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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler


Eyam 1665/6

The village of Eyam in Derbyshire, led by its vicar, Rev William Mompesson, self isolated to contain the plague within the parish.

During the course of the plague from September 1665 to November 1666, 260 villagers died. The plague had reached Eyam via a bale of damp cloth from London, which was carrying the fleas that in turn carried the plague.

By the turn of the year 1665/66 forty two people had died in the village, and then in The New Year numbers began to fall until a second wave hit. It was at this point that Mompesson decided to act by placing the village in quarantine in order to protect the larger populations in neighbouring Bakewell and Sheffield. But the Rev Mompesson faced another problem. His popular predecessor was still living in the village having been turned out of his job because of his refusal to take the oath of allegiance to Charles II as Head of The Church, according to The Act of Uniformity of 1662.

But crises often bring people together and it brought Mompesson and his predecessor, Rev Thomas Stanley, together. Mompesson's wife, Catherine, confided in her diary, 'It might be difficult to predict the outcome because of the resentment as to William's role in the parish, but considering that the Rev Stanley was now stood at his side, perhaps he would gain the support necessary to carry the day'.

Sadly, having ministered to the sick, Catherine herself succumbed to the disease and died. She was just twenty seven years of age.

Mompesson himself survived and three years later moved to a parish in Nottinghamshire. His fellow parishioners in Eyam had no such luxury, they had to remain in the village with all their memories.

PS Quarantine - Etymology

The word 'quarantine'comes from the Italian Quarantino, meaning forty. Why forty? Because during The Black Death of the mid 14th century the Venetian city of Ragusa (present day Dubrovnik) imposed a thirty day isolation period for ships entering its harbour from ports which had already succumbed to the plague.

Over the decades thirty days isolation turned into forty. No one is quite sure why forty was the number hit upon, but it may well have a Biblical origin in Moses' forty days on Mt Sinai or Jesus' forty days in the desert.

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