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

Rev. W. Mompesson (Portrait of)

PREFACE to 1st Edition.

From the days of my boyhood “the Plague Village” has always been to me a place of very great interest;- an interest which has been deepened by a residence of five-and-a-half years in the near neighbourhood.

Whilst collecting materials for an account of “Tideswell and its Church”, I jotted down anything I saw about Eyam, and I venture to think that information will be found here which is not contained in any other account of the village.

My thanks are due to those who have so kindly allowed me to use their photographs for the illustrations,- Mr. S. le Blanc Smith, Mr. F. Chapman; and not least to Mr. J. Crowther Cox, whose beautiful series of photographic Post Cards is well worthy of the notice of the collector.

I must thank, too, the Printer of this booklet, who has not minded how much trouble he has been put to in order that it might be made as accurate as possible.

(From a painting in the possession of the Bishops of Southwell).

PREFACE to 2nd Edition.

It is a gratifying fact that the first Edition of this little book, consisting of 1,250 copies, is exhausted.

This new Edition has been brought up-to-date, and some few typographical and other errors have been corrected. Apart from this, little or no alteration appears to have been needed.

January, 1916.

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The Parish

THE village and parish of Eyam are in the The Parish. High Peak of Derbyshire. The village itself stands 800 feet above sea level, and is situated in the south east of the parish, which contains also the hamlets of Foolow and of Grindleford Bridge. The latter, since the opening of the Dore and Chinley branch of the Midland Railway, owing to its proximity to Grindleford station, is likely to increase rapidly and to become an important residential centre.

According to the last Census (1911) the village of Eyam contained about 320 houses, and 1224 inhabitants, who were for the most part employed in agriculture, in boot making, and in spar getting. Originally lead mining was an important industry; but, owing to the fact that lead can be obtained at less cost from Spain, in spite of efforts during late years to open out new mines, it is for the present extinct.

Eyam is probably as populous at the present time as it has ever been. The smallness of its population in 1557 may be deduced from the fact that there was but one alehouse here, whilst at Tideswell there were 12, at Bakewell 10, at Buxton 8, at Wormhill 5, and at Stoney Middleton 3.

of the Name

The name Eyam is presumably of Saxon origin in and in old documents is spelt - Eyham, Eyom, Eyome, Eyum, Ehum, Eyme, or Eham : whilst in Domesday Book it is written, according to the way in which the Norman scribes understood the Saxon villagers to pronounce the word, “Aiune”. It is apparently derived from Ea (water), and Ham (a dwelling place), and it is named from the springs and rivulets with which it is abundantly supplied; Thus, it means,

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“A water dwelling place”. (Compare Eton i.e. Ea-town, or Town by the Water). The word now is always written Eyam; but pronounced as if it were written Eem, or Eme. The first recorded notice of Eyam is in Domesday Book, in which it appears as part of the royal demesne (Terra Regis), and where the extent and value of the land in Saxon times is given. The whole of the extract from Domesday about Eyam has been translated as follows:-

M. “In Aiune (Eyam) Caschin held 2 carucates of land (assessed) to the geld. (There is) land for 2 ploughs. There 12 villeins and 7 bordars have 5 ploughs. Wood (land) for pannage i league in length and i league in breadth. In King Edward's time it was worth 20 shillings and (it is worth the same) now”.

Eyam belonged to Caschin in the time of King Edward; but when Domesday was compiled, it was the property of the King. Does its inclusion in the royal demesne show a deliberate attempt on the part of the King to round off his possessions in the north of the county?


But there are traces of habitation long before Saxon times. The neighbourhood has been full of relics of the Druids and other inhabitants of the land. The remains of a Druid circle are still to be seen on Eyam Moor not far away. Various urns and human remains have been discovered when the barrows (or ancient sepulchral mounds) have been opened. The finds of Roman coins at various times in the immediate neighbourhood have shown traces of the Roman invasion of Britain, whilst the Roman buildings at Brough, near Bradwell. and the Roman Baths at Stoney Middleton, close by Eyam, bear their witness to the presence of the Roman invaders in the immediate vicinity.

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The old Saxon Cross, which now stands in the Churchyard, but which tradition affirms was once situated on the Moors, tells of the preaching of Christianity hereabouts some eleven centuries ago.- For it takes us back al any rate to the ninth century.

The Manor

As will be seen from Domesday Book, the Manor of Eyam was held in the reign of Edward the Confessor by Caschin. At the Conqueror's survey it was vested in the Crown. It was granted by Henry I to William Peveril, and was held under him by the Morteynes, by whom it was sold in 1307 to the Furnivals; and it has continued with their descendants, though sometimes passing in female lines, to the present day.

Joan, daughter of the fourth Baron Furnival who died in 1383, married Sir Thomas Nevill. Their daughter and heiress Maud married John Talbot, first Earl of Shrewsbury, who died in battle 1453. When Gilbert, seventh Earl of Shrewsbury died, the Church and Manor of Eyam passed to his sister the Countess of Pembroke; and from her to her great-nephew Sir George Saville, afterwards Marquis of Halifax. His son, William, the second Marquis, died in 1700; and the Eyam estates &c., &c., were divided between his three daughters, co-heiresses. The Manor went to his second daughter, Dorothy, the Countess of Burlington, whose only child married William, fourth Duke of Devonshire. But the mineral rights, with the advowson of the rectory, were held in common between the three;- the eldest, Anne, who married Charles, Lord Bruce, eldest son of the Earl of Aylesbury,- Dorothy above mentioned, and Mary who married Sackville Tufton, Earl of Thanet. The descendants of these three daughters, Earl Temple, the Duke of Devonshire, and Lord Hothfield,- present to the rectory in turn, at the present time, as the living falls vacant.

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Eyam, like Selborne, (cf. White's Natural History of Selborne), is remarkable for the line which its buildings follow. The village is about a mile in length, and runs in a serpentine direction along the hill side and following its contour, roughly speaking, from east to west, just where the limestone on the one side and the shale rising to millstone grit on the other meet. So that the houses on the south side stand upon the mountain limestone, whilst those on the north (or Church side of the road) are placed where the shale and grit strata commence.


The following description of Eyam is from the pen of Anne Seward, the poetess, the daughter of a former rector, written from Lichfield in February, 1765.- “Eyam, though but a village, is near a mile in length, and considerably populous. It sweeps, in a waving line, among the mountains, upon a kind of natural terrace, perhaps a quarter of a mile in breadth. From the stupendous Middleton Dale we ascend to Eyam up a steep and narrow lane, about 300 yards, and enter near the middle of the village. On the right hand, to its eastern termination, the mountain, in whose bosom it stands, is crossed by another and still higher mountain. This mountain rises opposite the back part of the parsonage. . . The top of this eastern elevation, so majestic and picturesque amidst all its barren brownness, presents us, on ascending it, with the eagle's view of several lovely valleys separated from each other by a number of smaller hills, winding down to the right, along the range of those vales; and, at about four miles distance, the eye perceives the palace of Chatsworth rising in golden beauty, from beneath its dark and pendant woods, which are flanked by a ridge of grey, stony, and bleak mountains. . . The south side of my native mansion, the parsonage, (which stands by the Church, in

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nearly the centre of the village) looks upon a mountainous knoll, whose surface is always green; . . . From childhood have I delighted to observe, amidst the gradual clearing of a foggy day, the mists which enveloped the head of this and lesser mountain, rolling away by degrees, and its bright green summit peeping through them and imbibing the soft gilding of the sunbeams. Its height, above the village, is moderate. It is called the Cliff, and its top affords a level and lawny walk of about a hundred and fifty yards extent, before it descends. The summit overlooks that stupendous Middleton Dale, so well known to those who make excursions from Buxton. This dale is narrow, and the vast and sterile rocks rise, on each side, to a sublime height. No beauty of wood or field softens the barren grandeur of the scene. It is here that the sterner graces have built their aeries; here that the seasons suffer no visible alteration, except when the craggy steeps are covered with snow, and shoot forth millions of their pensile and their horrent icicles”.

Well known as Eyam now is; much as it is valued for the beauty of its surrounding scenery and for the purity of its air;- yet it owes its celebrity for the most part to the Plague which wrought such havoc amongst its inhabitants in 1666, and to the story of the heroism at that sad time of “the Brave Men of Eyam”. In the earlier books published about Derbyshire all mention of Eyam is frequently omitted. It was brought to the notice of the outside world by the visit of Howard the philanthropist, by the admiration expressed in prose and verse for her native village by Anne Seward,- and by Rhodes, who, in his Peak Scenery, drew attention to the beauties of Derbyshire in general, and of Eyam in particular. A little later, a poem of some length, entitled “The Desolation of Eyam”, appeared, from the pens of William and Mary Howitt.

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But what must always be the Classic about Eyam is William Wood's “History and Antiquities of Eyam”;- the life-work of the author, who lived on the spot and collected together all the local traditions about the plague which were current in his day. It goes without saying that Dr. J.C. Cox's Churches of Derbyshire is the standard work on the Churches of the County. Highways and Byways in Derbyshire is one of the best written volumes of the series. The author wields a light pen, and in a chatty way has put together some interesting chapters on Eyam and its worthies. Those who care for semi-historical works of fiction with a local bearing maybe glad to have their attention drawn to Joseph Hatton's “The Dagger and the Cross”, and to “The Brave Men of Eyam”: the latter published by S.P.C.K.

Old Customs

There used to be several curious customs connected with the village:-

The guarding of the village by night. Until a century ago, it was customary to place a strong gate across the highway on the Ligget (or Lydgate) road, which was then the principal entrance into Eyam. Here watch and ward were kept during the night, the householders standing in turn at the gate and questioning all who wished to enter the village.

Maydew was sprinkled upon the foreheads of sick children, in the belief that it was a protection against death.

Bouquets of flowers used to be hung outside the windows of the cottages to denote any joyful event.

It was customary here, as in other parts of Derbyshire, on the death of an unmarried girl, for her companions to carry a garland of paper flowers and a pair of white gloves before her coffin into the Church. They were

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afterwards suspended above her seat. (Some of these garlands may still be seen at the West end of Matlock Parish Church, whilst others still hang from the beams in the North aisle of Ashford Church). Anna Seward, in her poem on Eyam thus alludes to the custom:-

“Now the low beams, with paper garlands hung,
In memory of some village youth or maid,
Draw the soft tear, from thrill'd remembrance sprung,
How oft my childhood marked that tribute paid.
The gloves suspended by the garland's side,
White as its snowy flowers, with ribbons tied;-
Dear village, long these wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorials of thy early dead”.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in March 2013.

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