What is Eyam?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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 put itself under quarantine to prevent the spread of the plague to neighboring communities, and the citizens lived isolated for a year as the plague killed 260 of the 350 original residents. Modern-day visitors to Eyam can see many old structures including buildings from the period of the plague quarantine which have been meticulously preserved. The graveyard, which has a wide assortment of ancient and more modern graves, is also a place of interest for some visitors.

Eyam is a village in Derbyshire, England, which is probably most famous for its involvement in the history of the plague.
Eyam is a village in Derbyshire, England, which is probably most famous for its involvement in the history of the plague.

An Anglo-Saxon cross in the graveyard dating from the 9th century would suggest that Eyam has been settled at least that long, and the village may well be older. The Romans were certainly active in the region, mining the surrounding area for lead, and they probably established a small settlement there to house officials and some mine workers. The town really started to expand in the 1300s, however, becoming a well-settled and lively village by the 1660s, when the black plague first began to sweep across England.

In August of 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. Only a few days later, Vicars was dead, and the plague began to spread through the village. The residents turned to their religious authorities for help, and under the leadership of the rector, William Mompesson, and the minister, Thomas Stanley, the residents of Eyam decided to quarantine themselves to protect their neighbors.

While Eyam was under quarantine, the neighboring villages agreed to bring goods, medicine, and food to the Boundary Stone, a stone which marked the boundary of the quarantine. In return, the villagers left money, which would be disinfected in bottles of vinegar or submerged in running water to disinfect it. Many neighboring villages undoubtedly appreciated Eyam's decision to isolate itself while the plague ran its course, and as a result, the "plague village" became quite well-known.

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

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


This info helped me do part of my homework. We are all lucky that it was finished long time ago and I hope it never happens again.


It's great to read of people who were so selfless as to think of others before themselves. From some of the other responses it's obvious how far afield we've come that people don't read this story and immediately remark on how admirable it was for the people of Eyam to do the right thing.


Eyam's role in the great plague has always fascinated me.

Besides the self-determination it must have taken to lock everybody in for that long of a period of time, I can't imagine the psychological strain that must have put on the survivors.

To watch your neighbors die day after day, and know that in all probability you were next?

Also, the black death is not a nice thing to die from -- you die messily, grotesquely, and slowly. Symptoms include insomnia, hallucinations, and buboes, or large swellings in the groin and armpits that turn black over time.

It must have been like a scene out of hell in there.


That's so interesting to me how the black death plague only infected certain people. I wonder if there is a genetic component, or if it was just luck.

The bubonic plague is usually passed between humans by contact with infected tissue or bodily fluids, so you would think that the gravedigger would have been the first to go.

Honestly, with that many infected people in such a small place, it's a wonder that anybody got out alive.


I can't even imagine the kind of self-determination that took on the part of the villagers to voluntarily quarantine themselves.

Can you imagine watching the bubonic plague sweep through your town and wipe out over 2/3 of your neighbors?

I really can't imagine doing that -- I'm really going to have to visit Eyam hall now to see all the graves and historical buildings.


The black death was very detrimental to Europe, and most of the world. It is thought to have started in Asia, and then spread through the caravan routes in the early 1300, then reaching Crimea in about 1340. From Crimea the plague spread to Western Europe and Northern Africa in the 1340s.

The black death is thought to have killed 75 million people world wide. It killed 30 - 60 percent of Europe's population.

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