The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999


The scenery of Eyam has but few parallels; it is highly varied and picturesque. In the eastern part of the village the cottages are generally mantled with ivy, adorned with fruit trees and shaded by wide-spreading sycamores.

In some parts, the cottages are grotesquely clustered together; in other parts, they stand singly, flanked with bee-hives.

This rural and highly romantic picture is greatly heightened by the grey tower of the Church, which picturesquely overtops this part of the village, rising from the centre of a circle of beautiful linden trees, which encompass the Churchyard like giant sentinels, guarding the sacred precincts of the silent dead.

Amidst these homely cottages there are some mansions of excellent structure, which, for elegance and number, far excel those of many other villages in Derbyshire.

Northward of the village, a mountain range, nearly six hundred feet high, crowned with plantations of rising trees, runs parallel with the village. This lofty range is to the village an impenetrable screen, to ward off the biting, boreal blasts; the habitations lying, as it were, beneath its sheltering height. in peaceful, calm repose. How beautiful the prospect from this lofty eminence! Thence the eye may behold-

“Ancient hamlets, nestling far below,
And many a wild-wood walk, where childhood's footsteps go”.

A little further north, nearly in the centre of the parish, rises Sir William - the Parnassus of the Peak; a mountain of great altitude and honoured by numberless classical associations. From the summit of the Prince of Derbyshire hills, the eye extends over countless hills and luxuriant dales. Masson, Axe-edge, Mam Tor, Kinder-scout and Stanage lift up their hoary heads and tell, in language stronger than words, of a companionship of ages. How rapturous must be the feelings of the tourist who ascends the peak of this mountain and beholds on every hand the visible handmarks of nature! How joyous his sensations to perceive, in such goodly profusion, the original traces of the finger of God!

A little to the east of Eyam is Riley, or the Hill of Graves - a noble and pleasing feature in the romantic character of the village. Rising on high, with its steepy wood-clad slope, it gives to the village a richly picturesque appearance. The varied and indescribable scenery in this direction is bounded on the one hand by the sable rocks of Curbar, and the singularly built village of Stoney Middleton; of which a third part is included in the township and parish of Eyam.

On the south side of the village, two dells branch parallel with each other into Middleton Dale. One provincially called the Delf, or Delve (a corruption of dell) is a most secluded and beautiful place. It has all the natural beauty and seclusion of the Valley of Rasselas. Hanging Tors, pensile cliffs, Cucklet Church, shadowy trees, blooming flowers, a winding rill, tuneful birds, are only a few of the rural charms of the incomparable dell:

“By nature destined from the birth of things
For quietness profound”.

At the western extremity of this lonely retreat is an extensive chasm, or cleft, known by the undignified appellation - Salt Pan; it extends throughout the whole mass of limestone rock, and the projections on the one side, and indentations on the other, seemingly indicate that this vast mass of rock was rent asunder by some mighty convulsion of nature in some distant age of the world. A small stream issues from the mouth of the chasm and winds its way amongst beds of moss, fern and flowers. Who, indeed, could sit musing over the purling stream in this chasm and not fancy himself in the Egerian Grotto? Ah!-

“This cave was surely shaped out for the greeting
Of an enamoured Goddess, and the cell
Haunted by holy love - the earliest oracle”.

The other dell, known as Eyam Dale, is rich in rural scenery. One one side it is bounded by grey towering rocks, crested with ivy and other foliage. Some few of these rocks, however, are naked, exhibiting a sort of grimness that forms a pleasing contrast.

The other side of the dell is covered with rising wood, amongst which there are numerous rising paths, that lead to a place called the “Rock Garden”, where for ages the lovers of Eyam have breathed “the tender tale”.

A dancing rill winds through the dell, murmuring most musically to the lonely ear. This dell, and, in fact, the whole village, may be said to be another Anathoth; a place of responses or echoes. Such is a portion of the very imperfectly described scenery of this secluded village, which has frequently been noticed to be the best specimen of an old English village once (not exactly now) to be met with.

The varied and romantic scenery of this place, as may be expected, has distinguished the inhabitants by a character peculiarly antique. Before the present century, the villagers of Eyam exhibited all the characteristics so observable in the inhabitants of mountainous districts. Even now a notion prevails of keeping themselves distinct by inter-marriages. They are exceedingly tenacious of the preservation of their genealogies: a consequence of inhabiting one place or locality for successive generations. Hence their strict observance of very ancient customs; hence their adherence to hereditary prejudices; hence their numerous legends handed down from time immemorial; and hence that unity of interest for which they have been so singularly distinguished in times past.

“Mortals attached to regions mountainous
Like their own steadfast clouds”.

A change in the system of mining operations, fresh employment, and novel avocations, are fast changing the aspect and character of the place. It, however, still retains a few endearing marks of the old English village: a few old pastimes fondly kept, a smattering of happy harvest scenes and the holy welcome of the Sabbath morn. These still remain to call up a thousand recollections of what are pertinaciously considered by many to have been far happier times.


This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in May 1999.

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