Here Begonne the Plage (God Punismet) in Penrith. This is the stark and startling pronoucement in the death register of St Andrew's Church, Penrith in 1597 which I was looking at in Whitehaven Record Office yesterday. Previously the number of deaths each year took up barely half a page in the register but for the six months following this announcement (on September 22) it's just page after page after page of deaths - all marked with a 'P' showing they were killed by plague.
The first death on September 22 is Andrew Hodgson "a stranger" and authors Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan note the occasions when a stranger to the town or traveller is the first to die, leading to their surmise that it was humans rather than rats that helped spread the plague.
However, what really strikes me about gazing on this document is how it's one of the few surviving documents of that dreadful time. In 500 years time what documents will survive of the 2009 swine flu plague - almost certainly not this blog nor any of the other websites that are here today and gone tomorrow. Hopefully the newspapers and a few books but precious little of the personal diaries and accounts - the hopes and fears of the ordinary man.