The Plague of Eyam:

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: The Village That Died To Save Its Neighbors

By Mr Ghaz, January 7, 2010

The Plague of Eyam: The Village That Died To Save Its Neighbors

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

healthmad.com

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