The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1842)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2012


"Around the precincts of my tranquil home,
I know each barren spot, each cultured nook."

"Lovely village! afar thy name is spread
Throughout this land. Alas! 'tis not alone
By rural charms that pilgrims here are led:-
They come to gaze upon each field-gravestone
That tells what thou lone village once hast known:-
When pestilence with direful, black'ning breath,
With a dread fury raged till then unknown.
And sudden swept, as each memorial saith,
The trembling village throng into the arms of death."

The village of Eyam has been long characterized throughout the Peak of Derbyshire, as the birth-place of genius - the seat of the Muses - the Athens of the Peak, and the like. That it is justly entitled to these classical encomiums, I shall not presume to affirm. Certain it is, however, that the once renowned Nightbroder, Miss Anna Seward, Richard Furniss, and other inferior minstrels were born at Eyam; and equally certain it is, that while residing at Eyam the highly-gifted, but unfortunate Cunningham, tuned his harmonious, sylvan shell, and sang his happiest lays. But hallowed as is this romantic village by giving birth and residence to these celebrated characters, it has, however, another and a stronger claim to general notice - the terrible PLAGUE by which it was so singularly visited, and almost wholly depopulated, in the years A.D. 1665 and 1666: the details of which calamity must, however, necessarily follow a brief description of the location, scenery, antiquities, and Manor, of this highly interesting village.

Eyam is a village and parish in the North or High Peak of Derbyshire. It is comprised in the Hundred of the High Peak, - in the Honours of Peveril and Tutbury; - and in the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry of Derby, and in the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry. The village stands in the south-east part of the parish, six miles north of Bakewell, and nearly in the centre of a line drawn from Sheffield to Buxton: being twelve miles distant from each place. It contains about 180 houses, and according to the census of 1841, 954 inhabitants; who are chiefly employed in agriculture, lead mining, and cotton and silk weaving. The parish is nearly circular, about four miles in diameter, and includes the hamlets of Foolow and Eyam Woodlands. It abuts on the parishes of Hope, Hathersage, and Bakewell; and the following places and streams mark its boundary:- a rivulet near to Stoney Middleton Church-yard - top of Stoke-wood - Goatcliffe brook - the river Derwent - Highlow brook - top of Grindlow - Wardlow Miers - Foundley-fence - and the Dale Brook to where it receives the rivulet first mentioned. Small as is this parish, yet it contained an uncommon tract of moorland until the year A.D. 1801, when an Act was obtained for its inclosure: a circumstance which has, by the bulk of the parishioners, been greatly regretted. The village forms a long street, nearly a mile in length, built apparently, as it is approached from Middleton Dale, on a ledge or table-land of limestone. The stratum of this stone seems wholly composed of marine exuviae, abounding with a variety of shells: entronchi, coralloids, madrapores, and many other species of crustaceous animals. In this stratum of limestone the greatest caverns abound: - in fact, Eyam is built on a series of caverns, many of which have been explored to a great extent - chiefly for the beautiful and fanciful stalactites with which they are so richly adorned. The village runs from east to west in a serpentine form; and, as Gilbert White has observed of Selbourne, the cartway divides two most incongruous soils. The houses, in most places, on the north side, stand just where the grit or sandstone stratum commences; whilst those on the south side are built invariably on the limestone; and though the village is so very long, the same diversification occurs throughout.

The several parts of the village are thus named: - the Townend, which is the eastern part, and from which branch the Lydgate, the Water-lane, the Dale, the Cocy or Causeway, - the Cross, or middle of the village, - the Townhead, or the extreme western part. Contiguous to the street, and nearly in the centre of the village, stands the Church, a very ancient fabric, which from its being encircled by large umbrageous trees, has often excited the notice and admiration of strangers.

Of the origin and signification of the name of this old English village - Eyam - there is but little that is satisfactory known. That this was not the original name of the village is very probable indeed: in fact, there is some mention in some very old work, that its name before the Norman Conquest was Mosse and that in consequence of a battle, fought on the heights a little north of Eyam, the name of the village was changed to something like its present name, in honour of the victorious chief. That there is any good foundation for this matter I cannot say; having, after a very tedious search, been unable to meet with the account. Of the validity of this story the following circumstances may be considered as evidence: - all that plot of land behind the Church at Eyam, known as the Nar, or more properly, Near Crofts, was once a fenny bog, covered very deeply with moss, which circumstance might give the name of Mosse to the adjoining habitations; and that a battle was fought on Eyam-moor, in some past age, there is abundant proof in the warlike weapons found there at various times; and also in the very current tradition of that event. It is very singular that this certainly ancient village is not mentioned in the Norman survey by any thing like its present name; and that such is the case, there is every reason to believe; while there is a strong probability that it had a priest and a church long anterior to that period. Stoney Middleton, a village very near Eyam, and of smaller extent, is noticed in the survey of Edward the Confessor, yet its name - Middleton - gives prior existence to Eyam. To notice all the conjectures concerning the intrinsic meaning of the name - Eyam - would be tiresome even to the etymologist; a few, however, of the most plausible will not, it is hoped, be deemed intrusive and insignificant.

Some imagine that the original meaning of the word has been lost through its having been written so variously at different times. In the reign of Henry the Sixth it was written Eyham - in fact, it has had all the following modes of spelling: - Wyham, Eam, Eyme, Hame, Eme, Hyme, Eyham, and Eyam: the last form only is now generally recognized. A little north of Eyam, there is a small place called Bretton, which name is very ancient, and means mountainous. The word is pure Celtic, and it was the name of England long before the Roman invasion. This little place, being in the parish of Eyam, and having retained a name of such high antiquity has induced some few to suppose that the word - Eyam - in some of its forms of spelling, may be of the same ancient source; of which word, however, the meaning appears to be (according to this supposition ) irrecoverably lost.[1] One of the two following conjectures, comes most probably the nearest to the true signification.

In the word Eyam, we have undoubtedly the ham, or am, the common Saxon termination expressive of residence; but of what the Ey is significant, is not so manifest. One of the conjectures alluded to, states that the Ey is a corruption

of the adjective High; and that the original signification of the compound word Eyam, was High-dwelling, High-place, or High-hamlet: this, considering the locality of the village, its proximity to Sir William, one of the highest mountains in the Peak, is far from being improbable.[2] The other conjecture derives the Ey, from Ea, water, which, with the residential ham, or am, means a residence amidst, or by a superfluity of water. The great quantity of water with which Eyam must always have been supplied, renders this supposition more than probable. In the centre of the village there is a pool vulgarly called the river, which name is a corruption of Eaver, or Ever-water: an appellation properly descriptive of this pool, which with the numberless springs and rivulets in and around the village, give a strong probability that the word - Eyam - may signify the Water-place, or The Village of Waters.[3] According to tradition, and other evidences, the village once stood in what is called Eyam-edge; and this is strongly countenanced by the fact, that where the greater part of the village now stands, was once covered with the works of lead mines; and to such an extent, that it is very common for old openings, or shafts, to fall in under the thresholds, pantries, and floors of the houses, and under the street and other places where none was known to the inhabitants to exist. In the Edge, traces of the foundations of habitations have frequently been discovered. This circumstance has been mentioned as a probable cause for some change in the name of the village. In fine, it may be observed of this vague and unsatisfactory subject, that whatever may be the signification of the name of the village; that whether it has changed its name or not; it has now a name which the poet wished that to be of an old English village which he met with, namely: "no common name":-

"Thy name I know not nor would know,-
No common name would I be told;
Yet often shall I seek thee now,-
Thou village quaint and old." - R. HOWITT.

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 apart, flanked with bee-hives, and with their eaves of straw bestudded with nests of the household sparrow; altogether forming a scene, delightful as rare. 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 beautiful circle of linden trees, which encompass the Church-yard 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 any other village in Derbyshire.

Northward of the village, a mountain range, nearly 600 feet high, runs parallel with the village, crowned with plantations of rising trees. This lofty range is to the village an impenetrable screen, to ward off the biting, boreal blasts: the village 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 farther 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 this Prince of Derbyshire hills, the eye extends over countless hills and luxuriant dales. Masson, Ax-edge, Mam Tor, Kinderscout, and Stanage lift up their hoary heads and, beckoning to Sir William, tell in language stronger than words, of a companionship of ages. How rapturous must be the feelings of the tourist who mounts the peak of this mountain, and with fire-kindled eye beholds on every hand the uneffaced handmarks of Nature! How joyous his sensations to perceive in such goodly profusion, the perceptible and original traces of the finger of God! Beautiful mountain! ever shall I remember standing on thy summit at the decline of a hot summer's day; the sinking sun tinged with gold the peaks of far distant hills, which shone severally in the distance like well remembered joys in the memory of the past. But anon, this lovely scene was changed: I beheld the clouds, old couriers of the sky, marshalling the elements to war; the distant mountains put on their misty robes, as if conscious of the impending storm. Soon I saw the vivid lightning flash; the thunder brattled in the rear; and in the midst of this sublime scene I almost unconsciously repeated the following exquisite lines of Byron, changing without premeditation the words "Jura", and "joyous Alps", to "Mam Tor", and "Sir William high" -

" ___________ Far along
From peak to peak, the rattling crags among
Leaps the live thunder! Not from one lone cloud,
But every mountain now hath found a tongue.
And Mam Tor answers, through her misty shroud,
Back to Sir William, high, who calls to her aloud."

Drenched with rain, I gazed with profound emotion on the elemental strife; and in the calm which ensued I heard "the small still voice", with the awe and reverence of the Patriarch of old.

" ______ God curbs the lightning, stills the roar.
And earth smiles through her tears more lovely than before."

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 one hand by the sable rocks of Corbor, and the singularly built village, of Stoney Middleton, a great part of which forms a portion of the 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, 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 this incomparable dell. 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, fully 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. Often have I sat musing over the purling stream in the chasm, until I fancied myself 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." - BYRON.

The other dell, known as Eyam Dale, is rich in rural scenery. On 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 this dell is covered with rising wood, amongst which there are numerous winding 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. In several approximate places a clear polysyllabical echo exists. 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 now to be met with.

Throughout the whole of this parish are scattered many elegant and substantial dwellings - some for situation and elegance are rarely to be met with at so great a distance from places of commerce. Amongst the latter description is Leam Hall, the residence of M.M. Middleton, Esq., an old English gentleman, alike distinguished for urbanity, good sense, and literary taste.[4] This singularly neat villa stands in the midst of ornamented grounds; and when contrasted with the mountain scenery in the circling distance, it has all the charms of an oasis in a desert. The exterior decorations of this rural seat have often excited the admiration of tourists. Stoke Hall, a little out of the parish, is another of this class of buildings. Still nearer the verge of the parish, in Stoney Middleton, is the much admired country seat of Lord Chief Justice Denman, - whose richly entitled fame as a lawyer and judge; and whose poetical taste, as evinced in his translation of the famous song on Harmodius and Aristogiton,[5] render this place of his occasional residence greatly attractive. Many other well-built habitations may be seen in all places throughout the parish - in Foolow, Hazleford, Stoney Middleton, and Grindleford Bridge; besides solitary farm houses on the hills and in the valleys of this locality, which is justly characterised in the following language of the poet:-

"A realm of mountain, forest-haunt, and fell,
And fertile valleys, beautifully lone;
Where fresh and far romantic waters roam,
Singing a song of peace by many a cottage home."

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 having dwelt in one place for successive generations. Hence their observance of customs from time immemorial; 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. It is lamentable, however, that the physical condition of the present inhabitants of this far-famed village is greatly inferior to that of their forefathers: the principal cause of which is the decay of the lead mines. Previously to the present century, each miner had his cow and small plot of land, to which he attended during the intervals of his work at the mine; this double employment yielded him sufficient to live in health and happiness, leaving him abundance of time for halesome recreation. The mines being under water, can no longer in their present condition be successfully worked: and this deplorable circumstance is fast changing the aspect and character of the village. It, however, still retains a few of the 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 once happier times: when sweet content and plenty dwelled within the rustic cot.

[1] Creighton, in his Introduction to his Dictionary of Scripture Names, observes that Dr. Johnson and other modern lexicographers, have greatly erred in seeking (and pretending to find) the origin of western tongues in Greek and Latin. He further states, that a knowledge of the Celtic is indispensable in tracing the true origin of the names of places, rivers, and monuments in the West of Europe.
[2] Vide, Genius of the Peak, page 116.
[3] Vide, Medicus Magus, page 58.
[4] M.M. Middleton, Esq. is the author of a work entitled "Poetical Sketches of a Tour",- written for private circulation.
[5] Vide Bland's Anthology.

Next Section => ANTIQUITIES

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

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library