National Trust’s Eyam Hall
Sunday 15 April 2018, 3pm
Lois McGill is a retired higher education lecturer in I.T. with a keen interest in history and the theatre. Since retirement, she volunteers as a guide at Eyam Hall, the village being better known as the Plague Village whose inhabitants chose to isolate themselves in the 17th century, so stopping the spread of the plague but at a great cost to themselves. She also helps at the beautifully restored Victorian Buxton Opera House. She is a keen walker and has walked many of the UK’s long distance paths and belongs to a local dance team keeping alive the clog dancing and Appalachian dancing traditions.
The small village of Eyam nestles in the Derbyshire hills and you need to make a detour to get there as it is not on the road to anywhere else, but in the 17th century it was a bustling village with 12 pubs and village green stocks to keep the rowdiness of the local lead-miners in check.
Then in September 1665 the plague arrived. A bundle of cloth from London, where the plague had already killed 25,000, arrived at the cottage of George Vicars. Within a week several of the family were dead. More died that Autumn and then the numbers lessened over the winter to begin again with a vengeance the next Spring. The Vicar, William Mompesson, came up with a plan. He persuaded the villagers to quarantine themselves – this they did for a year at a great cost – about 300 villagers died. It did halt the spread of the disease in the area. The tales of grief and sacrifice, but also greed and shame are many.
Living in Eyam at the time of the plague was one Thomas Wright, a wealthy landowner and 5 years after the plague he bought a dwelling and farmland from a Thomas Brae. He rebuilt the house in the Jacobean style and gave it to his son, John, as a wedding present on his marriage to Elizabeth Kniveton (much more to say of this lady). The house has remained in the Wright family for 12 generations and still belongs to them; the National Trust just look after it and open it to the public.
It is the stories of these 12 generations which tell the story of England through four centuries. The Wrights began as wealthy lead mine owners, then military men then in the 19th and 20th century became middle class professionals – doctors, lawyers, farmers and vicars.
The house has barely altered – the last major change was in 1700 when the kitchen was changed to a dining room (previously the main hall was more medieval in usage and multi-purpose – everyone from the lowest to the highest dining together) and the kitchen wing added. Since then a corridor was put in upstairs, (in 1672 corridors would have been considered a waste of space); privacy was not an issue and minor cosmetic changes have occurred but Elizabeth, the first lady of the house, would still recognise it today.