Cumbria’s Great Pestilence, 1597-8

Last week, I found myself behind the care home at Tynefield on the southern edge of Penrith and saw this block of stone. It was filled with rubbish and rainwater, but was clearly man-carved and looked an awful lot like the base of a medieval stone cross. And this, indeed, is what it is, but that’s not its main claim to fame. This stone block is in fact Penrith’s Plague Stone, and a grade 2* listed monument.

Rubbish in Penrith's Plague Stone
Rubbish in Penrith’s Plague Stone

You’ll know about the plague from primary school lessons about the 1665 Great Plague of London, but that was far from being the earliest, or most fatal plague epidemic. After a century or so of argument amongst historians and biologists it now seems certain1 that the plague was caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacteria that lives in fleas, which in turn live on rats. When the rat dies, the fleas jump ship to the nearest warm-bodied alternative, which was often humans. Continue reading


Guest Post: Tim Clarkson on early medieval Cumbria

Men of the North by Tim ClarksonTim Clarkson knows his stuff. With a PhD in Medieval History and an MPhil in Archaeology under his belt, he’s written a couple of splendid books that master that trickiest of things: they are proper works of academic history, but you can sit down and read them like a novel. I wholeheartedly recommend The Men of the North as your route into the Northern Britons who lived in Cumbria and Scotland.

Tim recently wrote this post on his very interesting blog, Senchus. It’s such a perfect summary of all that tricky early medieval stuff here in Cumbria, that I’d rather you read this than any second-rate mumblings I could produce! Read, enjoy, and go over to visit his blog.

Many thanks to Tim for giving his kind permission to reproduce his words below. Note that copyright is entirely his; contact Tim at his blog if you wish to quote any of it.

Terminology Topics 5: Cumbria

To many people, the name ‘Cumbria’ means the English county created in 1974 from an amalgamation of Cumberland and Westmorland Continue reading