Known as the plague village, Eyam in Derbyshire’s Peak District is a beautiful village with an amazing story to tell.
It includes amazing personal sacrifice, a village pulling together and all before we had instant communication over long distances! I’ll tell you a bit more about the history below, but a quick snippet is that it was a village in Derbyshire that contracted the Bubonic Plague from London (it arrived in a package of material) and then sealed itself off from other areas to protect others from it.
Plague Cottage – Mary Hadfield, formally Cooper, lived here with her two sons, Edward and Jonathan, her new husband, Alexander Hadfield and an employed hand George Viccars.
George Viccars, the first plague victim, did on 7th September 1665.
Edward Cooper, aged 4, died on the 22nd September 1665.
Jonathan Cooper, aged 12, died on the 2nd October 1665
Alexander Hadfield died on the 3rd August 1666
Mary alone survived but lost 13 relatives
I’ve visited Eyam a number of times over the years, it wasn’t too far from when we lived in Yorkshire, but these photos were taken in 2019 when I planned to write up about how to visit. Life then got busy and before I knew it 2020 was in full swing and we know how that panned out! I thought about that little village so much during the Covid crisis.
I’d highly recommend visiting this place if you’re in the area, it has such an interesting story and after 2020 it’s even more relevant. We now have our own lived experience to tap into when discovering about the village’s past.
So, let’s dive a little into the history of Eyam and some tips about visiting this Peak District village so you can see it for yourself:
So, what happened in Eyam Village?
Ok, so I’ll do a little overview of what happened and what makes Eyam such a special place to visit.
In 1665 the Great Plague was rife in London, spread by fleas that lived on rats in the city and it was deadly, killing almost a quarter of London’s population at the time.
Eyam is around 160 miles from London and is a small country village, not the kind of place that the plague would have spread to generally – so what happened and how did it get there?
A tailor in the village (Alexander Haddon – his name was on the plaque of the Plague Cottage above) had bought some fabric from London and the package arrived infested with fleas which in turn had the bubonic plague. It didn’t take long for the tailor’s assistant, George Viccars, who had opened the package of fabric to become ill and die.
From then on, others in his household died and it spread to other villagers. They turned to the church to help with what to do and how to curb the spread.
The village essentially quarantined itself to prevent the disease spreading to nearby villages, setting itself up with elaborate ways to get goods in and pay without having to infect others. One such place was the Boundary Stone. Villagers would place money there in exchange for food and medicine and they’d disinfect the money by placing it in vinegar.
After around 14 months the plague ran its course but in that time it claimed a lot of lives in the village. Some reports say that from an original population of around 350 people it reduced down to 83, although the numbers are disputed by some. Many, many villagers died though.
But, I imagine that many were saved by their valiant efforts too. Who knows how bad it may have got if they hadn’t?
Where is Eyam?
Eyam is a small village to the south west of the city of Sheffield in what’s known as the Hope Valley. It’s in the Derbyshire part of the Peak District.
It’s easily accessible from Manchester in the west, Sheffield or Chesterfield. You can get there by public transport but car is by far the easiest way to get around this rural area. See the end of the post for details on how to get to Eyam.
What can you see today:
Eyam is a pretty village to walk around and enjoy and, like many other villages in the Peak District, it has a few cafes and shops to spend time in and pick up souvenirs or local crafts. Even if you’re not interested in the history you’ll enjoy the scenery cute buildings.
If you’re interested in the plague history then it’s worth wandering around the town and looking for the plaques on many of the houses which details some snippets about who lived, or died, there.
Photo 1: John Torre’s House – John Torre died here 29th July 1666. Godfrey, his son, aged 8 months, died 3rd August 1666. His wife, Joan, survived
Photo 2: The Lydgate Graves – The graves of George Darby who died on the 4th July 1666 and his daughter Mary, aged 20, who died on the 4th September 1666. George’s wife survived and died in 1674.
Photo 3: The Miners Arms Croft – Many of the victims who lived at this end of the village were buried here. The memorial stones have been removed, but it is known that several were inscribed with the single letter ‘H’ and probably belonged to the Heald family.
Mary died June 16th 1666, Emmot died June 26th 1666, Elizabeth died July 2nd 1666 and Thomas died July 18th 1666.
One memorial stone heard of in Derby had the inscription Bridget Talbot, Annon Domini 1666.
In the village
As I just mentioned, in the village you’ll find a lot of houses with plaques on them which tell a little bit about who lived there in the time of the plague.
One of the most interesting houses in the tailor’s house, the place where the plague in Eyam began. It looks just like a quintessential thatched English country cottage – hard to imagine that so much death came from there.
Sacred to the memory of the Hancock family. Victims of the plague. August 3rd – 10th 1666
Visitors are requested to treat this burial place with reverence.
Just outside the village, and a short walk past lots of fields and farms, is another solemn place to visit. It’s called the Riley graves, named after the farm there, and it’s where a number of people in the same family died and were buried. The mother, had to watch 6 of her own children die, as well as her husband in the space of 8 days – but miraculously, or not, she survived the plague herself.
The graves are up a small hill and are enclosed in a small area. There’s a stunning view of the area surrounding area from here too. Certainly a good place to take a minute and contemplate life!
To the north of the village is a well which was used as one of the boundary markers and where merchants and traders could bring goods, food and medicines. They would leave the goods and exchange it for money that had also been left, soaked in vinegar to disinfect it.
Another boundary stone can be seen to the south of the village. Look out for the deep holes carved into them which would have been filled with vinegar.
If you have time and want to learn more about the history of the area then it’s well worth heading to the museum. It’s only open in the summer months and on weekends through some of the off season months (it’s closed for some of the winter – best to check their site to see if open beforehand).
We went to the museum a while ago now and it was very interesting. My kids were very keen on the horrible histories books and tv shows at the time so they were ok with the less than fun nature of the plague story. Some kids might find it distressing though.
How to get to Eyam
Eyam is in the heart of the Peak District and very much a countryside village. As such a car is the easiest way to get to Eyam.
Here are the approximate driving times and distances from towns and cities nearby:
- Sheffield: 14 miles/30 mins
- Manchester: 38 miles/ 1-1.5 hrs
- Chesterfield: 14 miles/30 mins
- Buxton: 14 miles/30 mins
- Bakewell: 7 miles/20 mins
There are 2 large car parking areas right next to the museum towards the east of the village. There’s plenty of spaces for lots of cars and motorhomes – it may well get busy in high season and on weekends though.
It’s also possible to get public transport from Sheffield to Eyam going through many other Peak District towns and villages such as Hathersage.
These buses all stop directly in the centre of the village. It’s recommended to always check the last bus times to ensure you don’t get stranded.