Saturday, January 19, 2008
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
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!