In this latest ‘Folk Olympics’ instalment, Ruairidh Anderson pens the song ‘Shed Leaves & Fading Steps’ as he begins the journey through the Borough of Waltham Forest with a trip to a forgotten plague pit.
“Many would like to claim they live in the city’s worst areas, but only the residents of Walthamstow can truly state that they reside in London’s original dumping ground.”
Plague Pits History
Londoners can be a pretty miserable, stand-offish bunch. Yes I know about the Blitz, digging each other out after yet another enemy onslaught. But trying to drag out discussion during your daily commute is like trying to wrestle the buffet table off John Prescott. Pretty damn near impossible. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge. Perhaps over the centuries Londoners have had to share more than just polite discourse.
The great plague that arrive via the docks in 1664, killed off around 20% of London’s population. And despite following medical advice for staving off the disease by dangling a toad on a leather string, or balancing mercury in a walnut shell, graves was soon in short supply.
The official Government solution was to drive 6 miles north-east of Charing Cross and dump these decomposing corpses into a spot that no one really cared about about, thus creating a mass plague pit.
Today this area is one of London’s major centres. Its original relevance to the city itself is long forgotten but hints can still be found. A common alleyway leads to a graveyard of St Mary’s Church, part of the area that originally took in these bodies. Its name is ‘Vinegar Alley’. It received this title as vinegar was used by the survivors to dab around the graves in order to ward off the disease.
Whilst many can say they live in the city’s worst areas, only the residents of Walthamstow can lay claim to living in London’s original dumping ground.