Issue 147    Sept 1st   to December 1st 2020

Hungerford Virtual Museum


The Black Death
other disasters


The whole world is still working its way through the awful 2020 coronavirus pandemic. There have, of course, been other similar crises in our history.

The population of England at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) is believed to have been 1-2 million and it grew steadily for 200 years to around 4-6 million by 1300.

In the 14th century, however, there was a series of problems resulting in major loss of life.

Around the turn of that century (c.1300) there was a period of food shortage and inflation, followed by several years of very cold wet weather (1310-1316). Between 1316-18 there was widespread sickness in oxen, possibly “foot and mouth” disease, which resulted in the “Great Famine”, when 10-25% of the population died.

But there was worse to come. In 1348 the Great Pestilence (later known as the “Black Death”) began. It is thought to have originated in Central Asia in 1331, entered England in Weymouth in June 1348 and spread across the country, reaching London by the winter.

The Black Death resulted in huge loss of life, with an estimated 30%-50% of the population dying and there were further outbreaks of plague through the 14th century. By 1400 the population of England had probably dropped to around 2-3 million people.

We have no firm data on the ravages of the Black Death on Hungerford, but there are pointers. Hungerford is a good example of a “planted town” with its north-south “alta strata” (now High Street) and its back lanes (now Fairview Road and Prospect Road), with the resulting residential areas divided into deep narrow burgage plots. We think that all this had been set out in the mid-13th century (c.1250) when Simon de Montfort was Lord of the Manor.

The plan allowed for about 130 burgage plots (about 65 on each side of the High Street), but records show that many of the plots at the southern end remained unused until the Victorian period. The Black Death of 1349-50, as well as later outbreaks of the plague probably delayed the expansion of the planned town. It was only with the prosperity of the coaching period 450 years later that all the available plots came into use.

For much more on this or any other aspect of Hungerford’s fascinating history, visit the Hungerford Virtual Museum –               

Hugh Pihlens