IT was the stuff of nightmares: a derelict house where four dead bodies had been found.

The half-timbered building in Latchford had a name to inspire fear - The Plague House.

Empty and partly vandalized, it sat in Wash Lane until 1957, but it was the date on the gable end that was crucial.

It was marked 1656, more than 450 years ago, and it was renowned as the place plague victims were isolated before they died.

Plague was surprisingly common until the final outbreak in London in 1666, which was stopped by the Great Fire.

The disease was usually carried by infected rats from the large cities downwards through travel and trade.

Nantwich, which even today has a population of only 12,500, had 430 deaths, mainly from the plague, in six months in 1604.

Warrington's most serious outbreak was in 1647 when victims were isolated in hastily constructed wooden cabins on a heath outside the town.

Charitable collections were taken for Warrington in London, and roads to Liverpool were blocked.

Another small outbreak in 1652 saw the people of Great Sankey petition the justices of the peace for Lancashire for help with two afflicted families.

The whole period was a grim one for Warrington, the town was partly burned down and was occupied by Cromwell's troops, and trade was at a standstill.

The Plague House was owned by Richard Warburton, who had married Ann Domvill at St Mary's in Lymm in June 1649.

According to Gaskells Notilia, he was a benefactor of the poor in Appleton. The building was originally known as Round Step House.

It was two storeys high and split into four dwellings, with a part timbered front and an old flag and slate roof, and to access the rear gate you needed to cross skipping stones in the stream. Investigations began when a Dr James Kendrick heard three bodies had been found buried in the garden in 1843.

He managed to find another body in 1852, and it appeared to have been hastily buried without a coffin - common practice for plague victims.

It was also buried outside the consecrated ground of a cemetery.

The popular theory was the four had been isolated and left to their fate, like many victims.

"For plague, no real remedy or solution was available. There was no means of escape," wrote Alan Crosby, in A History of Warrington.

The outbreak cannot be dated, but it was probably in the early 1650s and the date became associated with 1656 because of the gable inscription.

The plague stone' which now rests in Warrington Museum, was also removed from the sandstone wall.

Like similar stones from isolation houses, it had a shallow dip where disinfected money was left in vinegar, so passers-by could leave food and could safely take the coins without fear of infection.

The house became renowned and was recognised by the Illustrated London News for its architectural value, and investigators from the National Monument Record visited the site.

But, in 1936 the borough council decided the run-down property should be closed and a decision was taken to demolish it in 1957.

"It should be noted that despite its poor condition, the building did not give up without a fight. The bulldozer sent to raze it to the ground broke while trying to carry out its task," records The Millennium Scrapbook of Warrington.

Warrington Guardian:

The sandstone sidewall is the only part standing today. The house was opposite Christ Church, and the site now occupied by a pair of semi-detached houses.

There is some confusion around the dates associated with the house, which may never be cleared up.

However it seems most likely the popular plague myth is true, though there is no historical proof of an outbreak in Latchford at the time.

If it were ever shown there was no outbreak, then a greater mystery would arise - what, or who, killed the four people?