This month, in 1665, was when the villagers of Eyam buried the first victim of the plague that carried away 260 souls from their community.
The traditional story told is that infected fleas carrying plague arrived at Eyam, nestled in a package of cloth from London.
The package was sent to George Viccars. He opened it, allowing fleas to escape and bite. George became the first victim, and was buried on September 7.
The rector of Eyam church, William Mompesson, helped initiate the nself imposed isolation of the village, to stop the spread of the affliction.
Families were devastated – Mompesson’s wife too succumbed to the plague and is buried in a tomb near the church’s fine cross.
It has been disputed and discussed over the years what actually afflicted the villagers of Eyam. Whatever it was it was swift and deadly, with no cure.
Nowadays, however, geneticists have been able to use the community of people to help with research, using DNA from direct descendants of those who survived. These people have been found to have a certain mutant gene called Delta 32, which seems to be prevalent in groups of people who have been subjected to plague in their history. Working on this gene and how it protected the survivors at Eyam all those years ago in 1665/66 could help solve disease problems we have today.