Everyone dreaded catching the plague. Victims were often nailed into their houses in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease. They usually died within days, in agony and madness from fevers and infected swellings. The Plague devastated London in summer 1665, virtually shutting down all trade and social life. Other cities were hit too, such as Salisbury, Cambridge and York. Those who could, fled to the countryside.
As soon as the Plague appeared in London, so did quack doctors selling fake remedies. There were many different pills and potions available to buy, claiming to provide either cure or immunity. This advertisement for a ‘Famous and Effectual Medicine to cure the Plague’ was printed as a broadside – a printed bill, cheaply produced and intended for a wide circulation. Of course, the medicine was not a cure at all. Over 68,000 people officially died of the plague in London alone; the true figure is probably nearer 100,000.
Now we know it is likely that the disease spread through bacteria carried by fleas living on the black rats common in towns, especially poor areas. But then, its cause was a terrifying mystery.