Who saved the village of Eyam – was it Mompesson or Stanley?

If you were to read a contemporary account of Eyam villagers putting themselves into quarantine to protect others from the plague it might well be suggested that their clergyman Mompesson had lead them to this act of enormous self-sacrifice. As the village rector, Mompesson was the obvious candidate to lead the villagers, but was his role exaggerated at the expense of another local religious figure?

Related image        Mompesson

Thomas Stanley, originally rector of Eyam between 1664 to 1660 was a Puritan, had fallen out of favour with more traditional Anglicans including the Reverend Mompesson. However, as the number of plague victims grew, the two men put aside their differences, uniting to put their bold plan of isolation into action, and in doing so, saved countless lives.

Image result for silhouette vicar image old fashioned      Thomas Stanley – no image exists

Here my  sculpture of the Black Death sits outside Eyam Parish church where their plans would most likely have been communicated to the terrified local people.






Bring out your dead

Black death - rat with a smoking gun

Yersina Pestis bacteria that caused the Black Death is shown above, and below, my own response in ceramic.  A bunch of Black Death flowers are laid on a metal ring symbolising the quarantine ring that the brave people of Eyam in Derbyshire took to stop the disease spreading to outlaying villagers.  They did not step outside the agreed parameters of the village and made arrangements that friends in neighbouring villages left food for them at an agreed place outside the village. Although the majority of Eyam inhabitants nobody from neighbouring villages did – a testament to the enormous braver of Eyam.

Black Death Yersina pestis

The Black Death was an epidemic caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis that circulates among wild rodents where they live in great numbers and density. Such an area is called a ‘plague focus’ or a ‘plague reservoir.  The Black Death that affected Britain in the 14th century was probably not the modern disease known as Bubonic plague, scientists claim.


The symptoms of the 14th century disease are similar to Bubonic plague, and historically they have been referred to as one and the same.  Here we see Black Death victims being buried brutally and efficiently.

Black death 1 Bring out your dead



Black Death

Alice Hancock’s mother buried all of her family within a week in this lonely graveyard in Eyam.  A more shocking memorial to the power of this disease could not be found. The history of the plague in the Eyam, Derbyshire began in 1665 when a flea infested bundle of cloth arrived from London for the local tailor. Within a week his assistant George Vicars was dead and more began dying in the household soon after.As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to the Reverend Mompesson and Minister Stanley. They introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness from May 1666.


The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe’s total population and it is suggested that it may have reduced the world’s population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century.

Like the Black Death, the Great Plague was by no means confined to London. Trade and flight from infected areas caused the disease to spread to other urban and rural areas including Newcastle, Southampton, and Eyam. Tailor, George Viccars, brought the plague to Eyam in August 1665, by bringing a box full of cloth infected with fleas carrying the disease. The disease soon established a deadly hold over Eyam, claiming six victims in the first three weeks after Viccars’ death.

Once it was established that the illness claiming the lives of Eyam’s villagers was the plague, the villagers made a remarkable decision; they decided to quarantine the village. On making this decision, the villagers were effectively choosing death instead of life, in order to prevent the disease spreading to the nearby industrial centre of Sheffield.