Traveller's tales

Monday, June 19, 2006

Black death in Derbyshire

The roses of Eyam: the delivery of death to a Derbyshire village

A parcel of clothing from London delivered to a draper in the sleepy village of Eyam in 1665 was the source of an epidemic that killed many people in the village. Only the heroic and farsighted efforts of the vicar, Rev. Charles Mompesson, whose wife died, prevented the plague from spreading to other nearby villages in the north. He encouraged the villagers to stay in the village, and left money for food brought from neighbouring villages and farms by leaving coins on a stone beneath the surface of the water in what has since become known as Mompesson’s Well.

Further south, in London, the ‘black death’ –a form of bubonic plague, and spread by rats, decimated the population of the capital. Only the Great Fire of London ended the reign of the deadly disease.

In Eyam, the people weren’t so fortunate; five out of six people in the village died from the plague. Today, the Riley Graves mark the spot where the members of the Riley family, most of which were infants, were buried.

It is claimed that a well known nursery rhyme depicts the tragedy. You will probably know the rhyming lines that follow, but are you aware of their meaning betraying their origins?

Ring a ring a roses - It was said that the first signs of the plague were sores (roses) around the neck.
A pocketful of posies - Apparently, a faint smell of perfume accompanied these first signs.
Atishoo – atishoo - Self explanatory, the victim sneezes or displays the signs of being ill.
We all fall down! - The victim falls down and dies.

Every year, on the last Sunday in August, the villagers of Eyam commemorate the courage of Rev. Mompesson’s and his parishioners in an open-air ceremony.

Today, the village of Eyam hides its dark past; its inhabitants are cheerful and welcome the many visitors who take the little turn off through a small gap in the sheer limestone walls of a nearby dale. It is worth remembering that had these villagers not obeyed the request of their vicar, the population of the north of England might have been decimated, as happened in the squalor of the city of London.
Robert L. Fielding


Blogger Les said...

Eyam is a captivating, if somehow macabre place. I walk there at least once, often more, each year. I have never been to the open air service at the end of August, but have visited the Riley graves, plague cottages and boundary stone, where the money was left in vinegar to kill the germs so the suppliers of bread etc could leave their wares, and take the money in safety. Eyam takes on a totally different air at Christmas, and is full of joy, wassailing and carols - oh, and a nice line in mulled wine at the hall!

11:41 AM  

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