Now feels timely to tell you about a little village in Derbyshire which selflessly self-isolated in the 17th Century in order to save lives from the Black Death.
I’m currently self-isolating as we’re expecting our first child in May. And I feel we’re lucky in this day and age to have an amazing, free health service with outstanding staff and top-notch digital communication channels to keep us up to date with the latest advice. Plus we can go for walks in the countryside to aid our overall wellbeing.
In 1666, however, things were dire. And the actions of an entire village were to save many, many lives. Through self-sacrifice.
In 1665, the village of Eyam’s tailor ordered a box of materials from London. Little did he know that the box contained more than his ordered goods. Hiding within were tiny disease-ridden fleas which were to ultimately kill him and around 260 inhabitants of the tiny village over the following 12 months.
But I don’t wish to dwell on the awful symptoms and outcome of the disease – I want to tell you the uplifting story of these amazing villagers, demonstrating the ultimate sacrifice to help others. Something we could all learn from in 2020.
By December 1665, 42 villagers had died and many were at the point of abandoning their homes and fleeing. That was when the vicar stepped in and decided the village should be quarantined. If they didn’t, he feared that the plague would spread to nearby towns such as Sheffield and Bakewell, affecting thousands of people.
The vicar had quite recently replaced the village’s previous vicar who had been very popular and was still living nearby. They met and came up with a plan…
They announced that no-one was allowed in or out of the village from that point on. Stones were placed around the outskirts as boundary markers – some still exist today. The local Earl, who lived at Chatsworth, had agreed to send food and supplies. Other local villages also helped. Food was left at the edge of the village, and Eyam villagers left money for payment in bowls of vinegar, to avoid contamination.
Measures were taken inside the village too. The church was moved away from the cemetery to avoid the infected diseased. It was the poor families who had to bury their own relatives. Some buried their entire family.
This period of quarantine went on for 14 months. It is thought that less than a quarter of the village’s population survived. But it is hard to put a figure on the amount of lives they will have saved by trying to stop the disease from spreading further.
Today, houses display plaques telling the story of their inhabitants and information boards are situated around the village, as well as a village museum which is normally open to the public.
It’s a horrific story, but what can we learn from it? Well, if an entire village can self-isolate, with impending infection and death, in order to save others in 1666, surely healthy people, with Netflix, Freeview and smart phones can practise social distancing in order to save others in 2020.
Oh, and one more thing. From a very pregnant lady to the world. Please don’t hoard loo roll. Some of us need it a bit more desperately than you..!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and self isolate.