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The Black Death

So much water fell on the Continent between 1315 and 1322 that crops failed year after year and famine spread, killing perhaps one-tenth of northern Europe’s population. In the 1320s and ‘30s, the weather became dangerously unpredictable: dry and warm summers were interrupted by strong winds and storms. Summers seem to have been generally warm, but winters were cold and stormy. The population declined and became weaker from causes which included the climate cooling, deteriorating weather, a series of bad harvests, and insufficient resources to feed the population. England was ill-equipped to face the catastrophe of the Black Death.

Then, in three horrific years, 1348 – 1350, northern Europe was devastated by the bubonic plague which killed around 25 million people – one third of Europeans. Britain lost between a third and a half of its population. The Black Death was no respecter of persons; it is estimated that between first outbreak of the Black Death in 1348 and its abating in 1350, 48.8% of Winchester clergy died.  Winchester was one of the first cities it struck when it arrived in England; in October 1348 Bishop Edington wrote: ‘we report with anguish the serious news which has come to our ears, that this cruel plague has begun a savage attack … we are struck by terror …’ Hampshire lost between a third and a half of its population.

The result was a drastic labour shortage, and Edington, who was also Edward III’s Treasurer of the Realm, attempted to limit an increase in wages by issuing a national ‘ordinance of labourers and beggars’which required employers to pay ‘no more than had been customary’ … to no avail. Wages rose and rents slumped.  The diocese found it difficult to find the labour to work its demesne lands and let them instead.

This led to the creation of a sub-manor at Bereleigh. Click here