The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1842)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2012


"O'er hills and vales of gold and green,
Passed on, undreaded and unseen:
Foregoing cities, towns, and crowds;
Gay mansions glittering to the clouds,
Magnificence and wealth,
To reach a humbler, sweeter spot,
The village and the peaceful cot,
The residence of health."

Let all who tread the green fields of Eyam remember with feelings of awe and veneration, that beneath their feet repose the ashes of those moral heroes, who with a sublime, heroic, and an unparalleled resolution gave up their lives, - yea! doomed themselves to pestilential death, to save the surrounding country. The immortal victors of Thermopylae and Marathon, who fought so bravely in liberty's holy cause, have no greater, no stronger, claim to the admiration of succeeding generations, than the humble villagers of Eyam in the year 1666. Their magnanimous self-sacrifice, in confining themselves within a prescribed boundary during the terrible pestilence, is unequalled in the annals of the world. The plague, which would undoubtedly have spread from place to place through the neighbouring counties, and which eventually carried off five-sixths of their number, was, in the following forcible language of a celebrated writer, "here hemmed in, and, in a dreadful and desolating struggle, destroyed and buried with its victims". How exalted, the sense of duty; how glorious the conduct, of these children of nature, who, for the salvation of the country, heroically braved the horrors of certain, immediate, and pestilential death. Tread softly, then, on the fields where their ashes are laid; let the wild flowers bloom on their wide-scattered graves. Let the ground round the village be honoured and hallowed; for there,

"The dead are everywhere!
The mountain side; the plain; the woods profound;
All the lone dells - the fertile and the fair,
Is one vast burial ground."MARY HOWITT.

The desolation of Eyam by the plague, in the years 1665 and 1666, (but more particularly in 1666), has, from the time of its occurrence, always been considered a most singular and remarkable event: the more so as the ravages of the plague, were far more dreadful and fatal at Eyam, according to its then population, than those of any other pestilence hitherto recorded. From the latter end of 1664 to December, 1665, about one-sixth of the population of London fell victims to this appalling pestilence; but at Eyam, five-sixths were carried off in a few months of the summer of 1666, excepting a few who died at the close of 1665. This dreadful scourge at Eyam has no parallel; not even that of the "Black Death" of the fourteenth century.

Though the mortality of the Metropolis was very great and horrible, yet there the populace were not restrained as to flight; there they could easily obtain medical aid; there neighbour knew not neighbour; there thousands might die without being intimately known to each other. But in Eyam, a little sequestered village, containing about three hundred and fifty stationary inhabitants, the death of every one would be a neighbour, if not a relative. In Eyam, then, the plague was, in the language of Roberts, "the concentration of all the more dreadful features of that visitation in London without its palliatives". Indeed, it seems exceeding strange, that Eyam, "a little mountain city, an insulated Zoar", secluded among the Peak mountains, distant from London 150 miles, should have been visited by a pestilential disease, which had scarcely ever occurred only in great and populous cities. It is, however, matter of fact, that this terrible plague was brought from London to Eyam in a box of old clothes and some tailors' patterns of cloth. Before I proceed to give the details of the commencement, progress, and horrible effects of this pestilence at Eyam, I shall take the liberty of noticing a few particulars respecting its cause, nature, symptoms, and whence it originated.

Pestilences in general are, as one writer remarks, a consequence of violent commotions in the earth, and are preceded by earthquakes, droughts, excessive rains, or pestiferous winds. Hecker observes, that at the time of the Black Death, in the fourteenth century, the foundations of the earth were shaken from China to the Atlantic; and that through Europe and Asia the atmosphere, by its baneful influence, endangered both animal and vegetable life. The German Chroniclers inform us, that at this time a thick stinking mist advanced from the east, and spread itself over Italy; and it is stated, that previously to an earth-quake, t the same time, a pestiferous wind blew in Cyprus of such a deadly nature, that thousands fell down and expired in great agonies. Hecker further notices, that this is one of the rarest of phenomena, as Naturalists have never been able to discover foreign and pernicious ingredients in the air, almost desolating great portions of the earth, as in A.D. 1348. That the human body is a far more delicate test than philosophical instruments, the effects of the Egyptian Khamsin and the Italian Sirocco plainly and satisfactorily indicate. The Black Death of the fourteenth century, so called from the black spots or putrid decomposition of the skin, is stated to have carried off in the East 37,000,000 of human beings; and in Europe in proportion to its population. This destructive pestilence is beautifully described by Boccacio, in the introduction to his "Decameron".

But the most generally presumed efficient cause of contagious diseases, is a change in the proportions of the constituents of the atmosphere, affecting various artificial constituents. Infection and contagion have their origin in animalculae; and, therefore, their infancy, maturity, and decline. The bubo of the plague is full of them. And Cooper says, "if this opinion be well founded it is no wonder that a chemical examination of the atmosphere cannot detect miasma, which does not depend on the state of the atmosphere". "Is not contagion", says Dr. Dwight, "such a fermentation of an animal body as generates animalculae, and hence the danger of contact; and is not exemption after affection evidence that the germs in that subject have been exhausted". Sir Richard Phillips remarks, "that contagion is one of those words which, like attraction, suction, bewitching, and the like, mislead and obstruct inquiry". And he further observes, "that the differences concerning contagion among the faculty are intellectual phenomena".

The plague generally manifested itself by the febrile symptoms of shivering, nausea, headache, and delirium. In some these affections were so mild as to be taken for slight indisposition. The victim in this case generally attended his avocation until a sadden faintness came on, when the maculae, or plague-spot, the fatal token, would soon appear on his breast, indicative of immediate death. But in most cases the pain and delirium left no room for doubt: on the second or third day buboes, or carbuncles, arose about the groin and elsewhere; and if they could be made to supporate, recovery was probable, but if they resisted the efforts of nature, and the skill of the physician, death was inevitable.

I may be pardoned for just observing, that even in the plague, the greatest enemy of the human race, there is a capriciousness, or rather something mysterious, which baffles even conjecture.

About the middle of the last century, Aleppo was visited by the plague, and one half of its inhabitants fell victims. The Rev. T. Dawes was then chaplain to the factory at Aleppo; and among many other particulars of the plague, he mentions the following very singular occurrences: - A woman was delivered of an infected child with the plague sores on its body, though the mother had been and was free from the distemper. Another woman that suckled her own child of five months old, was seized by the plague and died shortly after; but the child, though it suckled her, and lay in the same bed during her whole disorder, escaped the infection. And another woman, upwards of a hundred years old, was attacked with the plague, and recovered; but her two grandchildren of ten and sixteen years of age, received the infection from her, and both died.

Vinc. Fabricius relates, that when the plague raged in Holland, in 1636, a young girl was seized with it, had three buboes, and was removed to a garden, where her lover, who was betrothed to her, attended her as a nurse, and slept with her as his wife. He remained uninfected, and she (his beauteous Ægle) recovered, and was married to him -

____________ "her plighted swain,
Soothes with soft kiss, with tender accents charms.
And clasps the bright infection in his arms." - DARWIN.

The following notices may be justly deemed corroborative of the fact, that the plague was communicated from London to Eyam, in a box of tailors' patterns of cloth. Mr. Williams, Chaplain to Sir R. Suffon, formerly Ambassador at Constantinople, relates that the jacket of a jannisary, who had died of the plague, caused the death of six more, who wore it in succession, before it was ordered to be burned. Alexander Benedictus mentions a feather bed, which proved mortal to numbers on account of its being infected. Theodore Mageire, in a paper laid before the King in Council, at Paris, 1651, says, "that some bandages of an infected person having been put between a wainscot and wall of a house in Paris, gave the plague, a many years after, to a person who took them out, and it spread immediately through the city". Another writer observes, "that contagious matter lodges most in goods of a loose texture, which, being packed up and carried to other countries, let out when opened the imprisoned seeds of infection". At Florence, in 1348, two hogs were seized with convulsions, and died in less than an hour, through snuffling on some rags which had been thrown into the street from a poor man who had died of the plague. Forrester states that seven children died by playing on clothes brought from an infected house in Zealand to Alkmull, North Holland. Thus, then, with what wisdom and propriety, as we shall see subsequently, did Mompesson and the few survivors of the plague at Eyam, burn almost every article of clothing and furniture found in the village.

As to the sources of the plague there are different opinions. The general opinion is, that it is propagated by contagion from the East. Pliny insists that it is an African fever, bred in Ethiopia or Egypt; and that it travels from South to North, but more particularly West. Some maintain that it is common to Europe, especially the South. It is most probable, however, that there are different kinds of epidemic diseases; or rather the plague assumes different forms and aspects in different countries and climates. The "Black Death" was attended by expectoration of blood, the lungs being attacked with carbuncular inflammation, which must have added greatly to the fatality of the other symptoms. After its first fury was spent, it assumed the usual form of the plague: hemorrhage being no longer an attendant symptom. It was in this form that it was brought by some ships from Cyprus or Candia in the Levant, to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, where it made horrible carnage in the year 1663. Two Frenchmen are said to have brought it in some woollen goods to London from Holland, in December, 1664. These two French-men, who resided in Longacre, London, on opening their goods, were seized with the plague and died in a day or two in great agonies. Thus began, in London, this terrible scourge, which from December, 1664, to the beginning of 1666, carried off 100,000 souls.

During the dreadful ravages of the plague in London, it is very probable that the then inhabitants of Eyam would hear but very little concerning that calamity. Confined to their secluded village, which is surrounded by towering heath-clad hills, they were happily debarred from hearing at every turn that kind of intelligence which casts a gloom over the mind, or shocks the feelings. They were in a great measure unknown; health and plenty dwelt among them; and until the arrival of the fatal box, nothing had occurred to disturb "the even tenor of their way". Accompanied by simplicity and innocence, they sailed down the placid stream of rural life, unannoyed by the ever-fatal storms of avarice and ambition. Ah! up to this awful period they had lived in security and peace: attended by all the blessings of village life -

"The life which those who fret in guilt,
And guilty cities, never know; the life,
Led by primeval ages, uncorrupt,
When angels dwelt, and God himself, with Man!"

Before commencing the details of the arrival of the fatal box in Eyam, it may be interesting to know that the Eyam wakes of that year (1665) had only transpired a few days previously to that event: and it is said that this wakes was peculiarly marked by an unusual number of visitors, as if, as was imagined by the few survivors, these visitors, who were relatives to the villagers of Eyam, had been involuntarily moved to come and take a last farewell of those who were so very soon after destined to be swept away by the plague.[1] It is also said that the amusements on this occasion were more numerous and entertaining; but in what respect is not now known. Most probably, however, they would be of the usual and following character: - relations and friends would assemble at the village alehouses, wishing each other as they raised the sparkling glasses to their lips, many happy returns of the festive time; the young men and maidens would dance upon the spacious village green; they would marry and be "given in marriage "; and numberless other innocent and social amusements would close each gladsome, merry day. Thus these fated beings would enjoy themselves on the brink of death: thus they would revel in pleasure and mirth, unconscious of their speedy doom! But, let me thus interrogate these children of nature in their dust:- Were you not depressed with sad and gloomy sensations? Were you not moved by sudden and strange emotions? Did not some oppressive and unaccountable weight rest on your minds? Did not your lovely homes seem conscious of some "mighty woe"? Did you not behold over the village, DESOLATION written on the sky? Did you not hear the awful footsteps of approaching death? Did not the clouds weep along the hills on that fatal day, when the pestilential box arrived, in which the invisible pest lay concealed - in which that terrible minister of death only slumbered awhile, to awake with greater fury? Horrible was your doom! hapless children of the hills! The struggle, however, is past, and in the beautiful language of Ossian, shall not posterity -

"Awake your memories in your tombs".

It is singular that all who have hitherto written on this direful calamity, have invariably represented the plague as breaking out in Eyam, in the spring of 1666. This, however, was not the case, though by far the greater part of the number of victims died in July, August, and September, 1666. The box containing the tailor's patterns in cloth, and it is said some old clothes, was sent from London to a tailor who resided in a small house, at the west end of the church-yard, which has been rebuilded, and is now occupied by a Mr. S. Marsden. The kitchen of the old house is still as it was; it is only the house-place that has been renewed.[2] Whether the patterns and clothes were bought in London for the tailor at Eyam, or sent as a present, cannot now be ascertained. Some, however, say that it was a relative of the tailor at Eyam who sent them, he having procured them in London, where he resided, very cheaply in consequence of the plague, which was then raging there at its maximum. The box arrived at the tailor's house, Eyam, on the second or third of September, 1665. What the tailor's name was is not satisfactorily known: probably either Thrope [Ed: sic] or Cooper. The common belief is, that it was a man-servant, or journeyman tailor, who first opened the box, and not one of the family of the tailor, as is often stated. This is evident from the fact, that Vicars, the name of the first victim, does not occur again in the list of the names of the victims. And Dr. Mead, who lived a century nearer this occurrence than the present time, says the first victim was a servant. George Vicars, then, was the person who opened the terrible box. In removing the patterns and clothes, he observed in a sort of exclamation, how very damp they were; and he therefore hung them to the fire to dry.

While Vicars was superintending them he was suddenly seized with violent sickness and other symptoms of a disease, which greatly alarmed the family of the house, and the neighbourhoods. On the second day he grew horribly worse: at intervals he was delirious, and large swellings began to rise about his neck and groin. What medical aid the village afforded was procured, but to no avail. On the third day of his illness the fatal token - the plague spot - appeared on his breast, and he died in horrible agonies the following night, the sixth of September, 1665. The putrid state of his body rendered immediate interment necessary, and he was interred in the church-yard the following day, September the seventh. Thus began, in Eyam, the plague - the most awful of all diseases, which, after being in some measure checked by the severity of the following winter, began to spread amazingly, and eventually left the village nearly desolate.

It is stated that the whole of the family of the first victim, with the solitary exception of one, were speedily carried off by the destructive pest. This, however, is a mistake; for, according to the Register, the second victim, Edward, the son of Edward Cooper, was buried September twenty-second, 1666, after an interval of fourteen days. The remaining days of this month had almost each its victim; and the terrified villagers ascertained the fatal disease to be the plague. Then!

"Out it burst, a dreadful cry of death;
'The Plague! the Plague!' the withering language flew,
And faintness followed on its rapid breath;
And all hearts sunk, as pierced with lightning through,
'The Plague! the Plague!' no groundless panic grew;
But there, sublime in awful darkness, trod
The pest; and lamentation, as he slew,
Proclaimed his ravage in each sad abode,
Mid frenzied shrieks for aid - and vain appeals to God."

On the last day of September six persons had perished; and by the middle of October twelve more. Consternation and terror reigned throughout the village. The pestilence began to pass from house to house with increasing rapidity; the simple inhabitants looking forward with dreadful apprehension.

Some idea may be formed of the extreme virulence of the plague at Eyam, even at its commencement, by observing that even in large cities the plague has been known to cease in winter. In the first summer of the great plague, at Genoa, 10,000 died, in the winter scarcely any; but in the following summer, 60,000. The great plague in London first appeared in the latter end of 1664, but was checked by winter until the ensuing spring. While at Eyam, where the effects of winter would be considerably greater than in cities, the plague continued its ravages without ceasing. Still it did not attain the height of its destruction and malignancy until the summer of 1666.

Towards the latter end of October the pestilence increased; doleful lamentations issued from the cottages containing the infected persons; the distress of those families is unimaginable; few or none would visit them; they were avoided in the street; all dreaded coming in contact even with those belonging to the families where the infection reigned; they were glanced at with fearful apprehension, and their privations arising therefrom almost defy description. During this awful month twenty-two died. As winter approached the mortality became less, and hopes were entertained that the pestilence would cease. It continued, however, in spite of the weather, to pass from house to house, and in this month, November, seven died. In December, a great snow is said to have fallen, accompanied with a hard and severe frost. The distress of the inhabitants was very great; the pestilence rather increased, for nine died in December.

During the last four months of 1665, the sufferings of the villagers had been truly dreadful; and though they had become familiar with death, yet they were doomed, in the following summer, to behold the pest assume a far more deadly and fatal aspect. Though the then survivors had seen, in the above time, forty-four of their relatives and friends snatched from amongst them by the terrific hand of pestilential death, yet some few of them were destined to see double that number swept away in the short space of one month. Fated beings I shall not

"The bard preserve your names and send them down to future
times?" - OSSIAN.

The weather at the commencement of 1666 was exceedingly cold and severe, which evidently diminished the baneful influence of the plague. Nothing could exceed the joy manifested by the villagers at there being, as they supposed, some prospect of being delivered from that scourge. The pestilence was now confined to two houses; and on the last day of January only four had died during that month. In February, however, eight died, and there were many infected.

I shall in this place, while the plague is the least furious, take the liberty of noticing some few particulars respecting the two unrivalled characters, who may be justly said to have been by their joint exertions, the principal instruments by whom Derbyshire and the neighbouring counties were de= livered from the desolating plague, - the Rev. Thomas Stanley and the Rev. William Mompesson.

We shall see when we come to the time of the greatest fury of the plague, that the salvation of the surrounding country, originated in the wisdom of these two worthy divines. Their magnanimous conduct on this awful occasion can only be exceeded by the obedience of the sufferers over whom they exercised such heavenly influence. "One can scarcely decide", says Mr. Samuel Roberts, "in this case, which most to admire, the wisdom of the pastor, or the obedience of his flock. It was a sacrifice in either case, which we are utterly unable duly to appreciate. I can form no conception of any instance, in mere human beings, more strongly proving the blessed effects of true Christianity than this, of faith no stronger, no obedience more perfect". The same writer thus very justly observes:- "Ought not a monument to have been erected, by the nation, to the memory of all those who fell victims, and a liberal national annuity to have been granted to each of the heroic survivors. They have, however, monuments to their memories, in the hearts of all truly good and sympathizing men".

The Rev. Thomas Stanley was born at Duckmanton, near Chesterfield. His public ministry was exercised at Handsworth, Dore, and eight years at Ashford, whence, by those in power, he was translated, in 1644, to the rectory of Eyam, where he continued to reside, respected, esteemed, and loved until Bartholomew-day, 1662. He continued to preach, however, in private houses at Eyam, Hazleford, and other places, until his death, in 1670. This very worthy man was succeeded by his predecessor, the Rev. Sherland Adams, who died in 1664. The successor of this litigious divine, was the Rev. William Mompesson, chaplain to Sir George Saville. Before his coming to Eyam, in April, 1664, he had married a beautiful young lady, Catherine, the daughter of Ralph Carr, Esq., of Cocken, in the county of Durham. She was young and possessed good parts, with exquisitely tender feelings. These two illustrious characters (Stanley and Mompesson) throughout the fury of the pestilence, as we shall see hereafter, forsook not their flock, but visited, councilled, and exhorted them in their sufferings; alleviated their miseries, and held fast to their duties on the very threshold of death.

On the first of March, 1666, the plague had carried off fifty-six souls; and during this month but little abatement was perceived in the number infected. Six died in this month. In the succeeding month April, nine; and in May, three. This seeming relaxation of fury in the latter month, inspired the trembling villagers with a ray of delusive hope: they began to ascribe the past malignancy of the pest to the severity of the winter, and the fearful dismay which had oppressed their drooping spirits, began to subside. But, alas! while these innocent and simple beings were indulging in this vain dream, the plague, that subtle and mysterious minister of death, was only resting and gathering strength to make more horrible slaughter. At the commencement of June this deadly monster awoke from his short slumber; and with desolating steps stalked forth from house to house, breathing on the terror-struck inhabitants, the vapour of death. The irresistible rage of the pest filled the hearts of the trembling villagers with dreadful forebodings: despair seized every soul. Loud and bitter lamentations burst forth from every infected house! Fear and apprehension prevented ingress to the abodes of distress. Horror and dismay enveloped the village! The extreme dread even of the uninfected, led them to the practice of a thousand weak and absurd expedients to prevent them from taking the distemper. Numberless omens and presages of their dreadful calamities, the terrified inhabitants could now call to mind. Some said that the desolation of the village had been at various times prognosticated. Many could recollect having seen the white cricket, and heard it sound the death-knell on their hearths. Others remembered having heard for three successive nights the invisible "death-watch" in the dead of night. And some called to mind how often during a few preceding winters they had listened to the doleful howlings of the Gabriel-hounds.

These, with numerous other fanciful tokens of death, these simple and horrified villagers imagined at this awful time they had seen and heard. Nor would it have been marvellous, had they imagined they beheld with Ossian's Melilcoma, "the awful faces of other times looking from the clouds".

As June advanced, the pestilence spread from house to house with dreadful rapidity; sparing neither sex nor age.

"Health, strength, and infancy, and age
In vain the ruthless foe engage." - HOLLAND.

The unexampled mortality of the plague during the summer of 1666, is, as I have before stated, unequalled in history. Some have supposed that this destructive scourge was aggravated to its unparalleled fury at Eyam by the ignorance and destitution of the inhabitants; and their consequent maltreatment of the distemper. Others have conjectured that it was aided in its dreadful career by the hotness of the summer; this season beings in those times, in the Peak, more sultry, but much shorter. This change is said to have arisen from the extensive inclosures, and the spirited cultivation of the surrounding moors. But the proximate cause of this unheard of mortality was undoubtedly the courageous determination of the villagers to confine themselves within a certain boundary; for if those who fell a sacrifice in July, August, September, and October, had fled in due spring, they would most probably have escaped; but then there was this danger, had they not taken that magnanimous step:- the infected would have fled with the non-infected, and thereby have carried desolation wherever they went. Hence, I imagine, we may trace the principal and efficient cause of that horrible carnage among the meritorious villagers of Eyam.

Up to the beginning of June seventy-four had perished from the commencement of the pest; this number of deaths, from a population of 350, was very great in so short a time; but, how incomparable to the dreadful havoc of the ensuing months of June, July, August, September, and October.

It was about the middle of June, that the plague began to assume so terrible an aspect. Terror overwhelmed the hearts of the villagers. Mrs. Mompesson threw herself and two children, George and Elizabeth, of three and four years old, at the feet of her husband, imploring their immediate departure from the devoted place! Her entreaties and tears sensibly moved the feelings of her husband. But Mompesson, whose love for his wife and children was never exceeded, whose eyes were suffused with tears by this energetic and truly pathetic appeal, raised her from his feet, and in the most affectionate manner, told her, that his duty to his suffering and diminishing flock - that the indelible stain that would rest on his memory by deserting them in the hour of danger - and that the awful responsibility to his Maker, for the charge he had undertaken, were considerations with him of more weight and importance than life itself! He then again, in the most enthusiastic manner, endeavoured to prevail on his weeping partner to take their two lovely babes and fly to some place of refuge until the plague was stayed! She, however, steadfastly resisted his persuasions, and emphatically declared her determination that nothing should induce her to leave him amidst that destructive and terrible whirlpool of death!

This affecting contest ended in their mutual consent to send the children away to a relative in Yorkshire, (supposed to be J. Beilby, Esq.), until the pestilence ceased. There is a tradition of the mournful parting of the children and parents on this occasion. Mompesson called them aside, and, suppressing the bitterness of his feelings, gave each a parting kiss, and fervently admonished them to be obedient and good! Their tender and loving mother grasped each in her arms, and in the intervals of heart-bursting sighs kissed them again and again! When they departed, she ran to the highest window of their dwelling and watched them leave the village. As she caught the last glance of them, a sudden and startling thought crossed her mind that she should behold them no more! She uttered a shrill and piercing scream! Mompesson hastened to her side and endeavoured to console her in the most soothing language imaginable! In the first paroxysm of her grief she intently gazed towards the spot where they last met her view; nor would she be removed from the place, until the streaming tears

"Rushed from her clouded brain.
Like mountain mists, at length dissolved to rain."

Alas! alas! her forebodings were realised: in this world she beheld her children no more: she took the infection, and died, as we shall hereafter see, blessing her children with her last parting breath!

It was at this period of the calamity (about the middle of June) that the inhabitants began to think of escaping from death by flight. Indeed, the most wealthy of them, who were but few in number, fled early in the spring with the greatest precipitation. Some few others, having means, fled to the neighbouring hills and dells, and there erected huts; and dwelled therein, until the approach of winter. But it was the visible manifestation of a determination in the whole mass to flee, that aroused Mompesson; he energetically remonstrated with them on the danger of flight; he told them of the fearful consequences that would ensue; that the safety of the surrounding country was in their hands; that it was impossible for them to escape death by flight; that a many of them were infected; that the invisible seeds of the disease lay concealed in their clothing and other articles they had prepared to take with them; and that if they would relinquish their fatal and terrible purpose, he would write to all the influential persons in the vicinity for aid; he would by every possible means in his power endeavour to alleviate their sufferings; and he would remain with them, and sacrifice his life rather than be instrumental in desolating the surrounding country! Thus spoke this wonderful man! Let us, however, hear his entreaties on this awful occasion in the words of the poet:-

"Alas! beloved friends! Alas! where strays
Your wonted mind? What means these signs of flight?
Is God unpitying, though He wrath displays?
Is the sun quenched when clouds obscure his light?
Oh! calm your trembling souls, be strong in Christian might.
Here we may strive and conquer, and may save
Our country from this desolating curse;
Some few, perchance, may fill an earlier grave;
But, if ye fly. it follows, and ye nurse
Death in your flight; wide, wider ye disperse
Destruction through the land. Oh, then! bow down
And vow to Him to virtue ne'er averse,
To stand unshrinking 'neath death's fiercest frown.
Then Heaven shall give us rest, and earth a fair renown."

The inhabitants, with a superhuman courage, gave up all thoughts of flight. Mompesson, immediately wrote to the Earl of Devonshire, then at Chatsworth, a few miles from Eyam, stating the particulars of the calamity, and adding that he was certain, that he could prevail on his suffering and hourly diminishing flock, to confine themselves within the precincts of the village if they could be supplied with victuals and other necessary articles, and thereby prevent the pestilence from spreading. The Noble Earl expressed in his answer, deep commiseration for the sufferers; and he further assured Mompesson, that nothing should be spared on his part, to mitigate the calamitous sufferings of the inhabitants - provided they kept themselves within a specified bound. This worthy Nobleman, who remained at Chatsworth during the whole time of the plague, generously ordered the sufferers to be supplied with all kinds of necessaries, agreeably to the following plan.

A kind of circle was drawn round the village, marked by particular and well known stones and hills; beyond which it was solemnly agreed that no one of the villagers should proceed, whether infected or not. This circle extended about half a mile around the village; and at two or three places or points of this boundary, provisions were brought. The places on the circle were appointed in different directions, in order that the pestilential effluvia might not be directed all in one way, by those set apart to fetch the articles left, and who might be infected. A well, or rivulet, northward of Eyam, called to this day, "Mompesson's Well", or " Mompesson's Brook", was one of the places where articles were deposited. These articles were brought very early in the morning, by persons from the adjoining villages, who, when they had delivered them beside the well, fled with the precipitation of panic. Persons set apart by Mompesson and Stanley fetched the articles left; and when they took money, it was deposited in the Well and certain distant troughs, to be purified, and to prevent contagion by passing from hand to hand. The persons who brought the articles were careful to wash the money well before they took it away. An account was left at this and other places of the progress of the disease, the number of deaths, and other particulars. When money was sent, it was only for some extra or particular articles: the provisions and many other necessaries were supplied, it is generally asserted, by the Earl of Devonshire. - The Cliffe, between Stoney Middleton and Eyam, was another place on the circle appointed for this purpose. A large vessel of water stood there, in which money and other things were deposited for purification. There are other places of this sort pointed out, but these were the most particular.

It is said that no one ever crossed this cordon santaire from within or without, during the awful calamity: this, however, is not precisely correct. One person, as we shall see hereafter, crossed it from without at the sacrifice of life; and in a subsequent part I shall give some interesting particulars of some who crossed it from within. It must be granted, however, that it was to the prescribing of this boundary and other precautions attendant thereon, that the country around was saved from this most horrible pestilence. The wisdom of Mompesson, who is said to have originated this plan, can only be surpassed in degree by the courage of the inhabitants in not trespassing beyond the bounds prescribed, whom, as Miss Seward justly observes, "a cordon of soldiers could not have prevented against their will, much less could any watch which might have been set by the neighbourhood, have effected that important purpose". "The annals of mankind afford no instance of such magnanimous conduct in a joint number of persons. And ages pass away without being honoured by such an immortal character as Mompesson, who, while the black sword of pestilence was dealing death around him, voluntarily "put his life in his hand", from an exalted sense of duty, - for the salvation of the country. Towards the latter end of June, the plague began to rage more fearfully. Nothing but lamentations were heard in the village. The passing bell ceased, the church yard was no longer resorted to for interment, and the church door dosed.

"Contagion closed the portal of the fane
In which he wont the bread of life to deal;
He then a temple sought, not made with hands.
But reared by Him, amidst whose works it stood
Rudely magnificent." - ROBERTS.

Mompesson, at this juncture, deeming it dangerous to assemble in the Church during the hot weather, proposed to meet his daily diminishing flock in the Delf, a secluded dingle a little south of Eyam, and there read prayers twice a week, and deliver his customary sermons on the Sabbath, from a perforated arch in an ivy-mantled rock. The ghastly hearers seated themselves at some distance from each other on the grassy slope, opposite the rocky pulpit. Thither they assembled one by one for many a Sabbath morn, leaving at their mournful homes, some a father, some a mother, some a brother, and some a child struggling with death. They glanced at each other with looks of unutterable woe, asking in silence, "whom Fate would next demand". Mompesson, from the massive rock, lifted up his voice to heaven and called aloud on the God of mercy to stay the deadly pest, while the fervent responses of the shuddering hearers dolefully echoed from the caverns around. Thus they assembled in the sacred dell, while each succeeding Sabbath told the horrid work of death. "Do you not see", says Miss Seward, "this dauntless minister of God stretching forth his hand from the rock, instructing and consoling his distressed flock in that little wilderness? How solemn, how affecting, must have been the pious exhortations of these terrible hours". Rhodes observes, "that Paul preaching at Athens, or John the Baptist in the wilderness, scarcely excites a more powerful and solemn interest than this minister of God, this 'legate of the skies', when contemplated on this trying occasion, 'when he stood between the dead and living, and the plague was stayed'. Numbers, chap. 16, verse 48. This romantic arch has, from that terrible time, always been designated "Cucklett Church". How insensible to the awfulness of that horrible season must be that being who can tread this hallowed dell and not hear

"Amidst the rocks an awful sound
In deep reverberation sigh,
And all the echoing caverns round
With mournful voices far reply,
As it, in those sepulchral caves.
The dead were speaking from their graves."

Few or no instances are on record, of the extinction of life in a joint number of mortals, attended with such trying and appalling circumstances as the plague at Eyam, in July, August, and September, 1666. During these dreadful months, the terrific sufferings of the inhabitants almost defy description. Parents beheld their children fall in direful succession by the hand of the insatiable and purple-visaged pest. Children turned aside with fearful dread at the distorted features of their parents in death. Every family while they were any left, buried their own dead; and one hapless woman, in the space of a few days, as we shall hereafter see, dug the graves for, and buried with her own hands, her husband and six children. Appalling as such a circumstance must be, it is, however, only one of a very many of that dreadful time.

We are now arriving at the period when the fury of the pestilence attained its maximum: when it threatened the terrified villagers with utter extermination. Fear and dismay overshadowed their souls; they shrunk back with terror at the increasing ravages of this most capricious, indescribable, and horrid disease; which, in the beautiful language of the poet, -

"Darts in the whirlwind - floats upon the breeze -
Creeps down the vales, and hangs upon the trees -
Strikes in a sunbeam - in the evening cool -
Flags on the fog, and stagnates on the pool -
In films aetherial, taints the vital air -
Steals through a pore, and creeps along a hair -
Invades the eye in light - the ear in sounds -
Kills with a touch, and at a distance wounds." - FURNESS.

A few of the last days of June were exceedingly hot, and the infection spread with horrible rapidity. The Church-yard closed its gates against the dead. Funeral rites were no longer read; coffins and shrouds were no longer thought off; an old door or chair was at first the bier on which the dead were borne; and a half-made grave or hole hastily dug in the fields and gardens round the cottages, received each putrid corpse ere life was quite extinct. With the commencement of July, the weather became extremely warm and sultry; and the rage of the pest really terrific. Dreadful wailings burst forth from every side; and the countenances of the few who ventured abroad were deeply impressed with the visible signs of inward horror. The village was unfrequented; it stood, as it were out of the world; none came to sympathise with its suffering inhabitants: no traveller passed through the lonely street during that awful time: it was regarded and avoided, as the valley of death! Horror and Destruction rode, and marked the boundary of the dreadful place. On the clouds that hung gloomily over the village were written "Pestilence and Death": at which terrific inscription, the approaching stranger turned aside and precipitately fled; haunted and chased by horrid and terrible fears. Thus, helpless and alone, perished the villagers of Eyam, for the salvation of the country:-

"Struck by turns, in solitary pangs 
They fell, unblest, untended, and unmourn'd." - THOMSON.

It is impossible for pen to describe, or imagination to conceive, the unspeakable distress of those who resided in that part of the village, and in those houses, where the plague raged from first to last, with the greatest violence. Some dwellings in July, and especially in August, contained at one moment both the dying and the dead. In one individual house, a victim was struggling with death, while they were hurrying another therefrom to a grave in the fields. In another, a few were anxiously watching and wishing for the last convulsive gasp, that the victim might be instantly interred, and that "so much of the disease might be buried, and its influence destroyed", The open day witnessed the putrid bodies of the victims pass along the street; and sable night was startled at the frequent footsteps of the buriers of the dead. The horrid symptom of the last stage of the disease in almost every victim, was the signal for the digging of a grave, or rather hole, to which the deceased, placed on the first thing at hand, or more often dragged on the ground, was speedily hurried and buried with inconceivable precipitation; "even whilst the limbs were yet warm, and almost palpitating with life". So anxious were they for immediate interment, that some were buried close by their cottage doors, and it is said, some in the back parts of the very houses in which they died. In this state of things passed day after day, and week after week. The terrified villagers had for some time forsaken their wonted occupations; the untended cattle lowed mournfully on the neighbouring hills; the fields and gardens became a wilderness; and family feuds and personal animosities sank in oblivion! Nothing was now scarcely seen, save -

"The deep-racking pang, the ghastly form.
The lip pale-quivering, and the beamless eye
No more with ardour bright."THOMSON.

Every family up to July had been from dire necessity compelled to bury their own dead; for no one would touch, nor even glance at a corpse that did not belong to his own house or family. But when, as was now frequently the case, the last of a family died, or when one died in a house and the others were dying, some person was necessitated, however dangerous the task, to undertake the charge of removing the unsightly corpse, and instantly burying it. For this hazardous but necessary purpose, the All-wise Providence had endowed with sufficient nerve, hardihood, and indifference the person of Marshall Howe, a man of gigantic stature, a native of the village, and of a most courageous calibre. The daring conduct of this individual in that terrible time, has rendered his name familiar with the villagers of Eyam to the present day. During the greatest fury of the plague, he filled the fearful office of burier of the dead. It appears, however, that he took the distemper nearly at the time of its first appearance, but recovered; and from a belief that a person was never attacked twice, much of his intrepidity may be ascribed. Covetousness, or avarice, seems to have instigated him in part, to undertake his perilous vocation. When he learned that some one was dying, without relatives to take charge of interment, he immediately proceeded to a garden or adjoining field, and opened a grave; then he hastened to the house where the victim lay still warm with life, and tying one end of a cord round the neck of the corpse, he threw the other over his shoulder and dragged it forth through the street to the grave, and with an "unhallowed haste" lightly covered it with earth. The money, furniture, clothes, and other effects of the deceased were his unenviable remuneration. For near three months he was thus employed. By some, however, he was paid a stipulated sum for interring their deceased relatives; acquiring in this manner both money and valuables. Through burying the last victims of the pest houses, he took and claimed whatever he found therein; and in alluding to the quantity of clothing he had thus obtained, he jocularly observed, that "he had pinners and napkins sufficient to kindle his pipe with while he lived". Such was the awful occupation of Marshall Howe during the most horrible ravages of the plague; he, however, tasted the bitter draught, by burying with his own hands, his wife on the twenty-seventh, and his son on the thirtieth of August of the fatal 1666. For a generation or two after the plague, parents in Eyam endeavoured to bring their children to rule and obedience by telling them that they would send for Marshall Howe.

A few of the last days of July were really dreadful; sometimes five, sometimes six died in one day; and in the whole month fifty-seven. But it was in August that the pest bared his arm for the most deadly slaughter. The weather became in this month remarkably hot, and the pestilence spread throughout the village. Distraction overwhelmed the hourly diminishing villagers; some lay in a death-like stupor, anticipating their doom; others ran about the street in a state of madness, until they suddenly dropped down dead. From every house that was not empty, loud and dismal cries issued forth, mixed with violent exclamations of pain; and as Ossian sings, "the groan of the people spread over the hills". The swellings in the neck and groin of the patient became insufferable when they would not burst, and the torment was unspeakably excruciating. All now expected death; no one cherished a hope of escaping; and a mournful gloom settled on the features of the few who ventured to pace the lonely street. Those who fetched from the stated places the victuals and other articles were marked on the brow by sullen despair; and even

"The very children had imbibed a look
Of such unutterable woe, as told
A tale of sorrows indescribable."

As August advanced, the mortality increased with inconceivable rapidity. The wakes came on again, but alas! alas! how awful the change. The remaining few thought not of their wonted joy; they breathed not its name, for all their thoughts were full of death! The festive Sunday passed away, with all the stillness of the grave; none watched for the arrival of relations and friends; no village choristers assembled at the church; nor did the cheerful bells call aloud to the hills to be merry and glad. Nearly all who had tripped upon the village-green, at the last anniversary of this till then happy time, were now, uncoffined, laid in their graves.

Towards the latter end of the fatal month, near four-fifths of the inhabitants were swept away. Mompesson, during the whole time, unremittingly went from house to house comforting, as much as possible, his dying flock. He, however, was an ailing man, and had an issue in his leg. One day his beloved wife observed a green ichor issuing from the wound, which she conceived to be the result of his having taken the distemper, and its having found a vent that way. Great was her joy on this occasion; and though Mompesson thought she was mistaken, yet he, as we shall see in his letter to his children, fully and duly appreciated her extreme anxiousness for his welfare. This admirable and worthy man was now destined to drink of the sickening cup which had been passing round the village. Catherine, his beloved partner, had, during the spring, shown symptoms of a pulmonary consumption. She is represented to have been exceedingly beautiful though very delicate. There is a very current tradition in the village, that on the morning of the twenty-second of August, 1666, Mompesson and his wife walked out arm in arm in the fields adjoining the Rectory, as had been their custom for some months in the spring, hoping that the morning air would restore her convalescence.

During this walk she had been dwelling on her usual theme - her two absent children, when, just as they were leaving the last field for their habitation, she suddenly exclaimed: "Oh! Mompesson ! the air! how sweet it smells!" These words went through the very soul of Mompesson, and his heart sank within him! He made some evasive reply, and they entered their dwelling. The lapse of a few hours confirmed his fearful anticipation from her remark in the fields: she had taken the distemper, the horrid symptoms appeared, she became at intervals delirious, and before night no hope was entertained of her recovery. Mompesson seemed for awhile unable to stand the terrible shock; distraction overwhelmed him, and he stood at her bedside a statue of despair. He, however, after the first paroxysm of grief was past, began, with a fortitude unexampled, to use every means imaginable to arrest the progress of the disease. Cordials and chemical antidotes were administered by his own hand; but, alas! in vain. She struggled with the invincible pest until the morning of the twenty-fourth, when her spirit took its flight to the regions of bliss. Mompesson cast himself beside her putrid corpse; and in the agony of despair bathed her cold and pallid face with burning tears. The domestics came and led him faltering away; yet ere he left the room he turned, and, sobbing, cried "farewell! farewell! all happy days!" He repaired to his closet, and on his bended knees lifted up his voice to heaven; while,

"One lightning-winged cry
Shot through the hamlet; and a wailing grew,
Wilder than when the plague-fiend first drew nigh,
One troublous hour, - and from all quarters fly
The wretched remnant, who had ceased to weep;
But sorrow, which had drained their bosoms dry,
Found yet fresh fountains in the spirit deep,
Wringing out burning tears that loved one's couch to steep."

She who had been a few days past so lovely and beautiful, was now a livid corpse; she who had been the object of every attention, now lay lone and still, guarded from every eye by dreadful apprehension.

"Ah! then Mompesson felt
What human tongue nor poet's pen must feign -
Quick to the grave the kindred earth was given
With e'en affection's last sad pledge forgone,
The mortal kiss - for round those blighted lips,
Exaled the ling'ring spirit of the pest,
As if in triumph o'er all that was once
So lovely and beloved."

Thus, this lovely and amiable woman fell a victim to the plague in the twenty-seventh year of her age. Her resolution to abide with her husband in defiance of death, is a striking instance of the strength and purity of female affection. She was interred the day after her death, August, the twenty-fifth, 1666, in the church-yard at Eyam. Over her ashes her loving and truly affectionate husband erected a splendid tomb, which, with its inscription and devices, will be described hereafter.

Great as was the calamity that had visited and was still visiting almost every family in the fated village: terrible as was the devastation of the pestilence in August, yet the very few inhabitants that were left nearly forgot their own sufferings and distress in the death of Mrs. Mompesson. They had witnessed in her worthy husband, so much sympathy and benevolence, so much attention and human feeling, that they regarded him as their counsellor, physician, and friend, and hence their participation in his sorrow for the loss of his lovely and amiable wife. The trying situation, the lacerated sensations of this incomparable man will be best shown by the two following letters, written with his own hand a few days after the interment of his affectionate spouse.

To his dear children he thus announces the death of their mother: -

"To my dear children, George and Elizabeth Mompesson, these present with my blessing.
"Eyam, August 31, 1666.

"DEAR HEARTS, - This brings you the doleful news of your dear mother's death - the greatest loss which ever befel you! I am not only deprived of a kind and loving consort, but you also are bereaved of the most indulgent mother that ever dear children had. We must comfort ourselves in God with this consideration, that the loss is only ours, and that what is our sorrow is her gain. The consideration of her joys, which I do assure myself are unutterable, should refresh our drooping spirits.

"My children, I think it may be useful to you to have a narrative of your dear mother's virtues, that the knowledge thereof may teach you to imitate her excellent qualities. In the first place, let me recommend to you her piety and devotion, which were according to the exact principles of the Church of England. In the next place, I can assure you, she was composed of modesty and humility, which virtues did possess her dear soul in a most exemplary manner. Her discourse was ever grave and meek, yet pleasant also; an immodest word was never heard to come from her mouth. She had two other virtues, modesty and frugality. She never valued any thing she had, when the necessities of a poor neighbour required it; but had a bountiful spirit towards the distressed and indigent; yet she was never lavish, but commendably frugal. She never liked tattling women, and abhorred the custom of going from house to house, thus wastefully spending precious time. She was ever busied in useful work, yet, though prudent, she was affable and kind. She avoided those whose company could not benefit her, and would not unbosom herself to such, still she dismissed them with civility. I could tell you of her many other excellent virtues. I do believe, my dear hearts, that she was the kindest wife in the world, and think from my soul, that she loved me ten times better than herself; for she not only resisted my entreaties, that she should fly with you, dear children, from this place of death, but, some few days before it pleased God to visit my house, she perceived a green matter to come from the issue in my leg, when she fancied a symptom that the distemper, raging amongst us, had found a vent that way, whence she assured herself that I was passed the malignity of the disorder, whereat she rejoiced exceedingly, not considering her own danger thereby. I think, however, that she was mistaken in the nature of the discharge she saw: certainly it was the salve that made it look so green; yet her rejoicing was a strong testimony that she cared not for her own peril so I were safe.

"Further, I can assure you, that her love to you was little inferior than to me; since why should she thus ardently desire my long continuance in this world of sorrows, but that you might have the protection and comfort of my life. You little imagine with what delight she talked of you both, and the pains she took when you suckled your milk from her breasts. She gave strong testimony of her love for you when she lay on her death-bed. A few hours before she expired I wished her to take some cordials, which she told me plainly she could not take. I entreated she would attempt for your dear sakes. At the mention of your names, she with difficulty lifted up her head and took them; this was to testify to me her affection for you.

"Now I will give you an exact account of the manner of her death. For some time she had shown symptoms of a consumption, and was wasted thereby. Being surrounded by infected families, she doubtless got the distemper from them; and her natural strength being impaired, she could not struggle with the disease, which made her illness so very short. She showed much contrition for the errors of her past life, and often cried out,- 'One drop of my Saviour's blood, to save my soul'. She earnestly desired me not to come near her, lest I should receive harm thereby; but, thank God, I did not desert her, but stood to my resolution not to leave her in her sickness, who had been so tender a nurse to me in her health. Blessed be God, that He enabled me to be so helpful and consoling to her. for which she was not a little thankful. During her illness she was not disturbed by worldly business - she only minded making her call and election sure; and she asked pardon of her maid, for having sometimes given her an angry word. I gave her some sweating antidotes, which rather inflamed her more, whereupon her dear head was distempered, which put her upon many incoherencies. I was troubled thereat, and propounded to her questions in divinity. Though in all other things she talked at random, yet to these religious questions, she gave me as rational answers as could be desired. I bade her repeat after me certain prayers, which she did with great devotion, - it gave me comfort that God was so gracious to her.

"A little before she died, she asked me to pray with her again. I asked her how she did? The answer was, that she was looking when the good hour should come. Thereupon I prayed, and she made her responses from the Common Prayer book, as perfectly as in her health, and an 'Amen' to every pathetic expression. When we had ended the prayers for the sick, we used those from the Whole Duty of Man! and when I heard her say nothing, I said, 'My dear, dost thou mind?' She answered, 'Yes', and it was the last word she spoke.

"My dear babes, the reading of this account will cause many a salt tear to spring from your eyes; yet let this comfort you - your mother is a saint in heaven.

"Now, to that blessed God, who bestowed upon her all 'those graces', be ascribed all honour, glory, and dominion, the just tribute of all created beings, for evermore - Amen!


Is there not in this truly pathetic letter, the visible effusion of a purely Christian spirit, - the bright effulgence of a heavenly mind, which shall command the admiration of succeeding generations, to the end of time? On the same melancholy event, the following letter was written by Mompesson, to his friend and patron, Sir George Saville:-

"Eyam, September 1, 1666.

"Honoured and Dear Sir, - This is the saddest news that ever my pen could write! The destroying Angel having taken up his quarters within my habitation, my dearest wife is gone to her eternal rest, and is invested with a crown of righteousness, having made a happy end. Indeed, had she loved herself as well as me, she had fled from the pit of destruction with the sweet babes, and might have prolonged her days; but she was resolved to die a martyr to my interests. My drooping spirits are much refreshed with her joys, which I think are unutterable.

"Sir, this paper is to bid you a hearty farewell for ever, and to bring you my humble thanks for all your noble favours; and I hope you will believe a dying man, I have as much love as honour for you, and I will bend my feeble knees to the God of Heaven, that you, my dear lady, and your children and their children, may be blessed with external and eternal happiness, and that the same blessing may fall upon Lady Sunderland and her relations.

"Dear Sir, let your dying Chaplain recommend this truth to you and your family, that no happiness or solid comfort can be found in this vale of tears, like living a pious life; and pray ever remember this rule, never do anything upon which you dare not first ask the blessing of God.

"Sir, I have made bold in my will with your name for executor, and I hope you will net take it ill. I have joined two others with you, who will take from you the trouble. Your favourable aspect will, I know, be a great comfort to my distressed orphans. I am not desirous that they should be great, but good; and my next request is, that they be brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

"Sir, I thank God I am contented to shake hands with all the world; and have many comfortable assurances that God will accept me through his Son. I find the goodness of God greater than I ever thought or imagined; and I wish from my soul that it were not so much abused and continued. I desire, Sir, that you will he pleased to make choice of a humble, pious man, to succeed me in my parsonage; and could I see your face before my departure hence, I would inform you in what manner I think he may live comfortable amongst his people, which would he some satisfaction to me before I die.

"Dear Sir, I beg the prayers of all about you that I may not be daunted by the powers of hell; and that I may have dying graces: with tears I beg, that when you are praying for fatherless orphans, you would remember my two pretty babes.

"Pardon the rude style of this paper, and be pleased to believe that I am, dear Sir, &c.


"In the whole range of literature", says William and Mary Howitt, "we know of nothing more pathetic than these letters"; alluding, besides these two, to another, dated Eyam, Nov. 20, 1666, which will be found hereafter.

It is singular, indeed, that Mompesson enjoyed such remarkable good health during the whole time of the calamitous visitation: he, in the language of the poet,

"Drew, like Marseilles' good bishop, purer breath,
When nature sickened, and each gale was death."

From house to house he went, and prayed with the dying victims:-

"Beside the bed where parting life was laid, 
And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismayed.
The reverend champion stood."GOLDSMITH.

From the interment of Mrs. Mompesson (August the twenty-fifth) to the end of the month, the pestilence raged with unabated fury: although four-fifths of the population were swept away. On the twenty-sixth of this terrible month, Marshall Howe, who had been daily employed in hurrying the dead to their unhallowed graves, was doomed to experience a loss, equal in his own estimation to that of his pastor. Joan his wife, who had often remonstrated with him to desist from his perilous avocation, was seized with the distemper: and the virulence of the attack threatened almost immediate dissolution. Though he had been, for full two months, moving in the whirlwind of death, yet up to this time, he had doomed himself invulnerable to the pest; but the infection of his wife brought conviction to his mind, that he had been the means of bringing the disease across his own threshold; and he wept bitterly. The direful symptom appeared on the snow-white bosom of his beloved Joan: and early on the morning of the twenty-seventh she breathed her last. Marshall wept aloud over her stiffening limbs; but ere the sun had tipped with gold the orient hills of Eyam, he wound her up and carried her in his brawny arms to a neighbouring field, where he dug a grave and placed her silently therein. A sullen sadness overspread his mien, while over her remains he patted the earth with an unusual and unconscious circumspection. Filled with gloomy sensations he returned to his home, but, alas! there he found his only, his dearest son William, struggling with the pest. Despair "whirled his brain to madness": he cast himself on a couch and uttered doleful lamentations. William, his beloved son, who had inherited something of his father's iron constitution, wrestled with the horrid and deadly monster until the morning of the third day of his sickness, when he yielded to his direful and mortal antagonist. His disconsolate father bore his warm but lifeless corpse to the grave of his wife, beside which he buried it, while floods of tears bespoke his inconceivable agony. The necessity, however, of Marshall Howe, compelled him to continue in the office of burier of the dead. But the recklessness and levity which he had exhibited were no longer observable after the bereavement of his wife and son. The terrified and fast dwindling villagers were no longer startled, when he returned from the interment of a victim in the Cussy-dell, by the following observation which, on these occasions, he invariably made:- "Ah! I saw Old N- k grinning on the ivied rock as I dragged such-a-one along the dell!" Marshall survived the plague a many years.

The last day of August, the sixth and twenty-sixth, were the only days during that awful month on which noone died: while the whole number who perished in the other twenty-eight days was seventy-eight. This number of deaths must be considered really appalling, especially when it is taken into estimation that the population of the village on the first of August was considerably under two hundred. The havoc in this month was dreadful beyond all description. The houses from the eastern end to the middle of the village were now nearly all empty. An awful gloom pervaded this part; broken, however, at times by the sudden shriek of one whom the blood-scented pest discovered in some lone and secluded corner. The inhabitants of the extreme western part of the village, who were at that time very few, shut themselves close up in their houses; nor would they on any occasion whatever, cross a small rivulet eastward, which runs under the street in that part of Eyam. That portion of the street which crosses this small stream is called at this day "Fiddlers-Bridge"; and it is very commonly asserted, that the plague never crossed it westward. This, I think, is hardly correct; but as there were but very few inhabitants in that direction, the plague could not make any great devastation. Indeed, as we shall see hereafter, those who fled at the breaking out of the disease, were principally, if not exclusively, inhabitants of that part, and consequently, there would be but very few left. One man, however, in the upper or western part of the village, is said to have taken the distemper and died by intending to visit a sister who was a widow, and who dwelt in the Lydgate, or the eastern part of Eyam. It is told, that this man heard by chance, late one evening, in the latter end of August, that his sister, for whom he had the greatest affection, was taken ill of the plague. Being much troubled, he came to the determination of visiting her, even at the sacrifice of life. Early next morning, he arose, unknown to his family, and proceeded down the silent street to her abode. The door opened at his touch, but all was still, he hastened to her bed, but it was empty and stripped. No enquiry of the fate of his sister was requisite; she had died the preceding night, and Marshall Howe had consigned her to a grave in an adjoining garden, and had rifled her dwelling long before the break of day. The man returned to his family full of grief and sorrow; but he went not alone - the invisible pest accompanied him, and swept him and all his family into their graves, in the short space of a few days. Thus, like leaves in Autumn, fell the villagers of Eyam, in the terrible and fatal month of August, 1666.

September was unusually hot, and the plague raged with unmitigated violence, considering the amount of population left. Almost every day in this month had its victim; and the few that were left, were now become so familiar with death, that the announcement of the dissolution of any no longer excited scarcely any notice whatever. A dreamy stillness reigned around the nearly desolated village; it was canopied by a dark and deepening gloom, which fancy might imagine had been formed by the incessant accumulation of sorrowful respirations. The last day of September was one of the few days during that month unattended by the death of a victim. Although the inhabitants at the beginning of September were reduced to a very few, still the insatiated pest carried away twenty four during that month. October came, the month in which it ceased; yet, up to the eleventh, it still carried on the work of destruction, with but little relaxation of fury. On the eleventh of October, 1666, this awful minister of death, after having from the first day of the same month, destroyed fifteen out of about forty-five, totally ceased. After having swept away five-sixths of the inhabitants of Eyam, this the greatest enemy of the human race, was exhausted with excessive slaughter, and in the last conflict, worsted and destroyed and buried with the last victim.

Of the number who perished at Eyam by the hand of this direful plague, there are different accounts. The Register, which is undoubtedly as correct as can be expected from the confusion of the time, states the number of victims to be 259; while there is another account as follows:- "259 of ripe age, and 58 children".[3] But as the number mentioned in the Register contains children, the latter account is most probably incorrect. This devastation is certainly appalling, when the amount of population at the commencement of the calamity is considered, which amount has generally been stated at 330. From the number of families visited by the plague, mentioned in the subsequent letter of Mompesson, it would, I opine, be nearer the mark, to say 350, or perhaps a few more. The number of deaths taken from the latter amount would leave 91. But a many fled at the first appearance of the distemper; some of whom never returned. Bradshaws, the then most wealthy family in the village, left it with precipitation, and never came back. A family of the name of Furness, took refuge at Farnsley, or Foundley, a farm-house, about a mile from Eyam. Mr. Richard Furness, the poet, a native of Eyam, and the present schoolmaster of Dore, near Sheffield, is a lineal descendant of that family. A man of the name of Merril, who lived at the Hollins-House, Eyam, built a hut on Eyam Moor, and resided therein until the plague abated. A hut was built a little beyond Riley by a family named Cotes, who dwelt there during that terrible time. The little dale that runs up to Foundley was nearly full of huts, built under the projecting rocks. There were others in the Cussy dell; and on various parts of the Moor the remains of these fugitive residences have existed, till very lately. Mompesson 's children, as we have seen, were sent away, and many others undoubtedly, who would not return for some time after the plague. Hence we may conclude, that there would be but very few left of those who tarried within the precincts of the village; in fact, it is a very current tradition that, two dozen funeral cakes, were, for some years subsequent to the plague, sufficient for the whole village, inclusive of the few distant relatives of the deceased. And I may here add, that of all the desolating traces of that destructive malady, there is none which to the present day has been more generally talked of, than that the main street, from one end of the village to the other, was grown over with grass; and, it is said, that kingcups and other flowers grew in the very middle of the road. This, however, one would imagine, could hardly be the case in 1666; but more probably in 1667, and a few succeeding years. That the village was almost desolate there is no doubt; and in the following sublime language of Ossian, it may be said:-

"There the thistle shook its lonely head: the moss whistled to the wind. The fox looked out from the windows, the rank grass of the wall waved round its head."

The winter which succeeded the cessation of the pestilence was, by the very few who were left, wholly spent in burning the furniture of the pest houses, and likewise nearly all the bedding and clothing found in the village: reserving scarcely anything to cover their nakedness. The necessary articles of apparel were fumigated and purified; and every means that could be suggested, were taken to prevent the resurrection of the horrid pest. But, the awful dread of this deadly monster; the condition of the village at the termination of its ravages, will be best shown by giving, after the following letter of Mompesson's, a few very popular and authentic traditions of that unspeakable and agonizing time:-

"To John Beilby. Esq., _____ Yorkshire.
"Eyam, Nov. 20, 1666.

"Dear Sir, - I suppose this letter will seem to you no less than a miracle, that my habitation is inter vivos, I have got these lines transcribed by a friend, being loth to affright you with a letter from my hands. You are sensible of my state, the loss of the kindest wife in the world, whose life was amiable and end most comfortable. She was in an excellent posture when death came, which fills me with assurances that she is now invested with a crown of righteousness. I find this maxim verified by too sad experience: Bonum magis carendo quam fruendo cernitur. Had I been as thankful as my condition did deserve, I might have had my dearest dear in my bosom. But now farewell all happy days, and God grant I may repent my sad ingratitude!

"The condition of the place has been so sad, that I persuade myself it did exceed all history and example. Our town has become a Golgotha, the place of a skull; and had there not been a small remnant, we had been as Sodom, and like to Gomorrah. My ears never heard such doleful lamentations - my nose never smelled such horrid smells, and my eyes never beheld such ghastly spectacles. Here have been 76 families visited within my parish, out of which 259 persons died. Now (blessed be God) all our fears are over, for none have died of the plague since the eleventh of October, and the pest houses have been long empty. I intend (God willing) to spend this week in seeing all woollen clothes fumed and purified, as well for the satisfaction as for the safety of the country. Here have been such burning of goods that the like, I think, was never known. For my part, I have scarcely apparel to shelter my body, having wasted more than I needed merely for example. During this dreadful visitation, I have not had the least symptom of disease, nor had I ever better health. My man had the distemper, and upon the appearance of a tumour I gave him some chemical antidotes, which operated, and after the rising broke, he was very well. My maid continued in health, which was a blessing; for had she quailed, I should have been ill set to have washed and gotten my provisions. I know I have had your prayers; and I conclude that the prayers of good people have rescued me from the jaws of death. Certainly I had been in the dust, had not Omnipotence itself been conquered by holy violence.

"I have largely tasted the goodness of the Creator, and the grim looks of death did never yet affright me. I always had a firm faith that my babes would do well, which made me willing to shake hands with the unkind, froward world; yet I shall esteem it a mercy if I am frustrated in the hopes I had of a translation to a better place, and God grant that with patience I may wait for my change, and that I may make a right use of His mercies: as the one hath been tart, so the other hath been sweet and comfortable.

"I perceive by a letter from Mr Newby, of your concern for my welfare. I make no question but I have your unfeigned love and affection. I assure you, that during my troubles you have had a great deal of room in my thoughts. Be pleased, dear Sir, to accept of the presentments of my kind respects, and impart them to your good wife, and all my dear relations. I can assure you that a line from your hand will be welcome to your sorrowful and affectionate nephew,


Thus wrote this affectionate spirit - thus he describes the sufferings of his flock, which sufferings, however, will be further and more fully detailed in the following traditions of this terrible calamity:-

[1] The wakes was held then when it ought to be - the first Sunday after the 18th of August, St. Helen's day. The time of holding the annual festival, or wakes, was changed to the last Sunday in August, about a century ago. The cause of this change was the harvest.
[2] In an old flue or chimney belonging to the kitchen of this house, a pair of old leather stays was found some years since. They were supposed to have been there ever since the plague; and were consequently buried with precipitation.
[3] De Spiritualibus Pecci.


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

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