AS 2020 draws to a close, we can thankfully begin to look forward to next Spring when the new vaccines created by the brilliant work of our Oxford scientists and others should help to bring life back to a new ‘normality’. We are fast becoming part of a recorded history that links us back at least 1500 years.

Gildas, writing in 540 AD described ‘a deadly plague’ around 500 AD that ‘in a short period laid low so many people, with no sword, that the living could not bury all the dead’.

Plague was endemic in the Saxon and Medieval periods. The earliest mention of a place in Wallingford to care for the sick was St John’s hospital in the 1150s which was connected with the leper Hospital of St Mary Magdalene in Crowmarsh, also used for victims of plague and of the ‘sweating sickness’.

In 1316 we know that some form of virulent pestilence struck locally, killing 28 people in Wallingford gaol in a little over two months.

The Black Death arrived in 1348-49 and though little is known about how bad it was in Wallingford, there is no reason to believe it was any different from other parts of the country, where at least a third of the population died.

In the 16th century the buildings in the castle’s middle bailey, owned by Christ Church College Oxford, were used on more than one occasion as a refuge for members of the College when plague drove them out of Oxford.

When plague broke out again in Crowmarsh in 1631, Wallingford acted swiftly to isolate the town:

‘Wardens were set at the great bridge to keep all Crowmarsh and Newnham people out of Wallingford, for there died of the plague in the two parishes sixteen persons of men, women and children, in three months, and then ceased (thanks be given to God), but many others were sick and infected there, with sores, whereof some did break and others had great swellings arising about their bodies and did sink again and not break, and yet did recover their health again. And through God’s mercy our town of Wallingford was preserved’

We have now sadly joined this pattern of history but as well as experiencing grief, we have also witnessed communities pulling together, individuals ‘doing their bit,’ and something of a wartime spirit in facing the current invisible enemy. It is important that all this is now recorded in some form for future generations.

One such record, just published in aid of the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Appeal, is a new volume of poems: Life Under Lockdown, a diary in verse, March-July 2020 by Clive Fewins of East Hanney. His poems are both witty and thought-provoking - a clever record of so many details we shall soon be looking back on and hardly believing: the closed churches, the quiet roads, the hunt for loo-rolls, the isolation, the little kindnesses, the freedom of time on our hands, the fear…. The poems are a roller-coaster of ups and downs from laughter to tears. It is certainly a volume to treasure and to pass on to future generations.

The hard-back pocket-sized book costs £12 (with at least £5 for each copy going to the NHS Charity). The book will be on sale at the Wallingford Museum bookshop, re-opening on Friday and Saturday mornings from 10.30am - 1.00 pm. It is also available online at