Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Plague Village

This is something that I intended posting during last summer after an outing with Neil,Cesca and Gabriel to the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, it's about 20/25 minutes drive from our house and has a sad but inspiring history. I'm sure that you will have heard of the Great Plague of London in 1665 when a fifth of the population of the city died. It wasn't just London that suffered however, a great many other areas of England were ravaged by the Plague. It came to Eyam in September 1665 carried in a bolt of cloth which was delivered to the local tailor. Three weeks later there had been six deaths in four nearby cottages. In October there were 23 more victims and 270 people had died out of a population of 800 when the final death occurred in October 1666. Amazingly the disease didn't go beyond the boundaries of Eyam thanks to the courage of the villagers led by their rector, William Mompesson. They decided on a self-imposed quarantine with no-one leaving or entering the village, the church was closed and all services were held in the open air and finally there were to be no formal funerals or burials in the churchyard. Each family would bury its own dead, as quickly as posssible, close to home in their fields, gardens or orchards. They believed that unburied corpses were a serious hazard to the living. I think they were probably right!

These are known as The Plague Cottages and are where the first victims lived and died.

The plaque outside one of the cottages where the entire family died. Clicking on the photo will enable you to read it.

Riley's Graves - the site of the graves of the Hancock family who are commemorated on the plaque in the photo at the beginning of this post. It is quite a long walk up a pleasant lane to the graves. Their cottage was nearby, a little way outside the main village and here Mary Hancock dug the graves for and buried her husband and six children within the space of a week. She herself survived and eventually went to live in Sheffield with her one surviving child, an adult son who was an apprentice cutler there. Most of the burial sites have long since disappeared as no markers were ever put up.

Neil and Cesca reading the inscriptions on the gravestones.

The self-imposed quarantine was supported by surrounding villages and by the Earl of Devonshire who lived at nearby Chatsworth House. The Earl donated food and medical supplies and these, along with things supplied by the villages were left at The Boundary Stone on the moor above the village to be collected by the people of Eyam later. Payment was left in the holes in the Boundary Stone which were filled with vinegar which was thought to disinfect the coins.

About a mile outside the village on the road to Grindleford and Sheffield is Mompesson's Well which was another place where supplies were left. Here the payment was left in the running water which was also thought to cleanse it of the 'seeds of the plague'.

This information board by the well has a map which gives an idea of the position of the various sites. More clicking necessary to read it of course.

Eyam has other interesting things to see as well. This Celtic Cross stands in the churchyard and dates back to around the 8th century. It is in it's original position and is one of only 50 or so that survive in England.

This wonderful old sundial dates back to 1775 and stands above the priest's door on the south side of the church.

A close up of the dial which is absolutely fascinating. It shows not only local time but also noon in various places around the world.

The font dates back to Saxon times and the original foundation of the church.

There is quite a lot of medieval wall painting visible including this rather gruesome one which is presumably a reminder of things to come.

A closer view of the skeleton for those who are interested!

The tomb of Catherine Mompesson, wife of William, who died in August 1666 having worked tirelessly visiting the sick and dying. Hers is the only known plague grave in the churchyard and she was buried there by special arrangement in spite of the ban on churchyard burials. Once a year on Plague Sunday (the last Sunday in August) the wife of the current rector places a wreath of red flowers on the grave commemorating both the outbreak of the plague and the actual burial of Catherine.

A reminder of a rather less spiritual pastime of the villagers in centuries gone by - the old bull ring. The plaque explains its purpose.

The lovely view from the burial ground of the Hancock family - and a final little snippet of information. The well-known old nursery rhyme 'Ring a Ring of Roses' originates from the days of the plague -

Ring a ring of roses
A pocketful of posies
Atishoo Atishoo
We all fall down

One of the first signs of the plague was a ring of rose-coloured spots, and a posy of sweet smelling herbs was thought to give protection against plague. Sneezing was taken as a sure sign that you were about to die of it, and the last line "We all fall down" omits the word, "dead"!

A sobering thought!


Janet said...

Once again you have blown me away with your knowledge of history. This was sad in some ways but also very interesting, and I did not know about the nursery rhyme meaning! Wonderful post, serious subject, and you did it so well.

Rosie said...

I've enjoyed reading your post, rowan. Quite a few of my husband's ancestors came from Eyam and Stoney Middleton and there is still a butcher's shop run by people of the same name in Eyam. I find the history of the place fascinating but in all the times we've visited had never been inside the church so I enjoyed seeing the photos. Have you read the book 'Year of Wonders - A Novel of the Plague' by Geraldine Brooks - although she changes the names of the people involved slightly which I found confusing, I got into it and really enjoyed her 'take' on what may have happened within the village during that sad time.

Tara said...

I've enjoyed this post *so* much. So informative and your photos made me feel as if I were there. Thanks!

Jenny said...

What an interesting post. I got shivers when I read the plaque commemorating the deaths of the entire family. I also had a hard time imagining how one would cope after burying your entire family. It certainly helped me put my problems in perspective! I enjoyed the picture of the Celtic Cross as well- it's hard for me comprehend something standing for such an incredibly long time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this very interesting log. I'm very interested in history and it's great to read and see things out of that period. It must have been suh a surrealistic view, all those people dying so quickly, everything around those people changed in a wink of an eye !!!
Thank you so much for sharing !!

Anonymous said...

This was so interesting and tragic, Rowan! I can't even imagine what it must have been like to lose your husband and 6 children! I love the tours you share with us. ~ Lynda xo

Mary said...

More interesting history - thanks for sharing. The pics are great - making me homesick Rowan showing those rolling green fields! Love the sundial, never seen one like this before.

Paula said...

What an interesting post! The village looks so charming and quaint that it is hard to imagine such tragedy there. It probably looked that way before the plague hit, too! The villagers were probably right that the vinegar solution helped. Vinegar is an excellent antibacterial.

I have heard a slightly different version of the Ring around the Rosy nursery rhyme. Ours says "Ashes, Ashes". I wonder if "Atishoo" is the root of our "tissue".

meggie said...

I was so fascinated to read your post, & see these photos.
I have recently read "Year Of Wonders", by Geraldine Brooks, which is based on this story. It is a great read, & faithful to the true story.

Gypsy Quilter said...

How very interesting. You can bet I won't be teaching anyone that particular nursery rhyme. Goodness. Love the cross though.

Julie Marie said...

My book club also read "Year of Wonders" and enjoyed it very much, if you can say enjoy about a subject such as the plague. I also enjoyed your post very much.

Love that Celtic cross.

PAT said...

Another absolutely amazing post, Rowan. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your writing and photography!

I had heard the story behind the nursery rhyme. I wonder how many others began from a tragic event.


smilnsigh said...

What an interesting entry! With amazing photos to illustrate it.

Amazing to think that those people were brave enough and has such foresight as to impose a quarantine on themselves.

We sing "Ring Around The Rosie." Slightly different words... But still the same.

Ring around the rosie,
A pocket-full of posies.
Ashes. Ashes.
We all fall down.


sheoflittlebrain said...

Another wonderful post, Rowan. There is so much here..The sundial boggles the mind..beautiful photos as always..

I had never heard of the village of Eyam or of their courageous decision to quarantine themselves.
Thanks for telling us about it..

Ragged Roses said...

Fascinating stuff Rowan. My eldest daughter had to do a project on the plague a couple of years ago, it was both gruesome and very interesting. I wonder how Catherine managed to be buried in the churchyard? The posy did not offer protection did it, it just warded away the bad smells.
I love reading your posts!

Anonymous said...

wonderful post Rowan. I read a book a few years ago called A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooke. It was about this village and the people. It was based on the true story with obvious embellishments as the author wasnt there at the time to know the conversations etc! It was so interesting to read the story of the village in the form of a story rather than a factual account. It was extremely moving and one of the best books I ahve read. Thank you for sharing the pics, its great to see the places that we read about it books!

Sheila said...

It was a selfless act by each villager and probably saved hundreds of lives beyond Eyam. I had heard of it before, but it was fascinating to read the details.
I also realised from the photo of him with his Mum, just how much Gabriel ahs grown since last summer.

MammyT said...

I'm so impressed by the sacrifice made by the villagers of Eyam. Your story was new to me and I'm blessed to have found it, and your site. I look forward to coming back to see what else you have to share. I have fallen in love with the sundial. They always grab me; I don't know why. thank you so much for your careful treatment of these historical treasures.

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Superb post Rowan. There was a good drama on TV once called 'The Roses of Eyam'. I've never forgot it.

Thimbleanna said...

Oh, thank you so much for sharing this post! Ragged Roses has sent me here, as I mentioned Year of Wonders on my blog. I loved that book and your post is just fabulous! I'll definitely have to take note -- this would be a wonderful place to visit the next time I make it to England! Thank you, Thank you -- Awesome Post!!!

peppylady said...

I enjoyed reading about the area of which the plague.
I never knew the child hood song and game ring around the roses had any thing connect with the plague.
I remember doing this when I was kid.

Val said...

I knew about Eyam and the plague, but I didnt know it has such a fantastic Celtic cross! Wow, what a beauty.

Shirl said...

What a beautiful place. I have heard of Eyam, but not it's history.

The strength of the woman both physically and mentally to bury her husband and 6 children.

Thanks for sharing ... :0)

Remiman said...

When we, from time to time, think about how much better life was in the "old days" it does us well to peek back at incidents such as this to bring us round to realise that life today is in so many ways better than then.
I never realized that the plague was the impetus for the rhyme Ring around the rosy. But I'm not surprised; all the old jingles have a practical origin it seems.

Tea & Margaritas in My Garden said...

What amazing pictures and history Rowan. I can`t begin to imagine the horror and grief of having to bury ones husband and children.


Strawberry Lane said...

Fascinating! Fascinating!

Thank you for the historical journey ... complete with photos to give me a sense of presence from the other side of the world.

Kim said...

Thank you Rowan, for such a beautiful and moving post. My daughter knew all about that village and the bolt of cloth, she learned it in school last year. Very sad.

Kim x

lila said...

A beatuiful post. I think I will have to read, "A Year of Wonders" now. Your photos really transport us "across the pond"!

ancient one said...

This was a great post! Learn something new every day!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Nice work this helped me with my english homework which was to find a story that could be turned into a ballad i think this the one =D

hen said...

Nice to make contact with you Rowan. Rowan is my favourite name!! This post has just moved me to tears. You held me enthralled with your fantastic photos and simple explanations.

Thank you so much Rowan.

Jen said...

I am reading a book called 'Year of Wonders' by Geraldine Brooks. It is based on Eyam and the year of the plague. It is a really good book. So interested in it, I was searching the web for plague village and came to your website. So nice to have pictures to have in my head while I read. Beautiful pictures. Such a lovely place and such heroic villagers.