tue10nov6:30 pmOnline Lecture: ‘How gracefully the dead dogs float’: Building and Public Health in Early Modern EnglandOnline Lecture by Ann-Marie Akehurst. Part of the Georgian Medicine and Science series6:30 pm Book now

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£3 members, £5 non-members

The recent pandemic has prompted a flowering of ingenuity: clothes manufacturers have turned to making PPE, and gin distillers to making hand sanitiser, while exhibition centres and disused military facilities have been transformed into Nightingale and Seacole field hospitals. Specialists of every stripe have invested their energies in devising work-arounds for the present, and planning the best ways forward. Alongside the projections of epidemiologists and forecasts of economists, historians too have been taking a long view of the history of cities and epidemic disease in order to discern what – if anything – past crises can teach us.  

The literature of epidemic disease reveals human nature in time of crisis, in all its variety. Alongside accounts of dreadful suffering and despair, we learn the venal diarist Samuel Pepys enjoyed what can best be described as a ‘good plague’ in 1664, sailing the Thames in a yacht, managing the Admiralty by day, and partying by night, for the privileged retreated to countryside. The 1720 epidemic that killed 100,000 in Marseille, prompted a flurry of English self-help books for those remaining in town, like that by Robert Samber who advocated smoking tobacco, using scented candles, and wearing silk-wrapped preventatives around the neck. During the 1832 cholera epidemic, conspiracy theorists accused the authorities of ‘burking’ – that is, using the crisis to produce corpses for surgeons to dissect. Satirical cartoons attacked London’s water companies for supplying contaminated water, and a poem related ‘how gracefully the dead dogs float’ in York’s polluted River Foss. 

Though the understanding of the biological vectors of transmission was in its infancy in the long eighteenth century, it was clear that cities, their buildings and rivers, were agents in spreading disease. Long-established methods of infection control – such as quarantine and the use of pest-houses – were gradually augmented with attempts to build a healthy environment. In her talk, Ann-Marie Akehurst will consider epidemics related to their urban settings. Drawing on London’s Great Plague, the Marseilles Plague and the nineteenthcentury Cholera Pandemics, she will illustrate past and present resonances between the reactions of populations to epidemic disease. Ultimately she will argue epidemics require ambitious resilient cathedral thinking projecting architectural, and infrastructural, interventions, facilitating decades-long projects with in-built flexibility and redundancy.  

Ann-Marie Akehurst is an independent urban and architectural historian who has published on early modern architecture and national identity, sacred space, and the architecture of health. She is the Programmes officer and Trustee of The SAHGB. 

The talks starts at 6.30pm. Joining details will be sent to attendees the day before.

Georgian Group members are eligible for a discount on their ticket by entering GGMEMBER at the checkout.

***This talk will be recorded. The recording will be available to all those who have purchased a ticket for a limited period of time after the event takes place***

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This lecture is part of a four-part series on Georgian Medicine and Science:

13 October: Dr Richard Mead: living in the broad sunshine of life

27 October: A Georgian Chemist: Humphry Davy 

4 November: The brothers Bell: emotion, war and surgical identity in late Georgian Britain


(Tuesday) 6:30 pm

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