The tragedy of Derbyshire’s first ‘social distancers’

It’s been well-documented – and widely publicised during the pandemic – how Eyam’s heroic efforts helped to halt the spread of the plague in 1665. But little is known of the village’s tragic lovers, Rowland Torre and Emmott Syddall. Tracy Walker looks at how the couple were among the first ‘social distancers’

WHEN one thinks of history’s famous couples, Romeo and Juliet, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra and Bonnie and Clyde are usually towards the top of the list. But if the names Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre were mentioned, they’d probably draw more than a few blank looks. Not to the people of Eyam, however. The couple’s tragic love story is just one aspect of the legacy of the village’s heroic part in the 1665-66 plague. Between August 1665 and November 1666, Eyam was to lose 260 of its population, cited as being between 350 and 700 at the time. It all began when a box of cloth from London arrived at the home of Mary Hadfield. The contents were damp and laid out to dry by travelling tailor, George Viccars, who was lodging with Mary. The modern interpretation is that infected fleas, or their eggs, had found their way into the folds of the cloth. Within less than a week, George fell ill and died. He was buried on September 7…

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