Among a number of items consigned by a local couple to a February 26 pictures and prints sale at Mallams (22.5% buyer’s premium) of Oxford was one with grim if ancient topicality: one of the many lists and bills of mortality issued in the mid 1660s, at the time of London’s ‘Great Plague’.
London’s Lord Have Mercy On Us gives details of ‘Seven modern Plagues or Visitations’ that had blighted London since 1592, during the reign of Elizabeth I, up to 1638, and records those figures alongside the numbers buried of all diseases.
In this copy the partially blank final column has been extensively extended and updated in ink with figures covering the period July 4, 1665, to September 18, 1666, while at the foot are noted the totals for all deaths and those from plague recorded in the years 1646-48.
Such ‘Lord Have Mercy’ broadsides were, it seems, a genre of cheap weekly publication that flourished during the 17th century plague outbreaks and those who bought them could serve as amateur demographers by recording mortality statistics for their local communities in spaces provided by the publisher.
Among remedies against the plague suggested as part of this one are ‘An Ale Posset-Drink with Pimpernel seethed in it, till it tastes strong of it, drunk often, though it hath got to the very Heart’.
Another advises readers to ‘Take a pint of New Milk, and cut two cloves of Garlick very small, put it in the milk, and drink it mornings fasting, and it preserveth from infection’.
This fascinating survival sold at £2800 on thesaleroom.com.