William Mompesson of Eyam (1639-1709)

Compiled by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2007

What more can be said of William Mompesson? The story of his courage, and the inspiration he provided during the outbreak of plague which so devastated the village of Eyam, the separation from his children, and the death of his wife - these have been well documented elsewhere, but what of the rest of his life? The plague outbreak - dreadful as it was - occupied a mere 18 months of a lifetime; this page provides an outline of the rest.

His entry in Alumni Cantabrigienses[1] records that he entered Peterhouse College on 16th April 1655, aged 16, and that he was born in Yorkshire and had attended Sherburn School. He was awarded a B.A. in 1658/9 and an M.A. in 1662. After that he became Chaplain to George SAVILLE, Lord Halifax, who was also possibly responsible for his appointment subsequently as Vicar of Scalby, Yorkshire, and then of Eyam between 1662-3, and 1664-9, where (to quote his Alumni entry) “he showed much courage during the plague”.

There is a baptism recorded in the IGI of a William MOMPESSON, son of John, at Collingham, Yorkshire, on 8th (or 28th) April 1639, but no mention of any siblings, and alas we are not so lucky as to find a reference to his marriage to his beloved Catherine, who - William Wood[2] tells us - was the daughter of Ralph CARR, Esq., of Cocken county Durham. She died during the worst of the epidemic and was buried on 25th August 1666, and a bunch of red roses is now placed on her tomb as part of the annual ‘Plague Sunday’ commemoration service, which has been held every year since 1905 on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the outbreak of the plague (and coincidentally of her death)

A place named ‘Cocken’ does not appear to exist, but would she have been Catherine CARR recorded in the IGI as daughter of Ralph, baptised 17 Dec 1633 at Medomsley, Durham?

If we might suppose that after the plague epidemic was over, it would have been all sweetness and light for William in Eyam, surrounded by his grateful parishioners, we would be disappointed, as he was to leave very soon after the epidemic was over. It has also been said that because he came from a plague village he was not welcome in his new parish of Eakring (near Newark, in Nottinghamshire) either, and that he was denied access both to his church and his vicarage; however this may have been for rather more prosaic reasons than fear of contagion. Both properties were in need of substantial refurbishment, and letters survive of him asking for financial assistance with repairs.[3]

He does seem nevertheless to have had moderately successful career thereafter. Again, from Alumni Cantabrigienses we are told that he became Rector of Eakring in 1669, where he stayed until his death on 7th March 1708/9. During that time he was also a Prebendary of Southwell, 1671-9, and Vicar-General of Southwell. He was offered, but declined the deanery of Lincoln.

He had also remarried, in 1670 to Elizabeth NEWBY, the widow of Charles NEWBY. She was a relative[4] of his patron Sir George SAVILLE, and owned a house in Rufford Park near Eakring.[3]

There is a brass plate in Eakring church, with a Latin inscription, which “marks the place in the chancel, at Eakring, where his ashes repose. Though his tomb may moulder in the dust, and be forgotten, yet his memorial of humanity and devotedness to his afflicted parishioners will never perish.”[5]

In addition, Cox's Churches of Nottinghamshire[6] records that there are 3 small windows in the Church at Eakring with the inscription:

“To the Glory of God and to perpetuate the memory of William Mompesson, priest, rector of this parish for 38 years, and previously Rector of Eyam in Derbyshire, where he faithfully ministered to his flock during the terrible Plague which raged, 1665-6, the three small windows in this chancel are dedicated.”

William's son George, and grandsons John and William (George's sons) followed him to Cambridge Colleges. George was born about 1662, and entered Peterhouse College on 28th January 1677/8. He gained a B.A. in 1681/2, and an M.A. in 1685, and was Rector of St Martin Micklegate, Yorkshire, 1691-1717, Vicar of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, 1699-1721, and Rector of Barnborough, Yorkshire, 1718-31. He married Alice, daughter of John BROOMHEAD, of Laughton-en-le-Morthern, at Aston in Yorkshire, in 1689, and died ‘in harness’ at Barnborough in 1731/2.

His sons John and William were born about 1691 and 1698. John predeceased his father, dying 2nd January 1722/3, and there is a memorial to him at Barnborough, but he had previously been Rector of Buckenham Ferry, Norfolk, and of Hassingham, Norfolk 1717-22.

William succeeded his father as Vicar of Mansfield, 1722-37, and was married to Elizabeth, daughter of John CHAPEL, of Mansfield Woodhouse, the year he was appointed to the living. He is buried at Waddington in Lincolnshire, in 1737, where he had died on a visit to his nephew[7] .

There is an account in this same source - Mansfield In the Eighteenth Century - that one of (William) Mompesson's daughters was ‘carried off from school at Doncaster’, by the 3rd son of the Duke of Rutland - John, Marquis of Granby - when aged 15. It is said that a ‘sham’ marriage took place, and they lived together for a time at Averham Park (which belonged to the Marquis's brother) Once she realised the marriage had been illegal “Mistress Mompesson” (as she was referred to) left the Marquis, hoping to return to her father, but he refused to admit her, so instead she went to her aunt, Mrs. Gilbert HALL, of Kettlethorp, who had “a warmer heart, and by her she was welcomed with every kindness.”

The same book records that the Mompessons were also bishops' surrogates, and so were empowered to grant marriage licences (presumably for a suitable fee!); thus turning Mansfield into Nottinghamshire's very own ‘Gretna Green’!

[1] Venn, J. & J.A - Alumni Cantabrigienses - A biographical list of all known students, graduates, and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900.
[2] Wood, William - The History and Antiquities of Eyam.
[3] Clifford, John - Eyam Plague 1665 - 1666. First published 1989. Revised 1993 and 1995.
[4] William's second wife is now known to have been the daughter of Rowland DAND and Margaret née SAVILLE - information provided by William's gt*8 grandson.
[5] White, William - History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby, 1857.
[6] Cox, J. Charles - The Churches of Nottinghamshire.
[7] Buxton, A - Mansfield In the Eighteenth Century, Vol 1. Published originally in 1933 reprinted 1972 by W.J. Linney Ltd., The Printing Works, Newgate Lane, Mansfield.

Information prepared by Rosemary Lockie in March 2007.

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