What’s Eyam?

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Eyam, a village in Derbyshire, England, is famous for its voluntary quarantine during the plague in 1665, which killed 260 of the original 350 residents. Eyam has a rich history dating back to the 9th century, with preserved buildings from the quarantine period and an Anglo-Saxon cross. The village’s decision to isolate themselves during the plague became notorious, and some villagers may have had a natural resistance to the disease.

Eyam is a village in Derbyshire, England which is probably most famous for its involvement in the history of the plague. In 1665, the village voluntarily went into quarantine to prevent the plague from spreading to nearby communities, and the townspeople lived in isolation for a year as the plague killed 260 of the original 350 residents. Modern visitors to Eyam can see many old structures including buildings from the plague quarantine period which have been meticulously preserved. The cemetery, which has a large assortment of ancient and more modern graves, is also a place of interest for some visitors.

An Anglo-Saxon cross in the churchyard dating from the 9th century would suggest that Eyam has been inhabited at least that long, and the village may be older. The Romans were certainly active in the region, mining the surrounding area for lead, and probably established a small settlement there to house officials and some miners. The town really began to expand in the 9th century, however, becoming a well-established and bustling village by the 1300s when the Black Death began to sweep through England.

In August 1665, Eyam’s tailor, George Vicars, accepted a shipment of cloth from London. The cloth was damp from the journey, so he hung it up to dry, releasing a flood of fleas at the same time. Just a few days later, Vicari was dead and the plague began to spread through the village. Residents turned to their religious authorities for help and, under the guidance of the rector, William Mompesson, and the minister, Thomas Stanley, the residents of Eyam decided to go into quarantine to protect their neighbours.

While Eyam was in quarantine, nearby villages agreed to bring goods, medicines and food to the Boundary Stone, a stone marking the boundary of the quarantine. In return, the villagers left money, which would be disinfected in bottles of vinegar or dipped in running water to disinfect it. Many nearby villages no doubt appreciated Eyam’s decision to isolate themselves as the plague ran its course, and as a result, the “plague village” became quite notorious.

Some researchers have noted that the course of the plague in Eyam was extremely erratic. Some of the villagers survived when their entire families died, and the gravedigger managed to survive the plague despite handling numerous infected bodies. Researchers have suggested that some of the villagers of Eyam may have a natural resistance to the plague and some genetic testing has been performed on the descendants of these survivors to see if this is, in fact, the case. So far, tests have been inconclusive, although some genetic variations of interest have been discovered.

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