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


Eyam Hall and Village Stocks
The Stocks

The small piece of grass covered, Common land, which goes by the name of “The Cross”, may be considered to be the centre of Eyam. Probably, at one time, the Village Cross stood here, though no vestige of it now remains. But the upright portion of the Village Stocks are still here, and bear witness to a form of punishment now obsolete, which in bygone years was compulsorily endured as a penalty for drunken-ness and other offences. Here the guilty ones were for so many hours, imprisoned in the open air, with hands and feet tightly fastened, and they themselves unwillingly

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subjected to the jeers and ridicule of, and sometimes to the missiles thrown at them by, their fellow villagers. This form of punishment had almost gone out of use in Derbyshire in 1815, though the stocks were used at Killamarsh in 1827 and 1829. New ones were set up in the borough of Poole in 1858; and indeed stocks are recorded to have been used at Newbury in Berkshire, as lately as June 11th, 1872.

Eyam Hall

2.- On the other side. of the road is Eyam Hall. According to Wood, it originally belonged to a family named Bray, from whom it was purchased by the Wrights who built a new front to it in 1676. It is said to be an exact copy of the old Hall of the Bradshaws at Eyam, of which only a fragment now remains.

The Delph

3.- At the Hall, by the courtesy of Mrs. Wright, the key may be obtained of the Delph, or Dell, a beautiful little dale, which is well worthy of a visit. A small charge, (2d. for each person) is made for the admission; and the whole of the money so obtained is given, without deduction, to the Hospitals of the district. The entrance to the Delph will be found through the gate in the iron railing on the other side of “The Cross”, immediately opposite the Hall. There are two dales which run parallel with each other from the village down to Middleton Dale:- the one is the picturesque road way, - the other is the Delph. It is well worth visiting, and more especially so on a bright sunny day in the early summer, for its quiet restfulness and its beauty;- and it is still better worthy of a visit on account of its associations. The Delph is a lovely secluded dell formed by a cleft in the limestone. At the North end of the little dale, not far from the entrance into the grounds, a tiny stream issues from a chasm in the rock called the Salt Pan, and trickles along the valley. About half way across the dell, on its Western side, is a limestone crag, now partly hidden

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by trees and shrubs. Near the top of this rock is a natural archway. It bears the name of the Pulpit Rock. Here it was that Mompesson gathered together his flock during the time of the plague, when it was deemed inadvisable, because of the danger of infection, to hold the services within the Church. It was on this arched mass of limestone that he knelt when he was leading the devotions of his people, or stood when he was addressing to them words of exhortation or of comfort. How real to these poor plague-stricken people must have been the Church's prayer which was then, as it may be now, used “in the time of common Plague or Sickness”. How earnestly must they have pleaded for mercy and for pity, as, Sunday after Sunday, their numbers became fewer. It was because the Church services were held here that it goes by the name of “Cucklet Church”. And here the present Rector, on Wakes Sunday, every year, still holds a commemorative service.

Riley Graves
J. Crowther Cox )RILEY GRAVES.( Photo.
Riley Graves

4.- Retracing our steps, and leaving the key at the Hall, we next visit Riley Graves. The road lies through the village, past the Church. On the left-hand side of the road about a quarter of a mile after we have left the houses, a cart road will be noticed inclining to the left, the entrance to which is through a gateway. About a quarter of a mile further along this road, within a large field on the left-hand side of the road, will be seen a small enclosure encircled by a stone wall. Within this enclosure will be found the tombstones of the Hancock family,- seven of whom were buried within eight days,- (August 3-10, 1666). “Riley” was not the name of a family, but of a plot of land, and it is variously written as Righley, Ryleye, or Rylegleyes, in old deeds of the 14th and 15th centuries. The “Riley Graves” then are the graves on the land called Riley. The land on Riley was farmed by two families named

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Hancock and Talbot. Their homesteads were within a short distance of each other. Both families were practically exterminated within the space of five weeks. And, as was the case with the rest of those who died at this time, when the plague was at its is worst, they were not taken to the churchyard, so that the risk of contaminating the living might be reduced as much as possible; but shallow graves were hurriedly dug in close proximity to the place where they died, and in these their bodies were laid. In Rhodes' time, there was no enclosure; but the stones stood apparently on Common, or Moor land, where the “insulated spot . . . was bedded in surrounding heath of brightest purple”. The father of the Hancocks lies under a tabular tomb; This, alone, marks the exact spot of burial. The head stones which marked, graves scattered about at a little distance, were collected together, and all enclosed by a former owner of the property. On the ends of the father's tomb are the words “Nescitis horam. Orate. Vigilate”. (Ye know not the hour. Pray. Watch.) And on the top is the inscription

“John Hancock, sen., Buried Aug. 7, 1666
Remember man as thou go'st by,
As thou art now, even so was I;
As I doe now so thou must lie,
Remember man that thou shalt die”.

5.- In years gone by stones bearing initials and dates, or in other way commemorating those who had died of the plague, were to be found in many parts of the village. They have for the most part been broken up or used for other purposes, and but few of them now remain. One small burying place, in the Lydgate on the south eastern side of the village, has been recently cared for and walled round by the present Rector. It contains the tombs of George Darby and his daughter Mary, the one of whom died on July 4th and the other was buried on Sept. 4th, 1666.

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6.- Mompesson's Well should be visited by those who can manage the walk, and who are interested in the story of the plague and of the heroism which it called forth. The way to it is to pass through the Churchyard, and to continue the footpath, up hill, until it reaches the road. Then turn to the right. The Well will be found down a short grassy lane, some 120 or 130 yards after the first road to the left has been passed. Tradition says that this was one of the limits beyond which the inhabitants of Eyam might not go during the plague. In this trough they placed their money, so that it might be disinfected by the vinegar which had been poured into the water. And by the side of the well were placed the provisions and other necessaries which were received in return.

Mompesson's Well
J. Crowther Cox ) MOMPESSON'S WELL.( Photo.

7.- Bradshaw Hall, or the Old Hall, as it used to be called, to distinguish it from the mansion which now goes by the name of “Eyam Hall”, is situated on rising ground, towards the N.W. of the village. The Hall, which was not the Manor House, for the owners were never Lords of the Manor, belonged originally to the wealthy and important faintly of the Staffords. From them it passed by marriage, in 1565, to the Bradshaws. The house was pulled down by Francis Bradshaw, and another one erected, of which the fragment still remaining was a portion, about the year 1630. Francis died in 1635, and was succeeded by his brother George who died in 1646. The widow and her daughter left the Hall in 1665,- tradition says through fear of the plague. Probably what weighed with her, as another reason for her departure, was the wish to be with her daughter Anne (who had married Rev. Michael Adams, Vicar of Treeton), at the birth of her first child. But, at any rate, Eyam from then ceased to be a place of residence of the Bradshaws.

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The Rectory

8.- The Rectory stands to the East of the Church. Mompesson's study and his bedroom are still shown. The house was new fronted by Canon Seward about a century and a half ago.

The Rectory

9.- The Rectory Room was built in a corner of the Rectory Garden in 1906. It contains various objects of interest, such as Portraits of all the Rectors of Eyam from 1760 onwards. To these has recently been added a portrait of William Mompesson, (a copy of the portrait of the hero of Eyam which is at the Bishop's Manor at Southwell, and of which an illustration appears as a frontispiece to this book). Here too are various relics of the silk industry. A cinerary urn, or urn for the reception of the ashes of bodies after being burnt, recently found on Eyam Moor, &c., &c.

Bull Ring

10.- The Bull Ring, a ring to which the chain or cord, attached to the bull when it was baited by dogs, was fastened, was unearthed a few years ago (1911). It is to be found in the middle of the road, almost opposite the Foresters' Arms.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in March 2013.

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