The Wright family were landowners in Eyam although the family was based in Longstone. William Wright gave his land in Eyam to his second son Thomas who is credited with building the hall. John Wright who was Thomas's son sold his fathers house in Unthank and based his branch of the family in Eyam. The hall began life as a generous wedding present in 1671 for John Wright and his new wife Elizabeth and has since become the Wright family's principal residence. The hall was built just six years after the plague devastated Eyam. Over the years the Hall has under gone various renovations by the family in order to modernise and shape it for their needs including extending areas of the Hall and installing a second stairway.
There are an unusual 17th-century wooden pair of bacon settles framing the fireplace, used for storing bacon and cured meats in a warm, dry environment. They were noted in a 1694 inventory of the hall, and may have been brought in by John and Elizabeth when the building of the Hall was complete. Amongst the beautiful tapestry and embroidery collection there is a 17th-century embroidered crewel bedding was found hidden within Elizabeth’s cedar chest. When being restored, the initials EW were found embroidered on one of the patches suggesting it was done by Elizabeth herself and formed a part of her dowry. Within the intricate stitching, trees, flowers, birds and beasts can be seen to make up the enchanted decoration. Wheelchair access to the ground floor of the Hall, although some uneven surfaces. There are steps to the first floor and Garden. Accessible toilet available in the Craft Centre. The village is a wonderful place for dog walking. Assistance dogs only in the hall and garden.
Location : Main Street, Eyam, Derbyshire, S32 5QW
Transport: Grindleford (National Rail) then taxi OR Sheffield then bus OR Chesterfield then bus. Bus Routes : 65 from Sheffield and 66 from Chesterfield stop directly outside.
Opening Times : Wednesday to Sunday 10:30 - 16:30
Tickets : Adults £7.70; Children £3.85
Tel: 01433 639565
In 1665 the Bubonic Plague returned to England. The first pandemic outbreak had more than halved Britain's population in 1348-1350 causing societal upheaval and a fundamental shift in people's outlook on life. The Plague, Black Death, or, simply, The Pestilence, was known and recognized throughout Europe, one more potential disaster the poor had to deal with. The causes of the disease were unknown and theories varied from a contagious miasma, to cats, Jews poisoning the wells and, to many, a visitation of God's Wrath. Treatments were even more disparate and mainly consisted of shunning the afflicted. Doctors earned the nickname 'Quack' by wearing elaborate masks with enormous bills that made them look like a duck. Interestingly there must have been some awareness of contagion as ships with plague victims were quarantined just as houses with victims inside were often barred or boarded up (no matter that the sufferer may recover).
In 1663 there was an outbreak in Amsterdam, at that time a bustling, mercantile centre, vibrant with trade as the hub of the Dutch East India Company and the Amsterdam Exchange Bank. King Charles II of England promptly banned trade with Holland, there was a trade war at the time so this was a good excuse, but by the spring of 1665 the mortality rate was rising in the slums of London, not that anyone of consequence was concerned by this, these were only poor people dying which they did all the time, except that this was a harbinger of the terrible times to come. By July London was sweltering in unseasonable heat while the plague carried off more than two thousand people per week. Once again the old myth that cats and dogs were the carriers became prevalent and the Lord Mayor ordered their wholesale butchery. Daniel Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Year, estimates that a quarter million or more animals were killed.
In fact the disease was spread by fleas which were parasites on rats. By killing the predators that kept the rat population down the authorities actually encouraged the spread of the disease. Anybody who could ran to the country, Samuel Pepys records in his diary that the rich fled in droves while clerics tended their flock from country estates. In an effort to stem this exodus, a law was passed that nobody could leave through the gates of the City without a stamped Certificate of Health. Inevitably these certificates became the most prized commodity and they became worth far more than gold or currency. Plague houses were sealed, entombing whole families, with guards posted outside. Enterprising occupants, hungry and afraid, were known to hang a noose out of an upstairs window to slip over the unwary guards head to garrotte him. Of course those that did manage to escape were largely avoided, letters from the capital went undelivered and people adopted country accents to conceal their origin.
Trade still continued, much reduced, but there were products that small towns and villages could not produce. One such village was Eyam, population 360 people, the majority of whom were farmers or miners. Nestled in a natural amphitheatre in the Derbyshire peaks of the North Midlands in England, lead had been mined from shafts dug in the hills since Roman times. Because of the ore, traded to the South or the port of Liverpool, there was money in the village, unusual in an era when most villages were selfsufficient. At the end of August 1665, when over 6000 a week were dying in plague-ravaged London, the local tailor, George Vicars, took delivery of a bolt of cloth. As usual the cloth was flea-ridden but was also damp from its journey in an open cart. The cloth was unrolled and hung before a fire to dry and on the 7th September George Vicars died. Quickly the disease spread, local people lived in rows of cottages and the pestilence leapt from house to house like an uncontrolled forest fire.
The village was served by two men of the cloth, the Anglican rector, William Mompesson, and the more Puritanical prior incumbent Thomas Stanley. Both intelligent men, they met and decided to quarantine the village to contain the contagion. Geographically well-suited to this purpose, two points of exchange were set up, the Boundary Stone, high on a ridge separating Eyam from the next village, and what has come to be known as Mompessons Well, a natural spring where it was thought the running water would purify the coins left there. The Duke of Devonshire, from his nearby mansion at Chatsworth House, agreed to send food and supplies to the Boundary Stone where it would be left to be picked up later, ensuring there was no human contact. If extra goods were needed then money was left in a hollow in the stone which was filled with vinegar.
Whole families were wiped out in the following year. As the plague took its toll, it was agreed that services should be held in the open air so that the congregation might stand apart from each other. Almost from the outset it was agreed that family members should bury their own to minimize the chance of infection. Elizabeth Hancock buried her husband and six children after carrying the disease from a neighbour she had tended. A year after the outbreak began the young rector's wife, Catherine, died at 28. She had stayed by her husband's side bringing what little solace she could to the hard-pressed villagers. She was one of the last victims, however. By the 1st of November nearby farmers came back to Eyam to find less than a quarter of the population had survived. Those remaining were feted as heroes, for such they were, the disease had been contained and an epidemic had been avoided. Their sacrifice is commemorated every year, on the last Sunday of August, with the Plague Sunday Service.
Research suggests that people who recovered from the plague developed a gene mutation known as delta32. There is evidence that this gene may provide immunity against HIV/AIDS. The museum movingly reconstructs the story of Eyam and the Plague. It also has a surprisingly large collection of artefacts related to the local industry, geology and society ranging from an array of pipes from the lead mines to a display of early medical instruments along with a dramatic model of an old lead mine. The museum is a small building and space is limited. They welcome people who have restricted mobility and have ramp access from the street: however, the displays are on 2 floors. They have a stair lift for those whose disability allows them to use it, unfortunately they do not have a lift to take wheelchairs to the first floor. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Hawkhill Road, Eyam, Derbyshire. S32 5QP
Transport: Grindleford (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 025,65, 66, and U4 stop nearby; 275 stops outside.
Opening Times : Tuesday to Sunday + Bank Holidays 10:00 to 16:30.
Tickets : Adults £2.50; Concessions £2.00; Children £1.25
Tel: 01433 631371