THE STEPS TO
Plague hospitals and leper-houses existed in
Britain before the seventeenth century, but they were not lazarets
as such.19 Quarantine 'establishments' at ports were
sheds used to protect goods and to house attendants.5
In 1663-4, with plague in Holland, Hole Haven on the Thames at
Canvey Island, 'in a creek which would receive an hundred vessels
. . . and not nearer the city than Tilbury Hope',7 was
selected as the quarantine site for London.20 Goods
were to be aired on shore in temporary sheds; passengers and crew
to remain on board.21 Hole Haven was little used and
was later superseded. 'Stangate Creek on the south shore of the
Medway, opposite the Isle of Grain, Sharpfleet Creek, and the
lower-end of the Hope', was delegated the quarantine site by an
Order in Council of 16th September, 1709.22 To
contemporary opinion this site was ideal. It was close to the main
river yet remote from habitation. It could accommodate many ships.
It was exposed to the 'purifying' effects of the elements. It was
unused for commerce. It was, however, leased to the free fishermen
of the Hundred of Middleton for oyster beds which that year they
had restocked. Accordingly compensation was paid for the loss of
the oyster trade, fishing and boating in the Creek were
prohibited, and the substantial number of ships performing
quarantine in the 1709-12 emergency (nearly 150 in the first six
months of 1712 alone) was successfully accommodated.23
Persons were quarantined on board ship; goods were aired in
specially erected sheds at Hoo Fort, three sea miles further up
the Medway on the northern bank.24 There were no cases
of plague.26 In the emergencies between 1721 to 1743,
although the need for a land lazaret was then recognized by the
legislature,28 a compromise was reached; persons were
confined on ships in Stangate Creek as previously, but
'susceptible' goods were aired on hired vessels.27
In July, 1743, there was plague in Messina and all
Thames-bound ships from the Mediterranean were ordered to Stangate
19 C. Creighton, A History of Epidemics in Britain,
Cambridge, University Press (1891), i, pp. 235, 360-1.
20 Analytical Index to the City
[of London] Remembrancia, 1579-1664, Corporation of London
(1878), p. 349. This gives 'Moll Haven' as the quarantine site but
is a mistranscript from the original document in the Records
Office, Guildhall Library, which gives 'Holl Haven'. Holl Haven is
almost certainly to be identified with the present Hole Haven.
21 Correspondence between the Privy
Council, the Lord Mayor of London, and the Farmers of the Customs,
of October, 1663. (J. Simon, op. cit., p. 99.)
22 Calendar of Treasury Books, 1712,
xxvi (pt. 2), 217.
24 Report from the Select Committee
appointed to Consider the Validity of the Doctrine of Contagion in
the Plague, 1819 (449) ii, 537. Appendix 3.
25 Ibid. Evidence of Dr. James
26 7 Geo. I, c. 3 (1721).
27 Select Committee (1819), op. cit., Appendix
28 P. Russell, op. cit., p. 446.