I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published December 15th 2012
Plague, Peaks, and Pints
Eyam, better known as the Plague Village, is located in Derbyshire, Peak District not far from the moors of Hathersage. In 1665 the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) arrived in the village and the residents volunteered to go into isolation to prevent the plague from spreading to neighbouring villages. Half the population of the village died, but the isolation was effective and the plague did not spread from Eyam.
Plague-carrying rat on the Eyam weather vane. Photo by Erin Connelly.
The plague museum tells the story of the self-sacrificing villagers and displays current research into the plague. Of interest is genetic research that shows that some modern Eyam residents carry a unique marker in their immune systems that makes them more resistant to colds and flu.
The row of plague cottages in the city centre are still inhabited by private owners, but signs outside the houses give the names or number of seventeenth century residents who died in the house.
Rose Cottage (site of 9 plague deaths). Photo by Alan Heardman.
Eyam Church contains Saxon crosses dating to the 9th century. When I visited the church, members of the community were rehearsing an annual play that illustrates Eyam's plague history. I sat next to a young cast member in the back of the pews and watched for a few minutes until the little girl started to talk to me about her character. "Her name is in that book over there", she said pointing to the church registry on display, "I'm related to her."
I looked at the registry later after the young actress had run off to perform her ancestor's death scene and there was indeed a long list of names with far too many death dates occurring from 1665 to 1666.
The stories of self-sacrifice, community strength, and endurance during one of the worst episodes in English history is uplifting, but spending a whole day immersed in the Black Death can be a bit morbid. Fortunately, Eyam is in the centre of the Peak District and right on the edge of the moors, so it's easy to take a brief walk in the country or a longer hike around the peaks after your visit to the village.
For refreshments after your walk, there is a wide selection of pubs, tea shops, and restaurants in Eyam and the surrounding peak district villages, which are well-known for their hospitality and delicious food. The Miners Arms Pub is one such place in Eyam where you can find a range of pub comfort foods and friendly locals. It is also a bed and breakfast, if you're looking for accommodation.
The Miners Arms Water Lane Eyam Hope Valley Derbyshire
Eyam is a few hours drive from London, but can be visited in a day. The surrounding peaks also make it a great destination for a weekend away from the city.
Great article Erin. It's interesting about the genetic marker that is found in some of the Eyam residents that makes them more resistant to colds and flus. I wonder if there is any research being conducted on this for the development of future drug therapies.