A small, Anglo Saxon Village nestled in the hills of Derbyshire, Eyam has become known as ‘plague village’ due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1665 and the village’s decision to endure a self-imposed quarantine during this time.
In the early 1660s Eyam did not stand apart from any of the other numerous villages that lined the trade routes from London to the rest of England. And yet in 1665 Eyam became one of the most significant villages in England. The actions of its inhabitants had important consequences for the development of treatment of the plague.
Late in the summer of 1665 infected materials from London were delivered to the house of the village tailor, Alexander Hadfield. They were opened by his assistant, George Viccars, who shortly afterwards became ill and died most violently. His death was quickly followed by that of his two stepsons, Edward and Jonathan Cooper, and his immediate neighbours, and eventually by that of the tailor himself.
The infection spread rapidly throughout the autumn, slowing down in the winter only to return with greater vigour in the spring and summer, reaching a peak in August when 78 people died in the month. In the 14 months the danger lasted, it claimed 260 lives out of a population of around 800.
Under the leadership of the rector, Rev. William Mompesson and his predecessor, the Rev. Thomas Stanley, the villagers agreed to accept strict quarantine to prevent the spread of the disease beyond the village boundary. They were supported by the Earl of Devonshire, and by other charitable but less wealthy neighbours, who provided the necessities of life during their period of isolation.
Today there are many different points of interest for visitors to explore that form part of the plague story, such as including Mompesson’s Well and a boundary stone set between Eyam and neighbouring village Stoney Middleton, where supplies were left at a safe distance.
In the centre of the village is a row of Plague cottages with signs that commemorate some of the first victims. George Vicar’s house can be seen, as well as the tomb of Catherine Mompesson, wife of the then newly-appointed vicar who took such a bold step in isolating the village, herself an early victim of the bubonic plague. Also worth a visit is Eyam Hall, a 17th-century grade 2 listed historic house.
Every year on Plague Sunday (the last Sunday in August) a memorial service is held in the nearby hollow of Cucklett Delf, site of the outdoor services held by Reverend Mompesson during the plague years.
A museum founded in 1994 by a group of volunteers explains the Eyam Plague story fully, and also looks at plague more widely throughout history.
Getting to Eyam
If driving, from the M1 take the Chesterfield exit and then follow signs for Bakewell. The best place to park is at the free car park on Hawkhill Road, opposite the museum. The nearest station is Grindleford which is 2 miles away. There are also several bus routes that pass through the village.