George Vicars, a tailor in the village of Eyam, opened a package of fabric he had ordered from London. A week later he was dead. The cloth carried the bubonic plague. The year was 1665.
Soon other Eyam inhabitants were dying. At the behest of Reverend William Mompesson, the town’s vicar, Eyam locked down. No one was allowed in or out. Food and medicine were left for residents at designated places a safe distance from the town.
Villagers were required to bury their own dead. The quarantine lasted fourteen months. Estimates are that more than two-hundred-and-fifty villagers succumbed to the plague, three-fourths of the population, a fatality rate twice that of London. Catherine Mompesson, the vicar’s wife, was an early victim. The quarantine did prevent the disease from spreading beyond Eyam, though.
The next time you’re in Derbyshire—when you can travel again—Eyam would welcome your visit. In the village center sits a row of “plague cottages” with tablets commemorating those who died. A short distance outside the town, are the Riley Graves. Named for the nearby Riley House Farm, a low stone wall surrounds the remains of Elizabeth Hancock’s husband and six of her seven children. They all died during one week in 1666.
The Eyam Plague Museum tells the story of the plague, with words and artifacts. The museum is currently shuttered, but can still take your order for plague souvenirs.