contagion carried quickly, and about two thirds of the population became infected. The morbidity rate was about 66%, i.e. if you caught it, you had a two to one chance of dying. Chroniclers relate how the disease raged in a town for about a month and then left. It moved gradually northwards until it had burnt itself out. Within twelve months, nearly half the population was dead.

After the problem of burying the dead in plague pits was over, people tried to get back to normality.  But life was never the same again. The decreased population meant a shortage of labour and workmen demanded and received pay increases. The government of Edward III tried to cap pay increases by an Act of Parliament, The Statute of Labourers, the first government attempt to control the economy. Workmen who demanded too much were placed in the stocks, that is trapped in a wooden gadget for a day, and employers who paid over the odds were fined. The Act was largely unsuccessful as employers coaxed workers from other employers, with promises abundant pay increases, and wages kept on rising. One recorded case shows that a joiner who built the stocks for the punishment of greedy workers was paid three times the legal rate for his labour.

The government also passed The Sumptuary Act of 1367, making it illegal for the lower classes to spend their new wealth on new apparel of ermine or silk. Only the aristocracy and some senior gentlefolk were allowed to wear these items. Today when barristers are raised to the rank of Queen’s Council, they are said to ‘take silk’, indicating their elevation in status. The Act has never been repealed, so if you wear silk, and if any of Edward III’s commissioners are still alive, you could get put in the stocks!

By the reign of Richard II, the economy had settled down and landowners switched from labour intensive methods, grain production, to low labour processes, particularly sheep farming. Increased wool production boosted the economy and became the nation’s chief export, making England a major economic power.

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