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Isolation | Eyam Hall | Eyam Village | Plague Memorial

In 2016, the people of the United Kingdom decided they would be better off if they no longer had to share a future with their European neighbours, and the USA turned its back on the entire world.

Three hundred and fifty years ago, a very different motivation for isolation was demonstrated as a community chose to separate itself from the world for the good of their neighbours.  In 1665, the bubonic plague reached Eyam, a small, lead-mining village in Derbyshire.  In an attempt to halt the onward spread of the contagion, the villagers volunteered to quarantine themselves.  They were successful; no-one in the surrounding area was infected by the villagers.  However, they paid a terrible price.  By the summer of 1666, when the plague lifted, almost three hundred had died, three-quarters of the population.  Entire families lie together in strangely intimate walled enclosures dotted around the village as victims were buried, not in the churchyard, but in their own fields or gardens.

Of course, the reality as ever is somewhat less black and white.  Cynics will point out that the majority of the villagers had nowhere to flee in any case and would almost certainly have been turned away by neighbouring populations if their origin were known. Others maintain it was a somewhat pointless exercise as the plague was spread throughout the country by others less inclined towards self-sacrifice.  Yet, if there is any lesson from history it is this: that even if others choose the path of selfishness, we are diminished if we allow ourselves to indulge in the delusion of being better off on our own, isolated from the needs of those around us and a common destiny.

I wrote this in 2016 and had absolutely no premonition of what was to come.  So now, in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, here we are again in a somewhat similar situation, although it is highly unlikely that the majority of us will die...tomorrow.  But what it should make us all realise is that we cannot isolate ourselves from everybody else.  We are all dependent upon one another, the rich and the poor...all of us.

Sorry to impose such a philosophical burden on this lovely village in Derbyshire!

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Jeremy Harrison 2005-2020