The Records do not throw any light upon the great cycle of
epidemics that occurred during the 14th century, we can only gather
together side-lights as they appear from the neighbouring parishes.
When in 1317 the Scots marched through the district it is said that
there was such a great plague raging that the "quick were scarcely
able to bury the dead." Then came the Black Death that extended
over the whole of the then known world. It came to Cumberland
and Westmorland in 1348 and lasted on and off to 1357. The
mortality was so great that "more than half the population of
England perished." And no wonder in our district, when we consider
that the streets consisted of a succession of tofts with small mudbuilt houses arranged with no care for alignment and past which the
badly made ways zig-zagged as they lengthened and became in
course of time overlaid with refuse and filth—hot beds of pestilence.
And, too, when we remember that most of the trade which was not
done in open market was carried on by pedlars who tramped from
one squalid booth to another. The virulent outbreaks of 1361
and 1368 were doubtless of the same disease.
When in 1380 the Scots were plundering Penrith Fair it is said that
they" had small cause to joy in their booty for with the cloth and
other commodities as they took away they carried into their own
country such pestilence that a third part of all the people where the
infection came died thereof."
Neither were the gentry altogether exempt for in 1403 Sir Gilbert
Curwen, his son Sir William and two younger sons all died of the
fell disease. So also did Roger Curwen of Caton.
Of the plagues of 1485, 1506 and 1517 which spread over the whole
of England we have no local information, but it is said that many
that were in good health at noon were numbered among the dead at
The first local epidemic of which we have a fairly full record is the
one that occurred from 22 September, 1597 and continued until
13 December, 1598. The Penrith Register gives, "A sore plague in
Richmond Kendal Penreth Carliell Apulbie and other places in
Westmorland and Cumberland in the year of our god 1598 of this
plague ther dyed at Kendal ..." Jefferson states that there were
a few very indistinct words more, but the blank is filled by an
inscription that used to be on the chancel wall which gave
"a.d. m.d.xc.viij. Ex gravi peste, quod regionibus hisce incubuit,
obierunt apud Penrith 2260, Kendal 2500, Richmond 2200, Carlisle
1196." With regard to these figures the Rev. H. Whitehead suggested that they might well refer to the number who died in the rural
deaneries rather than in the actual towns.
Nicolson and Burn say that at this time the fairs and markets had
to be removed from Appleby to Gilshaughlin (parish of Cliburn)
"in which year, between 1 August and 25 March, there died in
Appleby, Scattergate and Colby 128 persons." At Penrith the usual
markets were suspended and such places without the town as Mealcross and Cross Green were appointed for purchasing the provisions
brought by the country people; there still remains a large block of
stone called the "Plague Stone," dished out to hold some disinfecting
liquid into which the money was placed, and only when thus disinfected would the farmers receive it in payment for their goods. In
the same way provisions were brought to Coneybeds, a fort situate
on Hay Fell, where the farmers deposited their goods for the
inhabitants of Kendal.
Two successive bishops of Carlisle died of the plague at Rose
Castle: John Mey in 1597 at eight o'clock in the morning being buried
in the Cathedral the same evening, and Henry Robinson who died on
19 June, 1616 at about three o'clock in the afternoon and who was
buried in the Cathedral the same evening at about eleven o'clock.