The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999


- The Past -

Two centuries and a half will soon have transpired since the commencement of the plague; and as might be expected, many of the stones which told of the calamity of Eyam, have been destroyed. In order that the future inhabitants of Eyam may be enabled to point out to the tourist some of the places where the ashes of the sufferers repose, the places will be here noted where stones have been known to exist; where bones and other human remains have been found; and where the still-existing few memorials may be seen. Besides Riley graves, already described, Mrs. Mompesson's tomb, and a few other stones in the Churchyard, there were in the Cussy Dell about a century ago, two or three grave-stones to the memory of a portion of a family named Ragge; and the Register mentions four persons of that name who died of the plague. The stones have either been broken or carried away. It was the last of these memorials which is the theme of the short and beautiful poem, entitled ‘The Tomb of the Valley’, written some years ago by the late Richard Furness. At the Shepherds' Flat some stones existed until very lately, to the memories of the Mortins and Kempes; two families who perished by the plague, with the solitary exception, as we have before seen, of one individual. These memorials, after having marked for more than a century and a half the precise places where the mortal remains of the sufferers of Shepherds' Flat were interred, have been destroyed by some late barbarian occupants of that secluded place. Bretton, about a mile north of Eyam, was visited by the plague, and many grave-stones or other memorials once recorded the names of those who died. The victims were of the families of Mortin, Hall and Townsend. One of these sufferers was buried in Bretton Clough, and a round stone without any inscription still marks the grave. Behind, or rather at the west end of some dwellings, once known as the Poor-houses, one or two of these stones, which are said to have recorded the deaths of some persons of the name of Whiteley, have been of late demolished. In a field adjoining the back part of the house occupied by Mr. J. Rippon, Eyam, one of these “melancholy tablets of mortality” once existed. That part of Eyam called the Townend was, about one hundred and twenty-five years back, bestrewn with these calamitous memoranda. Some have served for the flooring of houses and barns; while others have been broken up for numerous purposes. The house and barn contiguous to the Foresters' Arms Inn was built on a small plot of ground which contained the unconsecrated graves of a whole family at least. The stones which commemorated the untimely fate of these sufferers were sacreligiously broken when the present building was erected. A piece of waste land at the east end of the village, now forming a part of the Miners' Arms Croft, must, from the number of monumental stones it once contained, have been the general place of interment for many families. Some of these humble tablets were inscribed with a single H., probably the initial of Heald, the name of a family of whom many perished. This brief and simple inscription is, however, applicable to two other families, named Hawksworth and Hadfield, who might inter their deceased members in this place. These mournful memorials, with their serious and impressive records, are no longer seen. A want of becoming veneration for the remains of those unparalleled sufferers: an utter absence of proper feeling, marks most peculiarly that degraded being who could be the means of destroying these simple monuments of the greatest moral heroes that ever honoured and dignified mankind! The inhabitants of Eyam ought to have vied with each other in the preservation of every relic of the eventful fate of the victims of the plague; the ground in which their ashes are laid ought to have been for ever undisturbed; and the tables which told the stories of their calamities guarded, as much as possible, even from the defacing hand of time. Alas! alas! such has not been the case; nearly all the humble stones which were laid to perpetuate their memories have been demolished.

“Ah! There no more
The green graves of the pestilence are seen;
O'er them the plough hath pass'd; and harvests wave,
Where haste and horror flung th' infectious corse”.
“Yet still the wild flowers o'er their ashes creep”.

In a field behind the church, known as Blackwell's Edge-field, there are two stones with the following inscriptions:- “Margaret Teylor, 1666”; “Alies Teylor, 1666”. According to the Register, Margaret was buried July 14, 1666; and Alies was one of the last who perished by the hand of the pest. Nearly the whole of this family died of the distemper, although there is no mention of any other on the present existing stones.

In a field adjoining Froggatt's factory, there is an old dilapidated tabular tomb, with H.M. inscribed on one end. These letters are the initials of Humphrey Merril, who was buried there on the 9th. of September, 1666.

In the parson's field, in the Lydgate, Eyam Townend, two grave-stones are laid nearly parallel to each other, containing the following records:- “Here lye buried George Darby, who dyed July 4th, 1666”; “Mary, the daughter of George Darby, dyed September 4th, 1666”. The house which this family occupied is supposed to have been contiguous to their graves. There is a tradition that this lovely young maiden was extremely beautiful and engaging: that she was frequently seen in the adjoining fields; that she was suddenly seized by the terrific pest while gathering flowers in the field of her father's sepukchre; and that she lingered only one short day before she was laid beneath the daisy-sods, beside her father's grave. How sudden the change! Homer's beautiful simile on the death of Euphorbus, may be applied with equal felicity to the fate of this young maiden:-

“As the young olive, in some sylvan scene,
Crown'd by fresh fountains with eternal green,
Lifts the gay head, in snowy flowrets fair,
And plays and dances to the gentle air;
When lo! a whirlwind from high heaven invades
The tender plant, and withers all its shades;
It lies uprooted from its genial bed,
A lovely ruin, now defaced and dead”.

A stone once in the possession of the late Mr. John Slinn, Eyam, and now in a cabinet of curiosities at or near Derby, has the following inscription: “Bridget Talbot, Ano. Dom.,1666”. She was buried on the fifteenth of August, 1666. The stone was found in a small piece of ground, now forming, as before mentioned, part of the Miners' Arms Croft. A stone lies under the parlour[1] floor of a house opposite the church, occupied by Mr. P. Furness; it was found in a back room when the house was rebuilt, about sixty-five years ago.

It was probably brought there from the garden and used as a flag. It contains an inscription to the memory of a person of the name of Ragg. These tablets, with those in the Churchyard and at Riley, still bear testimony of the plague at Eyam. Many have been destroyed, and probably many more are buried beneath the surface of gardens and fields of the village.

- The Present -

Within the present generation several human skeletons and other remains of the victims of the plague have been discovered in various parts of the village. In making some alterations in some buildings opposite the old school, about seventy years ago, three skulls and other bones were found. From the position of the bones, the bodies appeared to have been laid side by side, and what was most particularly observed was that the skulls were extremely sound and perfect. The jaws of all the skulls had the requisite number of teeth, which were most remarkably sound. On making the new road from the Dale to the Townend, seventy years ago, a human skeleton, lying at full length, was found in a garden. It measured nearly six feet, and the teeth, as in the above case, were quite perfect. The skeleton was supposed to be that of a young man, and the whiteness and soundness of his teeth were most probably owing to his being at the time of death in the vigour of life. In a cleft of the rocks in the Dale side some bones were found many years since, by Mr. Samuel Hall, Eyam. There is some probability that these bones were not human. In the Dale, very near the Hanging Flat, some bones were once dug up. In the Register there is this entry:- “Buried March 3rd, 1774, three scopes and other human bones found in a cavern in Eyam Dale, by a person trying for a lead mine”. Probably they were the remains of some who died of the plague, or otherwise of those families who fled out of the village and erected huts in the Dale. There is no doubt whatever that the remains of the victims of the plague are scattered far and wide in and around the village.

By way of concluding this doleful subject, it may be proper to notice a few particulars respecting the still existing difference of opinion concerning the respective merits of Mompesson and Stanley, in the happy influence exercised over the villagers of Eyam during their awful calamity.

It is insisted by a few that Stanley exerted himself in mitigating the sufferings of the inhabitants of Eyam during the plague to a degree equal to that of Mompesson; that the fame of Mompesson has cast an undue shade over the lofty virtues of his pious predecessor; and that, for this and other reasons, the venerable and conscientious Stanley has not had justice done to his memory. Without wishing to detract anything from the merits of Mompesson, it must be confessed that there are grounds for suspecting that Stanley has not had that justice done him which he so deservedly merited. It is lamentable that such should have been the case; yet it is believed, although there is no particular clue to the motives of the persons by whom his name has been kept back, that it will scarcely admit of doubt. The following extract from Bagshaw's Spiritualibis Pecci, quoted by Calamy, in his Lives of the Nonconformists sufficiently corroborates what is here advanced:- When he (Stanley) could not serve his people publicly, he was helpful to them in private. Some person yet alive will testify how helpful he was to his people when the pestilence prevailed in Eyam. When some who might have been better employed moved the then noble Earl of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant, to remove him out of the town, I am told by the creditable that he said, “It was more reasonable that the whole country should in more than words testifie their thankfulness to him who, together with the care of the town, had taken such care AS NO ONE ELSE DID, to prevent the infection of the towns adjacent”. The well-known veracity of the venerable Apostle of the Peak gives to his testimony the weight of indubitable truth. And it may be here added that the memory of Stanley among the inhabitants of Eyam is, to the present day, greatly revered and deservedly cherished. By some he is invariably designated THE GREAT GOOD MAN. He died in Eyam in the year 1670, “satisfied to the last in the cause of Nonconformity”. The house in which he lived was, until it was pulled down, called Stanley's House.

The highly exalted character of Stanley must not be supposed to detract in the least from that of the benevolent Mompesson. No: Mompesson's memory is richly worthy of all the admiration with which it has been honoured. The living of Eyam was presented to him on the death of Shoreland Adams, in 1664, only one year before the first breaking out of the plague. From the following passage in his letter to his uncle, J. Beilby, Esq.,_____, Yorkshire, he appears to have been dissatisfied with his situation at Eyam. “Had I been so thankful as my situation did deserve, I might have had my dearest dear in my bosom - God grant that I may repent my sad ingratitude!” He seems, however, to have known with Seneca, that “Virtue is that perfect good, which is the complement of a happy life.; the only immortal thing that belongs to mortality”. His virtue was not contemplative, but active: and it must be remembered that this divine property is never so glorious as when exhibited in extremities. What a sublime sentiment he gave to the world in the following words in his letter to Sir George Saville: “I am not desirous that they (his children) should be great, but good; ” and he then adds“,my next request is that they may be brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord”. When he considered himself on the verge of eternity, he thus, in the purest spirit of philantrophy, addresses his patron:- “I desire, Sir, that you will make choice of a humble, pious man to succeed me in my parsonage; and could I see your face before my departure hence, I would inform you in which manner I think he may live comfortably amongst his people, which would be some satisfaction to me before I die”. In another part he says:- “Never do anything upon which you dare not first ask the blessing of God”. Such were the requisitions and holy admonitions of this admirable minister of Christ. His high sense of duty was made strikingly manifest on the following occasion: the Deanery of Lincoln was generously offered him; but he humbly declined accepting it, in favour of Dr. Fuller, whom he sincerely esteemed.[2]

How, noble! how disinterested! was this Christian-like act of friendship. He, however, in addition to the Rectory of Eakring, accepted the Prebends of York and Southwell. He married for his second wife, Mrs. Newby, relict of Charles Newby, Esq., who bore him two daughters. He died at Eakring, the 7th. of March, 1708, in the seventieth year of his age. A brass plate marks the place in the Church of Eakring where his ashes repose.

Of this man, Miss Seward thus emphatically observes:- “His memory ought never to die! It should be immortal as the spirit that made it worthy to live”.

And is it not gratifying to the villagers of Eyam to know that the place of their humble residence has been honoured by the deeds of such a disinterested, benevolent and exalted character as Mompesson? The conduct of this ever-to-be-admired man was a pure emanation from the heart of a Christian in spirit and in truth. And while France glories in the name of the good Bishop of Marseilles; while Milan sounds the praises of Bishop Bonower, England shall exult in her transcendant rival - Mompesson, the village pastor of Eyam.

Much and indefatigable research has been made to trace the ancestors and descendants of this worthy and dignified character; but not with requisite and desired success. The name - Mompesson - is French, and there is a great probability that the Mompessons came over with the Norman Conqueror, and settled in Wiltshire. Robert Mompesson, of Bathampton, Wiltshire, married Alice, the heiress of William Godwin; and John Mompesson, his only son, was sheriff of Wiltshire in the 18th of Edward the Fourth. This John had seven sons, Drewe, Robert, John, Thomas, Henry, William, and Samuel. Richard, the son of Drewe, had five sons, John, Vincent, Edward, William, and Christopher, four of whom married and had a numerous progeny, whose descendants, according to Sir Richard Colt Hoare's ‘Wiltshire’, were dispersed over the West of England. In 1607, a Thomas Mompesson, was one of the commissioners of the privy seal; and other members of the family held important offices in the reigns of James the First and the First and Second Charles: John Mompesson,of Bathampton, was sheriff, 24th. of Henry the Seventh; and his son Edmund, 32nd of Henry the Eighth. The pedigree of the Bathampton Mompessons as given by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, does not come down to the time when Mompesson, Rector of Eyam, was born in 1637 or 1638. It gives dates of births and deaths in 1599, 1601, 1612, 1623, and 1635, but none more recent. From some branch of the Bathampton Mompessons, sprang William Mompesson, whose immortal memory ought to be cherished to the end of time. Of the descendants of this great man very little is known. In Miller's ‘History of Doncaster’, his son, George Mompesson, is mentioned as witness to an indenture, connected with the establishment of a library, in 1736, at Doncaster Church. The said George Mompesson was Rector of Barnborough, Yorkshire; he married Alice, daughter of John Broomhead, schoolmaster of Laughten-en-le-Morthen. She is buried in Barnborough Church; and a Latin inscription distinguishes her grave: she died on the 16th. of October, 1716, aged forty-seven years.

Another inscription records the death of John, the son of George and Alice Mompesson, Rector of Hassingham; he died on the 2nd of January, 1722, aged thirty-two years. William, another son of George and Alice Mompesson, was Vicar of Mansfield, from whom is descended George Mompesson Heathcote, Esq., of Newbold, near Chesterfield.[3]

Catherine, the beloved wife of Mompesson, was the daughter of Ralph Carr., Esq., of Cocken, Durham, which family was lately represented by William Standish Carr, Esq., of Cocken and Dewsbury.

“In the Summer of 1757”, writes Miss Seward, “five cottagers were digging on the heathy mountain above Eyam, which was the place of graves after the Churchyard became too narrow a repository. The men came to something which had the appearance of having once been linen. Conscious of their situation, they instantly buried it again. In a few days they all sickened of a putrid fever, and three of the five died. The disorder was contagious and proved mortal to numbers of the inhabitants. My father, who was the Canon of Lichfield, resided in that city with his family, at the period when the subtle, unextinguished, though much-abated power of the most dreadful of all diseases awakened from the dust in which it had slumbered ninety-one years”. Notwithstanding this authority, there could not have happened such a circumstance without other corroborative evidence. Tradition knows nothing of the matter, and the mortality of that year was only ordinary. Miss Seward was undoubtedly misinformed. In the summer of 1779, a putrid fever prevailed in Eyam, and the following individuals died in a short time of the malignant epidemic: William Baxter, Elias Vicars, Robert Dooley, Elizabeth Unwin, Robert Unwin, Mary Benson, George Bradley, Ann Sheldon, Samuel Brittlebank, Elizabeth Benson, Isaac Benson, Thomas Bradshaw, George Chapman, Mary Wyatt, James Mortin, Ann Timperley, and Ann Rowbotham. Those who died swelled in the neck and groin; and the villagers apprehended that the ghost of the plague had risen from the dust. On this occasion, the desolation of Eyam in 1666, was the theme of the whole village. It is singular that even to this day, the villagers take their disapprobation of one another in the following phrases: “The plague on thee!” “The plague take thee!” etc.

That the surrounding country was greatly alarmed at the devastation of the pest at Eyam, the following accounts are sufficient evidence:-

Mompesson left Eyam in 1669, three years after the plague; but the horror which it had disseminated extended even to Eakring, in Nottinghamshire, up to the very time of his leaving Eyam for the living of that place. This benefice was presented to him by his friend and patron, Sir George Saville. On his going to take possession of the living of Eakring, the inhabitants refused him admission into the village, in consequence of their terrors of the “cloud and whirlwind of death”, in which he had walked. A small house or hut was, therefore, erected for him in Rufford Park, where he resided in seclusion until their fears died away. Such was the horror of that desolating infection; such were the dreadful impressions which it created even in more distant places. In the accounts of the constables of Sheffield, there is the following item:- “Charges about keeping people from Fulwood Spring (ten miles from Eyam) at the time the plague was at Eyam”. Fuel was an article which the inhabitants had to encounter great difficulties in obtaining; those who fetched it from the coal pits had to make circuitous routes, and represent themselves as coming from other places. One man on his journey unthinkingly let it slip that he came from Eyam, on which he was greatly abused and driven back with his horses unladen.

Of the number who perished at Eyam by the hand of this direful plague there are different accounts. The Register, which is undoubtedly as correct as can be expected from the confusion of the time, states the number of victims to be 259; while there is another account as follows: “259 of ripe age, and 58 children”.[4]

This account is incorrect. The Register account contains children. Mompesson in his letter of Nov. 20, 1666, mentions the number of families infected as being 76, and the number of deaths 259. The population of Eyam at the breaking out of the plague would be probably about 350 or perhaps a few more.[5]

259 deducted from 350 would leave 91. But some fled at the commencement of the distemper. The Bradshaws, the then most wealthy family in the village, left it with precipitation, and only occasionally, if ever, came back. A family of the name of Furness took refuge at Farnsley, or Foundley, a farmhouse, about a mile from Eyam. The Sheldons, a family of some substance, went to a farm of their own at Hazleford, two miles from Eyam.[6]

A man of the name of Merril, as before noticed, who lived in the Hollins-house, Eyam, built a hut on Eyam Moor and resided therein until the plague abated. A hut was built a liitle beyond Riley by a family named Cotes, who dwelt there during that terrible time. The little dale that runs up to Foundley was nearly full of huts, built under the projecting rocks. There were others in the Cussy Dell; and on various parts of the moor the remains of these fugitive residences are recollected. Mompesson's children were sent away, and a few others, undoubtedly, who would not return for some time after the plague. Hence we may conclude that there would be but very few left of those who tarried within the precincts of the village; indeed, it is a very current tradition that in case of a death two dozen funeral cakes were, for some years subsequent to the plague, sufficient for the whole village, inclusive of the few distant relatives of the deceased. And it may be here added that of all the desolating traces of that destructive malady there is none which, to the present day, has been more generally talked of than that the main street, from one end to the other, was grown over with grass; and it is said that kingcups and other flowers grew in the very middle of the road. This, however, one would imagine, could hardly be the case in 1666; but more probably in 1667, and a few succeeding years. That the village was almost desolate there is no doubt: and in the following sublime language of Ossian, it may be said:- “There the thistle shook its lonely head; the moss whistled to the wind. The fox looked out from the window, the rank grass of the wall waved round its head”.

Monthly summary of burials during the plague:-

Total burials   267

The number of these suffering victims is 267; but as Mompesson states the precise number of the all glorious self-martyrs to be 259, it is thought that eight out of the 267 died during the plague, but not of the plague. Tradition mentions this to be the case in two or three instances. The Register gives no date from the fifth to the fifteenth of October; therefore it cannot be ascertained which of the two or three last mentioned deaths occurred on the eleventh of October: the date of the last death of the plague. There appears to have been from the fifteenth to the last of October, six deaths out of the small remnant left; but the authority of Mompesson for the cessation of the pestilence on the eleventh of October must be conclusive and satisfactory.

In the year 1766 the Rev. Thomas Seward preached a centenary sermon in the Church of Eyam, in commemoration of the plague. The sermon was written with great descriptive power: it drew forth abundant tears from the sobbing auditors. A bicentenary sermon was preached in August, 1866, by the Rector and also by the Rev. R. Jones, Vicar of Cromford, and Rural Dean.

Little notice must be taken of the several causes which the few survivors believed had brought down the plague on the village as a judgment. At the wakes preceding the first appearance of the pest, some few wanton youths are said to have driven a young cow into the Church during Divine Service; and to this profane act that dreadful visitation was by some ascribed. This, with other presumed causes of the awful scourge, must be considered fanciful. The great omniscient Disposer of events, in His wisdom permitted it; and we poor worms of creation must not pretend to know for what wise end it was intended; nor must we more presumptuously attempt “To teach eternal wisdom how to rule”. - POPE.[7]

Ought not a monument to have been erected by the nation to the memory of all those who fell victims, and a liberal national annuity to have been granted to each of the heroic survivors.[8]

[1] The room on the right hand of the entrance. Mr. Furness is now dead.
[2] This Dr. Fuller is often erroneously confounded with Dr. Fuller, author of ‘The British Worthies’.
[3] Mr. George Mompesson Heathcote died in 1884.
[4] De Spiritualibus Pecci.
[5] The number of burials recorded in the Register in 1661 is twenty-four, in 1662 twenty-three, and in 1664 twenty-two; some have therefore thought it more probable that the population, at the breaking out of the plague, was more nearly 1,000.
[6] The Sheldons on taking refuge at Hazleford, took some ducks with them from Eyam. These domestic animals having no instinctive knowledge of the plague, wandered back to Eyam, crossing a moor three miles in extent.
[7] Two Catholic priests, Thomas Ludlam, of Whirlow, and Nicholas Garlick, of Glossop, taken prisoners at Padley Hall in the reign of Elizabeth, were, it is said, much reviled on passing through Eyam to Derby, when one or more made some remark, which bigotry has construed into a prediction of the plague.
[Ed: The priest's name is more usually recorded as Robert Ludlam]
[8] A monument was erected in 1802, in commemoration of the meritorious deaths of 150 priests, and a great number of medical men, who, during the plague at Marseilles in 1720, lost their lives in preventing the pestilence from spreading.

Next Chapter => THE CHURCH

This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in May 1999.

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