EXPERIENCING A PLAGUE THROUGH THE LENS OF HISTORY 

By Oct.27, 2022

By Kikelomo Folashade

Hidden in Hope Valley of Derbyshire is a town called Eyam Village also known as the ‘plague’ village. Once upon a time in the 16th Century the village of Eyam was plagued by the Bubonic bacterium which caused the death of numerous members of households and even the separation of loved ones as in the case of two young lovers Emmott Sydall who originally lived in Eyam and her lover Roland Torre who was from Stony Middleton a neighboring village. This was also the case for the Vicar of Eyam: Reverend Williams Mompesson, who also served as the Rector of the Village at the time who had to tell His children to leave Eyam with their mother .The wife of the Vicar, Catherine Mompesson refused to leave and with the act of bravery chose to stay and help provide care for the plagued, she cared for the sick and plagued for a while before she also succumbed to the grips of this plague close to the end of the plague period and died. 

The Post graduate students of the Department of Public Health (2022) Visited this village of Eyam to understand the experience of the People of Eyam as well as the measures and processes they implored to survive and care for the plagued in a time when health care was not as developed as it is today, of which I was one of. 

Our first stop was at the Chatsworth house which is a palatial environment in contrast to the other part of Derbyshire, Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The Chatsworths were a rich family in Derbyshire that provided alms and food to the people of Eyam to prevent them from coming out of the village in search for food, The Chatsworth went as far as paying other towns and people around just so they could provide for the people of Eyam to prevent them coming out of the village. 

After leaving Chatsworth we then arrived at Eyam ‘the plagued village’.  

The bravery and heroic nature of the People of Eyam is commendable as their pro-active measures used in preventing and trying to curb the spread of the plague was effective. There were documented proofs of how some families like the Hancock family isolated themselves up in the Riley wood to prevent contracting the plague from the infected people which although did not happen because one of the younger children went out to play with an infected kid and brought the plague home to the parents and siblings. All the children died as well as the father, but the mother survived, and she buried them all and identified each with markings on stones as head stones in the place that is now known as the Riley graves. The mother was the only survivor of the family, she moved out of the village after the plague ended in search of a new beginning. 

Learning about this plague helped us to relate various parts of Evidence based Public health to some of the things we learned, such as the inequalities seen where the rich could isolate themselves easily like the Hancock family did, compared to families like the Thorpes where they all died in the Rose cottage where 9 of them including Thomas Thorpes’s parents who lived with them, the experience was also an insight to what Epidemiology will look like when we begin the course fully. 

We also saw in the Hadfield home where it all began, where the tailor’s assistant George Viccars who brought Flea infected clothing from London where the plague had already taken the lives of many people, everyone in the home of the Hadfield died except from the mother. At the Eyam museum we saw where it was recorded that these people who survived didn’t die not because they didn’t have the plague but because they had a mutated version of the plague which didn’t kill them, but back in the 16th centuries this was not known to the people they assumed it was because the women took to wearing face shields and drinking pork potions and the men took to smoking that prevented these ones from dying.

One thing for sure is that public health has always played an important role even before it was defined as “Public Health”. The People of Eyam were able to effectively curb the plague because they took adequate preventive measures such as quarantine, isolation, burying their dead in their gardens as opposed to carrying them to the church to bury which could have caused a spread in the plague, also they took to some sanitizing methods by using vinegar to wash their money to avoid spread of the plague, even though they didn’t know washing the coins with vinegar was actually them sanitizing the money.

The students were tasked with a game to make presentations on what they saw, learned and how it related to public health today.

All the groups did an amazing job at presenting what they learned through the trip with charts and some flip cards. Experiencing Eyam was also a great bonding experience for us students and to get to know some of our academic staff better.  

It was all together a fun experience; I would recommend Eyam as a place to add to your travel bucket list. 


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