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In 1665 the Plague was raging through London as it did most Summers due to cramped housing and bad drainage.

But the in year of 1665 things were different and people were dying in their hundreds. The Royal Family and their Court moved to the country as they did every year. But the poor people had nowhere else to go.

The small town of Eyam, in Derbyshire, was a long way from London and people lived their lives as normal. Until a tailor there received a delivery of material from London. It was damp and the trunk contained plague fleas in it.

Within a week the townsfolk began to die. They soon realised that it was the Plague and they asked the advice of their Rector, The Rev William Mompesson.

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He made the decision to quarantine the whole town so that the neighbouring villages didn’t catch it.

Those brave townsfolk shut themselves off from their neighbours who helped and supported them by bringing them food and supplies and leaving it all on the outskirts of the town. The Eyam townsfolk paid for it by leaving their money in a bowl of vinegar.

It took 14 months for the Plague  to run its course. Deaths were random. Elizabeth Hancock survived but she buried six children and her husband who all died in eight days. And the unofficial gravedigger Marshall Howe survived although he handled many infected bodies.

Figures vary slightly, but Eyam Church records 273 deaths from a population of 350. Only 83 people survived.

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Plague Cottages

I’ve been to Eyam. A lot of the original town survives including the Church and the old cottages have the names on plaques of the people who died there.

There’s a strange atmosphere in the town and you’re very aware of what happened there as you walk round.

The self-sacrifice of the Eyam inhabitants was a very noble, selfless thing to do. They probably saved the whole of the UK from the Plague, and proved that lockdown and quarantine work.

None of the surrounding towns and villages caught the Plague.

Let’s remember these brave people now in these difficult times.

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St Lawrence’s Church, Eyam