The Plague-Stricken Derbyshire Village

or What To See In and Around Eyam

By Rev J.M.J. Fletcher (1916)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2013


To whom the Church was originally dedicated is a matter of uncertainty. It has borne the names both of St. Helen[a] and of St. Lawrence.[b] It probably bore one of these names when the Church was first built, whilst the other would be given to it when it was re-dedicated after some considerable restoration. Or possibly, the Church itself may have borne one of these names, and a chapel within it have had the other. It is recorded that in the time of Henry III., (1216-1272, probably about 1252), some land granted by Eustace de Morteyn to Richard de Stafford, and again by Richard de Stafford to his son John, on condition that a lamp[c] was kept burning before the altar of St. Helen, in the Church of Eyam, during Divine service.

Eyam Church Exterior
F. Chapman )EYAM CHURCH - (South side).( Photo.

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Naturally, one of the first questions which a visitor is inclined to ask is,- “How old is the Church?”

Age of
the Church

How long a Church has existed in Eyam we cannot tell. There is no mention either of Church or of Priest in Domesday Book (1066). But, we have abundant documentary evidence to show that Ralph de Cubley was Rector of Eyam in the year 1250, and consequently we know that there must have been a Church here before that date. And, indeed, the old Norman Font, which stands near the entrance to the Church, takes us back another hundred years. We may assume, therefore, that the first Church in Eyam was built about the year 1150.

But there can be little doubt that the Faith of the Gospel was preached hereabouts long before a Church was built. The old Saxon Cross, which now stands in the Churchyard, although that was not its original position, takes us back more than a thousand years. It was erected somewhere in the neighbourhood, and by it would stand itinerant missionaries, as they proclaimed the message of Christianity to those who were gathered round them in the open air.

We see then that the Gospel was preached more than a thousand years ago; but that the earliest Church was not built until about 760 years ago. It would be in the Norman style of Architecture, and the font which belonged to that Church is the one which is still in use. Some two hundred years later, this Norman Church was replaced by a building in the decorated style; and it is out of this Decorated building that the present Church has grown.

Eyam Church Interior
J. Crowther Cox )EYAM CHURCH - (Interior). ( Photo.

Now let us turn to the Church itself. It consists of a chancel, a clerestoried nave (i.e. nave with windows above the arches) of three bays, north and south aisles, south porch, and an embattled western tower, with crocketted

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pinnacles at the angles, which contains four bells and a clock.

Interesting as the Church is, the visitor must not imagine that it is, or even resembles in every respect, the building in which Mompesson and the villagers worshipped God before Eyam was depopulated by the plague in the middle of the seventeenth century. Probably the oldest portions of the fabric, although they too have been in the hands of the restorer, are the pillars and arches of the nave with the walling above. Parts of these maybe about 550 years old. The chancel and a great part of tower were rebuilt in 1618, and the chancel has been restored since. A very considerable amount of restoration was carried out in 1866-8 to mark the bicentenary of the plague year, when the north aisle was pulled down and rebuilt. And there was further restoration in 1882, when the south aisle was rebuilt.

The arcades of the nave are of the decorated style of architecture,- the north clerestory windows of the perpendicular style. The corresponding ones on the opposite, side of the Church, which were of a very debased character, were made to harmonise with these at one of the recent restorations.

And, if so little of Mompesson's Church remains, there is still less of the original Norman Church. There is the same font in which the children of the village have been baptised during the last 750 years. Apart from this and from some old stones which have been built into the present Church, there are no traces of the ancient one to be found. The present building is of many periods dating from about 1350 to 1882.

It has been said that “the restorations of 1865 and 1882 have played sad and unnecessary havoc with its history”. With this statement I cannot agree. Most

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certainly what we lose in sentiment we gain in utility and in beauty by the restoration. We need only read the two following descriptions of what the Church was like in 1864 to see how much it needed a reverent and careful restoration. “A poor church, mutilated and ill-cared for . . the interior is sadly disfigured by hideous pews and galleries,- there is one gallery with an organ across the chancel arch”. (Sir Steven Glyn). Or again, “The national arms; full length figures of Moses and Aaron, painted in oil in the reign of Queen Anne; a table of benefactions, the Lords Prayer, and Apostles' Creed, are, with the exception of an organ, all the principal ornaments of the interior of this humble churchwarden- mutilated, and whitewash-desecrated edifice. It has been often and justly observed, that, if a number of persons in succession, had, during the lapse of a few generations past, put their heads together to destroy and ransack a village Church, they could not have produced a wreck of vandal desecration worse than the interior of Eyam Church presents at the present day”. (Wood). Most fortunately, in 1868, the work was put into the hands of the eminent architect, Mr. G.E. Street. Under his supervision a new and enlarged north aisle was added;- the chancel was almost entirely rebuilt, as were four arches of the nave including the chancel arch. Three ugly galleries, one of which, containing the organ, “ran across the chancel”, were taken down; the accumulation of white and yellow wash was removed from the walls; the passages and chancel were tiled; the Church was reseated; new lead roofs were put to the nave, chancel, north aisle, and vestry; and a good deal of work was done to the tower. In all £2,224 were spent. The Church was reopened in April 1870. The erection of the south aisle and porch, &c., were left until the restoration of 1882. Much as the writer is interested in the works of bygone generations and in the records of the past, he cannot help

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feeling that in this case the considerable restorations carried out in 1868 and 1882 have been a distinct gain to those whose privilege it is to use the Church, Sunday after Sunday. And, speaking as one who from time to time has ministered in it, he feels that those who worship will find such an interesting, well appointed, and well kept Church to be a real aid to devotion.

We are now in a position to ask What is there that is worthy of notice in the Church;


1.- The old Norman Font, which will be seen near to the first pillar on entering the Church, although, as Dr. Cox remarks, “it has been so scraped that it looks almost new”, takes us back to about the year 1150, and is in all probability the font which stood in the original Norman Church of that time, and in which succeeding generations of Eyam children have been baptised during considerably more than seven centuries.

Eyam owes its celebrity to the Plague of 1666, and to the courage shown by its people during that terrible visitation;- naturally we look for any point of interest connected with it.


2.- The Pulpit is supposed to have been the one which was in use at the time of the great scourge, and from which Mompesson must often have preached.


3.- The brass plate, affixed to the Chair in the Sanctuary, assumes that it once belonged to Mompesson, the rector, whose courage and devotion to his people during that sad time, have immortalised him in the history of Eyam. The chair was, we believe, discovered by a relative of Rev. E. Hacking, a former rector, in the shop of a dealer in Antiquities, and was by that rector presented to the Church. On it is carved the inscription

MOM.   1665   EYUM

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N. Aisle

4.- The North Aisle of the Church was rebuilt in 1868-9 to mark the bicentenary of the heroism displayed by the rector and by his predecessor during the Plague. Against the wall of this aisle is fixed a brass plate on which is the following inscription:-

“This Memorial Aisle was erected by Voluntary Contributions obtained in 1866, to commemorate the Christian and Heroic virtues of the Revd W. Mompesson (rector), Catharine his Wife, and the Revd W. Stanley (late rector). When this place was visited by the Plague in 1665-6, they steadfastly continued to succour the afflicted and to minister amongst them the Truths and consolations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The rebuilding and enlarging of the Aisle led to the restoration of almost the entire Church, in 1868-9, at the cost of £2160”.


5.- The windows contain some good modern glass. In the south aisle, to the left of the porch is a window to the memory of Charles Gregory, who died in 1877. The subjects depicted are scenes from the life of St. Helen. (See page 23).

The next window, as the visitor passes up the church, was a thankoffering made by one who had recovered from a serious illness in 1899. (Mr. William Crampton). In the centre is The Madonna, (the Blessed Virgin, with the infant Saviour in her arms). On the one side of this is St. Matthew; on the other St. Laurence with his hand resting on a gridiron, the instrument of his martyrdom.

The window at the east end of this south aisle is a memorial to the Rev. E.A. Bagshawe, who was Rector of Eyam, 1826 to 1862. The central figure is that of our Lord as the Good Shepherd. In the outer lights are the Evangelists, St. Luke and St. John.

The two small windows on the south side of the chancel are the one, the subject of which is “Ezra the scribe”, to the

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memory of Mrs. Ann Green; and the other whereon is depicted “Nehemiah, the builder”, a memorial to her husband, the Rev. John Green, who was rector here from 1862 to 1884; and during whose incumbency the Church was restored. For these reasons, because he had been rector of the parish and restorer of the church, these subjects “the scribe”, (the teacher of the law of God), and “the builder”, (the restorer of the temple), have been appropriately chosen. It may interest the visitor to know that the likeness of the Rev. John Green is to be seen in the face of Nehemiah. Mr. Green died in his 82nd year in 1899.

The subject of the next window, on the south side of the sanctuary, is King David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel. It commemorates (and David's face is the likeness of), Thomas Wilson Froggatt, who for many years was voluntary organist at the Church. It was placed here by the members of the Eyam Glee and Madrigal Society and other friends.

The window, at the east end of the chancel, from the studio of Messrs. Clayton and Bell, was inserted by Charles Gregory of Hampstead, in memory of Dorothy Gregory, his wife (1799-1861). It gives the last scenes in the earthly life of Our Lord:- the Agony in the Garden, the Judgment of Pilate, Christ bearing His cross, the Crucifixion, the Entombment, the Resurrection, and the Ascension.

Passing round the church, the window near to the organ is in memory of William Crampton. The centre light represents St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the Virgin as a child. In the other lights are St. Michael the Archangel, and St. Stephen, the first martyr after the Ascension.

The subject of the westernmost window in the north wall is “Christ blessing little children”. It is a

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memorial to George Gregory, of London, who died in 1910, and left by will £1000 to the poor of Eyam.

The window in the ringing chamber is a memorial to Thomas and Sarah Gregory. On it are depicted the figures of Moses and Aaron, which replace the oil paintings of the time of Queen Anne, already referred to. (Page 26).

On the other side of the tower is a window to the memory of Thomas Gregory, of Eyam View, who died in 1907. The subject is “The Last Judgment”. The central figure represents Christ sitting in judgment on the earth. On the right hand is the blessed Virgin Mary, and on the left St. John the Baptist. Below, in the centre is the angel with the balances. On the right an angel welcomes the blessed into the kingdom of God, whilst on the left another angel apparently bids the lost “Depart” &c.

The remaining window to the west of the south porch, represents “Ruth the gleaner”. and is in memory of Henrietta Anderson Green, wife of the Rev. Herbert W.H. Green, M.A.


6.- Stone and Brass Mural Tablets, &c. On the north side of the chancel are two marble slabs to the Middletons of Leam Hall in this parish. Between these are two small brasses. On the one is a Latin inscription, stating that “Here lie the remains of the Rev. Mr. Alex. Hamilton, formerly the very vigilant and kind Rector of this parish who died Oct. 21st 1717”.

The other is to Bernard Wells, Gent., only son of Bernard Wells, of Holme, co. Derby, who died March 16th, 1648. (A brass to the memory of the father is to be found on the north side of the chancel of Bakewell Church).

Near to the organ, by the Clergy desk, is a brass to the memory of the Rev. Charles Hargrave, for 32 years rector of Eyam, who died Nov. 18th, 1822, aged 58 years; and Mary, his wife, who died May 9th, 1827, aged 61 years, &c.

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Against the south wall of the sanctuary is a tablet which states that “Near this place Lieth the Body of Ra: Rigby, M.A. Who was Curate of this parish 22 years. Buried April ye 2nd 1740, aged 51 &c.”

It is reported that at the time of Mr. Rigby's funeral there had been a deep snow, and that three clergymen who had come from Yorkshire to be present at the funeral, as they were returning homewards, were lost in the snow. Two were dead when their bodies were found. The other had almost succumbed, and was with difficulty revived.

The marble tablet next to this, to the memory of Joseph Brightmore, and the alabaster one above the door to the memory of Smithson Green of Brosterfield, who died May 24, 1777, are worthy of notice.

Against the north wall of the nave, near the chancel, is a small brass to the memory of Rev. Edmund Fletcher, “Minister of the Gospel at Stockport and afterward at Middleton and Ashford” who died Oct. 7, 1745 in his 41st year. (In the Parish Register is the following entry:- “1745, Oct. 10, Bur. Mr. Edmund Fletcher de Eyum”).

In the vestry behind the organ is a mural monument to John Wright and Elizabeth his wife. The inscription, which is surmounted by the arms of the family, is noticeable for recording the date of his burial, Jan. 2nd, as well as the date of his death, Dec. 31st, 1691. There is also a brass to the memory of James Farewell Wright, of Eyam Hall, second surviving son of John Wright of Eyam and Great Longstone, who died in 1805.

The Wrights have been at Longstone since the days of the Plantagenets, and Eyam Hall has belonged to them for upwards of 230 years. The Wright monument was formerly in the chancel, and the monuments to the two rectors, Charles Hargrave and Alex Hamilton, with that of Ralph Rigby, for so many years curate, were originally in the vestry. But when, at one of the restorations of the

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Church, the clerical memorials were moved to the chancel, that of another rector was retained in the vestry, where it is still to be found. Et records the fact that Joseph Hunt, rector, was buried Dec. 16, 1709; and that Anne, his wife, had been buried Dec. 18, 1703. Perhaps the reason for his monumental inscription being retained here, when those of the other clergy were removed to the chancel, was because the vestry is said to have been for some years his home. It was in this way: The Rev. Joseph Hunt, B.A., was inducted to the living of Eyam, March 23, 1683. He was married at Eyam, to Anne Ferne, Sept. 4, 1684. Their first children were Mary, who was baptised Aug. 18, 1685; and Sarah, who was baptised Nov. 3, 1686.

It is related of him that not long after he had, as a young bachelor, become rector of Eyam, he was sent for to the Miner's Arms, to baptise the child of Matthew Ferns, the landlord of that Inn, which had been taken ill. He remained behind, chatting with those who were present, and partaking of some liquid refreshment. He was loud in his praises of the daughter of the landlord, Anne, a girl of eighteen. The assembled company decided that there should be a mock marriage, in which the rector acted the part of the bridegroom, and the daughter of the host that of the bride;- one of those present reading the service from the Book of Common Prayer. Not unnaturally, this scandalous proceeding was the talk of the neighbourhood, and it soon reached the ears of the Bishop, who insisted on Hunt marrying the girl. But he was engaged to be married to another lady. His money was spent in law costs, &c., and he and his young wife were obliged to seek sanctuary in the vestry, where they passed the remainder of their lives. This gave leisure and opportunity for the copying of the Parish Registers, which are written in the same hand (presumably his), from their commencement in 1630 until May 20, 1705.

[a] St. Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great. Her popularity in this country is due to the (late, but unauthentic) tradition that she was the daughter of a British King, Coel, (the “old King Cole”, of the nursery rhyme), and that her son Constantine was born in Britain. She was born about the year 248, and in her old age visited Jerusalem. There she is reported, whilst digging on Mt. Calvary, to have found the true cross on which Our Lord had been crucified. This was in 346. St. Helen's Day is August 18th. Holy Cross Day, May 3rd.
[b] St. Lawrence, a Deacon, suffered martyrdom at Rome, during the persecution of Valerian, by being roasted to death on a gridiron, A.D. 258. He was ordered, upon his arrest, to produce the treasures of the Church which were in his charge. Going into the poorest courts of the city, he gathered together the poor, the halt [sic], and the blind. “These”, said he, “are the treasures of the Church”. He is commemorated on August 10th.
[c] The reader may remember that the tenure of lands “by the burning of the lamp”, figures in one of Wood's “Tales and Traditions of the Peak”.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in March 2013.

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