IN our times of pestilence, we have funerals attended via the lenses of Zoom and we have police patrolling the moors with overhead drones.

It is very different to the way the plague was handled in Northallerton 400 years ago – although they tackled most of the same problems of person-to-person contagion.

Research by Northallerton historian Harry Fairburn shows that two separate bouts of infections ravaged the town in 1604 and 1605.

The population of about 900 people were probably already weakened by the harvest failure of 1596-7 which had killed about 10 per cent of them.

Then, on January 18, 1604, the wife of Henry Staynes became the first to die of the plague. Its grip lasted until May 25 when the daughter of John Calvert became the 54th, and final, person to succumb.

Final, that is, until a summertime strand arrived the following year. Thomazin, the daughter of Cuthbert Metcalf, was the first to die on July 16, and another 87 passed away until Bartholomew Byas, on November 21, became the last.

During this visitation, the town was a 17th Century lockdown. Ten weddings a year were usually held in Northallerton, but there were none between May 1605 and January 1606 as people sheltered at home. Romance, though, was not dead, as in the remaining 11 months of 1606, when the infection had disappeared, there were 20 marriages.

When the plague struck, the town would have come under the control of local magistrates, acting under guidance laid down by the Privy Council in 1579.

They were encouraged to employ viewers or searchers to report on the progress of the outbreak, and watchmen to enforce the shutdown.

Funerals had to be held at dusk to reduce the number of people attending, and all clothes and bedding of victims had to be burned.

All infected houses had to be locked down for at least six weeks with all members of the family, whether sick or healthy, stuck inside. This must have felt like a death sentence to those incarcerated, and several Northallerton families were hit extremely hard in 1605: the Kirbris, the Stubs and the Taylliers all lost four members whereas Richard Wilson, who had lost his daughter Isabel in 1604, died in 1605 along with six members of his family.

The watchmen were allowed to use violence to enforce the lockdown. Anyone found outside in breach of the curfew could be whipped, and if they had a plague sore on their body, they could be hanged.

But on the other hand, magistrates were able to levy a local tax to provide food for the poor.

Although Northallerton’s plague burned itself out, for decades afterwards there were outbreaks across the North Riding.

When Sowerby was struck in 1626, the blame was laid upon Rob Bossall and John Sanderson who had brought infected goods up from London. In January 1627, Bossall, after threatening to shoot the magistrates, was fined £40 and placed in the stocks at New Malton “with a scrowle of paper on his head written in Romaine capital letters for bringing downe receivynge into his house and uttering goods infected with the plague; and for contempt of the authoritie seekinge to suppress his insolences.”

Infection coming up from the capital was such a big worry for the Yorkshire authorities. In 1665, guests of George Mason of Marske, in Swaledale, were believed to have come up from London which was ablaze with the Great Plague. Magistrates ordered that the constable should keep watch on the Masons for 40 days to ensure that they had no "society with any other family or families”.

This idea of quarantine had originated in Venice in 1371 when the city state passed a law by which ships arriving from plague-stricken countries had to be placed in “quarantina” – a 40 day period of isolation – and later in 1665 it was introduced at Whitby for vessels arriving from London.

This helped keep the port free from infection, although trade was seriously disrupted. So although back then they didn’t have Zoom or drones, in terms of quarantine they were quick to implement measures that the British Government is only now getting round to employing.

Harry’s research, for which he won the 2006 Bramley Award from the Yorkshire Society, shows that in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the plague was a frequent and devastating visitor – after the deaths of 1604 and 1605, it took Northallerton’s population 70 years to regain its pre-plague levels.