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The Plague of Eyam: Story of the Village That Died to Save Its Neighbors

With that innocent act, Viccars unleashed upon his community the most feared disease of the age. The package had come from London, where bubonic plague had been raging for months, and the cloth harbored fleas that carried the disease…By the end of September, five more people in the neighborhood had died, and in the first there days of October there were four more deaths. At the end of the month the toll had reached 23. The plague had come to the remote village of Eyam.

The Plague of Eyam: Story of the Village That Died to Save Its Neighbors

By Mr Ghaz, December 27, 2010

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The Plague of Eyam: Story of the Village That Died to Save Its Neighbors

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Early in September 1665 George Viccars, a tailor, opened a consignment of cloth in his cottage in Eyam, a village near Sheffield damp and hung it in front of his fire to dry.

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With that innocent act, Viccars unleashed upon his community the most feared disease of the age. The package had come from London, where bubonic plague had been raging for months, and the cloth harbored fleas that carried the disease.

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Lice and fleas were man’s constant companions in the 17th century, and the unfortunate tailor thought little of the bites he received from the newcomers. A few days later he fell desperately ill with fever, headaches, and swollen glands. His skin was covered with open putrid sores, and he became delirious. He died within one week.

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By the end of September, five more people in the neighborhood had died, and in the first there days of October there were four more deaths. At the end of the month the toll had reached 23. The plague had come to the remote village of Eyam.

A Desperate Solution

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Treatment for the plague was crude and ineffective, and the pestilence was known to sweep through towns and village without check. The first sign of the symptoms signaled certain death.

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The terrified villagers began to panic. Many prepared to leave Eyam for healthier surroundings. Fearing this would only spread the plague across the countryside, the village clergymen, William Mompesson and Thomas Stanley, decided to act to stop the exodus.

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In a joint sermon they urged their fellow citizens to recognize that it was their duty to stay until the scourge was over. Inspired by the courage and example of the clergymen, the villagers sealed themselves off from the world.

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They lined up stones to mark the village boundaries, and no one was allowed beyond them. Supplies of food and clothing brought to the village from the outside were left at the boundary stones and were paid for with coins placed in a disinfectant of vinegar and water.

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The horror increased as the months passed. By the end of August 1666, two-thirds of the original population had perished. Format burial services were no longer held. When the cemetery became full, the dead were buried in gardens and fields.

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The church was closed in an attempt to reduce contagion. Instead, the pitiful flock, which became smaller every day, gathered at a peaceful spot in the open air, where they prayed for relief from their appalling suffering.

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Their prayers were answered by November 1666, when no more details from plague were recorded. Of the 350 villagers, only 90 survived, among them the two clergymen who had held the beleaguered group together.

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The self imposed isolation of the villagers of Eyam was an extraordinary act of heroism. But tragically, it was in vain. Had the villagers followed their instincts and abandoned their homes in the early stages of the epidemic, they would have deprived the plague infested fleas of the human blood on which they thrived – and most of the community would probably would probably have survived.

The Plague of Eyam: Story of the Village That Died to Save Its Neighbors

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  1. Great Post….

  2. Another interesting write, MrGhaz! Great article!

  3. Or they would have carried those same fleas to neighboring villages, and there could have been a grand epidemic, indeed.

  4. I think, the worst is the black plaque which had killed many innocent lives. Great article anyway! :-)

  5. this was a great, informative and interesting read

  6. Very interesting article. I wonder if people today in a similar situation would do the same thing.

  7. We will never know what the outcome would have been had they fled, but their staying showed a love and concern for their neighbors we rarely see today. I salute their heroism.

  8. Exellent…. but the very last few words are missing!

  9. This village isn’t too far from home for me, I’ve visited it a few times, it’s well known locally … brought back school memories, great article!

  10. great article about a time in history when people stilled care about strangers who knows what may have happened if they left. great research with pictures. thanks!

  11. Interesting article and great pics!

  12. Great story of an interesting history.

  13. Great post and story friend,Thanks :)

  14. Nice post Mr G. Thanks.

  15. This is very interesting, Mr. Ghaz. I never heard of this so I learned something from your wonderful article.

  16. Who knows what would have happened had they left. Geraldine Brooks wrote a novel based on the experience of this village though. It’s called Year of Wonders.

    Regards,

    Inna

  17. wow! another well-researched and very interesting article. Keep up the good work, my friend.

  18. Though very sad story, great story of sacrifice for the benefit of greater good.
    Lot of lessons can be learnt from this.

  19. Excellent story of good people living an ideal.

  20. it’s a lovely village – with a great heritage

  21. Wonderful presentation! well done Mr Ghaz..very interesting and well-researched story. I liked it! Thanks for sharing. keep it up.!

  22. Good job! that was excellent and very interesting story. great history! thanks Mr Ghaz!!

  23. that was really sad

  24. The plague was such a horror. I had not read a personal account of any one village. Closing off their village was a heroic thing for the people to do but how sad that they might have saved their lives.

  25. Listen to iLiKETRAiNS excellent We All Fall Down, which is about this very story.

  26. Self-imposed quarantine. If an out break of some kind happened today with a highly infectious illness you would probably have to use force.

  27. the song Ringa ringa rosy comes from this village we use to sing it at school back then I just thought it was a song. Great article well worth reading thanks

  28. that was really sad

  29. Well written, interesting read. It brings to mind the recent TB patients who were infected with antibiotic-resistant strains of TB, yet thought nothing of boarding an airplane and exposing a hundred innocent lives.

  30. I believe the Bubonic plague and the Black Death are the same thing. I don’t believe there ever was a plague called the black plague. Before correcting people, because you are so much smarter than everyone else, maybe check your facts.

  31. Visited Eyam in 2009 & was moved by the whole area, even so a Great article.

  32. An interesting story though sad

  33. oooooooooooo bad man and it was sad but no cares hahahahahaha

  34. unlucky peeps

  35. What a sad – but true – story. It must have been incredibly traumatic for those 90 survivors to watch their loved ones fall to sickness, then death all around.

  36. Not all understood what carried the plague. Some were convinced it was brought by Satan…some by an infected foreigner…The flight of these people might have spared some, but not all, and would surely have infected more of the surrounding county folk. Given the times and peoples understanding, or lack there of, this was an extraordinary and terrible act of courage by the residents
    of Eyam. Many stories have been told/written about this tragic
    place. Also, the descendants’ survivors to this day serve as great volunteers for studying the dna of those who managed to live and passed those survivor genes on to their kin. So the good of these
    brave people lives on.

  37. They did not “die in vain.” Had they left, the fleas would not have “starved;” fleas can live up to a year without food. They would have carried the fleas to neighboring villages and killed their neighbors, and still died themselves…anyway.

    They save countless lives; they were already doomed, whether they left, or not.
    The number one thing that helped the plague stay in business was ignorance about felines; they had killed them all, so the rats had no predators. In Rome, where they did not kill cats, they had a significantly lower mortality rate during the plagues.

  38. They did not \”die in vain.\” Had they left, the fleas would not have \”starved;\” fleas can live up to a year without food. They would have carried the fleas to neighboring villages and killed their neighbors, and still died themselves…anyway.

    They save countless lives; they were already doomed, whether they left, or not.
    The number one thing that helped the plague stay in business was ignorance about felines; they had killed them all, so the rats had no predators. In Rome, where they did not kill cats, they had a significantly lower mortality rate during the plagues.

  39. It is amazing that a time in history when science was at it’s infant stages still, these people had the foresight in understanding that they would bring infection with them by leaving their village.
    I just finished reading Year of Wonders and thought it was a great historical fiction. The novel takes an interesting look into the toll and challenge this plague may have put on individuals in reference to their beliefs in god- whether they struggled toward fanaticism and self flagellation or a sense of hopelessness and rage toward god.
    I agree, in terms of the article, that it is difficult to presume that many more would have survived if they had fled the village- maybe this would have been the case if it were within the first week or 2… but at that stage how were they to know what had really hit them.

  40. fuck

  41. yeahx xxx xx

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