Eyam is a small village in Derbyshire, England. The village is best known for being the "plague village" that chose to isolate itself when the plague was found in the village in August 1665, rather than let the infection spread. The village was founded and named by Anglo-saxons, and was mined for lead by the Romans

Plague history

The plague had been brought to the village in a flea-infested bundle of cloth that was delivered to tailor George Viccars from London. Within a week he was dead. After the initial deaths, the townspeople turned to their rector, the Reverend William Mompesson and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley. They introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness from May 1665. These included the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and the relocation of church services from the parish church of St. Laurence to Cucklett Delph to allow villagers to separate themselves, reducing the risk of infection. Perhaps, the best known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease. The plague raged in the village for 16 months and killed at least 260 villagers: only 83 villagers survived out of a population of 350.

When the first outsiders visited Eyam a year later, they found that fewer than a quarter of the village had survived the plague. Survival appeared random, as many plague survivors had close contact with the bacterium, but never caught the disease. For example, Elizabeth Hancock never became ill, despite burying six children and her husband in eight days (the graves are known as the Riley graves). The unofficial village grave digger also survived, despite handling many infected bodies.

Places of interest

Eyam can boast various plague related places of interest such as the 'boundary stone', a stone in which money was placed in exchange for food and medicine, and the Riley graves as mentioned above. The only pub to be found in the village is 'The Miners Arms'. Opposite the church is the rather grand looking 'Mechanics Institute' that is used as a village hall meeting rooms. The Mechanics' Institute was established in Eyam 1824 according to "White's History, Gazetteer & Directory of the County of Derby, for 1857", with a Library paid for by subscription, which then contained 766 volumes. There were 30 members recorded in 1857, paying the equivalent of 1 p per week. Up the main street is the Jacobian house Eyam Hall built just after the plague. The green opposite has an ancient set of village stocks reputedly used to punish the local for minor crimes.

Eyam's role in genetic research

Some research indicates that the villagers of Eyam may have had some genetic protection from the bubonic plague. A CCR5 gene mutation designated as "delta 32" was found in a statistically significant number, 14%, of direct descendants of the plague survivors. The Delta 32 mutation appears to be very rare. In fact, the levels of Delta 32 found in Eyam were only matched in regions of Europe that had been affected by the plague and in Americans of European origin. It has also been suggested that the Delta 32 mutation, if inherited from both parents, may provide immunity to HIV/AIDS.

More recent research at Scripps Research Institute disputes the hypothesis that the Delta 32 mutation provided protection against the plague, suggesting instead that it is more likely to have arisen as protection against some other disease common at the time, such as smallpox. This new hypothesis is still being tested.

Saxon cross

Eyam churchyard contains a Saxon cross dated to the 7th or 8th centuries. Initially, it was located at the side of a cart track near to Eyam. It is Grade I listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument It is believed that the cross originally lay on a moor outside the village and was later moved to the churchyard. It is covered in complex carvings and is almost complete, but is missing a section of the shaft.

Notable residents

Treatments in the media

See also


External links

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