The Plague Doctor from Eyam – David Bell – 7th November 2016.

Although David is not a doctor, his­tor­ian or aca­demic, he retired to Eyam and dis­covered that the water­fall on the farm he had bought, was the site where  a Matthew Morton had taken up res­id­ence, in 1665, with his dog ‘Flash’, to escape the plague, which had killed his wife – or was it?

When bus loads of tour­ists turned up to view the water­fall and learn about the plague his­tory of Eyam (whether myth or real­ity), David decided to research those times and events in the vil­lage.     The con­clu­sion was that the stor­ies com­monly told would appear to have been embel­lished  over the cen­tur­ies, but, how­ever, have done no harm for tour­ism.

So David has unearthed a few tales of his own, to throw into the pot.

With the props David had brought with him, includ­ing a blow-up Samuel Pepys doll, par­tially dressed in 17th cen­tury clothes, which had a urin­ary tract infec­tion, a blad­der stone and con­stip­a­tion, we knew we were in for an enter­tain­ing morn­ing. What  fol­lowed were buttock-clenching descrip­tions of the cures for ail­ments doc­u­mented in Samuel Pepys diar­ies – which David graph­ic­ally demon­strated on the dummy.

With ‘doc­tors’ in that era a mix­ture of Alan Titchmarsh, Mystic Meg and Russell Grant, ail­ments were remedied with plants that looked like the shape of the body organs infec­ted, which per­haps sur­pris­ingly, did seem to have some rel­ev­ant ingredi­ents, and con­coc­tions of which David avidly inges­ted, seem­ingly without ill effect.

These ‘doc­tors’, how­ever, deser­ted London at the time of the plague and gave rise to ‘plague doc­tors’ with equally bizarre and dan­ger­ous rem­ed­ies, depend­ing on how much you could afford, with the result that 100,000 people died.

The plague came to Eyam in a con­sign­ment of cloth from London, which had plague fleas in the cloth, so people star­ted to get infec­ted and die. 260 suc­cumbed in total, over 14 months.

Many tales about the plague have ensued over the last 350 years, based on records and recol­lec­tions from the few who lived, some of whom were very young at the time.

The pivotal story of the vicar, William Mompesson, who told his parish­ion­ers to stay in the vil­lage, not to mix or meet in public, and who were sub­sequently self­lessly sac­ri­ficed to the plague, has likely been embel­lished down the years, as records show that Mompesson had sent his 2 sons to Sheffield, before he spoke to his parish­ion­ers. Records also sug­gest that the Duke (at that time Earl) of Devonshire forced the vil­la­gers to be con­fined to Eyam by using armed guards.

We were left well enter­tained, def­in­itely grate­ful for the NHS, and bemused as to how much the offi­cial Eyam plague his­tory has been embel­lished.

A very unusual, amus­ing and inter­est­ing morn­ing much appre­ci­ated by the mixed audi­ence, prior to their Annual Lunch.