The story of rats in London

Rats have been a part of London for centuries; in fact, aside from pigeons, they’re probably the animal you most associate with London. Rats (and the fleas/germs they carry) have long been a major problem for London, spreading dirt and disease, including the deadly plagues of the Late Middle Ages. While the problem is far less severe today, rats do pose a threat to our sanitation and hygiene. In this article, we’re going to tell a brief history of rats in London and what the present-day situation is like for the capital. Just how worried should you be about the number of rats in and around London’s homes today? 

The First Settlers (1st – 3rd Century)

Rats first came to Britain from Asia almost 2000 years ago on Saxon ships and quickly spread across the entire European continent. London became a popular destination for rats due to the relative abundance of shelter, warmth, and food scraps thanks to London being a more built-up area. Over the centuries, rat numbers steadily grew and rats continued to stowaway on ships from Asia and arrive in Europe.

The Black Death (14th Century)

The Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, claiming up to 50% of Europe’s population and countless more in the Middle East between 1347 and 1351. It’s believed to have originated in Central Asia and been transported to Europe by traders along the Silk Road and on ships from Asia to Europe. The exact vessel? It’s generally thought that the fleas on rats were the carriers, and the large population of rats in Europe were to blame for the disease spreading so quickly.

The Great Plague of London (17th Century)

In 1665, shortly before the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Plague struck London again. The Great Plague was once again spread by the fleas on rats, and it claimed approximately a quarter of London’s population. Thankfully, the Great Plague marked the end of the era of major bubonic plague outbreaks in England. While rats weren’t directly responsible, their connection to the disease is undeniable. It’s a large part of the reason we still strongly associate rats with disease.

Sir Henry Cole’s Rat (19th Century)

Rat’s haven’t always been the bane of London life; in fact, rats indirectly helped to improve the way we store records. This is the peculiar tale of the rat affectionately known as belonging to Sir Henry Cole. Britain’s public records were once kept in an old stable in London. Of course, these records were kept on paper, and stables are notoriously damp places. Fairly soon, Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant, saw that the papers were sticking together and rotting, and attracting a lot of rats.

He found a dead rat whose stomach contained some of these records, and he used this as evidence of the poor conditions in which the public records were kept. This lead to the official Public Records Office, now known as the National Archives. The rat in question has been preserved as is on display in the National Archives. You could argue that if it wasn’t for that rat, it could have been many more years before record-keeping methods were improved.

Rats in London Today

Today, the threat of Plague or destroyed records is virtually non-existent, but rats are still a big part of London. Many “facts” and “statistics” are thrown around regarding the number of rats in London. One of the most famous is that there is one rat in Britain for every human in Britain. This statistic has been quoted for a hundred years. It comes from an estimate of the rat population in 1909 where a survey was conducted regarding whether people whether it was reasonable to assume there was one rat for every acre of land. As it happened, there were approximately 40 million acres of cultivated land at the time, and approximately 40 million people living in Britain. Since then, that “statistic” has been stuck in the public psyche without proper scrutiny.

It’s very difficult to accurately measure how many rats there are in London or the UK, but current estimates suggest there are approximately 3 million rats in urban areas of Britain. While this is far fewer than “one rat for every human”, it’s still a huge number. In fact, sightings of rats in London are on the increase. Londoners are making over 100 complaints per day to authorities regarding rat sightings in and around their property, and that number has been rising over the past few years. This highlights the importance of proper pest control.

Here at Inoculand, we pride ourselves on being one of London’s foremost pest control companies. We know the city’s long history with rats and the problems they’ve caused, which is why we use the latest and most effective methods to control them. We’re so confident in our ability to rid your property of rats that our service comes with a 1-year guarantee. Visit our dedicated rat control page for more information on how we deal with rats, or get in touch with our friendly team today.