Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire by David Paul
Over the years many stories have been written and recounted concerning the visitation of the Plague, or Black Death, when it was inflicted upon the tiny Derbyshire Peak village of Eyam. At that time the vicar of Eyam, as is well documented, was Rev. William Mompesson. However, it is the exploits of another of Eyam’s vicars that I have researched and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire. The story relates to a bizarre marriage that took place towards the latter part of the seventeenth century and is recounted as follows:
One winter’s day in 1684 the Rector of Eyam, Rev’d Joseph Hunt, had been called to the Miners Arms to perform the office of baptism, as the landlord’s infant son had suddenly taken ill. Having baptised the child the landlord, Mr Matthew Fearns, invited the rector to stay and enjoy a drink or two with some of the village’s miners who were sat in the bar enjoying a well-earned couple of pints at the end of a long week. The rector took the landlord at his word, and enjoyed his hospitality and the company of the miners until he became totally inebriated. Now, it was well-known in the village, especially amongst the miners in the community, that the landlord had a very charming and beautiful daughter, Ann, who, at the tender age of 18, was destined to break many hearts. Before very long Rev’d Hunt was seen entering into flirtatious conversation with the young woman. As is often the case when large quantities of ale are consumed, one thing led to another and, ‘egged on’ by the miners, the rector, enjoying the prevailing mood and one or two drinks too many, agreed to participate in a mock wedding with the publican’s daughter. The miners had little trust in the rector’s promise, so they insisted that he should honour his promise there and then. After imbibing in another glass or two, the rector consented to go ahead with the ceremony. Without further ado, one of the miners produced a Book of Common Prayer and promptly acted as officiant. He read through the whole of the solemn ceremony, with the young girl and the rector performing the roles of bride and groom respectively.
News of the event quickly spread throughout the neighbourhood, and before very long the unfortunate act of theatre came to the notice of the Bishop of the Diocese. He had no hesitation in commanding the beleaguered rector to legitimise the mock wedding, declaring that he must fulfil in earnest what he had done in jest. Although Hunt was already engaged to another lady from Derby, he duly complied with this edict and legally married Miss Fearns (Furness) on 4th September 1684. This action had unfortunate consequences, as the lady from Derby, who was very wealthy, took out an action for breach of promise against him. Many of Hunt’s subsequent years were occupied in legal proceedings. The legal expenses alone ensured that he lost what little money he had, but the stigma of his actions soon lost him his friends in the village, whilst the reality of his actions meant that he was continually harassed by the officers of the law.
Desperate to escape from the multitude of pressures which were besetting him, Hunt, together with his new bride, took refuge in the vestry which, supposedly, had been built for the specific purpose of providing him with a place of refuge from his enemies. He dwelt in the vestry, together with his wife and nine children, until his death. In later years he was characterised as being of a very friendly disposition, with young people from the parish visiting him in his abode, where they would sit round the fire telling tales to while away the dreary winter nights.
Rev’d Joseph Hunt was Rector at Eyam between 1683 and 1709. He resided in his makeshift dwelling until his death. There is a tombstone in a corner of the churchyard which records his death and the death of his wife. It simply states that of Rev’d Joseph Hunt, Rector of Eyam, was buried on 16th December 1709 and Ann, his wife, was buried on 18th December 1703.
There are many other strange and incredible stories, garnered from numerous sources across the county, and retold in Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire.
David Paul's book Illustrated Tales of Derbyshire is available for purchase now.