Historians have attempted to elucidate some sense of the spatial tendencies of plague in the suburban parish. Paul Slack revealed the strong influence that the urban environment played in plague mortality in Bristol in the 1640s and identified the narrow alleys and ‘poorest houses’ impacted more severely. He did acknowledge it ‘foolish’ to consider the more substantial citizens unscathed by the plague but concluded it a ‘greater menace’ for the labouring poor in the ‘back streets’. Justin Champion identified a similar pattern in St Dunstan in the West in 1665 and argued that mortality followed social structure, with an imbalance toward ‘smaller and poorer’ dwellings in the ‘labyrinth of spaces behind the main streets. Kira Newman though revealed a surprising number of quarantined houses to be on ‘major streets’ in St Martin in the Fields in 1636. Setting this alongside several quarter sessions cases, Newman suggested that the middling sort bore the financial burden of plague and not the ‘disadvantaged’.
It is important to push beyond presumptions as to the character of locations based on locational status i.e. that only the very poor lived in courts, yards and alleys. For example, a return for building in defiance of royal proclamation (1638) shows the construction of 27 illegal tenements in Long Acre, one of the main streets in St Martin in the Fields. Tenements tended to be constructed to accommodate the migrant ordinary poor. Moreover, references to the building in main streets might also link to alleys, courts and yards that were in an early stage of development and had not yet gained their own identity. Many suburban parishes contained populations bigger than England’s provincial cities by the 1630s. They were geographically big enough to experience localised outbreaks of plague. It is important to view each suburban parish independently, as the chronology and process of changing demography and the built environment were unique to each. The stage at which a parish was at in its development and the type of building in certain locations is an important consideration when reading the social character and plague incidence.
Some locational detail for the direction of relief was entered by the parish clerk in the western extramural parish of St Dunstan in the West in the epidemic in 1625. The records are biased in that parishes tended to only reflect the chargeable households in their accounts, and rarely systematically. The references are useful when set alongside the clergy survey of rents in 1638 and the return for building in defiance of the royal proclamations mentioned above, from which a sense of the character of spaces can be elucidated. Comparison with the 1666 hearth tax return shows elements of change and continuity in the character and presumed conditions of these spaces, which can be usefully linked to Justin Champion’s work with the parish in the 1665 epidemic. Champion identified Three Leg Alley, Boars Head Alley, Cock and Key Alley and Fetter Lane as four locations hit hard by plague in that epidemic.
St Dunstan’s extended across just 14.3 acres and was wholly within the jurisdiction of the City (figure 1.1). The clergy counted 518 houses and 140 tenements in 1638. Roger Finlay calculated 30% of households as ‘substantial’, which he based on rents above £20. The mean number of hearths per dwellings in 1666 was seven, high for a parish beyond or even within the walls. Champion suggested that ‘on the face of it’, St Dunstan’s appeared a ‘thriving and ‘affluent’ parish but was right in highlighting that this did not wholly reflect the crowded and poor ‘labyrinth’ of spaces in behind the main street frontages. Figures 1.2 and 1.3 show the changes to the built environment between the plague epidemic in 1563 and the civil wars, the latter a period in which plague was endemic in London’s suburbs. Figure 1.4 extends that view to the early 1680s.
The return detailing fines for illegal building in and around 1638 reveals aspects of the type and location of the building within St Dunstan’s (figure 1.4). Seven offenders are identified in the list, which is a small number but is revealing of how a parish that was largely built over by the 1630s was able to accommodate new arrivals. Some individuals were fined for erecting several buildings, particularly tenements. Three fines were for building houses, including Stephen Pilchard for one house and ‘shedds’ in ‘3 Legg Alley Fetterlane’. These ‘dwelling sheds’ tended to be erected in gardens or backyards against larger buildings. William Baer described these structures as ‘sleeping holes’ and sitting at the bottom of the ‘housing hierarchy’. Three Leg Alley ran in between Fetter and Shoe lanes, two main arteries running south to north through St Dunstan’s and neighbouring St Bride Fleet Street. The hearth tax of 1666 lists nine householders at the end of the alley that extended into St Dunstan’s from St Bride’s. The mean number of hearths per household was three in 1666. The widow Katherine Taylor was marked as ‘poore’ and the widows’ Jane Green and Mary Newtown as parish pensioners. This shows the variation that might exist in these spaces, given that the rest of the alley, listed under the St Bride’s return, presented a mean of 5.9 hearths across the 76 householders.
The other fines were for the building of tenements and mostly so within the smaller spaces running in and behind the main streets. Baer placed tenements in-between houses and sheds and explained that it was a more general term used for an assortment of multiple dwellings in which the focus was to provide a return for the investor. They were built very cheaply and the ‘minimum necessary’ was provided for the tenants. Baer found 34% of offences in certificates for illegal building between 1635-38 related to their construction. John Gregory was fined for building one tenement in Churchyard Alley ‘fetter lane’, and others for more extensive building:one Musgrave for three tenements on the ‘backside of the Bell’, with[in] Templebar and Ann Austin for five tenements in Newill Alley in Fetter Lane. F
Fetter Lane linked Fleet Street to High Holborn. It is referenced several times in the plague account in 1625. Vanessa Harding described the typical development patterns of alleys and closes in the easterly inner suburban parish of St Botolph Aldgate. This ‘characteristic form of early modern development’ might occur ‘organically’ or be planned. There were three main streets in Aldgate around the middle of the sixteenth century and as the parish grew, alleys and closes were constructed in the ‘long, narrow plots’ that ran off the main streets by either the leaseholder and landholder or on occasion, by the tenants themselves. The result was that alleys and closes were neither private or public space, and although they might be initially identified with the developer, i.e. as someones ‘rents’, that faded as a ‘labyrinth’ of alleys evolved. As commented above with Long Acre in St Martin in the Fields, this might have some bearing on the frequency with which the lane is referenced in the 1625 accounts and the possibility that some references might have related to the linked smaller spaces.
Several references show the permeable boundaries that existed in the densely built and populated border spaces between St Dunstan’s and St Bride Fleet Street. On 23 August 1625, one Potter in Falcon Court was given 5s by the Churchwarden Mr Sparkes and one Grimes was given 3s in Three Leg Alley. Both spaces are listed under St Bride’s in the 1666 hearth tax return. References to Water Lane, located on the southern side of Fleet Street, hint toward the impact of plague beyond the smaller alleys, courts and yards. On 29 August, one Morey and the wives of Brown and Hawkins ‘in Water Lane’ were the recipients of relief. The smaller spaces referenced recurrently within the formal bounds of St Dunstan’s were Rams Alley, Boars Head Alley and Cock and Key Alley. Each of these ran immediately off the southern side of Fleet Street and close to Water Lane. An element of continuity in the social character of these spaces and some ongoing development of the built environment is evident when comparing the tithes return or inhabitants list in 1638 and the 1666 Hearth Tax (Table 1.1).
Individual rents were not provided for Boars Head Alley in the return in 1638, rather a simple reference is made to the moderated total rent of £50 for ten ‘houses’ against the landlord Richard Tirrell, a member of the parish’s select vestry. Tirrell lived in a house with a moderated rent of £40. The listed rents for Cock and Key Alley show variation, between the £12 and £10 rents of Hugh Mosse and George Metcalfe and other rents ranging from £4-8. This might reflect variation in Boars Head Alley but the clergy decision to not list the rents there separately probably says something about the conditions and inhabitants therein. Similar clumping is evident in St Botolph Aldgate in 1638. This space maintained its poorer social character in the thirty years from the 1638 survey. The alley had developed into a court and extended yard by 1666, indicating a subtle shift in the built environment. The widows Abigail King and Ann Symons were noted as ‘poore’ and four others as pensioners in the hearth tax return for Boars Head Court. Except for John Peters who lived in a dwelling with six hearths and John Carlile three, the dwellings contained just one to two hearths and that of George Morley none.
The minor ongoing development of the built environment and relative continuity in the social character of Cock and Key Alley stands out after 1638. This provides an important link to Justin Champion’s work and the imbalance in plague toward smaller and poorer properties in certain locations in 1665. Ram Alley showed little change between the two benchmark surveys, except for the addition of four dwellings. Ten of the seventeen houses in 1666 contained four or five hearths. This particular space was more homogeneous than other smaller spaces in the parish, an important point when considering presumptions as to the status of alleys, courts and yards. This was a location identified by Champion as one of the harder hit in the 1665 epidemic. The analysis of earlier epidemics shows continuity in the spatial incidence of plague and demonstrates variance in the social character of spaces presumed to be uniformly poor.
Development was limited on Fetter Lane but this probably reflects the built footprint of the lane having reached capacity by the 1630s. The return for illegal building showed no fines levied in either the southern portion of the lane which sat within St Dunstan’s or the northern tip, which was within St Andrew Holborn. The social character remained socially heterogeneous between the two benchmark surveys. The lane was home to a reasonable number of ordinary poor in 1666, given the proportion of one to two hearth dwellings interspersed along the lane. Fetter Lane shows that not all ‘main streets’ were wholly the preserve of the middling or substantial, and likewise, regarding Ram Alley, not all courts or alleys housed only the poorer sort. We also need to allow for the fact that ‘Fetter Lane’ might be given as a generic area and not just a reference to the street front, as per Harding’s comments toward Aldgate and the development of alleys and closes there.
The discussion presents several important considerations when reading the location of quarantined houses to judge the socio-economic status of infected households. The main take-away is the urging of caution in assuming the social character of any location in the rapidly changing suburbs of seventeenth-century London.
By Aaron Columbus
 Paul Slack, The Impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985), 121-124.
 Justin Champion, ‘Epidemics and the built environment in 1665’, J. A. I. Champion (ed.), Epidemic Disease in London, (Centre for Metropolitan History Working Papers Series, No.1, 1993), 43-49 – online here https://archives.history.ac.uk/cmh/epichamp.html
 Kira Newman, ‘Shutt Up: Bubonic Plague and Quarantine in Early Modern England’, Journal of Social History, 45:3 (Spring, 2012), 19-21.
 The National Archives (hereafter TNA), Domestic State Papers: Charles I, SP16/408/139, ff.140-145.
 London Metropolitan Archives P69/DUN2/B/011/MS02968/002, ff.288-296.
 Matthew Davies, Catherine Ferguson, Vanessa Harding, Elizabeth Parkinson and Andrew Wareham (eds.), London and Middlesex Hearth Tax (London: BA & BRS Hearth Tax Series IX, 2014) – thank you to Dr Andrew Wareham at the Centre for Hearth Tax Research (Roehampton University) for permission to use this map.
 Roger Finlay, Population and Metropolis: The Demography of London 1580-1650 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 156.
 Champion, ‘Epidemics and the built environment’, 43-49.
 Agas Map (1561): ‘Plan of London (circa 1560 to 1570)’, in Agas Map of London 1561 ([s.l.], 1633), British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-map-agas/1561/map ; Faithorne and Newcourt map (1658 – surveyed 1643-47): tudigit.ulb.tu-darmstadt.de/show/Sp_London1658/0003/scroll ; Morgan’s map (1682): ‘Morgan’s Map of the Whole of London in 1682 ‘, in Morgan’s Map of the Whole of London in 1682 ([s.l.], 1682), British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-map-morgan/1682/map
 TNA, Domestic State Papers: Charles I, SP16/408/139, ff.140-145.
 William Baer, Housing for the Lesser Sort in Stuart London: Findings from Certificates, and Returns of Divided Houses, The London Journal, 33:1 (2008), 66, 68-69.
 Davies et al, London and Middlesex Hearth Tax – the return can be accessed and searched digitally here https://gams.uni-graz.at/context:htx
 Baer, ‘Housing for the Lesser Sort’, 66-67.
 TNA SP16/408/139, ff. 141v.
 Vanessa Harding, ‘Families and Housing in Seventeenth-Century London’, Parergon, Volume 24, Number 2 (2007), 115-138; 130-131.
 LMA P69/DUN2/B/011/MS02968/002, ff.294v, 293v, 295.
 T. C. Dale, The Inhabitants of London in 1638 (London: Society of Genealogists, 1931), 230-235; Davies et al, London and Middlesex Hearth Tax, 230-235 – online here http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-inhabitants/1638/pp230-235; Davies et al, London and Middlesex Hearth Tax, 770-797.
 Dale, Inhabitants of London, 210-224 – online here http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-inhabitants/1638/pp210-224 [accessed 21 February 2021].