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Musca domestica Linnaeus

The House Fly

Just a quick follow on post from Wednesday’s musing on the rat infestation around the Strand in 1903.

During July 1707, the 8th of July to be exact, there was if records are to be believed the culmination of a heatwave in London, and as it was a Tuesday the day went down in the annals of history as “Hot Tuesday”. Apparently the recorded temperature was 38°C /100.4 F, “Verily thee couldst has’t coddl’d eggs upon the cobbles“. As you’re probably aware London wasn’t the most hygienic place to live at the best of times, so it can only be imagined what it was like within the City, the smell alone would have been enough to drive those who could out into the countryside.

Even in the early 1700s meat and poultry were still sold on open butchers stalls and any cuts that were unsaleable (By 18th century standard they would have been lethal to consume) were tossed into the gutters. Dependant on the state of putrefaction some would be consumed by roaming dogs, or even those locals desperate to find something to eat. So during July 1707 the excessive heat played upon the moldering meat and offal within the streets. Towards the end of the month the City began to see an increase in the population of flies, which were already prevalent within the market areas. Over the coming days the numbers increased and started to become a nuisance in areas well away from these commercial areas. This infestation came to a head at the beginning of August and a chronicler of the time Henry Chamberlain wrote the following “… there fell such a prodigious quantity of flies that many of the streets were so covered with them, that the people’s feet made as full an impression on them as upon thick snow“. He went on to say that in some streets up to three hundred bushels of flies had to be swept into the gutters every couple of hours.

A bushel roughly equates to a Gallon or 36 litres. Doing some maths I would estimate that three hundred bushels of flies would equate to ……… No Lifes too short.

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