Posts Tagged ‘1667’

A wonderful thing about being in England is there is a lot to see and do, from Nottinghamshire it’s a fairly short journey into the Peak District. One of the places on my list was Eyam Village, the plague village as it is also referred to.

Eyam village would have been quite isolated during the period of the plague and our journey by car was very far removed from the foot/horse travel of the day. It is however beautiful and part of the Peak Pilgrimage, its also a working village where people see us tourists coming through every day.

In 1665 Mary Cooper lived with her two sons and a lodger called George Viccars, who was a travelling tailor. She was a widow and was living fairly comfortably. Around march 1665 she had re-married to Alexander Hadfield and his will shows that he was also a tailor. She is also referred to as Mary Hadfeld in his will. Tradition holds it that a box came from London and arrived August/September containing clothes, her husband was away at this period and it seems likely he stayed with non-infected family for the year as he came back and died 12 months later. The box was opened and found to have wet cloth in it, so Viccars hung them to dry and within the week. It is thought that perhaps a flea was in the clothing and this bit him, within another two weeks Mary’s youngest son, Edward, had also died.

It was the start of the outbreak of the plague in Eyam, in more modern studies some suggestions were put forwards such as typhus, anthrax or measles. Anna Seward was the daughter of the village rector saying that in 1757 men of the village had dug up rotten linen materials and three of the men succumbed to a putrid fever, another several villagers also died. Does this support the idea of anthrax? However, it is a generally accepted event of plague that has been given to this time period.

As records show the wealthier people left the village early on, some of the poor also tried. It wasn’t possible for everyone to simply lock up and leave, often their arrival to other places was met with hostility. It’s not solely an Eyam experience but if villagers/townsfolk herd where people were coming from they may well have been driven out too. Sheffield people created barriers and had guards there to stop strangers from entering and possibly bringing infection. This also led to some villagers taking to living in the fields and caves around Eyam Moor, creating makeshift homes to avoid contracting the plague.

October that year gave another 23 listed victims, it included Jonathan Cooper (Mary’s eldest son) and by April 1666 there were 73 deaths, some would have been natural but there was a definite spike to their numbers on the records. A lull in May would have presented a sense of hope and then in June it began again.

The rector, William Mompesson and his wife had sent both their children away, his wife Catherine begged them to go too but William felt a strong sense of duty to remain. William remained there and Catherine stuck by him, this choice came at the cost of her early demise. He was a young rector at 28 years old and his position was also taken up during the point of a fairly tumultuous religious period. Thomas Stanley had returned to the village after his and Shoreland Adams had been forced to leave down to Puritan pressure. Stanley had come back and he was liked in the village, both of them had differing religious views but the one thing they did work on together was what they could do about the plague.

It is known that during the plague period people were forbidden from crossing a stream to go to the local Bakewell market, they would leave their money in the local waters and trade from a distance. This was already in place by the time they had got the stages next taken. The villagers consented to three decisions to try and stop the plague from spreading and to bring it under control.

The first was that they would have no more organised funerals and church burials, the demand was too high and so people were advised to bury their own dead. It meant the clergy could do all the other work surrounding the death and it must have been hard for all involved not to have their dead buried on consecrated grounds, it prevented the highly religious people of the time from meeting their relatives on Judgement Day. Bodies had to be buried fast and they had to be wrapped and under the ground as it was thought it would help to stop the spread too.

A second decision was made to lock up the church until the epidemic was over, services would be held in the open air. How the plague spread seemed confusing and unclear. Contact needed to be kept to a minimum, whilst they wanted to unite and keep to their services the villagers also understood this was necessary. A rock, The Delph, and the open area near it was chosen as the rock could act like a pulpit and to this day an annual Thanksgiving is held there on the last Sunday in August.

The third decision was quarantine, it was to try and stop the spread of disease beyond the village boundaries. It is speculated that the people of Eyam had little choice and viewed as forced heroism but it would only have taken one person to ignore that and get away with the disease for it to have become worse so it seems that they all agreed and kept to it.

The Earl of Devonshire lived in Chatsworth House, he was their chief benefactor and arranged for good and medical supplies to be left at the southern border of Eyam. Any requests for specific items could be left at the boundary stone and paid for there too. Cynically this kept the Earl away from the infection but without him they would have had nothing to sustain them so he was doing something to help the local population. Money was placed in running water or wells, or was sterilised by placing it in holes made in the boundary stones were the money was put into vinegar.

The villagers were isolated but the disease did not spread, all they had to do now was wait and pray. The last death was recorded in either October or 1st November 1666. 1664 showed the consensus with around 160 households (800 population) and by the end an estimated 430 people. The Hearth tax return for 1670 suggests 350 taxed households but does not list exemptions and another suggestion of only 83 survivors seems more plausibly to be 83 households. It would be hard to exact numbers for those who died to the plague too, as an example Jane Hadfield had a baby that died only 2 days after birth, not listed down to plague but not ascertained if it contributed either.

In December 1666 the Christmas period was one of recovery, slowly life was returning to the stricken village and in the summer of 1667 they held a ‘great burning’ to remove all objects etc that might carry any remnants of the plague seed.

There are still recorded outbreaks of the plague today, in 1994 there was an outbreak in India and there have been pockets of cases reported in the USA – be wary of the chipmunks and prairie dogs in some of the larger national parks. The latest listed case on WHO is in Madagascar as of 2017.

If you want a lovely day out in the Peaks and want to learn more you can visit and see a museum as well as all the sign posts around the village. It was, for me anyway, a wonderful day out with a lot to take in

Sources:
Eyam Plague Village 1665-1666 by John Clifford
The Village Museum and boards around the village.
The National Trust
World Health Organisation