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


The Cross

1.- The glory of Eyam is the old Saxon Cross, The Cross. which stands in the Churchyard, not far from the South Chancel door. Tradition asserts that it was found on one of the neighbouring hills. It will be noticed that the upper portion of the shaft, which originally was underneath the arms of the Cross, is wanting; and Rhodes, who wrote in 1818, says that the sexton of the Church, who was then an old man, well recollects the missing part being thrown carelessly about the churchyard as a thing of no value, until it was broken up by some of the inhabitants and the pieces used for domestic purposes. When Howard, the philanthropist, visited Eyam, about the year 1788, he noticed the top of the Cross lying prostrate in a corner of the churchyard and nearly overgrown with docks and nettles. Though the inhabitants of Eyam had regarded this ancient relic as valueless, yet because of the estimation in which it was held by the great philanthropist, it became of much more interest to them, and they brought it forth from its hiding place and put it in its present position on the top of the shaft.

Saxon Cross
G. Le Blanc Smith )EYAM CROSS.
(8th Century).
( Photo.
Saxon Cross (Reverse)
G. Le Blanc Smith )EYAM CROSS.
( Photo.

The Cross is in all probability of Saxon work, and Dr. Cox thinks it dates back to the 9th or 10th century. Upon the front of the shaft are five scrolls cut in relief, and in the middle of these is a trefoiled leaf. A slender spray is cut over the volute which terminates in similar trefoiled relief work. On the arms of the Cross are figures of angels holding crosses. On the West side of the shaft, above some interlaced knot work is a seated figure holding a bugle. horn, and above it the Virgin and Child, &c.

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The Cross seems to point back to the preaching of Christianity in the neighbourhood before the erection of a Church. Other similar, or somewhat similar, Crosses, or portions of Crosses, are to be found in Bakewell churchyard, in Taddington churchyard, at Hope where the fragments have been brought from the Vicarage garden and recently erected in the churchyard; and there are some interesting Crosses at Ilam, near Dovedale.

Catherine Mompesson's Tomb
J. Crowther Cox )MRS. MOMPESSON's TOMB. ( Photo.

2.- About seven yards East of the Cross, easily recognised by the posts at the corner and the overshadowing Yew tree, will be found the grave of Catherine Mompesson, the heroic wife of the heroic Rector of Eyam, who, with her husband, remained in the village during the ravages of the plague, and who herself was one of its victims. Over her remains was placed a large tomb, the Latin inscription on the top of which tells us that “Catherine the wife of William Mompesson Rector of this Church, daughter of Ralph Carr, formerly of Cocken in the county of Durham, armiger. was buried here on the 25th day of the month of August A.D. 1666”. At the West end of the tomb is a winged hour-glass with the words “Cavete, Nescitis horam”, (“take care, Ye know not the hour”). And at the opposite end is a death's head, with the motto “Mors mihi lucrum”, (“Death is gain to me”).


3.- Against the Chancel wall is a modern upright stone which commemorates the virtues of another hero of the plague times, Thomas Stanley, the Puritan Rector of the years of the Commonwealth, who remained in Eyam, supported by the gifts of his old friends, and who aided Mompesson in his ministry of mercy to the souls and the bodies of his flock during these terrible months.

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Old Sepulchral

4.- Against the same wall, on the opposite side of the chancel door, to the left, are two ancient Stone Slabs, which are probably some 750 years old. They were found in 1882, at the head of a window in the old South aisle, and in the following year they were repaired and fixed in their present position. They, apparently, originally marked the resting place of some warrior; and, centuries afterwards, at some restoration or enlargement of the Church, were utilised by the masons. According to the custom of those early days, when they were used as memorials, no name was inscribed upon them,- merely the symbol of the faith of those whose bodies lay beneath them, and the sign of their profession. “The Dagger and the Cross”, which they bear, are said to have suggested the title for Hatton's book.

The Sundial

5.- The elaborate Sundial, now above the Chancel door, is worthy of notice. It was the work of a Mr. Duffin, Clerk to Mr. Simpson, a Magistrate who resided at Stoke Hall, near Eyam. It was cut out by a local stonemason, William Shore by name. Originally it was fixed to the South Porch; and in Mrs. Gatty's Book of Sundials, it is described as occupying that position, although in the plate which she gives it appears over the chancel door. It was placed here at the restoration of the Church, its own face having been also restored, and a second motto added, on the corbels which support it,- “Ut umbra sic vita”, (As the shadow passes so does life). This dial, which is much more elaborate than ordinary dials, was constructed in 1775, and bears the names of Wm. Lee and Thomas Froggatt, Churchwardens. The parallels of the sun's declinations for every month in the year are given, and a scale of the sun's meridian altitude. The names of different places are marked and the

Sundial and Chancel Door
(on South side).
( Photo.

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difference from English time is given. The original motto on the top of the dial is “Induce animum sapientem”, (Take to thyself a wise mind).

6.- A little to the East of the sepulchral slabs, on the other side of the path, stands an upright stone which bears the following curious inscription:- (The attempt at rhyme will be noticed).

“Here Li'th
ye Body of Anne Sellars Bu-
-ried by this Stone. Who Dy-
-ed on Jan ye 15th Day, 1731
Likewise Here lise dear Isaac
Sellars, my Husband and my
Right, Who was buried on
that Same day Come Seven
years 1738. In seven years
time there Comes a Change
Obsarve & Here you'll See
On that same Day come
seven years my husband's
laid by me”

7.- Some tombstones hereabouts may be noticed, of greater age than most Churchyards can show. Amongst these is one to Abell Rowland, who died Jan. 15, 1665-6, He was one of the victims of the plague.

8.- About 20 yards to the North of the East wall of the chancel will be found the tomb of William Wood, the Historian of Eyam, who died June 27, 1865.

9.- And about 20 yards North of the West wall of the Tower stands another ugly heavy monument, which is to the memory of Richard Furniss, an Eyam Poet, &c.

The Church

10.- As far as the exterior is concerned, the Church Tower is practically the only portion of the Church which existed at the time of the plague. It was partially rebuilt about the year 1619, it is said at the cost of a maiden lady named Stafford.

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It contains four bells, on which are the following inscriptions:-


(The first three Bells were cast by George Oldfield, of Nottingham).

11.- On the West side of the tower is a stone which has puzzled many people. It bears the date 1612, and a number of initials, amongst which, as the letters C.W. testify, are the initials of the churchwardens.

12.- On the South side of the tower is an inscription which tradition says was put there by a young man, in memory of his lover, after her death. Shakesperian students will recognise it as an adaption of a passage from Cymbeline.

“Eliz. Laugher. Ob. Feb. 4 1741. Et. 21
Fear no more the heat o' th' sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task has dune,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages.
I weep thee now, but I too must
Here end with thee and turn to dust
In Christ may endless union prove
The consummation of our love.
Erected by Tho' Sheldon”.
The Moore

13.- The ruinous building on the western side of the churchyard is a Mausoleum which contains the graves of some members of the family of Mower, or Moore. Rhodes describes it as “an oblong structure, formed by eight columns placed at regular distances, and surmounted with urns, the

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intervening space between the columns being built up with stone walling; and on two sides are small iron-grated windows, not unlike the light holes of a prison. Originally this building had a heavy leaden roof, which is now removed . . . the roof was an accommodation not necessary for the dead, and the produce might be useful to the living; it was therefore taken down and sold to the best bidder. This”, continues Rhodes, who wrote in 1818, “though not a very delicate proceeding, is, at any rate, making the most of one's ancestors”. Since then the ravages of time have made it still more ruinous.

For those who have time at their disposal, and are interested in epitaphs, a prolonged stroll about the churchyard will be of interest. Eyam contains an unusual number of poetic effusions, many of them from the pen of Peter Cunningham, who was Curate here during the years 1775-1790; whilst some more recent ones were composed by Furness.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in March 2013.

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