Eyam – Past and Present Self Isolation

During the current Covid-19 pandemic the picturesque Peak District village of Eyam could well be reflecting on its history and the similarities with the current Covid – 19 lockdown.

In 1665 a tailor from the village unwittingly triggered a chain of events that led to 260 out of about 700 residents dying from bubonic plague when he ordered a box of materials from London. The parcel that arrived contained fleas trapped in cloth.

For six months families self isolated and suffered great loss. One woman, Elizabeth Hancock lost her husband and six children in just eight days and because of rules in place at the time was forced to dig their graves herself.

The loss of life was more than double the mortality rate suffered by the citizens of London in the Great Plague. Between the first and the last death, the villagers set an extraordinary and enduring example of self-sacrifice by sealing off the village from the surrounding areas to prevent the disease spreading. And this severe strategy paid off. It contained the plague and averted the spread Bakewell, Manchester and Sheffield as was feared.

In November 1666 after two weeks without a death villagers rang the church bells to celebrate the end of quarantine – they were free.

Memorials to those villagers who gave their lives back in 1665 can be seen in cottage gardens around the village today.

Similarities of self isolation, stopping travel, and an emphasis on solidarity to combat panic were all key then, as they are now.

Whilst we enjoy the delivery of online food, back in 1665 the villagers organised for supplies to be left at the village boundary stone in exchange for their vinegar soaked money. And, whereas we have video calls back then they had Cucklet Delph. At this natiral amphitheatre just outside the village locals would meet to discuss events whilst keeping their distance from each other.

Eyam and its residents are currently locked down to keep safe and free of the virus. But, when this is all over the bells will ring for all to hear and we will be free to visit this pretty little village once again

The village that sacrificed itself – The Week 25 April 2020
Eyam Museum