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?
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.
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.
Leech’s carton in Punch (1852) shows the association of cholera with poverty. A child stands on his head on top of a rubbish heap in the left-hand corner. An old woman scavenges from the heap, another child shows off his own find, and washing flutters in the breeze overhead.
Cholera was one of the most fatal diseases in the 19th century. Nausea and dizziness led to violent vomiting and diarrhoea, “with stools turning to a grey liquid until nothing emerged but water and fragments of intestinal membrane… extreme muscular cramps followed, with an insatiable desire for water”. It is estimated that 16,000 people died during the 1831-1832 epidemic.
Only working-class people appeared to suffer from cholera. Stories began to circulate that doctors were spreading the disease as an excuse for getting their hands on corpses to dissect.
Cartoon from the Wellcome Library, London.
One of the first steps in making the private grief public is the ritual of memorials. I have loved the way memorials take the absence of a human being and make them somehow physical with the use of sound. I have attended a number of memorials in the last five years and at the last one I attended I found myself suddenly experiencing something akin to rage.
David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night