No matter what your thoughts and opinions are about the dreaded “C” subject, I don’t think that there can be any denying that, for better or worse, the subject has now taken the place of the weather as the most-talked-about topic of conversation throughout the land! Who would have thought that we would no longer be talking about Brexit!! As its’ first anniversary approaches, there seems to be a general acceptance that we are going to have to learn to live with this disease, at some reduced level, even if the hoped-for vaccine eventually comes to pass.
Although there is little news to bring you from our Group on the situation in Marldon, we thought that you might be interested in the story of another village, perhaps the same size as Marldon at the time, who were affected by a similar dilemma. Even as a local history group, we can acknowledge that we are living through a great historic event, because of its simultaneous worldwide coverage and greater death toll than the Great Plague which affected this country (especially London) in 1665 (also known as the Black Death or bubonic Plague. Fortunately for London, the Great Fire of London in the following year destroyed most of the diseased fleas and rats which carried the deadly infection from overseas, but there were sporadic outbreaks around the country for many years later.
The best known of these outbreaks (outside London) was in the Derbyshire village of Eyam (pronounced Eeem) and historical accounts of the disease and the ways it was dealt with are strikingly similar to what is happening today, although obviously the numbers are much smaller than today and distances between settlements were much greater (the population of the country being about 5 million in the 1600’s).
The first villager in Eyam died in September 1665, and the villagers must have hoped that the ice and snow of a Peak District winter would kill off the carriers of the disease, but in the heat of July and August of the following year (1666) the plague raged through the area, and 78 deaths were recorded in the village in August. But in June 1666 the remaining villagers had decided to quarantine the village to prevent the disease spreading to other nearby villages and small towns. Churchyard burials were banned, Church services were held outdoors where families could stand safe distances from others, (these measures have a familiar ring to them) and the dead were buried in nearby fields. Many families succumbed to the deadly disease to some degree, including large numbers of children and one complete family of nine.
On the boundaries of the village “dropping points” were set up where goods and food could be left and sold or donated. Some of these were marked by a boundary stone, and some of which can still be seen outside other villages in the area. The last victim was recorded in November 1666, and by then Eyam had lost 260 of its people – of all ages. Accurate records of the population before the plague are few, but there can be no underestimating the effect of a loss of this proportion would have had on the villagers.
Today, Eyam is a beautiful, ancient and peaceful village in the Peak District of Derbyshire, and thanks to the story of the part it played in the Great Plague it is now visited by thousands each year to see Plague Cottage, the Church, the Boundary Stone, the graves , the excellent Museum, Eyam Hall and the Walks created to take you to the many places associated with the story of Eyam and the Plague. Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future, we shall all have the freedom to see it for ourselves.
Tony Chidlow .. Chairman