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.