Whilst Eyam is the most obvious place in the Peak to be linked to the word ‘plague’, parish records of other villages also contain references to epidemics described as a plague or pestilence. Old records describe how parishes including Hope, Darley Dale and Longstone were hit by epidemics. This, however, does not permit the assumption that bubonic plague was the culprit. Even measles was once a killer disease.
Bradwell was another village where a ‘fever’ of some sort afflicted more than 150 people, about a third of whom died between late 1868 and early 1870. Some cases were diagnosed as typhus, some as typhoid and others as gastric upsets. The village was fumigated with tar, and the sewers with copperas, while all the dung heaps were removed. The origin of the epidemic would remain a mystery, although some blamed it on bad drainage and the filthy water which settled and stagnated in sewers at the lower end of Bradwell, in the immediate vicinity of the outbreak.
Flour for Christmas
During February 1869, 5 out of 6 sufferers died, and 4 out of 5 in March. The contagion showed no sign of abatement so the village was fumigated with tar and the sewers with copperas. All dung heaps were removed. Notwithstanding, the epidemic continued throughout the summer – 4 out of 24 victims died in July – and into the autumn.
On 27 October, a deputation from Bakewell Sanitary Authority, comprising Lord Denman, Dr Fentem, Dr Taylor and Inspector Williams, inspected the village. The Nuisance Inspector paid another visit three weeks later. It was recorded that the inhabitants were panic-stricken by the virulence of the disease and great distress prevailed in many homes.
To relieve those in most need, just before Christmas Mr. J.K.Cocker of Hathersage kindly sent 50 stones of flour for distribution amongst the poorest villagers. One widow, whose case was particularly distressing, was allowed 5 stones of flour, the remainder being divided equally between 30 needy villagers.
Recoveries and deaths
Recoveries and deaths during 1869 were: January: 3 attacked and recovered. February: 6 attacked and 5 died. March: 5 attacked and 4 died. April: 12 attacked and 5 died. May: 15 attacked and 1 died. June: 9 attacked and 6 died. July: 24 attacked and 4 died. August: 5 attacked and recovered. September: 18 attacked and 4 died. October: 16 attacked and 6 died. November: 20 attacked and 3 died. December: 19 attacked and 3 died.
The authorities noted that whilst any kind of fever might be attributed to uncleanliness, this was certainly not the case in Bradwell where the inhabitants were thrifty, striving and cleanly. The homes of ‘both high and low, rich and poor’ were afflicted alike.
Mortalities gradually fell as the disease ran its course, though there were still 6 deaths during November and December. No fresh incidents occurred after a heavy flood flushed out the sewers and watercourses. Within a few more months the disease had run its course. Its true origin was never agreed upon, being spoken of long afterwards as simply the Bradwell Fever.