When I visited the churchyard of All Saints, Isleworth, earlier in the year, I’d gone in search of the plague pit there. However, whilst exploring the burial ground, I also came across a headstone that commemorated a person who would probably have disappeared into an unmarked paupers’ grave were it not for the great age she lived to. Mary Hicks, who died in 1870 at the grand old age of 104, spent the last twenty-seven years of her life as an inmate of the Brentford Workhouse.
London’s many plague pits have a certain dark allure – they’re mysterious because so many of them lie unmarked, hidden and forgotten under the city’s streets, buildings and parks. We’ve seen pictures of archaeologists excavating long-lost mass graves uncovered on building sites, with huge jumbles of bones emerging from the soil and centuries-old eye sockets peering out at us. We’ve heard dark tales of homes built over old plague pits, haunted by restless spirits. But upstream of the old city, in a quiet suburb by the Thames, a plague pit lies in plain sight – marked by a yew tree and a little memorial. This is the plague pit at All Saints church, Isleworth, where local plague victims were laid to rest in a mass grave in 1665.