Riley Graves - A Tragic Corner of the Peak District
When the Great Plague ravaged London in 1665 a cruel twist of fate brought the bubonic plague virus all the way up to the Peak District village of Eyam. Cloth ordered by a local tailor was infected with the spores and within days his apprentice George Viccars was dead followed by a dozen others soon after. Under the guidance of their new rector the Reverend William Mompesson - who was distrusted by his parish and had to ask the ousted but respected puritan minister Thomas Stanley for help - the village quarantined itself from the outside world.
Measures were taken such as holding church services outdoors while each family kept "social distance" from one another, and perhaps toughest of all - having to bury one's own dead without delay, with no proper funeral and with the consecrated church grounds out of bounds.
Elizabeth Hancock lived at Riley Farm with her family and endured the trauma of watching her husband and all of their six children die within one week. She had to drag them one by one to a makeshift plot in a field near the farmhouse then bury them all herself. When the plague ended and people began to move freely again Elizabeth had tombstones carved for Alice, Ann, William, Oner, John and Elizabeth junior, while a tabletop memorial was erected for her husband John senior.
A low drystone wall was built around the graves and the tiny makeshift cemetery is still there n the field today, exactly as it was in 1665.