Beauchamp Roding church stands alone among the rolling fields of north-west Essex; half a century ago, the local explanation for its isolation was that the village had been wiped out by the Black Death. Whether this is true or not, it shows how long a shadow the Black Death casts over popular history, and how the events of 1348–9 still resonated in the twentieth century. The Black Death was far from unique: the first of the great plague pandemics swept across Europe in the second and third centuries AD, and the Celtic monks of Wales and Ireland chronicled the second, in the mid-sixth century, in words which imply that it was as severe as the Black Death itself.
And only a dozen years after the Black Death, a second wave of the plague, perhaps of a different kind, was to strike Britain, to be followed at irregular intervals by renewed outbreaks until the last occurrence of the disease, in Suffolk, in the early twentieth century.
One of the pleasures