UK’s ‘plague village’ of 1665 ready for 2020 pandemic

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Let’s raise a glass to Eyam Brewery during the coronavirus Covid-19 crisis.

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Nestled in the rolling hills of the UK county of Derbyshire lies a pretty, historic village called Eyam.

Today the surface tranquillity of tea rooms and small stone cottages contrasts with the story that makes this place famous – make that infamous: in 1665, the village adopted an extreme form of social distancing amid an outbreak of bubonic plague.

The altruistic gesture of the townspeople – orchestrated by the village’s newly arrived priest William Mompesson – would be costly as it would be successful. One quarter of the townspeople would perish in the following months, but the outbreak was contained and didn’t spread to the cities nearby.

Now the village is braced for the arrival of another fast-spreading virus, though as yet there have been no reports of the coronavirus Covid-19 among the 900-or-so inhabitants.

Most are commuters – either to the nearby cities or Derby and Sheffield – though some venture further to London some 260km to the south. As those connecting trains empty due to the spike in working from home, one owner of a local SME has noticed an uptake in business.

Quarantine

Gervaise Dawson, the owner and head brewer of local Eyam Brewery, says sales of his Eyam ales are brisk across the line. The ales include Black Death stout (7%), Eyam Plague smooth stout (4.8%), All Fall Down IPA (6.5%) and – most apt for today’s consumers – Quarantine blonde ale (4.5%).

Dawson, who used to work in the City of London before swapping project management for his microbrewery in 2015, says the decision to move to larger brewing premises last year has helped him satisfy increased demand for his plague-related beer from Britons having to unwind at home rather than in the pub near the office.

“The plague-related names of the beer have probably driven a good few orders as gag-gifts,” admits Dawson, “but when those clients come back with bigger orders, I feel like we’re building a brand that goes far beyond the joke.”

In an age of misinformation, when charlatans such as Alex Jones claim to sell toothpaste that prevent the 2020 disease, Dawson avoids making similar claims of his products: while doctors advise ‘flu sufferers to take on plenty of fluids, none of his should be taken by those who are ill.

However, Dawson says he has many reports of his brews helping those in the village who work in finance.

He says: “The medicinal effects of a couple of bottles of beer to ‘take the edge off’ following another bad day in the markets seems to be helping a good number of my clients.”