The Village of Eyam in Derbyshire was struck down by a terrible plague that devastated the village.
This is the story of the Eyam plague and how the story unfolded..
On the 1st November 1666 farm worker Abraham Morten gasped his final breath. Abraham was the last of 260 people to die from plague in the remote Derbyshire village of Eyam.
Their fate had been sealed four months earlier. The entire village of Eyam quarantined itself in an heroic attempt to halt the spread of the Great Plague.
Abraham Morten was in his late 20s when he died. He was one of 18 Morten’s listed as plague victims on the parish register.
But the story of the plague in Eyam Village had begun 14 months earlier. A bale of cloth was sent to Eyam from London, where the disease had already killed thousands of inhabitants.
The bale of cloth was sent from London to Alexander Hadfield the village tailor.
Contained in the bale of damp cloth were fleas carrying the deadly plague..
THE SAD TALE OF GEORGE VICCARS
A tailor’s assistant called George Viccars was said to have opened the up bale of cloth. He noticed it was damp, and hung the cloth in front of the hearth to dry. This unwittingly ended up stirring the disease-ridden fleas contained within the parcel.
George wasn’t even a permanent resident of the village. He was visiting Eyam to help make clothes for Wakes Week (a religious festival). Sadly George wasn’t to leave the village.
Before long George Viccars was dead, becoming the first of the plague’s victims in the village of Eyam.
Other members of the household also immediately started to become very ill.
The deadly plague then began sweeping through the whole village at a rapid rate. Between September and December of 1665, 42 villagers had been killed by it.
RECTOR WILLIAM MOMPESSON
As the spring of 1666 arrived the villagers were on the verge of fleeing Eyam to save their own lives. Before they could flee, their newly appointed rector William Mompesson stepped in to make a historic decision
Mompesson saw the nearby towns of Bakewell and Sheffield were at immediate risk of the plague reaching there from Eyam. He decided that the village should self quarantine.
Getting the villagers to commit to such a quarantine, sacrificing their own lives however was not going to be easy. Mompesson was already a very unpopular person within the Eyam community.
William Mompesson had been sent to Eyam in April 1664 following the removal of the previous rector, Thomas Stanley.
Thomas Stanley had refused to acknowledge the 1662 Act of Uniformity. This act made it compulsory to use the Book of Common Prayer. The book was introduced by Charles II, for use in religious services.
Stanley, along with the majority of people in the village of Eyam, had been supporters of Oliver Cromwell.
Mompesson, realising he would need help convincing the villagers, decided to reach out to the former village rector Thomas Stanley.
It was Mompesson’s hope that Stanley could help persuade the villagers to carry out his plan to quarantine the village.
Stanley was living in exile on the edge of the village. He’d been effectively kicked out. However the parishioners didn’t like, or trust, their new rector William Mompesson. It would take Stanley to talk them into discussing the plan.
Remarkably, the villagers agreed to meet and the plan they devised was an incredible one.