Eyam, Derbyshire |
by Barbara Ballard
The fascinating history of Eyam is what initially draws people to this 17th century plague village. But its location in the High Peaks above the limestone cliffs of Middleton Dale is stunning, and the village, in its own right, is a place to visit.
Once lead mining, shoe making and silk weaving occupied the inhabitants of this small village. Traditional 17th and 18th century Peak gritstone houses border the square and line the long village street. The Miner's Arms pub, dated 1630, is supposedly one of Derbyshire's most haunted buildings.
Eyam Hall, the home of the Wright family for 300 years, is a homey 16th-17th century manor house. A tour reveals interesting family history spanning three centuries in furniture, costumes and memorabilia.
The church, although much restored, contains Saxon and Norman fonts, medieval wall paintings and Jacobean woodwork. In its present form, it dates mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries. The Peak area's best preserved Saxon cross, 7th century, graces the churchyard, and a sundial decorates the church wall. Graves of the plague victims fill the church graveyard.
The church, with its display of the plague story, is a starting point for understanding what happened here. Continue the story at the Eyam Museum that tells the story of the village from prehistoric times through the industrial revolution.
In 1665 a box of cloth, sent from London to the village tailor, was infected with the plague, which began to spread throughout the village. As the villagers panicked, the Rector, William Mompesson, and the retired Rector, Thomas Stanley, persuaded the village to isolate itself from the surrounding area to contain the plague. The village cooperated.
The Earl of Devonshire arranged for food and medical supplies to be left for them at Mompesson's well, high above the village. The quarantine worked, and, twelve months later, the plague died out. Only 90 of Eyam's population of 350 remained alive.
Walk around Eyam and note the plaques on village houses, poignant reminders of those who died here. Each year on the last Sunday in August there is a Commemoration Service at Cucklet Church, a natural limestone cavern where the Rector held services during the plague.
Nearby, Eyam Moor is dotted with ancient stone circles and burial mounds and provides magnificent views across the Derwent Valley. This well-preserved village with its sad past is a beauty spot of the Peak District.
Eyam is on the B6521, off the A623, by Stoney Middleton. The narrow minor roads from Eyam to Nether Padley and from Eyam to Windmill are beautiful, scenic drives.
Located on Hawkhill Road. Tel. 0 1433 631371. Open March 31-end first week November, 10am-4:30pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
Located in the village. Tel. 0 1433 631976. Open April 1 to November 1, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday and Bank holidays, first tour 11am, last tour 4:30pm. A craft centre, buttery and gift shop in the old stables are open daily except Mondays, from end February to 24th December, from 10:30am-5:30pm.