The plague village

Copyright – Alan Fleming / Eyam Church

I have decided to write this post after watching the local B.B.C. news programme for the English East Midlands this evening during which they mentioned that the picturesque village of Eyam in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire had cancelled this year’s commemoration service at the village church.

The reason that this struck a cord with me is that I am currently working on a short novel in my ‘Saga of the Irrelevant One’ series in which the heroes take a holiday back in time around the Nottingham area in order to escape the current/recent/pending pandemic lockdown. I did consider including Eyam as one of the locations they could visit (not in the immediate Nottingham area, but could still count as it is located in a neighbouring county). However, I decided against it.

The issue is that Eyam is famous because in 1655, during the reign of Charles II, there was an outbreak of plague in England, centred on London. It is believed that this outbreak reached Eyam in particular by being transferred via an order of material from London delivered to a local tailor.

As soon as the local villagers became aware of the outbreak, the story is that they agreed, led by their local vicar, to self- isolate in their village in order to spare their neighbours the risk of plague. This idea of self-sacrifice has been challenged in recent times. I have seen a claim that the isolation may have been imposed by the authorities as a recent public health measure but the original story is still the most accepted. The village was cut off for over a year. Supplies were left at the parish boundary and payment was made in coins left in jars of vinegar. Approximately three quarters of the population died (260 people) and a tradition has grown in the village to commemorate this sacrifice in a special service in the last week in August.

My writing to date has tended to be of a very light-hearted nature, although I do hope to widen my scope in due course; so at a time when there are so many modern comparisons that can be made with the plagues of old, including high mortality rates, I have decided to leave the subject of Eyam out of my book.

Local website

Eyam Museum

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