You may not know about Eyam. Well, here’s the true history of that busy and prosperous village in Derbyshire, not far from Chatsworth House:
Eyam has become known as ‘the plague village’ and its story is one of heroism and selflessness, almost beyond belief, putting our recent troubles with Covid 19 into perspective;
In 1665 a bale of cloth was sent from London to Eyam. Nothing unusual in that, except that in the damp folds of cloth there was a flea from plague ridden London. A tailor, George Viccars, hung the cloth out to air and so the flea found a new host and George became the first of the plague’s victims in the village.
In the next three months 42 villagers died and by the spring of 1666, the remaining villagers were planning to flee from the village but the vicar, William Mompesson, begged them to stay where they were, so that they wouldn’t spread the disease to the population of Sheffield and to the mill towns, quarries and the many industries in the area.
Mompesson begged his parishioners to go into lock-down, sealing the village off completely, and the Earl of Devonshire, who lived nearby at Chatsworth, promised to send in food and supplies. The vicar, at first meeting anger and opposition in all the fear, vowed that he would stay with them, in the village , and face whatever they faced. Slowly and surely he won them over.
Here’s an excerpt from the BBC website about the village:
Dr Michael Sweet, a wildlife disease specialist at the University of Derby, said: “The decision to quarantine the village meant that human-to-human contact, especially with those outside of the village was basically eliminated which would have certainly significantly reduced the potential of the spread of the pathogen.
“Without the restraint of the villagers many more people, especially from neighbouring villages, would have more than likely have succumbed to the disease. The weather was remarkably hot that summer, which meant the fleas were more active, and the pestilence spread unchecked throughout the village.
Despite this, hardly anyone broke the cordon; even those who were reluctant to stay saw it through. The same month, Elizabeth Hancock buried six of her children and her husband close to the family farm. They had all perished in the space of just eight days
Mrs Plant, who is a direct descendant of Margaret Blackwell, one of the few villagers to have survived the plague, said: “It must have been terrifying, but every single family would have had that strong belief in God, and would not have feared death.”
During the outbreak, Eyam’s mortality rate was higher than that suffered by the citizens of London as a result of the plague. In just over a year, 260 of the village’s inhabitants, from no fewer than 76 different families, had died.
Mompesson knew his actions, and the courage of his parishioners, had probably saved thousands more.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habbakuk 3: 17&18