The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999


O'er hills and vales of gold and green,
Passed on, undreaded and unseen:
Foregoing cities, towns and crowds;
Gay mansions glittering to the clouds,
Magnificence and wealth,
To reach a humbler, sweeter spot,
The village and the peaceful cot,
The residence of health.

Let all who tread the green fields of Eyam, remember, with feelings of awe and veneration that beneath their feet repose the ashes of those moral heroes, who, with a sublime heroic, and an unparalleled resolution gave up their lives-yea! doomed themselves to pestilential death, to save the surrounding country. The immortal victors of Thermopylae and Marathon, who fought so bravely in liberty's holy cause, have no greater, no stronger claim to the admiration of succeeding generations , than the humble villagers of Eyam in the year 1666. Their magnanimous self-sacrifice, in confining themselves within a prescribed boundary during the terrible pestilence, is unequalled in the annals of the world. The plague, which would undoubtedly have spread from place to place through the neighbouring counties, and which eventually carried off five-sixths of their number , was, in the following forcible language of a celebrated writer, "here hemmed in, and, in a dreadful and desolating struggle, destroyed and buried with its victims". How exalted the sense of duty, how glorious the conduct of these children of nature who , for the salvation of the country, heroically braved the horrors of certain, immediate, and pestilential death! Tread softly, then, on the fields where their ashes are laid; let the wild flowers bloom on their wide-scattered graves. Let the ground round the village be honoured and hallowed; for there,

“The dead are everywhere!
The mountain side; the plain; the woods profound;
All the lone dells - the fertile and the fair,
Is one vast burial ground”.

For some years prior to this calamity, the plague had been known to have existed, in some degree, in several adjoining places, but generally in an eastwardly direction from Eyam; at Almonbury near Huddersfield in 1363; at Rotherham in 1570; at Doncaster in 1585; at Chesterfield in 1586-7; and at Brimington, when W. Townsend, Curate of Holmsfield, died in 1609.

In the year 1625, a whole family at Bradley, in the parish of Malpas, Cheshire, were carried off by the plague, under circumstances (at least in one or two instances) without any recorded parallel. The following are extracts from the Register of that year, place and subject:-[1]

“Thomas Jefferie, servant to Thomas Dawson of Bradley buryed the 10th daye of August, in the night, he died of the plague”.

“Richarde, the sonne of Thomas Dawson, of Bradley, (that dyed of the plague) buryed the 13th. daye of August, in the night, 1625”.

“Raffe Dawson, sonne of the aforesayed Thomas came from London about 25th. July last past, and being sicke of the plague, died at his father's house, and soe infected the sayd house and was buryed, as is reported, near unto his father's howse”.

“Thomas Dawson, of Bradley, died of the plague, and was buryed the 16th. daye of August 1625, at 3 of clocke, after midnight”.

“Elizabeth, the daughter of the aforesayed Thomas Dawson, died of the plague of pestilence, and was buryed the 20th.daye of August”.

“Anne, the wyffe of John Dawson, sonne of the aforesayed Thomas Dawson, died of the plague of pestilence, and was buryed the 20th of August”.

“Richard Dawson (brother to the above-named Thomas Dawson of Bradley) being sicke of the plague and perceyving he must die at yt tyme, arose out of his bed, and made his grave and causing his nefew, John Dawson, to cast some strawe into the grave, which was not farre from the howse, and went and layed him down in the sayd grave, and caused clothes to be layed uppon, and soe dep'ted out of this world; this he did, because he was a strong man, and heavier than his said nefew, and another wench were able to burye; he died about the 23rd of August, 1625 - This much he did I was credibly tould”.

“John Dawson, sonne of the above-named Thomas, came unto his father, when his father sent for him, being sicke, and having layd him down in a dich, died in the 29th daye of August, 1625, in the night”.

“Rose Smyth, servant of the above namedTho: Dawson, and last of yt household, died of plague, and was buryed by Wm. Cooke, the 5th date of September near the sayd house”.

The death and burial of Richard Dawson, as given in the above extracts, is of a character dreadfully interesting, history not furnishing a similar instance of an individual under the agony of an intense malady, digging his own grave, lying down therein and dying, lest his mortal remains should remain uninterred after death![2]

The small village of Curbar, about three miles south-east of Eyam, was visited by the plague in 1632, when several families of the names of Cooke, Clarke and probably a few others were all but entirely swept away. They were buried partly in what is now known as “Elliott's Piece”, and other places within the precincts of the hamlet or village.

The desolation of Eyam by the plague in 1666, is marked by two peculiar circumstances; one that it was the last time the plague, properly so called, visited this island; the other, that this, its last visitation, was attended with a virulence - with a destructive and desolating effect, never before witnessed and recorded (the population of Eyam considered) in the annals of human desolation. From the latter end of 1664, to December 1665, about one-sixth of the population of London fell victim to this appalling pestilence; but at Eyam, nearly five-sixths were carried off in a few months of the summer of 1666, excepting a few who died at the close of 1665.

Though the mortality of the metropolis was very great and horrible, yet there the populace were not restrained as to flight; there, they could easily obtain medical aid; there, neighbour knew not neighbour; there, thousands might die without being intimately known to each other. But in Eyam, a little sequestered village, containing about three hundred and fifty stationary inhabitants, the death of every one would be a neighbour, if not a relative.

In Eyam, then, the plague was the concentration of all the most dreadful features of that visitation in London without its palliatives. Indeed, it seems exceedingly strange, that Eyam, a little mountain city, an isolated Zoar, secluded among the Peak mountains, and one hundred and fifty miles distant from London, should have been visited by a pestilential disease, which had scarcely ever occurred in any very destructive form, only in great and populous cities. It is, however, most positively stated, that this terrible disease was brought from London to Eyam in a box of old clothes, and some tailor's patterns in cloth, or other materials belonging to a tailor.

The plague generally manifested itself by the febrile symptoms of shivering, nausea, headache and delirium. In some, these affections were so mild as to be taken for slight indisposition. The victim in this case generally attended his avocation until a sudden faintness came on, when the macula, or plague spot, the fatal token, would soon appear on his breast, indicative of immediate death. But in most cases the pain and delirium left no room for doubt: on the second or third day, buboes, or carbuncles, arose about the groin and elsewhere; and if they could be made to suppurate, recovery was probable, but if they resisted the efforts of nature, and the skill of the physician, death was inevitable.

During the dreadful ravages of the plagues in London, it is very probable that the then inhabitants of Eyam would hear but very little concerning that calamity. Confined to their secluded village, which is surrounded by towering heath-clad hills, they were simply debarred from hearing at every turn that kind of intelligence which casts a gloom over the mind, or shocks the feelings. They were in a great measure unknown; and until the arrival of the fatal box, nothing had occurred to disturb “the even tenor of their way”. Ah! up to this awful period they had lived in security and peace : attended by all the blessings of village life.

“The life which those who fret in guilt,
And guilty cities never know; the life,
Led by primeval ages, uncorrupt,
When angels dwelt, and God himself with Man!”

Before the arrival in Eyam of the fatal box, containing the imprisoned seeds of the plague, it may be interesting to know that the Eyam wakes of that year (1665) had only transpired a few days previously to that event: and, it is said, that this wakes was peculiarly marked by an unusual number of visitors, who were in a great degree relatives to the villagers of Eyam, had been involuntarily moved to come and take a last farewell of those who were, so very soon after, destined to be swept away by the plague. It is also said that the amusements on this occasion were more numerous and entertaining; but in what respect is not now known. Most probably, however, they would be of the usual and following character: relations and friends would assemble at the village alehouses, wishing each other, as they raised the sparkling glasses to their lips, many happy returns of the festive time; the young men and maidens would dance upon the spacious village green; and numberless other innocent and social amusements would close each gladsome merry day.[3]

It is singular that nearly all who have hitherto written on this direful calamity, have invariably represented the plague as breaking out in Eyam in the spring of 1666. This, however, was not the case, though by far the greater part of the number of the victims died in July, August and September 1666. The box, containing the tailor's patterns in cloth, and it is said some old clothes, or other materials, was sent, according to traditionary accounts, from London to a tailor who resided in a small house at the east of the Hall garden, and near the west end of the Churchyard.[4] The kitchen of the old house in its original state, the house-place only has been renewed.

Whether the patterns and clothes were bought in London for the tailor at Eyam, or sent as a present, cannot now be ascertained. Some, however, have stated that it was a relative of the tailor at Eyam who sent them, he having procured them in London, where he resided, for a small sum, in consequence of the plague, which was then raging there at its maximum.

Before the details of the commencement of the plague, it may be well to notice a few particulars seemingly at variance with what, among the villagers of Eyam, is and always has been, patent tradition; namely that the box, containing the tailor's patterns, old clothes, or some other materials, came to a tailor, who resided in the house before described. Dr. Mead, who published his treatise on the plague, about 1721, seems to have been the first to notice, since the plague, any particulars of its occurrence at Eyam; he writes, “the plague was likewise at Eham, in the Peak of Derbyshire; being brought thither, by means of a box sent from London to a taylor in that village containing some materials relating to his trade. A servant who opened the aforesaid box complaining that the goods were damp, was ordered to dry them by the fire; but in so doing it was seized with the plague and died; the same misfortune extended itself to the rest of the family, except the taylor's wife, who alone survived. From hence the distemper spread about, and destroyed in that village and the rest of the parish, though a small one, between two and three hundred persons. But notwithstanding this so great violence of the disease, it was restrained from reaching beyond that parish by the care of the Rector; from whose son, and another worthy gentleman, I have the relation. The clergyman advised that the sick should be removed into huts or barracks, built upon the common; and procuring, by the interest of the then Earl of Devonshire, that the people should be well furnished with provisions, he took effectual care that no one should go out of the parish, and by this means he protected his neighbourhood from infection with complete success”. (‘Mead's Medical Works’, Vol 1, p.290)

According to Dr. Mead's account, the box containing the infected materials came from London to a tailor at Eyam; and this is corroborated by the concurrent statement of the villagers of Eyam ever since the plague; and it must be observed that Mead had his relation, in part, from Mompesson's son George, who, when very young, was sent away from Eyam during the plague, and who, without doubt, had heard his father relate many times the sad particulars of the direful occurrence.

The people of Eyam have, ever since the time of pestilence, uniformly and pertinaciously insisted that the fatal box came to, and the disease broke out in, the house beforementioned, known and particularized for a long time after as “The Plague House”. That the box came to the house in question, and that a tailor resided, as owner or tenant, in the said house at that time, cannot be quite satisfactorily substantiated: for from documents in the possession of the present owner of the house, it appears that an Edward Cooper purchased the house in 1662; and that he died, according to the probate of his will, in 1664. In both documents the same Edward Cooper is described as a miner. In his will he leaves his property to his two sons, Jonathan and Edward; his widow, however, having a life interest therein, for the better ordering and bringing up of the said Jonathan and Edward. The Register makes the first victim of the plague to be George Vicars, the second Edward Cooper, son of Edward Cooper, defunct; and some time after there is the burial of a Jonathan Cooper, supposed to be the eldest son of Edward Cooper, although the Register only says, “Bur. Oct. 28, 1665, Jonathan Cooper”. Mead states that the first who died was a servant; but, if we can suppose a lodger was meant, it would remove the seeming perplexity. George Vicars might be a tailor, lodging and boarding with the widow of Edward Cooper; and, as the name Vicars does not occur again in the lists of those who died of the plague, he might have been a sort of stranger in Eyam. In Mead's relation,it is said that the whole of the family, where the box came to, died, except the mother; and, we find from documents connected with the said Coopers and the said house, that the widow, Mary Cooper, survived the plague, and was married a second time to a John Coe. This construction of Mead's statement, and the unvarying assertions of the inhabitants of Eyam ever since the fatal time, would reconcile all seeming disagreements as to the persons, place, and other circumstances in connection with the commencement of the plague at Eyam. It may be still further observed that all the family died except one (the mother) where the plague commenced; and this circumstance agrees with all that has ever been said or written on the subject; but as George Vicars was buried September 7, and Jonathan Cooper, October 28, 1665, it might appear that the plague, if confined solely that time in Cooper's house where it commenced, was not very malignant and destructive at first. This, however, was not the case, for between the death of George Vicars and Jonathan Cooper, the distemper had spread and carried off in the interim twenty-six other persons.

In all probability then, George Vicars opened the terrible box. In removing the contents he observed, in a sort of exclamation, how very damp they were; and he therefore hung them to the fire to dry. While Vicars was superintending them, he was seized with violent symptoms of a disease which greatly alarmed the family and neighbourhood. During his (no doubt) short illness what was afterwards considered the fatal token, a round purple place - the plague spot - appeared on his breast; he died, and was buried in the Churchyard, September the seventh 1665. Thus began in Eyam the plague - the most awful of diseases, which, after being in some measure checked, as supposed, by the following winter, spread amazingly, and eventually left the village nearly desolate.

The Plague: September 1665 - June 1666

It has been generally believed that the plague carried off its first victims very quickly; such, however, is a mistake, for Edward Cooper, the second who died, was buried September the twenty-second, an interval from the interment of George Vicars of fifteen days.

(Names of those who died and dates of their burial)

George VicarsSept. 7th.
Edward CooperSept. 22nd.
Peter HalksworthSept. 23rd.
Thomas ThorpeSept. 26th.
Sarah SydallSept. 30th.
Mary ThorpeSept. 30th.

OCTOBER commenced with two deaths, and on the third two more, and to the end of the month, sometimes one and two in a day; and it was at this juncture that the terrified villagers ascertained the fatal disease to be the plague. Then!

“Out it burst, a dreadful cry of death;
The Plague! The Plague! The withering language flew”.

(Names of those who died, and the respective dates of their interment)

Matthew BandsOct. 1st.
Elizabeth ThorpeOct. 1st.
Margaret BandsOct. 3rd.
Mary ThorpeOct. 3rd.
Sythe TorreOct. 6th.
William ThorpeOct. 7th.
Richard SydallOct. 11th.
William TorreOct. 13th.
Alice Torre (his wife)Oct. 13th.
John SydallOct. 14th.
Ellen SydallOct. 15th.
Humphrey HawksworthOct. 17th.
Martha BandsOct. 17th.
Jonathan RaggeOct. 18th.
Humphrey TorreOct. 19th.
Thomas ThorpeOct. 19th.
Mary BandsOct. 20th.
Elizabeth SydallOct. 22nd.
Alice RaggeOct. 23rd.
Alice SydallOct. 24th.
George RaggeOct. 26th.
Jonathan CooperOct. 28th.
Humphrey TorreOct. 30th.

In NOVEMBER, the pest visited five fresh families, and the distress of the inhabitants began to assume an aggravated form and aspect; few would visit the families infected; they were avoided in the street; they were glanced at with fearful apprehension; and their consequent privations cannot be described.

(Mortality, names, and dates of burial)

Hugh StubbsNov. 1st.
Alice TeylorNov. 3rd.
Hannah RowlandNov. 5th.
John StubbsNov. 15th.
Ann Stubbs (his wife)Nov. 19th.
Elizabeth WarringtonNov. 29th.
Randoll DanielNov. 30th.

DECEMBER witnessed the still wide-spreading disease; fresh habitations poured forth lamentations.

(Names of victims and dates of their burial)

Mary RowlandDec. 1st.
Richard CoyleDec. 2nd.
John RowbottomDec. 9th.
___ Rowe (an infant)Dec. 14th.
Mary RoweDec. 15th.
William RoweDec. 19th.
Thomas WillsonDec. 22nd.
William RowbothamDec. 24th.
Anthony BlackwellDec. 24th.

Some idea may be formed of the extreme virulence of the plague at Eyam, even at its commencement, by observing that even in large cities the plague has been known to cease in winter. In the first summer of the great plague at Genoa, 10,000 died, in the winter scarcely any; but in the following summer, 60,000. The great plague in London appeared in the latter end of 1664, but was checked by winter until the ensuing spring; while at Eyam, where the effects of winter would be considerably greater than in cities, the plague continued its ravages without ceasing. Still it did not attain the height of its destruction and malignancy until the summer of 1666.

During the last four months the sufferings of the villagers were truly dreadful; and though they had become familiar with death, yet they were doomed, in the following summer, to behold the pest assume a far more deadly and fatal aspect. Though the survivors had seen, in the above time, forty-five of their relatives and friends snatched from among them by the terrific hand of pestilential death, yet some few of them were destined to see near double that number swept away in the short space of one month. Fated beings! Shall not “The bard preserve your names and send them down to future times?” - OSSIAN.

JANUARY exhibited, to the great joy of the villagers, some slight apparent abatement of the malignant disease.

JANUARY 1665-6
(Names of victims and dates of their interment)

Robert RowbottomJan. 1st.
Samuel RowbottomJan. 1st.
Abell Rowland[5]Jan. 15th.
John ThornleyJan. 28th.
Isaac WillsonJan. 28th.

FEBRUARY cast a saddening gloom around the hearts of the now terror-stricken inhabitants, the number of deaths increased, and their cup of hope was now dashed to the ground.

(Mortality, names and dates of burial)

Peter Mortin, BrettonFeb. 4th.
Thomas RowlandFeb. 13th.
John WillsonFeb. 15th.
Deborah WillsonFeb. 17th.
Alice WillsonFeb. 18th.
Adam HawksworthFeb. 18th.
Anthony BlackwellFeb. 21st.
Elizabeth AbellFeb. 27th.

It may be necessary, in this place, to notice some few particulars respecting the two unrivalled characters, who may be justly said to have been by their joint exertions, the principal instruments by which Derbyshire and the neighbouring counties were delivered from the desolating plague - The Rev. Thomas Stanley[6] and the Rev. William Mompesson.

It will be manifest that at the time of the greatest fury of the plague, the salvation of the surrounding country originated in the wisdom of these two worthy divines.

Their magnanimous conduct on this awful occasion can only be exceeded by the obedience of the sufferers over whom they exercised such heavenly influence.

The Rev. Thomas Stanley was born at Duckmanton, near Chesterfield. His public ministry was exercised at Handsworth, Dore, and eight years at Ashford, whence, by those in power, he was translated in 1644, to the Rectory of Eyam, where he continued to reside, respected and esteemed until Bartholomew-day 1662. He continued to preach, however, in private houses at Eyam, Hazleford, and other places, until his death in 1670. This very worthy man was succeeded by his predecessor, the Rev. Shoreland Adams, who died in 1644.[7]

The successor of this litigious divine was the Rev. William Mompesson, chaplain to Sir George Saville. Before his coming to Eyam in April 1664, he had married a beautiful young lady, Catherine, the daughter of Ralph Carr, Esq., of Cocken in the County of Durham. She was young, and possessed good parts, with exquisitely tender feelings. These two illustrious characters (Stanley and Mompesson) throughout the fury of the pestilence, as we shall see hereafter, forsook not their flocks, but visited, counselled, and exhorted them in their sufferings; alleviated their miseries; and held fast to their duties, on the very threshold of death.

MARCH commenced, and the pestilence still alarmingly prevailed in various parts of the village, although the number of deaths did not reach that of the preceding month.

MARCH 1665-6
(Names of persons who died - no dates of burials given in the register)

Jon. Thos. WilsonMar.
John TalbotMar.
John WoodMar.
Mary Buxton, Foolow,Mar.
Ann BlackwellMar.
Alice HalksworthMar.

APRIL, with its increasing number of victims, threw a deep and sorrowful gloom over the heart-sickened villagers.

APRIL 1666
(Names of victims and dates of interment)

Thomas AllenApril 6th.
Joan BlackwellApril 6th.
Alice ThorpeApril 15th.
Edward BainsleyApril 16th.
Margaret BlackwellApril 16th.
Samuel HadfieldApril 18th.
Margaret GregoryApril 21st.
___ Allen (an infant)April 28th.
Emmot SydalApril 30th.

MAY brought forth a cheering relaxation in the chilly touch of this insatiable messenger of death.

MAY 1666
(Persons who died, and dates of their burial)

Robert ThorpeMay 2nd.
William ThorpeMay 2nd.
James TaylorMay 11th.
Ellen CharlesworthMay 24th.

JUNE awoke the deadly monster from his seeming slumber in the preceding month, and with desolating steps he stalked forth from house to house, breathing on the trembling inhabitants the vapour of death. The irresistible rage of the pest filled the hearts of all with dreadful forebodings: despair seized every soul; loud and bitter lamentations burst forth from every infected house! Fear and apprehension prevented ingress to these abodes of distress. Horror and dismay enveloped the village; and many persons were led to practise numerous weak and absurd expedients to prevent infection. Numberless were the imagined omens and presages which the terrified inhabitants could now call to mind of their dreadful calamities. Some said that the desolation of the village had been at various times prognosticated. Many could recollect having seen the white cricket, and heard it sound the death-knell on their hearths. Others remembered having heard for three successive nights the invisible “death-watch” in the dead of night. And some called to mind how often, during a few preceding winters, they had listened to the doleful howlings of the Gabriel-hounds.[8]

These, with numerous other fanciful tokens of death, the simple and horrified villagers imagined, at this awful time, they had seen and heard. Would it, indeed, have been marvellous, had they fancied they had seen, with Ossian's Melilcoma, “the awful faces of other times looking from the clouds?”

As June advanced, the pestilence spread from house to house with dreadful rapidity:

“Health, strength, and infancy, and age,
In vain the ruthless foe engage”.

The unexampled mortality of the plague during the summer of 1666, is, as stated before, unequalled in history. Some have supposed that this destructive scourge was aggravated to its unparalleled fury at Eyam by the ignorance and destitution of the inhabitants, and their consequent maltreatment of the distemper. But the proximate cause of this unheard of mortality was undoubtedly the courageous determination of the villagers to confine themselves within a certain boundary; for if those who fell a sacrifice in July, August, September and October, had fled in the spring, they would most probably have escaped; but then there was this danger - the infected would have fled with the non-infected and thereby have carried desolation wherever they went. Hence may be traced the principal and evident cause of that dreadful mortality among the meritorious villagers of Eyam.

Up to the beginning of June seventy-seven had perished from the commencement of the pest; this number of deaths, from a population of three hundred and fifty, was very great in so short a time; but how incomparable to the dreadful havoc of the ensuing months of June, July, August, September and October! It was,however, about the middle of June that the plague began to assume so terrible an aspect. Terror overwhelmed the hearts of the villagers. Mrs. Mompesson threw herself and two children, George and Elizabeth (said to have been about three and four years old ) at the feet of her husband, imploring their immediate departure from the devoted place! Her entreaties and tears sensibly moved the feelings of her husband, whose eyes were suffused with tears at this energetic and truly pathetic appeal. He raised her from his feet, and in the most affectionate manner told her that his duty to his suffering and diminishing flock- that the indelible stain that would rest on his memory by deserting them in the hour of danger - and that the awful responsibility to his Maker for the charge he had undertaken, were considerations with him of more weight and importance than life itself! He then again, in the most persuasive manner, endeavoured to prevail on his weeping partner to take their two lovely children, and flee to some place of refuge till the plague was stayed. She, however, steadfastly resisted his entreaties and emphatically declared her determination that nothing should induce her to leave him amidst that destructive and terrible whirlpool of death! This affecting contest ended in their mutual consent to send all the children away to a relative in Yorkshire (supposed to be J. Bielby, Esq.), until the pestilence ceased. Imagination may paint the mournful parting of the children and parents on this occasion. Mompesson would call them aside, and, suppressing the bitterness of his feelings, give them a parting kiss, and fervently admonish them to be obedient and good! Their tender and loving mother would clasp each in her arms, and, in the intervals of heart-bursting sighs, kiss them again and again! When they departed she would haste to the highest window of their dwelling and watch them leave the village. As she caught the last glance of them, a sudden and startling thought would cross her mind that she would behold them no more. She might utter a shrill and piercing scream! Mompesson would be by her side and endeavour to console her in the most soothing language imaginable! In the first paroxysm of her grief she would intently gaze towards the spot where they last met her view, and refuse to be removed from the place, until the streaming tears “Rush from her clouded brain, Like mountain mists at length dissolved to rain”. - BYRON

Alas! Alas! her forebodings were realised: in this world she beheld her children no more: she took the infection, and died, as will be hereafter seen, blessing her children with her last parting breath.

It was at this period of the calamity, that the inhabitants began to think of escaping from death by flight. Indeed, the most wealthy of them, who were but few in number, fled early in the spring with the greatest precipitation. Some few others, having means, fled to the neighbouring hills and dells, and there erected huts, where they remained until the approach of winter. But it was the visible manifestation of a determination in the whole mass to flee, that aroused Mompesson: he energetically remonstrated with them on the danger of flight; he told them of fearful consequences that would ensue; that the safety of the surrounding country was in their hands; that it was impossible for them to escape death by flight; that many of them were infected; that the invisible seeds of the disease lay concealed in their clothing and other articles which they were preparing to take with them; and that, if they would relinquish their fatal and terrible purpose, he would write to all the influential persons in the vicinity for aid; he would, by every possible means in his power, endeavour to alleviate their sufferings; and he would remain with them, and sacrifice his life rather than be instrumental in desolating the surrounding country. Thus spoke this wonderful man!

The inhabitants, with a superhuman courage, gave up all thoughts of flight. Mompesson immediately wrote to the Earl of Devonshire, then at Chatsworth, a few miles from Eyam, stating the particulars of the calamity, and adding that he was certain that he could prevail on his suffering and hourly diminishing flock to confine themselves within the precincts of the village, if they could be supplied with victuals and other necessary articles, and thereby prevent the pestilence from spreading. The noble Earl expressed in his answer deep commiseration for the sufferers; and he further assured Mompesson that nothing should be spared on his part to mitigate the calamitous sufferings of the inhabitants - provided they kept themselves within a specified bound. This worthy nobleman generously ordered the sufferers to be supplied with all kinds of necessaries, agreeably to the following plan:-

A kind of circle was drawn round the village, marked by particular and well-known stones and hills; beyond which it was solemnly agreed that no one of the villagers should proceed, whether infected or not. This circle extended about half-a-mile around the village; and to two or three places or points on this boundary provisions were brought. A well, or rivulet, northward of Eyam, called to this day “Mompesson's Well”, or “Mompesson's Brook”, was one of the places where articles were deposited. These articles were brought very early in the morning, by persons from the adjoining villages, who, when they had delivered them beside the well, fled with the precipitation of panic. Individuals appointed by Mompesson and Stanley fetched the articles left; and when they took money it was placed in the well or certain stone troughs to be purified, thus preventing contagion by passing from hand to hand. The persons who brought the articles were careful to wash the money well before they took it away. When money was sent, it was only for some extra or particular articles: the provisions and many other necessaries were supplied, it is supposed, by the Earl of Devonshire. The Cliffe, between Stoney Middleton and Eyam , was another place on the circle appointed for this purpose. A large stone trough stood there, in which money and other things were deposited for purification. There are other places pointed out, but these were the principal.[9]

It is said that no-one ever crossed this cordon sanitaire from within or without, during the awful calamity: this, however, is not precisely correct. One person, as will be hereafter seen, crossed it from without at the almost sacrifice of life; and, in a subsequent part, some interesting particulars will be given of one or two who crossed it from within. It must be admitted that it was to the prescribing of this boundary, and other precautions attendant thereon, that the country around was saved from the pestilence. The wisdom of Mompesson, who is said to have originated the plan, can only be surpassed in degree by the courage of the inhabitants in not trespassing beyond the bounds marked out, whom as Miss Seward justly observes, “a cordon of soldiers could not have prevented against their will, much less could any watch which might have been set by the neighbourhood have effected that important purpose”. The annals of mankind afford no instance of such magnanimous conduct in a joint number of persons; and ages pass away without being honoured by such an immortal character as Mompesson, who, while the black sword of pestilence was dealing death around him, voluntarily “put his life in his hand”, from an exalted sense of duty, for the salvation of the country.Towards the middle and latter end of June, the plague began to rage more fearfully. Nothing but lamentations were heard in the village. The passing-bell ceased, the Churchyard was no longer resorted to for interment, and the Church door closed.

“Contagion closed the portal of the fane:
He then a temple sought, not made with hands,
But reared by Him, amidst whose works it stood,
Rudely magnificent”.

At this period, Mompesson, deeming it dangerous to assemble in the Church during the hot weather, proposed to meet his daily diminishing flock in the Delf, a secluded dingle, a little south of Eyam, and there read prayers twice a week, and deliver his customary sermons on the Sabbath, from a perforated arch in an ivy-mantled rock.

The ghastly hearers seated themselves at some distance from each other, on the grassy slope opposite the rocky pulpit. Thither they repaired one by one on these awful occasions, leaving at their mournful homes, some a father, some a mother, some a brother, and some a child, struggling with death. They glanced at each other with looks of unetterable woe, asking in silence “whom Fate would next demand”. Mompesson, standing on the verge of the arch, lifted up his voice to heaven and called aloud on the God of mercy to stay the deadly pest, while the fervent responses of the shuddering hearers dolefully echoed from the caverns around. Thus they assembled in the sacred dell, while each succeeding Sabbath told the tale of death. “Do you see”, says Miss Seward, “this dauntless minister of God stretching forth his hand from the rock, instructing and consoling his distressed flock in that little wilderness? How solemn, how affecting, must have been the pious exhortations of these terrible hours!” Rhodes observes, “That Paul preaching at Athens, or John the Baptist in the wilderness, scarcely excites a more powerful and solemn interest than this minister of God, this ‘legate of the skies’, when contemplated on this trying occasion, 'when he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed. ” This romantic arch has, from that terrible time, been invariably designated “Cucklett Church”[10].

How insensible to the awfulness of that horrible season must he be who can tread this hallowed dell and not hear

“Amidst the rocks an awful sound
In deep reverberation sigh,
And all the echoing caverns round,
With mournful voices far reply,
As if, in those sepulchral caves,
The dead were speaking from their graves”.

During June, and more especially the three following months, the terrific suffering of the inhabitants almost defy description. Parents beheld their children fall in direful succession by the hand of the insatiable and purple-visaged pest. Children turned aside with fearful dread at the distorted features of their parents in death. Every family, while any survived, buried its own dead; and one hapless woman, in the space of a few days, as we shall afterwards see, dug the graves for, and buried with her own hands, her husband and six children. Appalling as such a circumstance must be, it is, however, only one out of very many of that eventful time.

It was during the latter part of June, or the beginning of July, that the Churchyard closed its gates against the dead. Funeral rites were no longer read; coffins and shrouds no longer thought of; an old door or chair was the bier on which the dead were borne; and a shallow grave or hole, hastily dug in the fields or gardens round the cottages, received each putrid corpse ere life was scarce extinct. This was more particularly the case in the two following months, July and August.

JUNE 1666
(Names of victims and dates of burial)

Isaac ThornleyJune 2nd.
Anna ThornleyJune 12th.
Jonathan ThornleyJune 12th.
Anthony SkidmoreJune 12th.
Elizabeth ThornleyJune 15th.
James MowerJune 15th.
Elizabeth BuxtonJune 15th.
Mary HealdJune 16th.
Francis ThornleyJune 17th.
Mary SkidmoreJune 17th.
Sarah LoweJune 17th.
Mary MellowJune 18th.
Anna TownsendJune 19th.
Abel ArchdaleJune 20th.
Edward ThornleyJune 22nd.
Ann SkidmoreJune 25th.
Jane TownsendJune 25th.
Emmot HealdJune 26th.
John SwanneJune 29th.

The Plague: July 1665 - August 1666

JULY saw the rage of the pest in a form really terrific. Dreadful wailings burst forth from every side; and the countenances of the few who ventured abroad were deeply impressed with the visible signs of inward horror.The village was unfrequented; it stood, as it were, out of the world; none came to sympathise with its suffering inhabitants: no traveller passed through the lonely street during that awful time! It was regarded and avoided as the valley of death! Horror and destruction rode and marked the boundary of the dreadful place. On the clouds that hung gloomily over the village, imagination might see written “Pestilence and Death”; at which terrific inscription the approaching stranger turned aside and precipitately fled. Thus, helpless and alone, perished the villagers of Eyam.

“Struck by turns, in solitary pangs
They fell, unblest, untended, and unmourned”.

It is impossible for pen to describe, or imagination to conceive, the unspeakable distress of those who resided in that part of the village, and in those houses, where the plague raged with the greatest violence. Some dwellings, in July, and especially in August, contained at the same moment both the dying and the dead. In one house a victim was struggling with death, while they were hurrying another therefrom to a grave in the fields. In the next a few were anxiously watching for the last convulsive gasp, that the body might be instantly interred, and that “so much of the disease might be buried and its influence destroyed”. The open day witnessed the putrid bodies of the victims pass along the street; and sable night was startled at the frequent footsteps of the buriers of the dead. The horrid symptom of the last stage of the disease in almost every victim, was the signal for digging a grave, or rather hole, to which the deceased, placed on the first thing at hand, or more frequently dragged along the ground, was speedily hurried and buried with inconceivable precipitation; “even while the limbs were yet warm, and almost palpitating with life”. So anxious were they for immediate interment, that some were buried close by their cottage doors, and it is said, some close behind the very houses in which they died. In this state of things passed day after day, and week after week.The terrified villagers had for some time past forsaken their wonted occupations; the untended cattle lowed mournfully on the neighbouring hills; the fields and gardens became a wilderness; and family feuds and personal animosities sank into oblivion!

Every family up to July, or perhaps the latter end of June, had been, from dire necessity, compelled to bury its own dead; for no one would touch or even glance at a corpse that did not belong to his own house or family. But when, as was now frequently the case, the last of a family died, or when one died in a house and others were dying, some person was necessitated, however dangerous the task, to undertake the removal of the unsightly corpse, and immediately bury it. For this hazardous but necessary purpose, the All-wise Providence had endowed with sufficient nerve, hardihood and indifference, the person of Marshall Howe, a native of the village, a man of gigantic stature, and of the most undaunted courage. The daring conduct of this individual, in that terrible time, has rendered his name familiar with the villagers of Eyam to the present day. During the greatest fury of the plague, he filled the fearful office of burier of the dead. It appears, however, that he took the distemper nearly at the time of its first appearance, but recovered; and to the belief that a person was never attacked twice, much of his intrepidity may be ascribed. Covetousness or avarice seems to have instigated him, in part, to undertake his perilous vocation. When he learnt that a person was dying without relatives to take charge of interment, he immediately proceeded to a garden or adjoining field, and opened a grave; then hastened to the house where the victim lay, perhaps warm with life, and tying one end of a cord round the neck or feet of the corpse, he dragged the body to the grave, and with “an unhallowed haste” lightly covering it with earth. The money, furniture, clothes,and other effects of the deceased were his unenviable remuneration. For nearly three months he was thus employed. Through burying the last victims of the pest-houses, he claimed and took whatever he found therein; and, in alluding to the quantity of small clothes he had thus obtained, he jocularly observed that “he had pinners and napkins sufficient to kindle his pipe with while he lived”. Such was the awful occupation of Marshall Howe, during the most horrible ravages of the plague; he, however, tasted the bitter draught by burying, with his own hands, his wife, on the twenty-seventh, and his son on the thirtieth of August of the fatal 1666. For a generation or two after the plague, parents in Eyam endeavoured to bring their children to rule and obedience by telling them that they would send for Marshall Howe.

JULY 1666
(Dates of interments and names of sufferers)

Elizabeth HealdJuly 2nd.
William LoweJuly 2nd.
Eleanor Lowe (his wife)July 3rd.
Deborah EalottJuly 3rd.
George DarbyJuly 4th.
Anna CoyleJuly 5th.
Briget Talbot, RileyJuly 5th.
Mary Talbot, RileyJuly 5th.
John DannyelJuly 5th.
Elizabeth SwannaJuly 6th.
Mary ThornleyJuly 6th.
John TownsendJuly 7th.
Ann Talbot, RileyJuly 7th.
Francis WraggeJuly 8th.
Elizabeth ThorpeJuly 8th.
Elizabeth LoweJuly 9th.
Edytha TorreJuly 9th.
Anne LoweJuly 13th.
Margret TeylorJuly 14th.
Alice ThornleyJuly 16th.
Jane NaylorJuly 16th.
Edytha BarkingeJuly 17th.
Elizabeth ThornleyJuly 17th.
Jane TalbotJuly 17th.
Robert WhyteleyJuly 18th.
Catherine TalbotJuly 18th.
Thomas HealdJuly 18th.
Robert TorreJuly 18th.
George ShortJuly 18th.
Thomas AsheJuly 18th.
William ThornleyJuly 19th.
Francis WoodJuly 22nd.
Thomas ThorpeJuly 22nd.
Robert ThorpeJuly 22nd.
Robert TalbotJuly 24th.
Joan NealorJuly 25th.
Thomas HealleyJuly 25th.
Richard TalbotJuly 25th.
John NealorJuly 26th.
Joan TalbotJuly 26th.
Ruth TalbotJuly 26th.
Anna ChapmanJuly 26th.
Lydia ChapmanJuly 26th.
Margret AllenJuly 29th.
John TorreJuly 29th.
Samuel EalottJuly 29th.
Rowland MowerJuly 29th.
Thomas BarkingeJuly 30th.
Nicholas WhitbyJuly 30th.
Jonathan TalbotJuly 30th.
Mary WhitbyJuly 30th.
Rowland MowerJuly 30th.
Robert Kempe, Shepherds' FlatJuly 30th.
Sarah EalottJuly 31st.
Joseph AllenJuly 31st.
Ann Mortin, BrettonJuly 31st.

AUGUST, however, was the month in which the pest bared his arm for the most deadly slaughter. Distraction overwhelmed the hourly diminishing villagers; some lay in a death-like stupor, anticipating their doom; others ran about the streets in a state of madness, until they suddenly dropped down dead. From every house that was not empty, loud and dismal cries issued forth, mixed with violent exclamations of pain; and, as Ossian sings, “the groan of the people spread over the hills”. The swellings in the neck and groin of the patient became insufferable when they would not burst, and the torment was unspeakably excruciating. All now expected death; no one cherished a hope of escape; and a mournful gloom settled on the features of the few who ventured to pace the lonely street. Those who fetched the victuals and other articles from the stated places, were marked on the brow by sullen despair; and even

The very children had imbibed a look
Of such unutterable woe, as told
A tale of sorrows indescribable”.

As this fatal month advanced, the mortality increased with inconceivable violence. The wakes,or feast came on again, but alas! alas! how awful the change! The remaining few thought not of their wonted joy; they breathed not its name, for all their thoughts were full of death! The festive Sunday passed away, with all the stillness of the grave; none watched for the arrival of relations and friends; no village choristers assembled at the Church; nor did the cheerful bells call aloud to the hills to be merry and glad. Nearly all who had danced upon the village-green at the last anniversary of this, till then, happy time, were now laid, uncoffined, in their graves.

Towards the latter end of August, near four-fifths of the inhabitants had been swept away. Mompesson, during the whole time, unremittingly went from house to house, comforting, as much as possible, his dying flock. He, however, was an “ailing man”, and had an issue in his leg. One day his beloved wife observed a green ichor issuing from the wound, which she conceived to be the result of his having taken the distemper, and its having found vent that way. Great was her joy on this occasion; and although Mompesson thought she was mistaken, yet he, as we shall see in his letter to his children, fully and duly appreciated her extreme anxiety for his welfare. This admirable and worthy man was now destined to drink deep of the sickening cup which had been passing round the village. Catherine, his beloved partner, had for some time shown symptoms of pulmonary consumption. She is represented to have been exceedingly beautiful, though very delicate. There is a very current tradition in the village, that on, or a little before the twenty-second of August, 1666, Mompesson and his wife were walking arm-in-arm in the fields adjoining the Rectory, as had been their custom in the morning during some months in the spring, hoping that the air would restore her to convalescence. During this walk she had been dwelling on her usual theme - their absent children, when, just as they were leaving the last field for their habitation, she suddenly exclaimed: “Oh! Mompesson! the air! how sweet it smells!”[11] These words went through the very soul of Mompesson, and his heart sank within him. He made some evasive reply, and they entered their dwelling. The lapse of a few hours confirmed his fearful anticipation from her remark in the fields : she had taken the distemper.

Mompesson seemed for awhile unable to stand the terrible shock; he stood at her bedside a statue of despair. He, however, after the first paroxysm of grief was past, began with a fortitude unexampled, to use every means imaginable to arrest the progress of the disease. Cordials and chemical antidotes were administered by his own hand; but alas! in vain. She struggled with the invincible pest for a few days, when her spirit took its flight to the regions of bliss. Mompesson cast himself beside her putrid corpse; and in the agony of despair bathed her cold and pallid face with burning tears. The domestics came and led him faltering away; yet, ere he left the room he turned, and, sobbing, cried “Farewell! farewell! all happy days!” He repaired to his closet, and on his bended knees lifted up his voice to heaven; while

“One lightning-winged cry
Shot through the hamlet; and a wailing grew,
Wilder than when the plague-fiend first drew nigh,
One troublous hour, - and from all quarters fly
The wretched remnant, who had ceased to weep;
But sorrow, which had drained their bosoms dry,
Found yet fresh fountains in the spirit deep,
Wringing out burning tears that loved one's couch to steep”.

She, who a few days past had been so lovely and beautiful, was now a livid corpse; she, who had been the object of every attention, now lay lone and still, guarded from every eye by dreadful apprehension.

“Ah! then Mompesson felt
What human tongue nor poet's pen must feign-
Quick to the grave the kindred earth was given
With e'en affection's last sad pledge forgone,
The mortal kiss - for round those blighted lips,
Exhaled the lingering spirit of the pest.
As if in triumph o'er all that was once
So lovely and beloved”.

Thus, this lovely and amiable woman fell a victim to the plague, in the twenty-seventh year of her age. Her resolution to abide with her husband in defiance of death, is a striking instance of the strength and purity of female affection. She was interred August the twenty-fifth, 1666, in the Churchyard at Eyam. Over her ashes her loving and truly affectionate husband erected a splendid tomb, which, with its inscription and devices, will be hereafter described.

Great as was the calamity that had visited and was still visiting almost every family in the fated village- terrible as was the devastation of the pestilence in August - yet the very few inhabitants who were left nearly forgot their own sufferings and distress in the death of Mrs. Mompesson. They had witnessed in her worthy husband so much sympathy and benevolence, so much attention and humane feeling, that they regarded him as their counsellor, physician and friend; and hence their participation in his sorrow for the loss of his lovely and amiable wife. The trying situation, the lacerated feelings of this incomparable man, will be best shown by the two following letters, written with his own hand, a few days after the interment of his affectionate spouse.

To his dear children he thus announces the death of their mother:-

“To my dear children, George and Elizabeth Mompesson, these present with my blessing”.

Eyam, August 31 1666

“DEAR HEARTS, - This brings you the doleful news of your dear mother's death - the greatest loss which ever befel you! I am not only deprived of a kind and loving comfort, but you also are bereaved of the most indulgent mother that ever dear children had. But we must comfort ourselves in God with this consideration, that the loss is only ours, and that what is our sorrow is her gain. The consideration of her joys, which I do assure myself are unutterable, should refresh our drooping spirits.

“My dear hearts, your blessed mother lived a most holy life, and made a most comfortable and happy end, and is now invested with a crown of righteousness. I think it may be useful to you to have a narrative of your dear mother's virtues, that the knowledge thereof may teach you to imitate her excellent qualities . In the first place, let me recommend to you her piety and devotion, which were according to the exact principles of the Church of England. In the next place, I can assure you, she was composed of modesty and humility, which virtues did possess her dear soul in a most extraordinary manner. Her discourse was ever grave and meek, yet pleasant withal; a vaunting, immodesword was never heard to come from her mouth. Again, I can set out in her two other virtues i.e. charity and frugality. She never valued anything she had, when the necessities of a poor neighbour required it; but had a bountiful heart to all indigent and distressed persons. And, again, she was never lavish, but commendably frugal. She never liked tattling women, and abhorred the custom of going from house to house, thus wastefully spending precious time. She was ever busied in useful work, yet, though prudent, she was affable and kind. She avoided those whose company could not benefit her, and would not unbosom herself to such, still she dismissed them with civility. I could tell you of her many other excellent virtues. I do believe, my dear hearts, upon sufficient grounds that she was the kindest wife in the world, and think, from my soul, that she loved me ten times better than herself; for she not only resisted my entreaties that she would fly with you, dear children, from this place of death; but some few days before it pleased God to visit my house, she perceived a green matter to come from the issue in my leg, which she fancied a symptom that the distemper had found vent that way, whence she assured herself that I was past the malignity of the disorder, whereat she rejoiced exceedingly, not considering her own danger thereby. I think, however, that she was mistaken in the nature of the discharge she saw: certainly it was the salve that made it look so green; yet her rejoicing on that account was a strong testimony of her love to me: for I am clear that she cared not (if I were safe) though her own dear self was in ever so much pain and jeopardy.

“Further, I can assure you, my sweet babes, that her love to you was little inferior than to me; since why should she so ardently desire my continuance in this world of sorrows, but that you might have the protection and comfort of my life? You little imagine with what delight she talked of you both, and the pains she took when you sucked the milk from her breasts. She gave strong testimony of her love for you when she lay on her death-bed. A few hours before she expired I wished her to take some cordials which she told me plainly she could not take. I entreated she would attempt for your dear sakes. At the mention of your names, she with difficulty lifted up her head and took them; which was to let me understand that whilst she had any strength left she would embrace any opportunity she had of testifying her affection to you.

“Now I will give you an exact account of the manner of her death. For some time she had shown symptoms of a consumption, and was wasted thereby. Being surrounded by infected families, she doubtless got the infection from them; and her natural strength being impaired, she could not struggle with the disease, which made her illness so very short. She showed much contrition for the errors of her past life, and often cried out, “One drop of my Saviour's blood to save my soul!” At the beginning of her sickness she entreated me not to come near her, lest I should receive harm thereby; but, thank God, I did not desert her, but stood to my resolution not to leave her in sickness, who had been so tender a nurse to me in her health. Blessed be God, that He enabled me to be so helpful and consoling to her, for which she was not a little thankful. During her illness she was not disturbed by worldly business - she only minded making her calling and election sure; and she asked pardon of her maid for having sometimes given her an angry word. I gave her some sweating antidotes, which rather inflamed her more, whereupon her dear head was distempered, which put her upon many incoherencies. I was troubled thereat, and propounded to her questions in divinity; as by whom and on what account she expected salvation, and what assurances she had of the certainty thereof. Though in all other things she talked at random, yet to these religious questions she gave me as rational answers as could be desired. And at these times I bade her repeat after me certain prayers and ejaculations, which she did with great devotion, - it gave me comfort that God was so gracious to her.

“A little before her dear soul departed (I was gone to bed) she sent for me to pray with her. I got up and went to her, and asked her how she did. The answer was, that she was looking when the good hour should come. Thereupon I prayed, and she made her responses from the Common Prayer Book, as perfectly as in her health, and an “Amen” to every pathetic expression. When we had ended the prayers for the sick, we used those from the Whole duty of Man! and when I heard her say nothing, I said“,My dear, dost thou mind?” She answered, “Yes”, and it was the last word she spoke.

“My dear babes, the reading of this account will cause many a salt tear to spring from your eyes; yet let this comfort you, - your mother is a saint in heaven. I could have told you of many more of your dear mother's excellent virtues; but I hope that you will not in the least question my testimony, if in a few words I tell you that she was pious and upright in her demeanour and conversation.

“Now to that blessed God, who bestowed upon her all those graces be ascribed all honour, glory and dominion, the just tribute of all created beings, for evermore. - Amen!”


Is there not in this truly pathetic letter, the visible manifestation of a truly Christian spirit - the bright effulgence of a heavenly mind, which ought to command the admiration of succeeding generations to the end of time? On the same melancholy event, the following letter was written by Mompesson, to his friend and patron, Sir George Saville:-

“Eyam, September 1, 1666

“HONOURED AND DEAR SIR, - This is the saddest news that ever my pen could write. The destroying Angel having taken up his quarters within my habitation, my dearest wife is gone to her eternal rest, and is invested with a crown of righteousness, having made a happy end. Indeed had she loved herself as well as me, she had fled from the pit of destruction with the sweet babes, and might have prolonged her days; but she was resolved to die a martyr to my interests. My drooping spirits are much refreshed with her joys, which I think are unutterable.

“Sir, this paper is to bid you a hearty farewell for ever, and to bring you my humble thanks for all your noble favours; and I hope you will believe a dying man, I have as much love as honour for you, and I will bend my feeble knees to the God of Heaven, that you, my dearlady, and your children, may be blessed with external and eternal happiness, and that the same blessing may fall upon Lady Sunderland and her relations.

“Dear Sir, let your dying Chaplain recommend this truth to you and your family, that no happiness or solid comfort can be found in this vale of tears, like living a pious life; and pray ever remember this rule, never do anything upon which you dare not first ask the blessing of God upon the success thereof.

“Sir, I have made bold in my will with your name for executor, and I hope you will not take it ill. I have joined two others with you, who will take from you the trouble. Your favourable aspect, will I know, be a great comfort to my distressed orphans. I am not desirous that they should be great, but good; and my next request is that they be brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

“Sir, I thank God I am contented to shake hands with all the world; and have many comfortable assurances that God will accept me through His Son. I find the goodness of God greater than I ever thought or imagined; and I wish from my soul that it were not so much abused contemned. I desire, Sir, that you will be pleased to 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 what manner I think he may live comfortable amongst his people, which would be some satisfaction to me before I die.

“Dear Sir, I beg the prayers of all about you that I may not be daunted at the powers of hell; and that I may have dying graces; with tears I beg that when you are praying for fatherless orphans, you will remember my two pretty babes.

“Pardon the rude style of this paper, and be pleased to believe that I am, dear Sir, &c”.


“In the whole range of literature”, say William and Mary Howitt, “we know of nothing more pathetic than these letters”; alluding to another, besides these two, dated Eyam, Nov. 20, 1666, which will be found hereafter.

It is singular indeed, that Mompesson enjoyed such remarkably good health during the whole time of the calamitous visitation; he, in the language of the poet,

“Drew like Marseilles' good bishop, purer breath,
When Nature sickened, and each gale was death”.

From house to house he went and prayed with the dying victims:-

“Beside the bed where parting life was laid,
And sorrow, guilt, pain, by turns dismayed,
The reverend champion stood”.

The Plague: August 1665 - October 1666

From the interment of Mrs. Mompesson (August the twenty-fifth) to the end of the month, although four-fifths of the population were swept away, the pestilence raged with unabated fury. On the twenty-sixth of this terrible month, Marshall Howe, who had been daily employed in hurrying the dead to their unhallowed graves, was doomed to experience a loss equal, in his own estimation, to that of his pastor. Joan, his wife, who had often remonstrated with him to desist from his perilous avocation, was seized with the distemper: and the virulence of the attack threatened almost immediate dissolution. Though he had been, for full two months, moving in the whirlwind of death, yet up to this time he had deemed himself invulnerable to the pest; but the infection of his wife brought conviction to his mind that he had been the means of bringing the disease across his own threshold; and he wept bitterly. The direful symptom appeared on the sun-browned bosom of his beloved Joan; and early on the morning of the twenty-seventh, she breathed her last. Marshall wept aloud over the stiffening limbs; but ere the sun had tipped with gold the orient hills of Eyam, he had wound her up, and carried her in his brawny arms to a neighbouring field, where he dug a grave and buried her silently therein. A sullen sadness overspread his mien, while over her remains he patted the earth with an unusual and unconscious circumspection. Filled with gloomy sensations he returned to his home, but alas! there he found his only son William, struggling with the pest. Despair “whirled his brain to madness”; he cast himself on a couch and uttered doleful lamentations. William, his beloved son, who had inherited something of his father's iron constitution, wrestled with the horrid and deadly disease until the morning of the third day of his sickness, when he yielded to his direful and mortal antagonist. His disconsolate father bore his warm but lifeless corpse to the grave of his wife, beside which he buried it, while floods of tears bespoke his inconceivable agony. Marshall Howe, however, continued his unenviable office; but the recklessness and levity with which he had exhibited were no longer observable after the bereavement of his wife and son. The terrified and fast dwindling villagers were no longer startled, when he returned from the interment of a victim in the Cussy-dell, by the following observations, which on these occasions he sometimes made:- “Ah! I saw Old Nick grinning on the ivied rock as I dragged such-a-one along the dell!” Marshall Howe was buried April 20th, 1698.

The sixth, twenty-sixth, and the last day of August, were the only days in that awful month, on which no one died: while the whole number who perished in the other twenty-eight days was seventy-seven. This number of deaths must be considered really appalling, especially when it is taken into estimation that the population of the village on the first of August was considerably under two hundred. The havoc in this month was dreadful beyond all description. The houses eastward, from the middle of the village, were nearly all empty. The inhabitants of the extreme western part of the village, who were at that time very few, shut themselves close up in their houses; nor would they, on any occasion whatever, cross a small rivulet eastward, which runs under the street in that part of Eyam. That portion of the street which crosses this small stream is called to this day “Fiddler's Bridge”; and it is very commonly asserted that the plague never crossed it westward. This assertion is not correct; but as there were but very few inhabitants in that direction, not many deaths could occur. Indeed, those who fled at the breaking out of the disease, were principally, if not exclusively, inhabitants of that part, and consequently, there would be but few left. One man, however, is said to have taken the distemper by intending to visit his sister, a widow, who dwelt in the Lydgate, or to the eastern part of Eyam, whom he found dead and her habitation empty. Thus, like leaves in Autumn, fell the villagers of Eyam, in that terrible and fatal month, August 1666.

(Names and dates of persons buried)

George AsheAug. 1st.
Mary NealorAug. 1st.
John HadfieldAug. 2nd.
Robert BuntonAug. 2nd.
Ann NaylorAug. 2nd.
Jonathan NaylorAug. 2nd.
Elizabeth GloverAug. 2nd.
Alexander HadfieldAug. 3rd.
Jane NealorAug. 3rd.
Godfrey TorreAug. 3rd.
John Hancock, jun.Aug. 3rd.
Elizabeth HancockAug. 3rd.
Margaret BuxtonAug. 3rd.
Robert BarkingeAug. 3rd.
Margaret PercivalAug. 4th.
Annie SwinnertonAug. 4th.
Rebecca Mortin, Shepherds' FlatAug. 4th.
Robert FrenchAug. 6th.
Richard ThorpeAug. 6th.
Thomas FrithAug. 6th.
John YealotAug. 7th.
Oner HancockAug. 7th.
John HancockAug. 7th.
William HancockAug. 7th.
Abraham SwinnertonAug. 8th.
Alice HancockAug. 9th.
Ann HancockAug. 10th.
Francis FrithAug. 10th.
Elizabeth KempAug. 11th.
William HawksworthAug. 12th.
Thomas KempeAug. 12th.
Francis BockingAug. 13th.
Richard BockingAug. 13th.
Mary BockingAug. 13th.
John TricketAug. 13th.
Ann Tricket (his wife)Aug. 13th.
Mary WhitbeyAug. 13th.
Sarah Blackwall, BrettonAug. 13th.
Briget NaylorAug. 13th.
Robert HadfieldAug. 14th.
Margaret SwinnertonAug. 14th.
Alice CoyleAug. 14th.
Thurston WhitbeyAug. 15th.
Alice BockingAug. 15th.
Briget TalbotAug. 15th.
Michael KempeAug. 15th.
Ann WilsonAug. 15th.
Thomas BilstonAug. 16th.
Thomas FrithAug. 17th.
Joan FrenchAug. 17th.
Mary YealotAug. 17th.
Sarah Mortin, Shepherds' FlatAug. 18th.
Elizabeth FrithAug. 18th.
Ann YealotAug. 18th.
Thomas RaggeAug. 18th.
Ann HalksworthAug. 19th.
Joan AshmoreAug. 19th.
Elizabeth FrithAug. 20th.
Margaret MortinAug. 20th.
Ann RowlandAug. 20th.
Joan BuxtonAug. 20th.
Frances FrithAug. 21st.
Ruth MortinAug. 21st.
___ Frith (an infant)Aug. 22nd.
Lydia KempeAug. 22nd.
Peter Hall, Bretton.Aug. 23rd.
___ Mortin (an infant)Aug. 24th.
Catherine MompessonAug. 25th.
Samuel ChapmanAug. 25th.
Ann FrithAug. 25th.
Joan HoweAug. 27th.
Thomas AshmoreAug. 27th.
Thomas WoodAug. 28th.
William HoweAug. 30th.
Mary AbellAug. 30th.
Catherine Talbot[12]Aug. 30th.
Francis WilsonAug. 30th.

SEPTEMBER came with little abatement of the destructiveness of the horrid malady. A dreamy stillness reigned around the nearly desolate village; it was canopied by a dark and deepening gloom, which fancy might imagine to have been formed by the incessant accumulation of sorrowful respirations. The last day of September was one of the few days during that month unattended by death. Although the inhabitants, at the beginning of September, were reduced to a very few, still the insatiated pest carried away, as hereafter shown, twenty-four during that month.

(Names of victims and dates of interment)

Elizabeth FrithSept. 1st.
William PercivalSept. 1st.
Robert TrickettSept. 2nd.
Henry FrithSept. 3rd.
John WilsonSept. 4th.
Mary DarbySept. 4th.
William AbellSept. 7th.
George FrithSept. 7th.
Godfrey AsheSept. 8th.
William HalksworthSept. 9th.
Robert WoodSept. 9th.
Humphrey MerrilSept. 9th.
Sarah WilsonSept. 10th.
Thomas MozleySept. 16th.
Joan WoodSept. 16th.
Mary PercivalSept. 18th.
Francis MortinSept. 20th.
George ButterworthSept. 21st.
Ann Townsend, BrettonSept. 22nd.
Ann GloverSept. 23rd.
Ann HallSept. 23rd.
Francis Halksworth[13]Sept. 23rd.
___ Townsend (an infant)Sept. 29th.
Susanna MortinSept. 29th.

OCTOBER came, the month in which the plague ceased; yet, up to the eleventh, it still carried on the work of destruction, with but little relaxation of fury. On the eleventh of October, 1666, this awful minister of death, after having from the first day of the same month destroyed fourteen out of about forty-five - and having carried away full five-sixths of the inhabitants of the village - was exhausted with excessive slaughter, and in its last conflict, worsted and destroyed.

(Names of those who died, the dates of their burial are only partly given)

James ParsleyOct. 1st.
Grace MortinOct. 2nd.
Peter AsheOct. 4th.
Abram MortinOct. 5th.
Thomas TorreOct __
Benjamin MortinOct __
Elizabeth MortinOct __
Alice TeylorOct __
Ann ParsleyOct __
Agnes SheldonOct __
Mary MortinOct __
Samuel HallOct __
Peter HallOct __
Joseph MortinOct __

The winter which succeeded the cessation of the pestilence, was, by the very few who were left, wholly spent in burning the furniture of the pest-houses, and likewise nearly all the bedding and clothing found in the village: reserving scarcely anything to cover their nakedness. The necessary articles of apparel were fumigated and purified; and every means that could be suggested were taken to prevent the resurrection of the horrid pest. But, the awful dread of this deadly monster, the condition of the village at the termination of its ravages, will be best shown by giving, after the following letter of Mompesson, a few very popular and authentic traditions of that unspeakable and agonizing time.

“To John Beilby, Esq.,____, Yorkshire.

“Eyam, Nov. 20 1666

“DEAR SIR, - I suppose this letter will seem to you no less than a miracle, that my habitation is inter vivos. I have got these lines transcribed by a friend, being loth to affright you with a letter from my hands. You are sensible of my state, the loss of the kindest wife in the world, whose life was amiable, and end most comfortable.She was in an excellent posture when death came, which fills me with assurance that she is now invested with a crown of righteousness. I find this maxim verified by too sad experience: Bonum magis carendo quam fruendo cernitur. Had I been as thankful as my condition did deserve, I might have had my dearest dear in my bosom. But now farewell all happy days, and God grant that I may repent my sad ingratitude!

“The condition of the place has been so sad, that I persuade myself that it did exceed all history and example. Our town has become a Golgotha, the place of a skull: and had there not been a small remnant left, we had been as Sodom, and like to Gomorrah. My ears never heard such doleful lamentations - my nose never smelled such horrid smells, and my eyes never beheld such ghastly spectacles. There have been 76 families visited within my parish, out of which 259 persons died. Now (blessed be God) all our fears are over, for none have died of the plague since the eleventh of October, and the pest houses have been long empty. I intend (God willing) to spend this week in seeing all woollen clothes fumed and purified, as well for the satisfaction as for the safety of the country. Here have been such burning of goods that the like, I think, was never known. For my part, I have scarcely apparel to shelter my body, having wasted more than I needed merely for example.During this dreadful visitation, I have not had the least symptom of disease, nor had I ever better health. My man had the distemper, and upon the appearance of a tumour I gave him some chemical antidotes, which operated, and after the rising broke, he was very well. My maid continued in health, which was a blessing; for had she quailed, I should have been ill set to have washed and gotten my provisions. I know I have had your prayers; and I conclude that the prayers of good people have rescued me from the jaws of death. Certainly I had been in the dust had not Omnipotence itself been conquered by holy violence.

“I have largely tasted of the goodness of the Creator, and the grim looks of death did never yet affright me. I always had a firm faith that my babes would do well, which made me willing to shake hands with the unkind, froward world; yet I shall esteem it a mercy if I am frustrated in the hopes I had of a translation to a better place, and God grant that with patience I may wait for my change, and that I may make a right use of His mercies; as the one has been tart, so the other hath been sweet and comfortable.

“I perceive by a letter from Mr. Newby, of your concern for my welfare. I make no question but I have your unfeigned love and affection. I assure you that during my troubles you have had a great deal of room in my thoughts. Be pleased, dear Sir, to accept the presentments of my kind respects, and impart them to your good wife and all my dear relations. I can assure you that a line from your hand will be welcome to your sorrowful and affectionate nephew”.


Thus wrote this affectionate spirit - thus he describes the sufferings of his flock, which sufferings, however, will be further and more fully detailed in the following section:


[1] From the second of these extracts it is evident that Raffe Dawson brought the infection, which carried off the whole family in so short a time, from London to Bradley, a distance of about 170 miles. The distance from London to Eyam is 150 miles.
[2] The “Bow Stones”, Cheshire, and it said, somewhere not far distant from Disley, are stated to be memorials of some persons who died of the plague and were buried there. Of this I can learn nothing satisfactory; the indefatigable Dugdale is silent respecting them, or the circumstances which they are said to commemorate, although he mentions minutely the pestilential death of the Dawson family, Bradley, in the same county.
[3] The Wakes or Feast was then held when it ought to be, the first Sunday after the 18th of August, St. Helen's Day. The time of holding the annual festival, or wakes, was changed to the last Sunday in August above a century ago. The cause of this change was the harvest.
[4] This memorable dwelling was occupied some years ago by a Mr. Adam Holms, who was living in Eyam when this history was written. One one occasion Holms was examining a flue or chimney in the old kitchen, when to his astonishment he drew from a small aperture in the chimney a pair of old leathern stays of antique fashion. It was immediately conjectured that the stays had been concealed there at the time Mompesson required all the clothing of the village to be burned; and that they might, therefore, contain some invisible seeds of the dreadful pest. Holms, although he had been an active soldier during the whole of the last war with France, had, as one of the British infantry, sustained with undaunted courage the fierce and terrible charges of Napoleon's cavalry at Waterloo, where he lost his leg, felt his heart sink within him as he held in his hand these relics of female vestment. The stays were buried with hurried precipitation.
[5] A headstone to the memory of Abell Rowland stands near the Chancel door of the Church.
[6] A stone has now been erected in Eyam Churchyard to the memory of the Rev. Thomas Stanley This was done at the insistence of the Rev. H.J. Longsdon, late Rector.
[7] The Rev. Shoreland Adams was suspended as Rector of Eyam in 1644; he regained his living in 1662.
[8] Gabriel-hounds are believed to be the spirits of unbaptized infants which are destined to hover about in the air, and by a faint dog-like howling announce the death of individuals of their respective families.
[9] An ancestor of Abraham and William Cooper, farmers now residing in Eyam, brought bread to Eyam from Hazleford, during the plague. It was left on a certain stone on the top of “Wet Withins”, on Eyam Moor. Another person from the neighbourhood of Little Common, a few miles west of Sheffield, brought articles of food (bread principally) on this calamitous occasion.
[10] Cucklett or Cuckletts is the name of certain fields or plots of land west of the rock or arch where Mompesson preached; the name is said to be a corruption of the words Cook's Lot - that is, land that once belonged to a family named Cook.
[11] There is a current tradition in the little hamlet of Curbar (two miles south-east of Eyam), that when the plague raged there in 1632, a woman named Sheldon, on leaving a house where some person was suffering of the plague, said to her husband who was accompanying her home, “Oh! my dear, how sweet the air smells!” She took the distemper and died. This sensation and exclamation, compared with Mrs. Mompesson's, afford a most striking coincidence.
[12] Of the Talbot family thirteen died.
[13] The Halksworths lived in the next house to that where the plague broke out. The third person who died of the plague was a Peter Halksworth.

This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in April/May 1999.

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