How healthy were people in Islington between 1575 and 1780?
The activities of the second day were partly designed to reinforce the learning of the previous day about the period 1170 to 1575. Pupils were taken free by local transport to two nearby historic sites, associated with the development of public health during the Middle Ages.
Site One – The Charterhouse in Clerkenwell is a remarkable survival of an original mediaeval institution (it now consists of alms houses,that is accommodation for those fallen on hard times, set up in the 17th century).
Sir Walter Manny, a wealthy knight originally bought land where some 20,000 victims of the Black Death were buried in 1349 (a pit lies under the now picturesque Charterhouse Square). In 1371 Manny founded a monastery of Carthusian monks there, housed in separate cells where they prayed and worked in silence. In 1430 another wealthy benefactor paid for clear spring water to be piped through hollowed out tree trunks to the monastery and the nearby nunnery of St Mary’s. The monks made use of this for washing, cooking and to dispose of sewage. The small museum at the Charterhouse displays a copy of the original ground plan of the 1430 water supply system and a real 14th century skeleton, on loan from the Museum of London.
Classes were split in to two groups while visiting the Charterhouse. The two groups alternated between spending around a quarter of an hour learning about the Black Death and the plague pit in Charterhouse Square and discussion of the skeleton and replica map of the water system in the museum itself.
These self-guided activities were arranged partly because it was not possible to book one of the excellent on-site tours of the charter house available for schools on particular dates. (For a summary of both self-guided activities see Document B and the Charterhouse PPt at the bottom of the page).
Site Two – A short distance from the Charterhouse lies the ancient Priory Church of Saint John, originally the site of another mediaeval monastery, this time run by the Knights of St John. The knights took monastic vows and the order was originally set up to care for sick Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land but also trained to take part in the mediaeval crusades against Muslim Turks in the Middle East. The original Priory Church was damaged during the Second World War but it’s Norman crypt dates back to the period when the modern borough of Islington was settled by monastic communities, seeking quietness and solitude outside the city walls. Within the crypt is the splendid recumbent figure of a dead sixteenth century knight of Saint John (not original to the site) which contrasts with another original tomb displaying the effigy of a rotted mediaeval corpse, lying in its shroud (such effigies were featured in mediaeval tombs as a reminder of the common mortality that claimed everyone, including the wealthy builders of such tombs).
Staff at the Museum of Saint John kindly opened the crypt of the Priory Church especially for St John Evangelist pupils where they viewed both tombs with interest and generated perceptive questions to ask about them. Viewing the tomb figures helped pupils to understand something about the reality of death in a period when life could be easily cut short by illness and disease, regardless of individual wealth or importance.
Classes were then taken to the London Metropolitan Archives for an afternoon visit.
Learning officers presented stimulating original material for pupils to view and read relating to the Great Plague of 1665
They were then taken on a behind-the-scenes tour of the archive itself, appreciating the sheer amount of original historic documents it holds and the effort that is made to preserve it. This reinforced the importance of pupils understanding that history is constructed from the available evidence that is left behind from the past.