London's Carnaby Street sits in the vibrant heart of Soho's cultural epicentre, being - not only a style shopper's paradise, packed full of quirky, unusual and original designer goods, foods and fashions, but it also the epitome of the swinging sixties, pop culture and contemporary rock and blues history - making it an icon, a must do, and easily one of the top things to do in London.
If you haven't been to Carnaby Street before, I strongly suggest you pay a visit... just be careful where you walk. As the West End's very own fashion capital, along with a multitude of Soho's seedy streets are built upon mass graves.
At the back of Carnaby Street sits a lovely residential street chock full of listed buildings, swanky offices and high-rise homes for Soho's well-to-do, sat amidst a sea of patisseries, hair salons and to-good-to-be-true tapas bars.
This is Dufour's Place.
Dufour’s Place has been known locally and informally since the 1600’s as Pesthouse Close. The Pesthouse (later renamed St James' Workhouse, but the structure of which now forms the Poland Street car park) was where Soho's infected and incurable residents were quarantined, treated and studied, but mostly it was used as a mortuary and burial ground for the poor, diseased, criminal and the insane. But as the plague of 1665 spread across Europe, killing a sixth of the population, Pesthouse Close quickly became an almighty plague pit.
It was so big, it covered an area of half a square mile, from Broadwick Street to Poland Street, from Marshall Street to Carnaby Street, with every spare inch packed full with thousands of rotting and disease riddled corpses. So fast were London's plague pits being filled, during the height of the 1665-6 epidemic, that pits - six foot wide, fifty foot long and fifteen foot deep - were dug, with layers of bodies, stacked on top of each other, with a covering of quick lime in between (to speed the decomposition), making the graves resemble a lasagne. A very meaty one.
And the majority of these corpses... are still under our feet today.
But you need not worry, as you shop in Soho's uber fashionable Carnaby Street. Those thousands upon thousands of plague riddled bodies can't harm you, with their deadly (and highly contagious) disease, they're hidden under many tonnes of gravel, soil and concrete...
...except when Soho's bustling streets are dug up (which Westminster council seems to do on a seemingly daily basis, for no reason what-so-ever)...
..and besides, the plague is old news, it's dead, gone, cured, it can't hurt you. And anyway, we haven't had an outbreak of the plague since 1666. Except of course, the Great Plague of Vienna in 1679, the Baltic plague in 1708, and there was one in Marseille in 1720. And, okay, Australia had twelve plague outbreaks between 1900-1925, with another massive one in India in 1994. But as plagues go, it’s dead, right? The plague no longer exists. Surely? Hmm, okay, maybe a few small particles found in March last year on the New York subway system. But that’s it. *
Enjoy you shopping trip!
* Unfortunately not! According to WHO (World Health Organisation) there are on average 200 recorded cases of the plague across the world, every year. But, this isn't a deadly disease which only affects the poorest of third world countries, last year there were 16 confirmed cases of the plague in the United States of America.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 18 murderers, 3 serial killers, across 21 locations, totalling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime historian, writer and tour guide of Murder Mile Walks.