Eyam – Walking Around The Plague Village

I am hoping, hoping to start work again very soon so decided to visit a place I have always wanted to go. Why haven’t I? No idea, it is only 90 minutes away. But the current pandemic reminded me of this little village and its place in history.

Pronounced EEm, not I-yam or E-yam as often mistakenly done. There is a large car park next to the museum and another free one behind that, which is a bit weird. Erm, free one please.

On the day I went the museum was closed due to covid. That didn’t matter to me as there were plenty of information signs around the area and I was following an Adventure Lab that gave me the locations of some interesting sights (this post is not in that lab cache order).

One of the first things I noticed was this weather cock, it has a rat on the top which relates to the reason this place is also known as the Plague Village.

There are many articles and a few books written about Eyam and I remember it being mentioned in school. It was even a play performed at Shakespeare’s globe, which interestedly premiered a year before the current outbreak.

Basically a bundle of material arrived from London which contained fleas, the fleas were infected with the Black Death or plague. Lots of people started to die, the local priest realised what was happening and how it could spread to other villages in the area. So with the help of another priest, they persuaded the villagers to undertake a self imposed lockdown, for 14 months. Until they were absolutely sure the plague had run its course they stayed away from each other and other villages. The other villages helped by providing food which were left at the boundary stone. After the last person passed away, it was estimated 75% of the local population had died. A horrible history in less than a paragraph.

During their lockdown the villagers were asked not to meet in large groups, in 1666 they realised social distancing was the key. That meant going to the local church was out of the question. So, they started going to an outdoor church/cave called Cucklet Church staying in their family bubbles, away from each other. This church was one of the destinations I wanted to visit. It isn’t marked on Google maps, but you can find the location here. To access it, you go along Dunlow Lane and follow the signed path.

Arriving there, you will see a fairly large cave entrance at the top of the area. The path into the cave at this point was steep and slippery. I went to the bottom cave entrance as it was easier to access. Nobody else was there.

I found this location incredibly emotional. Given the covid times and the fact a second wave is probably on the way, I found myself struggling not to cry and finally gave in, tension really. Then I saw another family approaching so I quickly pulled myself together. To be honest the whole day was emotional and I was glad to be there alone. Just to note, the people didn’t meet inside the cave but on the cleared ground just outside. You can see a painting of the outdoor church in this great article.

Next, I headed back to the village and a cottage where one woman lost 13 members of her family.

From there I headed up Lydgate where I passed some grave stones.

And from here you keep going up the hill towards the boundary stone here. You can access it by following the public footpath at the end of Mill Lane. Take care though, one of the walls has a very small gap. I had to clamber over the left side wall due to my fat bum.

Quite a few people have done the same it seems. Just down that path is another gate into a field of sheep, very friendly sheep, but you never know.

Then, just before the tree is the boundary stone.

You can read about the significance of this stone on the adjacent information board.

The sign has more information about the area so don’t forget to read it.

At this point I had to head back to the village square and up another hill to more graves, the Riley graves. These are the ones of the Hancock family. Elizabeth buried six of her children and her husband in the space of eight days. Apparently members of another village could see her working on the graves from the hill above her farm, but they were too afraid to help her.

I can’t even image the pain she must have gone through.

Finally I went to the church where the list of victims can be seen. There is also a stained glass window depicting scenes of the lockdown.

So how does this all relate to Coronovirus, well, of course Eyam has appeared in a few articles recently. This BBC article asks what lessons can be learned from Eyam and it is an interesting read. The sacrifices made by the people of Eyam no doubt saved many people from the other villages in the area.

Finally, here is a short video by an author of a book based in the village at the time of the plague.

If you ever get the chance I recommend visiting the Peak District and Eyam in particular. I will definitely go back another day, the area is beautiful and there are still more things to see. And I would like to go to the museum.

Here are some more photos from the area.

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