Coronavirus: Pandemics in the Past

This is an article I wrote on the history of pandemics in Scotland.

Scotland and its Pandemics

c0481846-wuhan_novel_coronavirus_illustration-spl

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world, we are controlled by government restrictions as to what we may do. All schools and non-essential shops and businesses are closed, all places of entertainment and leisure are shut, while leaving our home is restricted to once a day for fresh air and exercise, and vulnerable people are to stay isolated for anything up to 12 weeks and perhaps beyond. All social gatherings are banned. Those who do not obey are fined.

Nurses and doctors wear protective equipment and patients are isolated. Curbs are put on panic buying and foreign travel is heavily restricted. 

And yet, this is not a modern way of coping with an epidemic. A 16th century Scot would be only too familiar with such clamp downs on personal freedoms. These type of restrictions in the face of a pandemic are centuries old.

One of the first recorded reports of a pandemic was by a monk by the name of Bower, from the monastery at Inchcolm. Plague had entered Scotland in 1349 from trade with Asia via Mediterranean countries and killed two-thirds of the population, including 24 canons in St Andrews who were infected from attending the dying.  In 1361, it struck again, killing one-third of the population.

1498-99 saw the plague revisit Edinburgh and the Lothians and restrictions were put in place. All taverns and schools were closed and there was a 10pm curfew. All residents had to take a turn guarding the town gates to prevent the entry of food and goods from infected areas. Any English cloth brought in had to be burnt. Punishments for disobeying those rules were banishment or death. 

In Haddington in East Lothian, dogs and pigs had to be kept in a yard rather than roaming the streets. Children found out and about were put in stocks and whipped, a teacher running a school would be banished while all shops and stalls were closed.

The need to cleanse contaminated places was recognised. Cleaners were employed at the rate of 12p a day to wash and smoke out infected houses.

In Edinburgh in 1500, more restrictions were introduced. The main market in the Lawnmarket was closed and anyone bringing in goods without permission was punished; women were branded on the cheek and men had a hand cut off.

All members of a household with a plague victim had to avoid contact with anyone for 12 days.

1505 saw further regulations. Illness must be reported within 12 hours and each close had to have two people in charge of identifying those who were ill and organising the cleansing of their abode.

plague-doctor

Plague Doctor

Plague continued to be a problem until 1514 with even stricter rules coming into force. Clearing of rubbish was instigated and all beggars and indigents were driven out of the city.

But by 1530, the plague had returned and continued to do so until the early 17th century. Punishments were still harsh, branding being a popular choice though a man who attended church, knowing his wife had the plague, was hanged.

The importance of cleansing the homes and goods of those infected was recognised and in Edinburgh in 1574, John Forrest was appointed to be in charge on pain of execution if his efforts at containing the plague were not successful. Apparently he succeeded,  as in 1585 he was again in charge of cleansing houses and homes deemed to be infected.

Those with plague were taken out to the Burgh Muir as were their contacts, where they were kept separately. Others were kept shut in their homes with food and drink being supplied until they either died or recovered. The townspeople were not to congregate around the close mouths and the muck and ordure was to be removed from the streets.

The Great Plague of 1665 in England did not reach Scotland though sporadic outbreaks occurred over the next two hundred years.

The last instance of bubonic plague happened in August 1900 in Glasgow in the Gorbals. Situated down by the River Clyde where ships from abroad were docking and foreign sailors coming ashore, it was no wonder that the plague was brought there from the many other overseas ports infected with it. At first it was thought to be typhoid which was much more common then, especially in the overcrowded and unsanitary houses in the Gorbals area. But a doctor recognised the symptoms of plague and measures were immediately introduced.

Rats were suspected of being the carriers and an army of rat-catchers was sent out to try to eradicate the creatures. Glasgow at that time, was well used to outbreaks of infectious diseases and its hospital system, although pre-dating the National Health Service by almost 50 years, was prepared and ready to deal with the outbreak. Its quick response meant that, in all, the plague was confined to a few streets in the area with 35 people infected and 16 dying. 

1n 1898, it had been shown that it was the fleas on rats which were responsible for spreading the disease, but the Glasgow public health authorities suspected that human contact was transmitting it. With the overcrowded conditions in the Gorbals at that time, the rate of spread suggested just that. The Medical Officer for Health immediately set up an investigation and identified Mrs B, a fish hawker as being the first person to fall ill along with her grand-daughter. They then identified anyone who had attended her wake and quarantined them. In support, the Catholic Church banned wakes of those who had succumbed to the plague. The plague was then successfully contained and quickly eliminated.

plague streets

Spread of the plague, Glasgow 1900

Recent research in 2019 by the University of Oslo found that indeed, the authorities were correct in suspecting human contact to be the means of transmission and that the killing of rats did very little to control the plague. Had the authorities not responded so quickly in identifying and quarantining those infected as well as their contacts, the plague could have spread beyond those few streets.

We have become complacent over the years with the advent of antibiotics and other medicines but now we are faced with a pandemic that is out of control and which does not respond to the medicines we have. We have reduced our medical facilities to a bare minimum, now inadequate and unable to cope with such a spread of disease. So we are having to fall back on to the old ways, used for centuries and effective if strictly applied and endorsed with severe punishments. 

We have a long way to go before Covid 19 is eradicated – for the time being. Let’s hope the lessons from history will be learnt.

Love Begins at 40!

I’m delighted to say that my latest novel, Love Begins at 40, is on pre-order for kindle at 99p/99c.LoveBeginsAt40byAnnBurnett100

It’s set in a small seaside town on the west coast of Scotland, Largs, which I know well, and where I spoke last year at the local writers’ club. So they can take a share of providing me with the inspiration for it as I had a delightful day there.

It’s about Maisie, a successful business woman in Glasgow, who, as she approaches her fortieth birthday, has doubts about where her future lies. She has some rather difficult decisions to make that impact not only her, but other people in her life. Can she make the right choice? And what is the right thing to do?

But then tragedy strikes a double blow, and she’s forced to make those important decisions about what she really wants from life.
I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think.

Confined to a Garret? No Chance!

This week has been celebrated as Book Week Scotland when writers all over the country have left their garrets and travelled the length and breadth of the country talking about books and writing and more books and more writing.

My friend Michael J Malone has been touring the west coast talking about his new book, House of Spines. (Cracking great read! I recommend it.) He’s been to Rothesay, Dunoon, Millport, Tobermory and …er…Wishaw. Definitely not on the west coast, that one!

pencil

The Pencil, Largs

For my part, I was in Largs, not as part of Book Week but to do some research for my next novel. It was a beautiful sunny clear day with the temperature just hovering above freezing as we walked along the shore to the Pencil monument commemorating the Battle of Largs in 1263, and then on to the Marina, filled with yachts of all shapes and sizes, mainly parked up until the spring. And there was a very welcome restaurant where we had coffee and Danishes and thawed out before we walked all the way back.

Then it was to Perthshire, and past the Ochil Hills just tinged with snow, to the Auchterarder Book Fair, part of their celebration of Book Week. We set up our stalls, or rather tables, in the hall with our books on display. I was surrounded by historical novels, crime, science fiction and fantasy, and did I detect an element of competition as we tried to attract customers to look at our books and hopefully buy one?books

I was one of the authors who gave a short talk about their writing life, starting with my five years with Postman Pat and moving on to the present day and A Scottish Childhood, and the future with my novel Festival Fireworks.24255073_1980255258879716_3265096166631918755_o

And all this gallivanting doesn’t stop there. Next weekend is the Society of Authors Christmas lunch in Edinburgh where there will be many friends to catch up with and have a jolly, merry afternoon.

Can’t not mention the success at the Imprint Writing Awards of members of Ayr Writers Club. Six members were shortlisted and the club scooped 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the poetry section, (one member winning two prizes) and 1st and 2nd in the short story.  It’s a sign of a very vibrant and talented club and one I’m pleased to belong to.

Shortlisted for Imprint 2017

Shortlisted for Imprint

 

A Scottish Childhood: Growing up a Baby Boomer.

I’m delighted to announce my latest book, A Scottish Childhood: Growing up a Baby Boomer has now been published. I’ve collected together all the articles I wrote for the magazine, Scottish Memories, before, sadly, it closed. A Scottish Childhood

I’ve added an introduction and more photos that my father took of us growing up in the West of Scotland after the Second World War. He was a keen amateur photographer, winning prizes for his work and publishing photos in newspapers and magazines. One of his pictures was also used for an advert for bicycle saddles!

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light. The marriage broke up and eventually I decided that I wanted very little to do with him as I blamed him for the distressing circumstances we found ourselves in. It was only after his death when my brother handed over photographs and journals which my father had compiled that I was able to reappraise the man he was and learn to my astonishment that he too, had been a writer.

As I looked through the photographs which he had taken, it brought vividly to life happier times in my childhood and this book celebrates those days.

The book is available on Amazon.

Excuses, Excuses….

I know it’s been too long since I wrote a blog piece but I’ve been busy getting ready for going on holiday, being on holiday and recovering from going on holiday. It’s all hard work you understand!

But I’m back and I’ve run out of excuses so I’m about to throw myself back into writing. I missed the first two nights of Ayr Writers’ Club new season (see above for my excuse) and I should be at Michael J Malone’s launch of his latest book, House of Spines, tonight but I’ve run out of steam. (More excuses.) However I’ll catch up with him and his new book later.

I’ve my book of articles on growing up in the West of Scotland after the Second World War to sort out. I’m stuck because there are apparently hidden text boxes in the manuscript and the powers that be at Lulu (the company I use to publish my books) don’t like it. And I don’t know where they are. I left it there when I went away, hoping, ludicrously, that it would have sorted itself out by the time I got back, but of course it hasn’t. So I will have to search all the forums to see if anyone else has had that problem and what they’ve done about it. I also posted a question on Lulu’s help-desk but the reply I got only took me back to the information site I’d already read my way through.

Part of the problem is that I work on Mac Pages and export to Word.

In the meantime, here’s the photo of me I’m going to use on the cover, once I get that far. You’ll see I haven’t changed much over the years. front of book

I bet there’s a few of you out there had a pair of Clark’s sandals like mine. A new pair every year in time for summer. And no comments about the knickers please! Remember everything was hand-made in those days so no doubt they were cut down from my granny’s old ones.