In 1665 a Great Plague struck England. Eyam, a small village in Derbyshire, was torn apart by the disease. The villagers of Eyam courageously quarantined themselves in a move that may have saved cities in the North from the terrifying disease.
Before the plague hit Eyam, the village had a population of about 350. Disaster struck in the summer of 1665. The village tailor received a delivery of material from a supplier in London: this parcel contained plague-infected fleas. A week later, the tailor was dead. By the end of September, five more villagers had died, and by the end of October, 23 others had succumbed to the disease.
Some villagers wanted to flee to the nearby city of Sheffield. William Mompesson, the church rector and one of the village’s most important people, persuaded them not to flee. He feared that they would spread the plague Northwards. Mompesson and the Puritan minister William Stanley decided to quarantine the village from the outside world. This increased their own likelihood of catching the plague.
The village was supplied with food by people from outside the village: supplies were left at the parish stones that marked the entrance to Eyam village. The villages left money in a water trough: this was filled with vinegar to sterilize the coins.
The disease continued to torment Eyam in 1666. Rector Mompesson’s wife died in August 1666. He decided to hold his services outside to reduce infection rates.
By November 1666, the plague outbreak had ended. Accurate figures of the death toll are hard to calculate: one estimate is that 260 people out of an initial population of 350 were killed. The village’s sacrifice may have saved thousands of lives in the north of England. Mompesson survived. He wrote these words towards the end of the village's ordeal:
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 long been empty.
See also: The Plague of 1665
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