Review of ‘The History & Antiquities of Eyam’, by William Wood

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on (), and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

THE HISTORY & ANTIQUITIES OF EYAM

This new publication from Country Books of Little Longstone is a reprint of William Wood's valuable work of 1865, with its 'minute account of The Great Plague which desolated the village in the year 1666'.

Far more extensive than a record of the plague alone, many details bring reality home nonetheless. Wood writes of inhabitants moving into isolated huts to try and escape their fate, generally in vain. He also tells how for years after the plague, two dozen funeral cakes, traditionally served to mourners paying their respects, were adequate provision for the whole village.

A brief selection from other chapters in the book includes geology and archaeology, lead mines and caverns, minstrels and poets, eccentric characters, benefactors and rectors.

Wood sets a pretty scene in the Eyam he knew, its cottages 'mantled with ivy, adorned with fruit trees' and 'flanked with beehives'. He confides that the inhabitants share a 'peculiarly antique' character, perhaps not unconnected with a prevailing notion of 'keeping themselves distinct by inter-marriages.'

Rich pickings are to be found as history unfolds, not least a stray Scottish bagpiper forced to entertain carousing lead miners, an Eyam man compelled to perform a public 'Penance for Fornication', and a religious fanatic trying to transform a kitchen vessel into dough. Wood provides rare recollections of maidens' garlands, some kind of hippodrome on Eyam Moor and such forgotten scenes as goose riding ('a very common, but barbarous amusement'), dead man's candle, knitting bees, flexible corpses and the custom of displaying the recently deceased tucked up in bed.

Transcriptions from parish registers take a morbid turn too: the fiddler who expired during rehearsals for a Morris Dance, a woman killed by lightning, fatalities involving horse-drawn carts, and an alarming number of deaths caused by falling rocks, or falling from rocks, in the Dale.

Whilst electronic conversion of the original text has produced some quirky spellings in the reprint, the original illustrations have reproduced well, and The History & Antiquities of Eyam still lives up to the author's promise as being of 'more than ordinary interest'. It is on sale locally priced £8.95 (to order, quote ISBN 1-901214-34-6).

Review by Julie Bunting


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