Eyam; a plague village and a walk on Eyam Moor

Most of us know: the Bubonic Plague started life in London, during the summer of 1665. However, what a lot of people don’t realise, this was not the only occurrence. In fact, there were quite a few occurrences of the plague in London spanning over a century!

However, this particular outbreak is the one to which my visit to Eyam in the Peak District National Park relates to.

For it was here, in Eyam often known as the Plague Village, where under the direction of the Reverend William Mompesson, of St Lawrence Church, Eyam, that the village isolated itself from the rest of the world to prevent the spread of the plague.

The bubonic plague took Eyam’s first victim, tailors assistant one George Viccars on 7th September 1665 and its last victim, Abraham Morten on 1st November 1666. In that period of fourteen months, some 260 people died within the village!

I will apologise in advance. Eyam is so full of history; I’ve not covered a lot, but seem to have written a lot. I hope you find what I’ve written as fascinating as I have when undertaking my research before going live with this blog.

I won’t go in to any great detail about the plague days, for there will be too much to cover, but I can strongly recommend reading up on how the village of Eyam coped with the plague.

The story is; a chest of clothing arrives at the house where George Viccars was staying with clothes from London. Upon opening it, he observed an obnoxious odour, which found the clothes to be damp.

This in itself was not the cause of the bubonic plague, but what the clothes harboured was, fleas!

It was the flea that feasted on the blood of the black rat found its way to feast on human in the absence of its host, the black rat.

To help contain the bubonic plague, Rev’d William Mompesson set about a plan to control the plague. That was; to basically quarantine the village by isolating itself from the rest of the country, to close the church to reduce the spread of the plague with in the village and the final but probably the least pleasant, was to bury their own family members on their own land!

Could you imagine having to bury your family members, with plague ravaged bodies, at the bottom of your garden?
Map showing The Delf in relation to Eyam
The church during those days held a very prominent place in everyone’s lives, so to close the church would be cutting off a lifeline for the villagers. So Rev’d William Mompesson arranged an alternative location, The Delf, located to the south west of Eyam, between the village and Middleton Dale.

To briefly continue, as part of this quarantine, the village needed to bring certain items in and also send certain items out, to survive. This had to be done without spreading the plague and this is where Mompesson's Well came in to its own. Here, it provided a drop off and pick up point for Eyam, allowing the exchange of goods without any contact from the villagers to the outside world.

Coins were soaked in vinegar to disinfect them in a bid to stop the spread of the plague….

This story was covered in a play, The Roses Of Eyam, which was televised on BB2 in 1973, which I recall watching as a child.

I would love to see that play again……

Now, some of you may be thinking about the nursery rhythm “Ring a Ring a Roses” for which there are a few variations of.

There is no confirmed relationship between the bubonic plague and the nursery rhythm, but I often wonder?

For these little lines of verse are often born out of some even, be it local or wider spread….

However, I’ve picked this one;
A ring, a ring o' roses,
A pocket full o' posies-
Atishoo atishoo we all fall down.

My thoughts, the ring of roses, the ringed scab as a result of the flea bite,

Atishoo atishoo”, the sneezing associated with the bubonic plague and finally, “We all fall down”, the final curtain.

After a lot of searching on the web, I didn’t manage to find a satisfactory explanation to the line “A pocket full of posies-

Especially with all the variants of the nursery rhythm that are around….

One final thing before I move on to the walk, Eyam Well Dressings, as with many Peak District villages has a dresses three wells and blesses them, which is held at on the last Saturday of August each year.

If you haven’t read my write up on Tissington Well Dressing, might want read Tissington Well Dressing, an ancient custom, today, which will give you an insight in to what Well Dressings are about.

I have never visited Eyam before, but it’s been a long time on my list of places to visit. As a result of my initial research I kept the walk very short, so I could spend some time in the village of Eyam.

I’m pleased I did keep the walk short, though I do need to return to the village and dedicate more time to the history that surrounds it.

Now that brief and exciting history lesson is written, now to the very short, but extremely pleasant walk, from Eyam on to Eyam Moor and back.

Parking in Eyam isn’t too bad; there are three car parks to choose from, there is the one by Eyam Museum, which is Pay and Display, there is one at the back of that, which is free, though there is a donation honesty box, and the third is the National Trust Car Park for Eyam Hall.

Entrance to the free car park

.... "If you use the free car park,
please donate some money towards its upkeep" ....

.... "note the time the gates are locked" ....

If you use the free car park, please donate some money towards its upkeep. The surface is very good and looks fairly freshly laid.

Also, note the time the gates are locked, for you don’t want to return and find your transport home locked in for the night!

Anyway, parked up, suited and booted, I set off on my walk for Eyam Moor. As I leave the car park, turn right on to Hawkeshill Road, follow the road as it bends right on to Edge Road and pass the Youth Hostel on your left.

Edge Lane heading towards the Youth Hostel

The sign for Eyam Youth Hostel

.... "after the Youth Hostel, on your left is a footpath through the wooded" ....

Soon after the Youth Hostel, on your left is a footpath through the wooded area, ascending up toward Eyam Moor. Here you reach an unnamed road, where you turn left then after about thirty metres on your right, you pick up the footpath to continue walking on to Eyam Moor.

Here you are afforded a nice view from the road down to Eyam.

The end of the footpath through the wooded area

Ladywash Mine
As you follow the footpath there is a set of old mine buildings on your right, Ladywash Mine, which was closed around 1979, where fluorite was mined. Fluorite  is a colorful mineral, visible in normal and ultraviolet light. It has many uses, including ornamental and industrial.

One of fluorites uses is a flux for smelting.. Did you know that the purest grades of fluorite are used as a source of fluoride for hydrofluoric acid manufacture?

Looking down on to Eyam

Crossing Sir William Hill Road

On to Eyam Moor

Also over to the east on the horizon is Stanage Edge which dips down to Upper Burbage Bridge and then back up to Higger Tor.

I’ve walked Stanage Edge to Upper Burbage Bridge a few times, twice I’ve written about this year (2013) in Stanage Edge on a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday and An Autumn Walk on Bamford Moor and Stanage Edge.

I have walked over to Higger Tor and Carl Walk from Stanage Edge, but that was before my blogging days.

Follow the footpath; you come to another road, Sir William Hill Road, where you cross over to the next style, where you enter Eyam Moor properly.

Follow the footpath northwards and you walk past the radio mast on your left, by which there is a trig point. It’s worth diverting to the trig point, for on a clear day you are given fabulous views around the White and Dark Peaks.

Trig Point on Eyam Moor

Looking north, you have Derwent Moor, Bleaklow, Win Hill and around to the west, Kinder, Mam Tor and the Great Ridge, then Combs Edge and Hob Tor, continuing round along that plateau, Gradbach and Gib Tor before facing south and the White Peak.

Bleaklow has been covered in a number of blogs, along with Kinder, Castleton’s Great Ridge and Win Hill. So not to clutter the blog with links, if you continue to the end, there is a list of references to websites where I’ve obtained information from along with any blogs which have covered topics or areas I’ve mentioned.

Mam Tor and the Great Ridge

Win Hill with Derwent Moor behind

Kinder Plateau

Stanage Edge

Stanage Edge, Upper Burbage Bridge and Higger Tor

White Edge Moor and Big Moor
Oh, you still have that lovely view over to Stanage Edge, Upper Burbage Bridge and Higger Tor.

Further to the south east, you can see White Edge Moor and Big Moor, along with Froggatt Edge, which I covered in Froggatt Edge, Big Moor and some Stone Circles

After taking in the views, head back to the path and continue in a northerly direction reaching the point at which you start to descend.

Soon after returning to the path, you come across some stone ring cairns, which may have been dwellings at some point.

Ring Cairns, that may have been dwellings

As I descended, my original plan was to continue to Stoke Ford. Head east and circumnavigate Eyam Moor and take in Wet Withens Stone Circle.

I had a dilemma at this point, I wanted to take in Eyam Moor in its entirety but knowing what I’m like with sightseeing and photographing just about everything, I had to cut the walk short so I could spend time in Eyam.

However, that would have made for insufficient time in Eyam, so at the gate GR SK 213 788, I took the path that hand railed the stone wall back up towards a point called Stanage (stanage meaning rock edge).
The path leading down to the gate at GR SK 213 788

The gate at GR SK 213 788

The path leading away from the gate, to hand rail the stone wall on the east

Continuing along this path in a southerly direction, I was afforded fabulous views over to Hathersage, Grindleford, Stanage, Big and White Edge Moors, all mentioned earlier and of course, Eyam Moor itself.

Looking over Wet Withens and Hathersage

The end of the path on Eyam Moor

Edge Road in front, Sir William Hill Road to the right

Edge Road back to Eyam

At the junction, you have a road to your right, Sir William Hill Road, which will take you back to the point where you ascended out of Eyam towards the mast and trig point, left takes you to Grindleford and straight one is Edge Road, the road which the Youth Hostel is on, so from here, you can’t get lost.

However, the trail around Eyam starts very soon……

Walk down Edge Road and you pass Ladywash Farm and Ladywash Mine, then as you walk over the brow of the hill, you start to descend in to Eyam.

Before the first right turn, you reach Mompesson’s Well, which is basically a horse drinking trough more than a water source for humans.

White Edge Moor

Big Moor and Froggatt Edge

Ladywash Mine

This well played an important part for Eyam’s trading during its quarantine period. This allowed the village to receive food and goods while leaving money without any contact with outsiders to the village, therefore greatly reducing the spread of the bubonic plague to outlying villages.

Mompesson's Well

Mompesson's Well

Plumb the depths of Mompesson's Well
Walking back up to the road, turn right to continue towards Eyam and about 45 metres from the next junction, there is a footpath amid the trees on your left.

Take this footpath rather than carry straight on, for it gives you a circular tour through Eyam rather than going straight back to the car park past the Youth Hostel.
It is a steep descent in to Eyam, giving you a nice gradual ascent back to the car park through the beauty of Eyam and its history.

Eventually, you reach the village of Eyam. From here you can continue in to the village or take the first left, the B6521, named New Road and seek out Riley’s Graves, seven graves and a sacred memory to the Hancock family.

.... "Walking back up to the road, turn right to continue towards Eyam
and about 45 metres from the next junction,
there is a footpath amid the trees on" ....your left

.... "Eventually, you reach the village of Eyam" ....

Walk up this road, where you will come to a forked junction. Take the left for, Riley Lane and eventually you reach another forked junction. Take the right fork, for the left fork is a private drive to Riley House Farm.

Continue along the lane and soon, you see an opening, in that opening is what appears to be a stone paddock. That paddock is Riley’s Graves, seven graves belonging to the

The sign giving you instructions how to reach Riley's Graves

The start ofRiley's Lane

Heading up Riley's Lane to Riley's Graves

Take the right fork along Riley's Lane

Riley's Lane leading to Riley's Graves

The paddock comes in to view, enclosing Riley's Graves

The paddock wall enclosing Riley's Graves

Riley's Graves, the seven Hancock family graves.

Riley’s Graves, as with the vast majority of graves from the plague, were not in a churchyard on consecrated ground, but on the land of the Hancock family who lived there.

Before I go any further, some references to the Hancock family have an ‘e’ on the end of the surname, making it ‘Hancocke’. However, I’ve opted to use the National Trust signage which doesn’t have the ‘e’ on the end.

If you watch the YouTube video Eyam plague -the story it will give you a little more insight in to where the house would have stood and why the graves are there.

Just a word of caution, you can drive up Riley Lane, but turning round might be extremely difficult, so if you can walk, or cycle, then I would advise that.

Back to the lane and turn right to head back in to Eyam. Here you back track to B6521 and head for the village centre.

Ideally you want to head right, in a south westerly direction, aiming for Church Street. Here you will eventually reach St Lawrence Church, a very ornate church, particularly inside.

St Lawrence Church, Eyam

Looking to the alter inside St Lawrence Church, Eyam

O~ne of the wall drawings inside St Lawrence Church, Eyam

As mentioned earlier, there will not be many graves pertaining to the plague victims, due to Rev’d William Mompesson closing the church and requesting families dig graves on the own land to reduce the spread of the plague.

However, there is one grave and a memorial in the church yard. The grave of Catherine Mompesson, the wife of Rev’d William Mompesson who died of the plague August 25th 1665 and a memorial to Rev’d Thomas Stanley, who supported Rev’d William Mompesson during the plague isolation times of Eyam.

Catherine Mompesson's Tomb, St Lawrence Church, Eyam

The memorial to Rev'd Thomas Stanley, St Lawrence Church, Eyam

Walk out of the churchyard through the gate on the right and you immediately reach the Plague Cottages.

Here saw the first victim of the plague, tailors assistant George Viccars, who died on 7th September 1665, mentioned at the start of this blog.

Continue along Church Street and you teach Eyam Hall (National Trust), built after the plague as a wedding present for John Wright in 1671.

Follow the road round and you arrive at the village green.

Plague Cottages, Eyam

Eyam Hall

Eyam Village Green with stocks
Once you’ve spent some time at the village green, continue along the road up towards Eyam Museum.

I can strongly recommend visiting the museum, for it not only covers the plague era, but post plague mining boom for lead, galena, fluorite and much more.

One bizarre item by today’s standards was the Beak Mask worn by physicians of the day!

Plague Doctor with Beak Mask
However, they were none the wiser, in a God fearing period, often many sought repentance and saw the bubonic plague as a sign that they had sinned!

What I will say is, hard it will have been, but how much their efforts at isolation saved many of the surrounding villages and the hardship it will have created. Not just the isolation, but burying their own family members.

Its hard enough when we have to say good bye to our loved ones, but to bury them on your own land, must have taken great courage.

I can only apologise if I’ve rambled on, but Eyam is so full of history, it just had to be shared with you. I hope you’ve found it as interesting as I have. There is much more to be found, both in print and on the web.

Below are a few of the links I’ve referred to, with many more, being too numerous, not listed.

I am going to return to Eyam and also one day, walk the full walk originally intended.

Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,
Peak Rambler

Twitter           @PeakRambler
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Blogs I’ve written mentioned


  1. I do like a nice bit of history on a wander. It's a while since I've been around Eyam and the surrounding areas; looks like you had a nice day.

    There's a couple of ghost stories associated with both Eyam and Eyam Moor - got them in a book somewhere.......

    1. I'll happily let you know, it was nicely mind blowing the research I did on Eyam and the plague. I had to pull myself away and get on with the writing, or it would never have got published!

      There are some very good books about the ghosts and legends of the Peak District, with lots of fascinating stories in.

  2. A detailed description of a lovely spot in the Peak District. Some nice photos too; I went walking in the Eyam area on Saturday, unfortunately it rained all day.

  3. Another excellent post Mike, I thoroughly enjoyed reading that. it has been about 20yrs since I last visited Eyam on a school trip, I think it's about time I returned. thanks for sharing, all the best

    1. Thank you Dean.

      I need to go back there and spend more time on the moor. The views from the moor are fantastic, over to Stanage, Bamford Moor, Mam Tor and the ridge, Kinder, Bleaklow and even Derwent Edge.

  4. There are also the Lydgate Graves in Eyam where George and Mary Darby are buried, the tomb of Humphrey Merrill, the grave stone of Abel Rowland who lived and died in Eyam Tea Rooms and the Boundary Stone. And in Bretton there are some graves belonging to the Morton, Hall and Townsend Families who died from the Plague and one grave in Bretton Clough. I am going to Eyam and Bretton tomorrow. How long did it take u to walk to Eyam Moor and back?

    1. Thank you Charlotte for taking the time to read and comment.

      I'm sure you can imagine before I published this, I did quite a lot of research, and I still am looking into many points not covered in the above.

      I'm also grateful to you sharing some information which I haven't published.

      The actual walk I kept short, mainly because I wanted to spend time in Eyam and capture some of the villages rich history, knowing there will be a lot I wouldn't be able to include.

      From memory, I think the walk, including lunch, was about five hours. But, I did spend a lot of time stopping, taking photos and absorbing the fantastic views I was blessed with.

      I hope that gives you an idea of time scales.

      I intend to return one day, once my leg has fully healed after a motorist mangled my lower right leg. But that won't happen before autumn 2017, by that time I should be walking again.