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A Visit to the Plague Village

There is alot to see and do in Eyam and is very popular with visitors. Eyam is famous as the "Plague Village" and I was returning to a place I last visited on a school trip in the 60's.

Arriving at the car park opposite Eyam Museum at 9.00am and it is half full already. There are two coaches both from Barnsley and another one on its way in from Manchester. The car park was pay and display and working out that the job in hand would take between 3 and 4 hours the car park was going to be an expense we could without. Okay, the council has to maintain the car park and pay someone to inspect vehicles for the appropriate levy, but try to get realistic with the parking fee. So we left the car park and parked 50 yards up the road on the roadside.

First stop was Eyam Museum . It was not a particularly big building so there was probably not a lot to see. As it happens we will never know. We weren't allowed to take photographs because as the museum pieces are donated by individuals publishing our photos on the website would infringe their copyright. Pathetic! We were here to do a job - a job we felt would broaden people's awareness of Eyam , make them want to visit Eyam in person and ultimately put money into the Eyam economy. This wouldn't be first time we would be frustrated by red tape and attitude in Eyam .

Behind the museum was a curious ruined old building known as Bradshaw Hall . The part now standing is said, on reliable authority, to have been erected by the Bradshaws just before the plague broke out at Eyam . They, in order to escape the fury of the pestilence, moved to Brampton or Treeton, in the county of York, and never returned to reside at Eyam . Owing to this circumstance it is believed the building was never completed. The ruin can only be viewed from the roadside which was a major blow.

Still, armed with a village map that was kindly donated by the museums curator we headed into the village. Passed the fruit and veg shop, the butchers, a post office (which was up for sale last year) and a craft shop with tea rooms above (that was also up for sale). At Eyam Hall , which has been the home of the Wright family for over 300 years we found a wonderful unspoilt, 17th century manor house. Unfortunately, today it was closed but having seen a recent TV programme of a member of the aristocracy visiting Eyam Hall I know it contains an impressive stone flagged hall and a tapestry room and is well worth a visit. There was an aspiring artist painting the front fascade and casting a critical opinion of her work I would suggest she will go far.

There is also a cafe and gift shop as well as the Eyam Hall Crafts Centre which is housed in the farm buildings. The centre houses a number of specialized craft units and a restaurant whose aroma emmissions were definately not that of a bacon butty.

The tourist information centre is next to the village stocks. It was here that we met the Barnsley crowd. Setting up the camera equipment we seemed to be attracting some attention and not wishing to dissappoint the assembled audience we told them we were doing a documentary for NBC in America. Big mistake. By the end of our tour we had over 100 people following us all with visions of featuring on some hypathetical American TV programme.

Continuing along the main road we passed cottages with information boards at strategic points telling the story and giving the details of the families who were so tragically affected. Our next port of call was the church. The Church of St. Lawrence partly dates from the 12th century and probably stands on a Saxon foundation. The North Aisle was doubled in width in 1868. The South Aisle was enlarged and a porch added in 1882. Various other restoration work was carried out in the 19th century. The church contains a chair that was used by the Rev William Mompesson, a Jacobean pulpit, a Plague register, a saxon font and a fine set of 6 bells, the oldest of which dates back to 1628. The churchyard contains various interesting tombstones and monuments including ones to Thomas Stanley and Catherine Mompesson, the wife of William. She had stayed in the village with her husband and died of the plague in its later stages. It also contains a magnificent Celtic Cross , one of the finest in the country and probably a wayside preaching cross from the 8th century.

I spoke to an attendant inside the church, who corrected my pronunciation of Eyam to EEEEEMMMMM and asked his permission to take photographs. This was not in his remit but he kindly directed us to a decision maker at the church hall next door. Explaining who we were and what we were about I was quite staggered at the response. In her opinion photographs published to a website would encourage thieves to rob and discourage visitors to come and see for themselves what was on offer. Sorry folks no panoramic shots here either. The Barnsley mob were not happy so fearing a riot we fled for the Riley Graves .

The Riley Graves are a good walk on the other side of the village and isone of the smallest National Trust properties (formed as a circular wall encompassing the graves, it is only 10m across). The graves therein commemorate the Hancock family who perished in the plague years of the 17th century. Then it was cross country to Mompessons Well. The walk itself is well detailed in the map of the village and is certainly worth the trek with excellent views toward Eyam Edge to the north and Middleton Dale and Eyam Dale to the south.

Mompessons Well is the only reference to the plague outside the village itself. During the period of the plague food and medicines were left here by outsiders and money was left in the well as payment. Vinegar was added to disinfect the coins. From the well we saw Ladywash Mine , where flourite was mined up until the 1990's. Mission accomplished it was back to the car at speed in an attempt to lose our "groupies".

The Plague ended in October 1666 and had claimed 260 lives in an 18 month period.

Look at our panoramic photographs to see for yourself.

Chris Sabian, Peak District View - 2006-10-09 00:00:00

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