Rats and London go together like tea and biscuits, salt and pepper, cheese and pickle. They have lived in London for centuries. So, like it or not, they are our city neighbours. While it may not be completely true that rats are always no further than 6 feet away from you in London, like many other big cities in the world, these rodents are commonplace. So, we thought a potted history of rats in London would make for an interesting read.
It may seem as if rats have always been here in London. And with them living so close to human populations, it’s no wonder they are responsible for causing problems for humans. However, the two main species of the rodent you are likely to find in the UK, are not actually native to the UK. They first arrived on British shores as stowaways on boats from Asia in the 1st century. They gradually spread across the country from then on.
In this history of rats post, we’ll be looking at some of the notable things these vermin have got up to over the years.
The Great Plague
Rats, as you are probably aware, are well-known as being disease carriers. They are never actually affected themselves. But, over the years, they have helped to transmit these diseases to humans.
Rats are held responsible for the Black Death Plague that spread through much of Europe during the 14th century. However, the Great Plague of London during the 17th century is the thing most people think of when they think of street rats.
In most cases, though, it’s the fleas that live on rats that are to blame for the spread of disease. It is not so much caused by direct contact between rats and humans. There are definite connections between rats, their fleas and the spread of disease.
However, new insights into the history of rats and their relationship to the Great Plague suggests they may not be as responsible as we thought for the spread. In fact, humans were probably more to blame.
Sir Henry Cole and the Rat
Britain does love to keep records. The Palace of Westminster was where the governmental archive was kept until much of the building was lost to a fire in 1834. Fortunately, many of the records had been moved to a different location prior to this. That location was an old stable. The stable had a serious problem with dampness. So serious in fact, that it caused the papers to stick together as if they had been glued. That eventually became a putrid and disgusting sludge. At least humans saw it that way. Rats loved it.
Sir Henry Cole’s rat – as it’s affectionately known – refers to a mummified rat with a stomach clearly filled with chewed paper. It is on display at the National Archives building – more from a human history perspective than a history of rats, but fascinating nonetheless.
Cole was apparently disgusted at the bad conditions of the public records, and brandished the said rat as evidence. This eventually led to the inception of the Public Record Office, which later became the National Archives.
Without the rat being caught with a belly full of documents, it may have taken longer for a more robust records office to be established. So, rats are at least responsible for that, which is definitely a good thing.
Modern Rat Problems
Let’s take a peek beyond the history of rats to the 21st century for a moment.
While it’s true there no incidents of rat fleas causing major pandemics in our modern times, the Bubonic Plague does still exist. The occasional outbreak has occurred in developing countries – for example in 2013 in Madagascar. And although rare, cases have even been reported In some states of the USA in recent years. Fortunately, modern antibiotics can usually be effective.
We are lucky not to have the Plague in the UK, but the problem of rats in London is still a persistent on for other reasons. That has a lot to do with London local authorities and councils not prioritising pest control. The result? The number of complaints about rats from London citizens has hit new highs of up to 100 per day in the last few years.
We are Rat Control Specialists
We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief history of rats. And don’t forget – if you are unfortunate enough to have a rat problem in the here and now, you can turn to Empire. Our technicians have specialist rat control training. We are a competent and professional firm with great credentials.
We provide customers with all the benefits of a large, professional company, and we many positive reviews to testify to that. The confidence our previous clients express speaks for itself.
We are members of the BPCA, as well as belonging to associations such as NPTA, SAFECONTRACTOR and SAFE4SITE. Many one man pest control outfits and smaller companies don’t have the size work force or level of insurance that we do.
If you are based in London or the Home Counties and you’re having a problem with rats or any other kind of pest, you can count on us any time of day or night. Our team are ready to help you and give you advice 24 hours a day on 0203 633 2143.