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Archaeologia Cantiana -  Vol. 79    1964  page 2

The Chetney Hill Lazaret

By P. Froggatt, M.A., M.D., D.P.H.

infected, without communication or intercourse, by a cordon sanitaire, until the epidemic has burnt itself out. Life under these conditions is portrayed in the Decameron.1 But this system is impracticable and restricts social and commercial intercourse. Thus a scheme developed where the infected were still shunned, but 'suspected' persons and goods were isolated only for such time as would permit any latent disease to be exposed. For quasi-religious reasons forty days was considered adequate for this revelation; thus quarantine was born.2
Bubonic plague was its great enemy, but later also yellow fever and cholera. Plague originated in Egypt and the Levant. It was therefore at the great ports of the Mediterranean which traded with these countries that quarantine was principally practised. Venice, Genoa, Leghorn, Spezia, Marseilles, Ancona, Messina, and others, all had lazarets sited on some spit or island near the harbour, foreboding and sternly isolated (Plate I). Communication with the mainland was restricted by solemn and bizarre precautions, e.g. approaching the lazaret from windward, wearing special dress, handling letters with long tongs, which made sense then but are now seen to have been mostly unnecessary and irrelevant to safety.

Britain was differently placed since she had little direct trade with the Levant. Plague had smouldered in the larger ports, especially London, since the Black Death. 'Plague orders', first proclaimed in 1518,3 were, in Tudor times, more concerned with limiting travel within the country whenever plague deaths increased,4 than in surveilling shipping. Scotland was an exception trading directly with infected ports in the Baltic.6 The formation of the Levant Company shifted the emphasis, and from an Order in Council of 30th July, 16036 regulations at certain ports were sporadically enforced,7 and were backed both by medical
G. Boccaccio, The Decameron . . . containing An Hundred Pleasant Novelles, i (1909), London, David Nutt, author's introduction.
   2  Forty days was the duration of the great flood and the fast in the wilderness, and had significance in alchemy.
   3  F. P. Wilson, The Plague in Shakespeare's London, Oxford, Clarendon Press (1927).
   'Licence to His Majesties' servants Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage ... to exercise the art of playing comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, morals, pastorals, stage plays and such like, in all towns and universities when the infection of the plague shall decease.' (F. W. Dendy, Extraots from the Privy Seal Dockets relating chiefly to the North of England, May, 1603, Arch. Aeliana, xxiv (1903), 184-228.)
   J. Ritchie, 'Quarantine for plague in Scotland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries', Edin. med. J., lv (1948), 691-701.
   P. Russell, A Treatise of the Plague, London, G. G. J. and J. Robinson (1791), p. 478.
   7  J. Simon, English Sanitary Institutions, 2nd Edn, London, J. Murray (1897), p. 100.

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