In Search Of Lost Time In Eyam And An Outbreak Of Plague

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This very unusual wall sundial is to be found above the Priest’s Door on the east side of Eyam parish church in Derbyshire. It dates from 1775, and was designed and made locally. I discovered it when were in the village doing a spot of family history research – not researching in any organised way I might add – more a matter of walking ancestral paths and acquiring a sense of place. Eyam is anyway a village with an awful lot of history, not least the story of how its inhabitants dealt with an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-1666 by imposing a cordon sanitaire around the village boundary, and for over a year sticking to it so as not to spread the disease to neighbouring communities.

Over the fourteen months that the outbreak persisted, 280 out of the 800 population died. It is thought the infection arrived in a parcel of fabric, sent in late summer from London to the Eyam tailor, Alexander Hadfield. The package was opened by his assistant, George Viccars, and it was he who was the first to fall ill and die. Thereafter, the disease spread rapidly throughout the autumn, slowed over the winter, and returned in full force in the following spring and summer. In the worst month of August 1666 seventy eight villagers died.

Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine was managed by the young village rector, Reverend William Mompesson, and Nonconformist minister Reverend Thomas Stanley. It was agreed that every household would bury their own dead and, in a bid to  maintain morale and give comfort to survivors, church services were held in the open air so people could gather together, but not too closely. Local landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, and others from neighbouring villages saw that supplies of food and other necessities were left at the village boundary.

It is a harrowing episode that demonstrates great human resilience and bravery, not least by the Reverend Mompesson, whose own wife was among the last victims. And today, as you wander around the village, the event continues to be marked by commemorative plaques outside the cottages that were once the homes of the families who were particularly afflicted.

It could seem mawkish, crass even, to make a visitor attraction from this horrific episode, but somehow it isn’t. The village quietly embraces you in a reflection on shared humanity – now and back through time.  In fact the sun dial says it all: Induce animum sapientum –  cultivate an enquiring mind. And then on the two supporting stone corbels, which you can’t quite read in the photo: ut  umbra sic vita – life passes like a shadow.

I especially like the way that when it is noon in Eyam, the sundial shows the relative times in Calicut, Mecca and Panama, to name but a few of the far-flung places inscribed on the dial. It also includes a chart for longitudinal adjustments of local True Sun Time to Greenwich meantime, and throughout the year. Somehow it is uplifting to feel that in this isolated Derbyshire village, and over the centuries, the gaze of its inhabitants has extended to a world beyond its village boundaries.

So far I haven’t mentioned why we were visiting Eyam or explained presumed family links with this locality. Researches into the Fox family of Callow in Hathersage (covered in other posts) suggest that a possibly direct ancestor, one Robert Fox, yeoman farmer and lead miner, was living in the area between 1678 and 1699. I have a copy of his will and household inventory, so I know he owned 13 cushions and several field beds in one or more parlours. There were no Fox plague victims in Eyam, although Robert Fox’s second wife, Margaret Mower, had lost an uncle, Rowland Mower. His will is included in the 1842 book by local historian, William Wood, The History and Antiquities of Eyam ~ with a full and particular account of the Great Plague.

The Fox family connection is all a bit of a yarn, which may never be unravelled. So for now some more views of the village:P1050536

Eyam Parish Church and its 8th century Saxon Cross complete with Celtic influences.

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This is Eyam Hall, very much post-plague, and built between 1671-6 and incorporating a much smaller existing property in the heart of the village. Its builders were newcomers, the land-owning-merchant Wright family, and their arrival signified revival, and an increasing interest in developing the lead mining potential the area. Landowners large and small were keen to exploit this highly valued mineral. And although lead had been mined across Derbyshire since Roman times, there is almost a ‘gold rush’ feel about the exploitative zeal from the late 17th century.

It is possible that post-plague opportunities around Eyam attracted the likes of putative ancestor, Robert Fox. My band of fellow Fox-hunters has not been able to establish if he was an incomer or if there were existing family connections with Eyam. His father was a tenant farmer at The Oaks, near Highlow, a few miles away, and he and Robert’s brothers may also have been involved in the lead business,  possibly smelting.

Robert owned four small parcels of lead-bearing land in Foolow, two of which adjoined Wright land. When he thought he was dying in 1691 and wrote his will, he was very concerned to make it clear he had ownership of them, and that the proceeds of his property should be managed by his brother and brother-in-law for the upbringing and education of his four children – James, William, Mary and Robert. In fact he did not die until 1699, and it is not clear what happened to his family. We think the eldest James became a shoemaker in Eyam, and that Robert was possibly a very successful joiner in Wirksworth, the lead mining capital of Derbyshire. William is the one we have our eye on as the possible ancestor for the Callow Foxes, but his baptismal record has so far proved elusive, which is most annoying when we know that his three siblings were baptised in Eyam church. Ah, well. Such are the fascinations and frustrations of tracking down traces of families long past.

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From: William Wood The History & Antiquities of Eyam 1842

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past

 

JOSEPH SIDDALL

P.S. A number of readers have asked what became of 3 year old Joseph Siddall. The Eyam Museum researches seem to indicate that there were in fact two surviving Siddall children, and they went to live with relatives in Sheffield, not that far from Eyam. There is quite a dynasty of Siddalls in the Eyam-Stoney Middleton area of Derbyshire, so they would not have been left without any family connections.

After The Rain It’s Party Time!

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You simply can’t beat tulips for exuberance. They are presently bursting from pots and beds in my back garden – the result of a couple of cheap packs of bulbs from  my local  market stall bought back in the autumn.

I like the tulips that most resemble the wild forms – lily like, low-ish growing, and with several flower heads per bulb. These are one of the praestans varieties – possibly Bloemenlust. I threw the pack label away before pressing enter on the memory save button. Anyway, they are beautiful, whoever they are. And I especially love the way they throw their petals wide to catch the sun.

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Six Word Saturday  Please visit Debbie at Travel With Intent. She is the new host of SWS with the new rule of Six Words Only In The  Title.

 

Thursday’s Special ~ Being Serially Arrested In Wales

This week Paula’s Pick A Word  challenge is giving me the chance to post more views from our March trip to the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Projecting, arresting, pastoral, convex and communal are the prompts, and this distant shot of snow-dusted mountains pretty much covers the first three. However, I won’t let that stop me.

Arresting is my word of choice for all the following images; Wales was at  its magical, magnificent best – from the glittering waters of the River Conwy to the surreal towers and ramparts of Conwy Castle. It made you want to burst into song. Cue: Land of My Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem, which you can join in with at the end, and so definitely cover the communal. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak Welsh; humming will do. Besides, there is nothing quite like the quality of Welsh singing voices.

Also look out for Thomas Telford’s amazing suspension bridge in the next shot of Conwy Castle. It was built between 1824-26 to improve access between Holyhead on Anglesey and Chester, and was also part of Telford’s larger road and bridge improvement scheme to enable swift and safer travel to London for Irish Members of Parliament. A triumph, then, in both function and form.

The castle was built between 1283 and 1289, and is another of Edward I’s overbearing edifices to oppress the Welsh. Not only did he invade, he also cleared out the monks who occupied the site and set about building both a fortress and a model town below it, the latter confined by massive defences. Today, these walls still surround the town, and you can walk around them, though I should issue a warning: the wall-top walk is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to vertigo. But if you don’t mind heights, they provide striking views in every quarter.

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A few miles upstream from Conwy is the market town of Llanrwst. It is claimed that in 1947 its town council made an unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council as an independent Welsh state. One has to admire this piece of Celtic chutzpah. I’m sorry they did not succeed. P1070238

Anyway, one of the present day arresting features of Llanrwst is this bridge, the Pont Fawr or Great Bridge. It was built in 1638 and still cars drive over it. There are other names too – the Shaking Bridge – because if you tap the central parapet the whole structure vibrates, and also Pont y Rhegi – bridge of swearing, explained by the fact that the carriageway is too narrow for vehicles to pass, and the height of the central arch too steep for forward visibility,meaning that everyone meets in the middle and this happens…!&?#!

The view through the central arch shows the ground on which the National Eisteddfod was held in 1989. The town is currently campaigning for a return of this annual extravaganza of Welsh culture in 2019. Which is a good point to bring on the choir. Croeso – welcome!

Marvellous Magnolias ~ And More From Bodnant Garden

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You could say that one of Britain’s loveliest gardens grew from a cosmetic nicety – the means to make white soap from brown. This new Victorian product was invented by one Henry Pochin (1824-1895), an industrial chemist who developed a process to clarify rosin, a brown resin that was used to make soap. He then sold the rights to white-soap-making to fund a new development: the production of alum cake from china clay, so creating a vital ingredient for the manufacture of good quality paper.

After that it was full steam ahead for Mr. Pochin, and literally too. He bought up china clay works in Cornwall and South Wales, and the Cornish Gothers works had its own tramway system on which ran a fleet of small steam locomotives, known at the time as Pochin’s Puffing Billies. And so he became a major industrialist, with further interests in iron, steel, and coal. He was also an all round pillar of the community, including serving for a time as a Liberal Member of Parliament. His wife, Agnes Pochin, was also politically active and a passionate suffragist.

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In 1874, Pochin bought the Bodnant Estate in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. The estate included Bodnant House,  25 farms and 80 acres of gardens, and for the next 20 years Pochin set about acquiring specimen trees from around the world.  He employed the notable landscape gardener Edward Milner, and together they re-landscaped the steep gorge below the house, planting American and Asian conifers along the banks of the River Hiraethlyn that runs through the gardens.

Some 140 years on, you can see the astonishing results – towering Douglas Firs, Giant Redwoods, Japanese Umbrella Pines. This part of the garden, known as The Dell, has over 40 champion trees, now on the UK list of notable and ancient trees.

As we wandered through the pinetum we wondered at the vision of these men – to plant trees whose full glory in that setting they would never live to see. It struck us too, that the world could well do with more of this forward, long-term planning, the creation of a living legacy for future generations.

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When Pochin died, his daughter Laura McClaren inherited Bodnant, and since that time the gardens have been developed by successive generations of the McClaren family, in particular Pochin’s grandson, Henry McClaren, who created the more formal gardens and the astonishing laburnum arch. (We were too soon to see it in bloom.) It was also he, who in 1949, gave the garden to the National Trust, although it is still managed on behalf of the Trust by a member of family. And it is still growing and expanding, with new areas being planted and opened to the public this year.

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This is the view from the house (still privately owned) – the Carneddau mountains of Snowdonia as a backdrop. What a setting. And what a garden. Here are a few more glimpses:

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Through Time And Space ~ Black & White Sunday

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This photo was taken at Penmon Priory on the island of Anglesey. It is a mysterious place, on the shore of the Menai Strait. The stone ruins date from the 12th century, built on the site of St. Seriol’s 6th century hermitage.

The window was in a building beside a dovecote, a much later structure, built by the local lord in 1600, long after the monastic period.

The dovecote’s interior was difficult to snap due to window slots in every quarter, but you get the idea. There are 1,000 nest boxes for pigeons, and both the birds and their eggs were harvested. Originally there would have been a long revolving ladder attached to the central plinth.

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And since I know you are curious to see the outside too, here it is  seen through entanglements of Old Man’s Beard – the seed heads of wild clematis which adorn Britain’s winter hedgerows and byways:

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Black & White Sunday: Through  This week Paula has an especially spectacular interpretation of this week’s challenge. Go see!

Serpent’s Eye View From Llandudno’s Great Orme And A Spot Of Lamb Retrieval

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It was Monday morning, and here we were cresting the head of a sea serpent – the mighty Welsh marine worm. At least that’s what how the invading Vikings saw Llandudno’s Great Orme, and named it accordingly.

It is indeed an extraordinary craggy eminence that juts into the Celtic Sea, very much like a gigantic head. Amazingly, too, you can drive to the top, and see mountain mirages like this one. I’m looking south down the coast of North Wales, and this real-life illusion took little editing apart from cropping and reducing the brightness.

And now that I’m looking again at this still, blue scene, it is hard to believe it was blowing a gale as I took this photo.

Next are a couple of windscreen shots as we ascend and descend – rather more mythic edits this time and in keeping with this amazing slice of 300 million year old geology:

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And now we come to Operation  Lamb Rescue –  a kind man restoring very little twins to their mother. They had slipped down the bank towards the road, and couldn’t climb back up. So this was more nightmare than illusion – but with a happy ending:

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Finally, a distant view of the sea serpent, taken from Anglesey on a still, but warm day in late December, when yet again Wales was in dreamy illusion mode. Perhaps we imagined it – the Great Orme, the mighty worm, snaking its way across the Menai Strait:

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In this week’s Thursday’s Special, Paula asks us for illusions however we wish to present them.