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The forgotten women of history

A remarkable piece of historical fiction

‘The Searchers walk the streets with their red wands, seeking out sufferers of the plague. Rob Wills brings these forgotten women of history to dramatic life in his vast sweep of a novel, full of character and intrigue. If you like Hilary Mantel, you’ll love this.’

Plague Searchers I

By Rob Wills

It is 1665 and London faces two deadly threats – the devastating plague, and dangerous rumblings of a rebellion against the King, Charles II.

In the frontline of the plague, the ‘first responders’, are the ancient women of the parish: the Viewers, Keepers and Searchers, who must deal with the sick, the dying and the dead.

Political and religious differences split the city. Some yearn for the days of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Commonwealth, others rejoice in the pleasure-loving King’s return.

A tale of friendships and feuds, songs and psalms, plots and betrayals, this exciting and original novel paints a rich picture of life – and death – in the perilous streets of plague-struck London.


When any one dies the Searchers (who are antient Matrons, sworn to their Office) repair to the place where the dead Corpse lies and examine by what Disease or Casualty the Corpse died.

Plague Searchers II

By Rob Wills

The first months of London’s Great Plague of 1665 give no hope of any improvement, only an ominous warning of worse to come. Those who can are fleeing the city. Those who can’t – the poor, the old, and a dedicated few – must stay to face the growing danger.


The ancient women of the parish of St Cyneswide and St Tibba, the Searchers, Viewers and Keepers, who have weathered the disappearance of one of their own, face further calls on their courage and resilience.

The plot against the King simmers, supported by folk of fire and faith, dismissed by others as the work of fanatics. There are those who will stop at nothing and threaten the whole city. But … the parish still finds solace in singing; small children play their joyous, sometimes fractious, street games; and young people find each other.

Volume 2 of Plague Searchers – Flee quick, go far – continues this gripping tale with its friendships and feuds, songs and psalms, plots and betrayals.

This is a classic

‘A noisy place, this teeming city where pestilence rages. Bells toll, dead carts rumble, purging fires smoke and crackle. And everywhere – in churches, inns and parish squares – voices buzzing with gossip, raised up in song.

We meet Widow Hazard and Goodwife Brokefild resting their aching bones on a stone wall, puffing on their pipes, talking things over. Their red wands to hand – these ancient women are plague Searchers, paid by the parish, and this, in the end, is their story.

The product of capacious knowledge, a sharp, affectionate eye and a well-tuned ear, this book is a reel through the stinks and miasmas of plague-stricken London in the company of reflective, funny, fatalistic souls from another time entirely, who are also – mysteriously, deliriously – us. This is a classic.’

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‘In the long summer evening three ancient women sit on the low wall that belts in the churchyard. The shadow thrown by the church tower shields them from the still hot sun and here they can smoke and rest and talk and, if they want, flap and waft underskirts to cool themselves. Their chosen place for these dusk gatherings is at paupers’ corner where few ever come. By tacit agreement the congregation has accepted that if Searchers and Viewers and Keepers have to have some outdoor gathering place then this far, undesirable, corner of the churchyard is where they should gather. Their red wands rest against the wall, declaring their possession and warning others to keep away.’

Chapter 2, Volume 1, Plague Searchers

Rob Wills
"I did not mean to write a novel this long."
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