What a name for a house!
by Laurence Chilcott
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To explore the themes of sacrifice, courage and responsibility.
Preparation and materials
- Familiarize yourself with the story of the Great Plague of London and its effect on the village of Eyam. Information is available at: http://www.eyamplaguevillage.co.uk/
- Have available some images of plaques showing house names and the means to display them during the assembly. Examples could include:
- Sunnyside Lodge, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y7npbkxh
- Windmill House, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y6w5myen
- The Coach House, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ycqz4ao9
- Cuckoo Hall, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ycbpx4vk
- Fir Tree House, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yac73slm
- You will also need an image of Plague Cottage and the plaque outside the cottage, and the means to display them during the assembly:
- Plague Cottage, available at: http://tinyurl.com/yamu99j4
- Plaque outside the cottage, available at: http://tinyurl.com/ya8xmlqg
- Ask the children if any of them live in a house that has a name.
Listen to a range of responses.
Point out that most houses simply have a number to identify them, but some houses have a name.
- Show the images of plaques showing house names.
Ask the children why they think each house will have been given the name on the plaque.
- Some houses, like ‘Riverside’ or ‘Sea View’, are named after features that are close by. Other houses, like ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’ or ‘Holly Tree House’, may be named after trees or plants that stand out in the garden. Sometimes, a couple will name their house after themselves; for example, Huw and Lynne might call their house ‘Huwlyn’. But can you imagine calling your house ‘Plague Cottage’?
- Ask the children if they can think of any reason why a house might be given that name.
Listen to a range of responses.
Show the image of Plague Cottage and the plaque outside the cottage.
Explain to the children that you want to tell them a bit more about this cottage.
- Plague Cottage is in a village called Eyam (pronounced ‘eem’) in the north of England. In 1665, George Viccars, the local tailor’s assistant, took delivery of a parcel of cloth from London. It had taken days to get there by coach and it was damp, so he hung it in front of the fire to dry. Unknown to George, hidden in the cloth were fleas carrying the plague that was responsible for infecting the people of London. Two days later, George was in bed with a high fever. His body was covered with swellings and he also had a red rash. The plague that had been spreading fear through the streets of London had now come to Eyam.
- Within six weeks, George and two members of his family had died. The other villagers were terrified that they, too, would catch the disease. Some wealthy villagers packed their belongings and went to stay with friends or families outside Eyam. Many more villagers talked about doing the same. However, the rector of Eyam, William Mompesson, realized that people were likely to spread the disease to other towns and villages if they moved out of Eyam. He and his friend, Thomas Stanley, called the villagers together and persuaded them to stay within the village boundary, with no one allowed in or out.
The villagers reluctantly agreed. They realized that, by staying, they were more likely to catch the disease themselves, but they understood that they would not be spreading the disease elsewhere. It was an act of great courage. For almost a year, the villagers lived in fear as the disease spread around the village.
- Food was left for the villagers at a village boundary stone near a well. Payment was left in running water or in vinegar that was thought to act as a disinfectant to protect those collecting the money from catching the plague. Church services were held in the open air so that people didn’t have to crowd together.
There are no firm records of how many people lived in Eyam before the plague struck, but historians have estimated it to be between 350 and 800. In just over a year, 260 of the village’s inhabitants had died. One woman, Mrs Hancock, was the only one of her family to survive. She buried seven members of her family herself, in the field near her house. The graves can still be seen there today.
- It was a difficult time for the people of Eyam, but their courage and sacrifice meant that the plague was restricted and did not spread to neighbouring villages and beyond. ‘Plague Cottage’ is a strange name for a house, but it is a reminder of the selfless actions of the people of Eyam during a terrible time in their past.
Time for reflection
Ask the children to think about the reasons that people would have given for justifying their decision to leave the village.
Ask them to imagine how people who stayed would have felt, as more and more people caught the disease.
Remind the children that the villagers showed concern for people in the surrounding villages by staying where they were. They thought of others rather than simply thinking about themselves.
Are there times when we should be thinking about the needs of other people?
We thank you for scientists, doctors and nurses who have found cures for many diseases that people feared in the past.
We ask you to bless the efforts of those who continue to work to find cures and treatments today.
We pray for those who are sick or in hospital and all who look after them.
Please help us to think about the needs of others in everything that we do.