The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999


“Trust me, for th' Instructed, time will come
When they shall read no record but may teach
Some acceptable lesson to their minds
Of human suffering, or of human joy”. - WORDSWORTH
“Here Antiquity enjoys
A deep and mossy sleep”. - R. HOWITT

The village of Eyam - often designated the Athens of the Peak - has obtained a somewhat enviable pre-eminence among the villages of the surrounding district.

John Nightbroder, Anna Seward, Richard Furness and other celebrities, mentioned in the scroll of fame, were born in Eyam. Here, also, the Rev. Peter Cunningham spent the vigour of his manhood, during which time he produced poems of considerable merit, which will be hereafter noticed. Distinguished as is this romantic village by giving birth and residence to these celebrated characters, it has, however, another and a stronger claim to general notice - the terrible PLAGUE by which it was so singularly visited, and almost totally depopulated, in the years 1665 and 1666; the details of which calamity must necessarily follow other particulars, under several heads, in connection with this highly interesting place.

Eyam is a village and parish in the North, or High Peak of Derbyshire. It is comprised in the Hundred of the High Peak; in the Honours of Peveril and Tutbury; in the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry of Derby, and in the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry.[1]

The village stands in the south-east part of the parish, six miles north of Bakewell and nearly in the centre of a line drawn from Sheffield to Buxton; being twelve miles distant from each place.

It contains within the township about 250 houses and near 1,500 inhabitants[2] who are chiefly employed in agriculture, lead mining, but principally in boot and shoe making.

The parish is nearly circular, about four miles in diameter, and contains the townships of Foolow and Woodland Eyam, these including the hamlets of Bretton and Hazelford. It abuts on the parishes of Hope, Hathersage and Bakewell; and the following places and streams mark its boundary; a rivulet close to Stoney Middleton Churchyard, top of Stoke Wood, Goatcliffe brook, the River Derwent, Highlow brook, top of Grindlow, Wardlow Mires, Foundley fence, and the Dale brook, to where it receives the rivulet first mentioned.

Small as is this parish, yet it contained an extensive tract of moorland until the year 1801, when an Act was obtained for its enclosure: a circumstance which has, by the bulk of the parishioners, been greatly regretted.

The village forms a long street, nearly a mile in length, built apparently, as it is approached from Middleton Dale, on a ledge or table-land of limestone.

The village runs from east to west in a serpentine form; and, as Gilbert White has observed of Selbourne, the cartway divides two most incongruous soils.

The houses, in most places, on the north side, stand just where the shale and sandstone strata commence; whilst those on the south side are erected invariably on the limestone; and, though the village is so very long, the same diversity occurs throughout.

The several parts of the village are thus named: the Townend, which is the eastern part, and from which branch the Lydgate, the Water-lane, the Dale, and the Cocey or Causeway; the Cross, or middle of the village; and the Townhead, or the extreme western part. Contiguous to the street, and nearly in the centre of the village, stands the Church, a very ancient fabric, which, from its being encircled by large umbrageous linden trees, has often excited the notice and admiration of strangers.

Of the origin, and signification of the name of this old English village - Eyam - there is but little stated that is satisfactory on the subject.

In the Norman Survey the name is written Aiune; in the fifteenth century and later it was written Eyham, and Eham; now uniformly Eyam.

There is no doubt, that the word means water or waterplace; a local peculiarity sufficiently apparent.

It is very probable that Aiune or Eyam is Celtic.

A little north of Eyam (within the parish) there is a small place called Bretton, which name is very ancient, and means mountainous.

The word is pure Celtic and was the name of England long before the Roman invasion.

This little hamlet has retained a name of high antiquity, coeval with the Aborigines of the island, and such has, in all probability been the case with Eyam.

Some maintain that the meaning of the word may be irrecoverably lost;[3] one of the two following conjectures, however, seems most probable.

The dark-haired Celts were driven from the shore into the interior of the island:-

“O'er the wild gannet's bath came the Norse coursers”,
Saxon and Dane, Swede and Norwade, the fair-haired strength of the North.
“Left on the beach the long galley and oar”.

[1] Eyam is now in the Diocese of Southwell.
[2] By the census of 1891 the population of Eyam civil parish was given as 996 persons compared with 1046 in 1881. Inhabited houses, 234; families or separate occupiers, 237. The civil parish of Eyam included (1) a detached part situated between Eyam Woodlands and Stoke; (2) a detached part situated between Foolow and Great Longstone and (3) a detached part surrounded by Litton, Wardlow, Great Longstone and Foolow. The Ecclesiastical parish of Eyam contained 334 inhabited houses and a population of 1414.
[3] Creighton, in his Introduction to his ‘Dictionary of Scripture Names’, observes that Dr. Johnson and other modern lexicographers have greatly erred in seeking (and pretending to find) the origin of western tongues in Greek and Latin. He further states, that a knowledge of the Celtic is indispensable in tracing the true origin of the names of places, rivers and mountains in the West of Europe. That the Peak of Derbyshire would afford shelter to the Britons, during the repeated invasions by the Saxons and Danes, there is no doubt; and that a few of the oppressed Aborigines would thereby escape the sword and live to perpetuate their race and language is probable.

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This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in May 1999.

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