Eight walkers gathered outside Church on the 3rd December. Steve and Julie led the walk once we had made our way to our starting point at Eyam for our 3 ¾ mile walk.
After parking and eating lunch we walked past Eyam Hall, a Jacobean manor house, currently run by the National Trust but soon to be handed back to its owners, the Wright family, then the village stocks.
We walked by cottages where the plague started in Eyam. In 1665 a bale of cloth from London triggered a chain of events that led to 260 villagers dying from bubonic plague over a fourteen month period – more than double the mortality rate suffered by the citizens of London in the Great Plague. This cottage was where the first victim, George Viccars died on the 7th September.
As more people became infected with the plague and died, the villagers turned for leadership to their Rector, the Reverend William Mompesson, and the Puritan Minister Thomas Stanley. They introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness including the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and the relocation of church services to the natural amphitheatre of Cucklett Delph, allowing villagers to separate themselves and so reducing the risk of infection.
Continuing through the village we walked up Lydgate, passing a small enclosure where the graves of George and Mary Darby are located.
One of Mompesson’s decisions was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease. We passed the Boundary Stone, a large rock with holes cut in it which allowed villagers to leave coins in vinegar in return for supplies.
Descending we walked into the village of Stoney Middleton.
Our party walked past Toll Bar Cottage, now an award winning fish and chip shop, then the unusual Parish Church of St Martin.
The Church is unique in Derbyshire for its octagonal nave and was originally built in 1415 by Joan Eyre of Padley in thanksgiving for the safe return of her husband from the Battle of Agincourt. The tower is original but the nave was destroyed by fire in 1757 and rebuilt two years later in its present form by James Booth who also worked on the stable block at Chatsworth.
We passed the ‘Roman Baths’ on our left, misnamed as no Roman artefacts have ever been found, the building actually dates from the nineteenth century.
We then started a steep climb out of the village up a stony lane, pausing to let three off road motorbikes pass us. Crossing a lane we continued up through woodland, stopping to catch our breath and to admire the view down the valley towards Chatsworth House.
After joining a tarmacked lane we passed the Riley graves on our right. So called because they are close to Riley House Farm; the graves contain the bodies of the husband and six children of farmer Elizabeth Hancock. All died within a week of each other and Elizabeth took on the task of burying them herself. She was uninfected by the disease as was the unofficial village gravedigger, Marshall Howe.
Continuing down the lane we re-entered Eyam, pausing to walk through the churchyard of the Parish Church of St Lawrence.
Here we looked at the well preserved Saxon cross and the grave of Catherine Mompesson. She died of the plague on the 25th August 1666 after staying with her husband and tending the sick.
We retraced our steps back to the car park, then returned to Chesterfield where we were treated to hot soup and fruit pie at the home of Bob and Ruth Cable.
The next walk on Sunday 7th January will be led by Eric in the Tapton area. New members will be made very welcome. Come and join us to get rid of any Christmas excesses by walking through our beautiful Derbyshire countryside. Please turn up at the church gates at 12 noon with walking boots and a packed lunch. For more information contact the verger whose number appears on the back page of this magazine.