The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1842)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2012


If it be possible to be in love with death, it certainly must be while gazing on the daisy-clad graves of this lovely, green church-yard. Ah! 'tis here,

_____ the dead returns to dust,
In Nature's own befitting way;
Earth o'er them throws a mantling robe,
Of flowers both sweet and gay.

The towering, leafy, linden trees, which encompass this church-yard, have often and invariably called forth the admiration of strangers. They were planted at the suggestion or wish of one of the ancestors of John Wright, Esq., Eyam, - his grandfather, I believe. They have, however, been deemed a nuisance, and one half have been felled about two years ago, to the great regret of the parishioners in general. Notwithstanding this affectionate regard, it must be admitted that the lopping down of every other has greatly improved the church as a striking feature in the landscape, besides adding to the airiness and lightsomeness of the church-yard.

Amongst the prominent and generally interesting objects of this place of village sepulture is, the tomb of Mrs. Mompesson,

"Where tears have rained, nor yet shall cease to flow." 

Ah! I what numbers have I seen bending over this hallowed tomb, chained as it were to the spot, by emotions the most intense and overwhelming. O! what a glorious and convincing evidence is this of the immortal sympathy which exists in the souls of beings created in the image of God, and destined to live eternally after death.

The inscription on the top of the tomb is in Latin - the following is a translation:- "Catherine, wife of William Mompesson, Rector of this church, daughter of Ralph Carr, Esq., late of Cocken, in the county of Durham. She was buried on the 25th day of August, 1666! Take heed for ye know not the hour". On one end of the tomb is an hour glass, between two expanded wings, intended to represent the rapid night of time; underneath, on an oblong tablet. "Cave" is inscribed; and nearer the base appears the words Nescites Horam. On the other end of the tomb is a death's head, resting on a plain projecting tablet, below which are the words Mihi lucrum, nearly obliterated. At the comers of the tomb are four rude stone pillars; and at the east end a yew tree has been planted by the present Rector, the Rev. E.B. Bagshaw.

Opposite the chancel door, and very near the tomb of Mrs. Mompesson, is the old stone cross, which has found a place in the sketch books of numberless visitors and admirers. It is about eight feet high, although about a foot of the shaft is broken and lost. A variety of figures and designs are embossed thereon, with a many singular symbolical devices. What are said to be Runic and Scandinavian knots, liberally adorn its sides. No cross, perhaps, in England, is more richly embellished. It would be difficult, amongst so many conflicting opinions on the subject, to say anything correct respecting the origin of crosses. Some give them a Danish and some a Saxon origin: they are, most probably, no older than the time of the Crusades. Rhodes, in the Peak Scenery, states that the top part of this cross lay in the church-yard, covered with docks and thistles, when Howard, the philanthropist, was at Eyam; and that he caused it to be placed on the dilapidated shaft. This is a mistake. The top part may have been some time from its proper place, but it was before Howard's time. This venerable relic of antiquity was, a few years since, raised up and placed upon a kind of pedestal for its better preservation and appearance.

This church-yard has often and justly been styled poetic ground; "scarcely a stone but has its distich commemorative of me virtues of the deceased, and the sorrows of surviving relatives". Near the tomb of Mrs. Mompesson, and close by the chancel door, there is an humble upright stone, with the following quaint inscription:-

Here lieth the body of Ann Sellars,
Buried by this stone - who
Died on Jan. 15th day, 1731.
Likewise here lise dear Isaac
Sellars, my husband and my right,
Who was buried on that same day come
Seven years, 1738. In seven years
Time there come a change -
Observe and here you'll see,
On that same day come
Seven years my husband's
Laid by me.

Numberless are the stones in this burial place that contain the offerings of the muse of the Rev. R. Cunningham,[†] curate of Eyam church from 1772 to 1790. Close adjoining the south side of the steeple, or tower, is the burial place of the Sheldons, Eyam, the maternal ancestors of Thomas Fentem, Esq., surgeon, of Eyam Terrace. Their tombs, under which is the vault, are paled off with metal palisading - very neatly. Affixed to the tower, just over the tombs, is a stone, containing the following lines, partly from Shakespere's Cymbeline:-

"Elizth. Laugher, Ob. Feb. 4th, 1741, Æt. 24.
 Fear no more the heat o' th' sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages.
I weep thee now, but I too must,
Here end with thee and turn to dust;
In Christ may endless union prove,
The consummation of our love.
Erected by Tho. Sheldon. (Her Lover)"

The following epitaph, written by him whom it commemorates, cannot but be recognized as a mutilated quotation from a fine passage in Homer's Iliad. The sense is reversed and in every respect spoiled:-

"William Talbot, died April 16, 1817, aged 79 years.
Cold death o'ertook him in his aged years,
And left no parents unavailing tears;
Relations now enjoy his worldly store -
The race forgotten and the name no more".

Spencer T. Hall, in his incomparable "Rambles in the Country", thus beautifully alludes to this church-yard: - "A cemetery more indicative of local history and character than this, it would be difficult to find perhaps in the whole of England; and I never read a more interesting chapter of village biography than here".

Editor's Note
[†] The curate of this period is usually referred to as Peter Cunningham, so the initial ‘R’ is probably a misprint. The eighth edition of the History includes details of more of his epitaphs.

Next Section => THE RECTORS

This information was collated and transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in September 2012.

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