From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present


53° 17′ 2.4″ N 1° 40′ 15.6″ W

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Eyam is a small village famous for isolating during the plague, located in the within the Peak District, Derbyshire Dale.

The village was founded by the Anglo-Saxons, although lead had earlier been mined in the area by the Romans although there is evidence of habitation from earlier periods. Stone circles and earth barrows on the moors above the present village have largely been destroyed, the most notable site is the Wet Withens stone circle on Eyam Moor.

In the churchyard is an Anglo-Saxon cross, dating to 8th century, it was moved there from its original location beside a moorland cart track and is Grade I listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it is covered in complex carvings and is almost complete, but for a missing section of the shaft. The 14th century parish church of St. Lawrence has a Saxon font, a Norman window at the west end of the north aisle with Norman pillars that are thought to rest on Saxon foundations.

The history of the plague in the village began in 1665 when a flea-infested bundle of cloth arrived from London for Alexander Hadfield, the local tailor. Within a week his assistant George Viccars, noticing the bundle was damp, had opened it up. Before long he was dead and more began dying in the household soon after.

As the disease spread, the Reverend William Mompesson along with the Puritan minister Thomas Stanley, introduced a number of precautions to slow its spread. These included the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and relocation of church services to the natural amphitheatre of Cucklett Delph, allowing villagers to separate themselves and so reducing the risk of infection. The entire village was quarantined to prevent further spread of the disease. Merchants from surrounding villages sent supplies that they would leave on marked rocks, the villagers then made holes there which they would fill with vinegar to disinfect the money left as payment

The plague ran its course over 14 months and one account states that it killed at least 260 villagers, with only 83 surviving out of a population of 350. The church in Eyam has a record of 273 individuals who were victims of the plague. Survival amongst those affected appeared random, as many who remained alive had close contact with those who died but never caught the disease. Elizabeth Hancock was uninfected despite burying six children and her husband in eight days. The graves are known as the Riley graves after the farm where they lived. The village's actions prevented the disease from moving into surrounding areas.

Plague Sunday has been celebrated in the village since the plague's bicentenary in 1866. Originally celebrated in mid-August, it now takes place in Cucklett Delph on the last Sunday in August, coinciding with the much older Wakes Week and well dressing ceremonies.

After the loss of its industries in the later 20th century, the local economy now relies on the tourist trade and it is promoted as the plague village and how it chose to isolate itself so as to prevent the infection spreading.