12 March 2018

Graves

On a hillside east of the Derbyshire village of Eyam there is a tiny graveyard surrounded by a drystone wall. It contains the graves of seven members of the Hancock family who died in the summer of 1666. They were struck down by The Great Plague that, according to legend, had arrived from London in a bundle of cloth that happened to contain disease-carrying fleas.

Perhaps surprisingly this little graveyard is known as The Riley Graves and not The Hancock Graves, for the Hancocks were buried in Riley Field - an area of common land between two farms - Top Riley and Riley House Farm.
The story goes that the brave people of Eyam, urged by the local vicar, imposed a quarantine upon themselves in order to prevent the plague from spreading. In the event 260 villagers died from the bubonic plague but surrounding settlements were saved. Various myths have grown up over the past three hundred and fifty years about "The Plague Village".

It had been a good few years since I last visited The Riley Graves but I was there last Thursday as the recent snows were beating a gradual retreat. I parked in the valley near Stoney Middleton's squat church  and hoofed it up the valleyside, at one point tackling the remains of  a long snowdrift that was tucked up against the side of a drystone wall.
The little graveyard is an atmospheric place and as there was nobody else around  I found myself alone with the Hancockes - Alice and Ann, William and two Johns, Oner and Elizabeth. All of them were interred in August 1666 less than a month before The Great Fire of London was sparked in Pudding Lane - just north of London Bridge.

30 comments:

  1. Did you happen to notice if the head stones faced east? Towards Jerusalem? I'm trying to figure out from your photos if they are arranged that way or not. Old colonial cemeteries here in the Northeast USA are usually oriented that way, and I assumed it was something that was brought over from England with the first settlers.

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    1. Yes. They were facing east Vivian. This is customary in English graveyards.

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  2. I have never seen anything like it, and don't doubt that this is a very atmospheric place.
    No Rileys in the Riley graves... strange but true! I wonder whether there is any relation with Steve's side of the family.

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    1. Riley is a surname that I would normally associate with Ireland.

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    2. Steve's family did indeed come originally from ireland, about 5 generations ago, and were called O'Riley.

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    3. I guess you will be celebrating St Patrick's Day on March 17th.

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  3. An interesting story. How sad for the Hancock family.

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    1. Especially for Mrs Hancock who buried her entire family.

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  4. The village oh Eyam is an interesting place.

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    1. Ah yes, now I recall that you have also visited Eyam Helen.

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  5. The Youth Hostel at Eyam is very nice.

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    1. There is now a blue plaque by the door that records your stay there Meanqueen.

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  6. Old graveyards are so interesting! And aren't you glad we were born in modern times, long after whole families would die from plague and other assorted infections?

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    1. Yes I am glad we enjoy modern healthcare. If I had been born a hundred years earlier I would now be dead and of course Gregg would be with me - six feet under.

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  7. I found this interesting and went to Google more about it. How tragic for Elizabeth Hancock who survived her husband and six children. She had no choice but to drag them to a field near the farm to bury them herself.
    Greetings Maria x

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    1. One family member would have been terrible enough but ALL her family? Awful.

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  8. such a sad story.

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  9. What a sad but tranquil place. I am always amazed by the beautiful drystone walls in your country.

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    1. I love the drystone walls too - but you don't find them everywhere in England. In flat river valley areas boundaries tend to be hedgerows. The walls are mainly in upland areas and many are hundreds of years old.

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  10. What was that book I read years ago about a village who closed itself off during the plague? Strict rules governed and only one person managed to escape for a while. What was the name of that book?

    A sad story indeed. However, that was life then and now, in this modern time, there are still plagues, just not of the bubonic type. Drugs, homelessness, human trafficking, terrorism, genocide, AIDS, etc. So sad.

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    1. Was it "Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks?

      Perhaps we know too much these days. Everything is laid bare.

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  11. A very grave post, Yorkie.

    "Pudding Lane"? Named after your ancestors, no doubt, Mr. Pudding! :)

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    1. Ha-ha! I hadn't made that connection Lee.

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  12. For one brief moment when I read the title of your post I thought all the furniture moving in London had brought about your demise....
    But no. A post about Eyam and I recalled immediately reading "Year of Wonders" and Geraldine Brooks interpretation of how the plague affected the village.
    The little graveyard is a stark reminder of a terrible time for the people living in Eyam.
    Alphie

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    1. The removal work in London was taxing but not as harmful to health as bubonic plague. The Eyam story has entered the domain of legend - so much so that truth has been mystified.

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  13. I first heard of Eyam's story via a tv Play in the sixties (probably BBC) - very moving. I remember visiting whilst on a holiday much later and either reading or being told that the plague virus could still be active in the graves and if disturbed could return. I left quickly!

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    1. There is so much myth surrounding Eyam's story... but I never heard about the virus still being potentially viable. I am glad you survived to become a "creaking oldie". Thanks for calling by.

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  14. A rather heartbreaking story ...

    Do you by any chance know if the lettering on the rock in the first picture dates from 1666 or is it more recent? Would the headstones and stone wall be original to the time of death?

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  15. Well I found that a good place to rejoin your Blogland. I hate missing bits so usually read them all but have skipped a few this time.

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