Nowadays, Eyam (pronounced Eem) is a pretty village in the Peak District, beloved of passing tourists for its stone cottages, tea shops and visitor attractions, but travel back in time to the 17th Century and a very different picture meets your eyes.
On 7 September, 1665, a local tailor named George Viccars received a large bundle of cloth from the big city of London. Unfortunately, it carried some hitchhikers in the form of fleas infected with the Plague sweeping England at the time. Within days, the first cases had broken out in Eyam and deaths followed swiftly.
So far, this is not an uncommon story for the times but the big-hearted inhabitants of Eyam made the brave decision to quarantine the village. The rector, one William Mompesson, arranged for food and supplies to be left at places around the parish boundaries. Coins for payment were left in bowls of disinfecting vinegar. The villagers' selfless actions undoubtedly prevented further spread of the disease but more than a third of Eyam's population was lost before the epidemic ran its course.
Eyam had earned the epithet of 'the Plague Village', a name that survives to this day. The ravages of the plague are commemorated at various sites around the village, including the Riley Graves where a stone tells of a Mrs Hancock who lost seven members of her family over eight days in 1666. The modern-day visitor can barely imagine how those villagers must have felt, watching their friends and relatives die around them but remaining steadfast in their determination not to break their self-imposed quarantine.
A small museum relates the history, including moving stories of some of the 76 families affected. Eyam Hall, built by one of the surviving families, still stands and can be visited. For sustenance there are several tea shops and a good pub. If you wish to stay, accommodation can be found at the Youth Hostel or Bed and Breakfasts around the village.