The Impact of Famine & Plague in the 14th-Century West Country: Evidence from the Vale of Taunton Deane
by Dr Christopher Thornton, FSA, FRHistS

Date: Thursday 7 March 2019

The ‘Great Famine’ (c.1315) and the ‘Black Death’ (c.1348) contributed to a fundamental historical turning point: how can we measure the impact on population levels of these two disasters?


The Impact of Famine & Plague in the 14th-Century West Country: Evidence from the Vale of Taunton Deane

                                           Burial of 14th Century plague victims in Tournai, Belgium (Source: Wikimedia Commons) 


Important evidence for the major demographic turning point of the 14th century derives from the great estate of the Bishop of Winchester in the Vale of Taunton Deane. This talk will present both new and revised material concerning the impact of the Great Famine (1315-22) and the Black Death (1348-9) at Taunton, in the context of current thinking about the wider environmental, biological and economic background.

“The seventh year after it began, it came to England and first began in the towns and ports joining on the seacoasts, in Dorsetshire, where, as in other counties, it made the country quite void of inhabitants so that there were almost none left alive. From there it passed into Devonshire and Somersetshire, even unto Bristol, and raged in such sort that the Gloucestershire men would not suffer the Bristol men to have access to them by any means. But at length it came to Gloucester, yea even to Oxford and to London, and finally it spread over all England and so wasted the people that scarce the tenth person of any sort was left alive.”

Geoffrey le Baker, Chronicon Angliae

Dr Chris Thornton’s doctorate from the University of Leicester concerned agriculture and rural society on the bishop of Winchester’s manor of Rimpton in Somerset (1200-1400), not very far from Sherborne. His varied career has included research and teaching at the universities of Leicester, Oxford, Essex and London. He joined the staff of the Victoria County History of Essex in 1992 and has been County Editor since 2003. He is currently an Associate Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and also works as a freelance researcher on projects commissioned by both institutional and private clients, specializing in the social history of landscapes and buildings. He has made several media appearances, enjoys fossil collecting and, according to his wife, accumulating clutter. 

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