Return of the Black Death: Secret History

Return of the Black Death: Secret History



There’s so much in the world to make us nervous about our survival: global warming, rising sea levels, political/religious unrest. Do we need to worry about plague as well? In 2012, archaeologists uncovered in the City of London 25 bodies of people carried off by the lethal Black Death outbreak of 1348–9, when it’s believed 60 per cent of the capital’s population died. And although it’s generally been brought under control, outbreaks of plague do still happen – dozens died last year in Madagascar.

Bubonic plague, which originated with rats and fleas in Asia, raced through Europe before finally hitting our shores. But what can modern-day science extract from the London bones to tell us why it proved so fatal, so fast? And documentary evidence brings us up close to the victims themselves. A fascinating story, with an intriguing conclusion, if slightly marred by a doom-laden narration and a pseudo-religious choral soundtrack.


One of the most devastating pandemics in human history, the Black Death swept through London in 1348, killing old and young, rich and poor, within days of their first symptoms. Received wisdom has long suggested the culprit was bubonic plague, spread by the fleas of infected rats, and an unexpected discovery made by Crossrail engineers working on a shaft on the edge of London's Charterhouse Square in 2013 provides a new insight into how the disease passed from host to host. This documentary follows experts from a range of disciplines as they pick through the evidence, reveal why the disease killed on such a large scale, and discuss how it still poses a threat today.

Cast & Crew

Director Kenny Scott
Executive Producer Liz McLeod
Producer Carla Wright