The village was founded and named by Anglo-Saxons, although lead had earlier been mined in the area by the Romans. 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", in reference to how it chose to isolate itself after bubonic plague was discovered there, so as to prevent the infection spreading.
Lead mining seems to have had a continuous history in the Eyam district since at least the Roman era and there is evidence of habitation from earlier. Stone circles and earth barrows on the moors above the present village have largely been destroyed, although some remain and more are recorded. The most notable site is the Wet Withens stone circle on Eyam Moor. Coins bearing the names of many emperors provide evidence of Roman lead-mining locally. However, the village's name derives from Old English and is first recorded in the Domesday Book as Aium. It is a dative form of the noun ēg (an island) and probably refers to a patch of cultivable land amidst the moors, or else to the settlement's situation between two brooks.
In the churchyard is an Anglo-Saxon cross in Mercian style dated to the 8th century, moved there from its original location beside a moorland cart track. 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 present parish church of St. Lawrence dates from the 14th century, but evidence of an earlier church there can be found in the Saxon font, a Norman window at the west end of the north aisle, and Norman pillars that are thought to rest on Saxon foundations. There have been alterations since the Middle Ages, including a large sun dial dated 1775 mounted on a wall outside. Some of the Rectors at the church have had contentious histories, none less so than the fanatically Royalist Sherland Adams who, it was accused, "gave tythe of lead ore to the King against the Parliament", and as a consequence was removed from the living and imprisoned.
The lead mining tithe was due to the rectors by ancient custom. They received one penny for every 'dish' of ore and twopence farthing for every load of hillock-stuff. Owing to the working of a newly discovered rich vein during the 18th century, the Eyam living was a valuable one. Mining continued into the 19th century, after which better sources were discovered and a change-over was made to the working and treatment of fluorspar as a slagging agent in smelting. The last to close was the Ladywash Mine, which was operative between 1948–79. Within a 3 miles radius of the village there are 439 known mines, (some running beneath the village itself), that are drained by 49 drainage levels ('soughs').
According to the 1841 Census for Eyam, there were 954 inhabitants living in the parish, chiefly employed in agriculture, lead mining, and cotton and silk weaving. By the 1881 Census, most men either worked as lead miners or in the manufacture of boots and shoes, a trade that only ended in the 1960s. The transition from industrial village to tourist based economy is underlined by Roger Ridgeway's statement that, at the beginning of the 20th century, "a hundred horses and carts would have been seen taking fluorspar to Grindleford and Hassop stations. Today, up to a dozen coach loads of visiting children arrive each day in the village."
1665 plague outbreak
The history of the plague in the village began in 1665 when a flea-infested bundle of cloth arrived from London for the local tailor. Within a week his assistant George Vicars was dead and more began dying in the household soon after. As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector, the Reverend William Mompesson, and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley. These introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness from May 1666. They 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. Perhaps the best-known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease.
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. This figure has been challenged on a number of occasions with alternative figures of 430 survivors from a population of around 800 being given. The church in Eyam has a record of 273 individuals who were victims of the plague. Survival among those affected appeared random, as many who remained alive had had close contact with those who died but never caught the disease. For example, 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 unofficial village gravedigger, Marshall Howe, also survived despite handling many infected bodies.
Plague Sunday has been celebrated in the village since the plague's bicentenary in 1866 and now takes place in Cucklett Delph on the last Sunday in August. Originally it was held in mid-August but now coincides with the much older Wakes Week and the well dressing ceremonies.
Places of interest
Today Eyam has various plague-related places of interest. One is the Coolstone in which money, usually soaked in vinegar, which was believed to kill the infection, was placed in exchange for food and medicine. It is just one of several 'plague stones' that served to make the boundary that should not be crossed by either inhabitant or outsider. Another site is the isolated enclosure of the Riley graves mentioned above, which is now under the guardianship of the National Trust.
A reminder of the village's industrial past remains in the name of its only pub, the Miner's Arms. Built in 1630, before the plague, it was originally called The Kings Arms. Opposite the church is the Mechanics' Institute, originally established in 1824, although the present building with its handsome pillared portico dates from 1859 and was enlarged in 1894. At one time it held a library paid for by subscription, which then contained 766 volumes. The premises now double as the village club. Up the main street is the Jacobean-styled Eyam Hall, built just after the plague. It was leased and managed by the National Trust for five years until December 2017 but is now run by the owners (the Wright Family). The green opposite has an ancient set of village stocks reputedly used to punish the locals for minor crimes.
Catherine Mompesson's tabletop grave is in the churchyard and has a wreath laid on it every Plague Sunday. This is in remembrance of her constancy in staying by her husband, rather than moving away with the rest of her family, and dying in the very last days of the plague. The church's burial register also records "Anna the traveller, who according to her own account, was 136 years of age" and was interred on 30 December 1663. A more recent arrival there is the cricketer Harry Bagshaw, who played for Derbyshire and then acted as a respected umpire after retiring. At the apex of his headstone is a hand with a finger pointing upwards. Underneath the lettering a set of stumps is carved, with the bails flying off and a bat which has just hit the wicket.
Respect for its heritage has not always been a priority in Eyam. In his Peak Scenery (1824), Ebenezer Rhodes charges that by the start of the 19th century many former gravestones of plague victims had been pulled up to floor houses and barns and that ploughing was allowed to encroach on the Riley Graves (pp. 34–5); that the lime trees planted on either side of Mrs Mompesson's grave had been cut down for timber (39–40); that the missing piece from the shaft of the Saxon Cross had been broken up for domestic use (p. 44); and that in general the profit of the living was put before respect for the dead (46–7).
Eyam Museum was opened in 1994 and, besides its focus on the plague, includes exhibits on the village's local history in general. Among the art exhibits there are painted copies from different eras of a print (taken from a drawing by Francis Chantrey) in Ebenezer Rhodes' Peak Scenery (1818). These depict the sweep of the road by the 'plague cottages' where the first victims died, with the church tower beyond. The local amateur John Platt painted in naive style and is represented by depictions of the Riley Graves (1871) and the old windmill (1874).
Since the area is scenically beautiful, it has attracted many artists and the village appeared in the work of Sheffield artist George Cunningham (1924–1996), while the specialist in interiors from the same city, Tim Rose, has painted several watercolours inside Eyam Hall. Other watercolourists who have painted landscape views include George Hammond Steel (1900–1960) and Freida Marrion Scott (d.2012). Eyam also has a resident artist in Hazel Money, who specialises in small scale acrylic paintings and lino prints of the village and surrounding area.
The most distinctive of the Sheffield artists to paint Eyam was Harry Epworth Allen, since he subordinated the picturesque so as to interpret his subject as a living community within a worked landscape. His "Road above Eyam" (1936), now in the Laing Art Gallery, shows a road travelled by working people above the village. His "Burning Limestone" in Newport Museum and Art Gallery acknowledges the two centuries and more of industrialisation by which the local inhabitants earned their living among harsh conditions.
“The village of Eyam," its historian begins his account, "has been long characterized throughout the Peak of Derbyshire, as the birthplace of genius – the seat of the Muses – the Athens of the Peak". During the 18th century the place was notable for having no less than four poets associated with it. Reverend Peter Cunningham, curate there between 1775 – 1790, published two sermons during that time as well as several poems of a political nature. In addition, William Woods' account speaks of "numberless stones in the burial place that contain the offerings of his muse".
The Rector for whom Cunningham deputised much of the time, Thomas Seward, published infrequently, but at least one poem written during his tenure at Eyam deals with personal matters. His "Ode on a Lady's Illness after the Death of her Child", dated 14 April 1748, concerns the death in infancy of his daughter Jenny. Seward also encouraged one of his surviving daughters, Anna Seward, to write poetry, but only after she moved with her father to Lichfield. A pioneer of Romanticism, Seward could not hide from herself the fact that the wild natural rocks she admired were daily being blasted for utilitarian purposes and the "perpetual consumption of the ever burning lime kilns", while the view was hidden behind the smoke from the smelting works. Following a visit to her birthplace in 1788, she wrote a poem about it filled with nostalgia for the past. She celebrated this lost domain of happiness once more in "Epistle to Mr. Newton, the Derbyshire Minstrel, on receiving his description in verse of an autumnal scene near Eyam, September 1791". No copy of the poem by William Newton now exists. The author was a labouring class protégé from nearby, originally discovered by Cunningham and introduced to Miss Seward in 1783.
The poet Richard Furness belongs to the early 19th century and was known as 'the Poet of Eyam' after his birthplace, but the bulk of his poetry too was written after he had left the district. Among the several references to the village there are his "Lines written in sight of the rectory", which praises both Anna Seward and her father. William Wood, the author of The History and Antiquities of Eyam was a village resident. At the head of his first chapter there is an excerpt from a poem that links the place with the story of the plague. Simply initialled W. W., the inference to be drawn is that it had earlier appeared in Wood's collection, The genius of the Peak and other poems (1837). At the start of the following century Sarah Longsdon O'Ferrall was living at Eyam Rectory and published The Lamp of St Helen and other poems in 1912. This contained hymns sung on special occasions in Eyam and some verse referring to plague sites.
Prose writers also came to live in the area. The village of Milton that figures in some of Robert Murray Gilchrist's fiction is in fact based upon Eyam. His The Peakland Faggot (1897) consists of short stories, each focusing on a particular character in the village. This was followed by two other series, Nicholas and Mary and Other Milton Folk (1899) and Natives of Milton (1902). Eyam was also featured under its own name in Joseph Hatton's novel, The Dagger and the Cross (1897). Set in the former Bradshaw Hall in the year before the plague arrives, it includes local characters who had key roles during the spread of the disease, such as George Vicars and William and Catherine Mompesson.
- The Village of Eyam: a poem in four parts by John Holland, Macclesfield, 1821
- The Desolation of Eyam by William and Mary Howitt, London, 1827
- The Tale of Eyam, a story of the plague in Derbyshire, and other poems by an OLD BLUE, London, 1888. Because of its subject, the poem was reviewed in The British Medical Journal for 30 November 1889, where its poetic diction is taken literally: 'The author speaks of the pestilence and its hellborn brood; and again of firebolts from heaven's reeking nostrils. Such phraseology aptly exemplifies the mental attitude of men who lived in the infancy of modern science, when in the plague they saw the angry stroke of offended Deity, and recognised the 'scourge' of God in what we know to be only the scourge of filth.'
- "A Moral Ballad of the Plague of Eyam" by Francis McNamara (1884–1946). This was published as an Irish broadside in 1910.
- More recently, Jane Weir published a collection of children’s poetry, Fleas of Eyam & Other Making Poems, from Templar Poetry in 2015.
- The Brave Men of Eyam – a tale of the great plague year by Edward N. Hoare, SPCK, 1881
- God and the Wedding Dress by Marjorie Bowen, Hutchinson, 1938
- A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh, a novel for young adults, Puffin Books, 1983
- Children of Winter by Berlie Doherty, a fantasy novel for children, Methuen, 1985; adapted for television 1994
- The Naming of William Rutherford by Linda Kempton, a fantasy novel for children, published by Heinemann, 1992
- Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, published by Fourth Estate, 2001
- Black Death by M. I. McAllister, children's fiction, Oxford University Press, 2003
- Kiss of Death by Malcolm Rose, a thriller for young adults, published by Usborne Publishing, 2006
- TSI: The Gabon Virus by Paul McCusker and Walt Larimore, M.D., Christian suspense fiction, published by Howard Books (USA), 2009
- Eyam: Plague Village by David Paul, Amberley Publishing, 2012
- A Shadow Beyond, an historic story of plague by Emma-Nicole Lewis, Kindle Edition 2019
- The Brave Men of Eyam : 1665 – 1666, a radio play by Michael Reynolds, originally broadcast on Sunday, 30 August, 1936, and reprinted by permission of the Radio Times
- Isolation at Eyam; a play in one act for women by Joyce Dennys, published by French, 1954
- The Roses of Eyam by Don Taylor; first performed 1970, broadcast on TV in 1973; published by Heinemann, 1976
- a different drum by Bridget Foreman; first performed 1997 by the Riding Lights Theatre Company; revived 2013. The plague story interspersed with other stories of self-sacrifice.
- Ring Around the Rosie by Anne Hanley; staged reading by Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre (Alaska), 2004
- Plague at Eyam, a script for young adults published by the Association of Science Education, 2010
- Eyam by Matt Hartley; performed on the main stage at Shakespeare's Globe, 2018,, and also published that year by Nick Hern Books.
- Plague upon Eyam an opera in three acts by John D. Drummond, librettist Patrick Little; University of Otago Press (New Zealand), 1984; Songs recorded on Mr Polly at the Potwell Inn, Sirius CD SP004, 2000
- Ring of White Roses, a one-act light opera by Les Emmans, librettist Pat Mugridge, 1984; published Plays & Musicals, 2004
- The Plague of Eyam by Ivor Hodgson, 2010; overture performed on BBC radio, March 2010
- Eyam: A Musical, music by Andrew Peggie, book and lyrics by Stephen Clark; pioneered as a group production in 1990, CD Joseph Weinberger, 1995; London production at the Bridewell Theatre, 1998
- A Ring of Roses, Darren Vallier, Dress Circle Records (STG1) 1996; first performed at the Savoy Theatre, 1997; Jasper Publishing 2004
- The Ring of Stones premiered in Manchester in 1999 and since then has been revived and performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2011.
- Catherine of Eyam, created at Boundstone Community College by Tom Brown and Aedan Kerney in the 1990s and then revived and rewritten as a community musical for 2017 performance
- "Roses of Eyam", originally composed by John Trevor (Beau) in 1975; added to Roy Bailey's repertoire and recorded by him in 1985 on his Hard Times album and reissued on his album Past Masters, Fuse Records, 1998; Beau himself released the song officially for the first time as a bonus track on the 2007 UK reissue of the original Beau disc (Cherry Red), and on the 2008 Japanese release of the same album (Airmail Recordings).
- "We All Fall Down", written by Leeds-based band iLiKETRAiNS and featured on their album Elegies to Lessons Learnt, 2007
- Anna Seward, 'the Swan of Lichfield', (1747–1809)
- Richard Furness, 'the Poet of Eyam' (1791–1857)
- Robert Eden, 3rd Baron Auckland Rector of Eyam between 1823 and 1825. Afterwards 3rd Lord Auckland; Bishop of Sodor and Man 1847 – 1854, then Bishop of Bath and Wells, 1854 –1869
- Egbert Hacking, Rector of Eyam between 1884 and 1886, later Archdeacon of Newark
- "Parish Headcounts: Eyam CP". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 12 April 2007.
- "Eyam in brief". eyamvillage.org. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
- "Civil parish population 2011". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
- "Living with the plague". Local Legends. BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2007.
- Stones Circles
- Roger Ridgeway, Eyam village site
- Kenneth Cameron, English Place Names, London 1996, p.172
- "Eyam". Key to English Place-names. English Place Name Society at the University of Nottingham. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
Probably referring to its situation between Hollow Brook and Jumber Brook
- "Eyam Saxon cross". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 17 April 2006.
- Neville T. Sharpe, Crosses of the Peak District (Landmark Collectors Library, 2002)
- Doug Nash, Eyam village site
- Eyam Village site, "Mining and Industry"
- "Mystery of the Black Death". Secrets of the Dead. PBS. Retrieved 12 April 2007.
- Clifford (1989)
- List of plague victims Archived 11 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- [Patrick Wallis, A Dreadful Heritage: Interpreting Epidemic Disease at Eyam, 1666–2000, pp.28–31
- White's History, Gazetteer & Directory of the County of Derby, for 1857
- Wishful Thinking Archived 24 August 2007 at Archive.today
- Jacques, Alan. "Harry the Umpire (Harry Bagshaw, 1859–1927)". UK & Ireland Genealogy. Archived from the original on 10 October 2008.
- Art UK
- Art UK
- Art UK
- Portraits of Houses.com
- Serendipity Antiques Archived 1 September 2014 at Archive.today
- Artist's website
- Art UK Your Painting
- Art UK
- The History and Antiquities of Eyam, 1842, Wishful Thinking
- It was not published until a decade later in the London Chronicle
- Sylvia Bowerbank, Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern England, Johns Hopkins University 2004, p.167
- Poetical Works, vol.3, pp.1–3
- The Poetical Works vol. 3, pp.22–4
- Poetical Works, London 1858
- William Woods, The History and Antiquities of Eyam, London 1842, p.1
- Ebay reproduction
- Terry Goble, The Literary Way Archived 5 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- Available online at Read Any Book
- The original edition is on Google Books
- BMJ site
- Villanova University
- Templar Poetry
- Google Books
- resumé and preview
- Kirkus Review
- BBC School Radio
- Books for Keeps
- The opening chapters are on Google Books
- Fantastic Fiction
- Simon and Schuster
- Details on Google Books
- Amazon Details on Amazon
- Details on Ebay
- Mad Dog
- Preview on Google Books
- Review from The York Press
- Panache Productions
- Stem Learning
- Miriam Gillinson, "Eyam review – song and sacrifice as Black Death descends on Derbyshire", The Guardian, 21 September 2018
- Margaret Ross Griffel, Operas in English: A Dictionary, Scarecrow Press 2012, p.383
- Preview script at Plays and Musicals
- Cheshire Live, 30 March 2010
- Guide to Musical Theatre
- Vallier Music
- Tracks and photos at the show's website
- Boundstone Chorus
- Trevor Midgley; the words are quoted at Mudcat
- Documents on the Eyam Village site
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