In Haunt

Our Plague Year – a comic strip plunging readers into a seventeenth century community that quarantined itself in an attempt to stop the spread of Bubonic Plague, is set to return this December 2020. Prepare to join artist Nick Burton’s fictional villagers of Eyam and HOME for a whole year of adventures, thanks to funding from Arts Council England.

Our Plague Year

Further online episodes of the comic will be revealed – with 52 being the goal – as well as additional insight from the village where this story really happened: Eyam in Derbyshire. Excitingly, Nick Burton and HOME will be teaming up with Eyam Museum (pictured below) to interact with the history in an even more evocative way – opening up fascinating historical accounts, exploring the archives and discovering even more of the village’s powerful past personalities.

Owen Roberts, Curator of Eyam Museum, reflects:

 “We are delighted to be working with HOME in this project. As a museum, we promote dynamic engagement with the past. The Eyam plague story – more compelling than ever now – has been retold many times, continually attracting new readings and creative responses. We welcome Nick Burton’s addition to this rich lore and relish his dark and beady take on its contemporary resonances.”

Eyam Museum

Our Plague Year originally launched online back in May 2020, with a 10-week programme encountering the claustrophobia as well as the characters of this remarkable Plague-struck place. It was commissioned by HOME and took artist Nick Burton on a unique comic journey, his drawings encoutering this fascinating community and the people within it. These are individuals with unique insights, packed with personality, depicted through Nick’s distinct creative style.

But how did the ‘Eyam Plague’ of 1665-1666 come about? In 1665 a posting of cloth had been brought to the village from London – a city already struggling with the implications of the plague. Disastrously, the cloth was infested with plague-carrying fleas, and disease quickly spread through the close-knit community. As deaths in the village mounted, with 42 residents lost between September and December 1665, the new Rector William Mompesson made a remarkable decision. He ordered that the village quarantine itself, with people unable to leave or enter, in the aim to prevent transmission to other areas in the North. In effect, this was a village that decided to go into ‘lockdown’, with the hope of saving more lives beyond it… although terrifying for those within.

Not only did Mompesson have a task on his hands to persuade the villagers – of whom an estimated 260 would become victims of the disease – to stay, but also faced the difficulty of trying to remain determined in the face of threat. Yet in ‘cutting off’ Eyam from its surroundings, the plague was largely contained, and the number of lives that were saved as a result of the village’s sacrifice are potentially countless.

In his previous interview with Haunt Manchester here, Nick Burton (pictured below) explained how his own interest in the Eyam Plague story had developed when he began to think about the parallels between this village he had once read about, and what was happening as the UK was gripped by the first Covid-19 lockdown. Therefore, using the inspiration of Eyam combined with his comic artistry seemed like an innovative way for Nick to respond to HOME Curator Bren O’Callaghan’s creative brief: considering what was going on in the world in terms of Covid-19.

Nick Burton

What can the experiences of a ‘lockdown’ over 350 years ago teach us today? How do communities respond in the face of a crisis? And where do the tensions emerge? Our Plague Year explores these still-resonant questions through a highly engaging comic form. Characters such as Edith Webster and Jacob Smithfield come alive through vivid imagery and text, in a small village that historically stands out.

According to Nick himself:

 “When Our Plague Year returns, it’ll unfold with a renewed focus and in a more chronological fashion – from September 1665 through to November 1666. There’ll be new people, new perils, people who aren’t who you thought they were, love, jealousy and fear. Plus a few laughs.

“The global interest in this project has been a wonderful surprise. It’s nice to know that the story of a small village in lockdown can transcend cultural barriers, and I hope that the people who continue to read it, like where it goes from here. Even if where it’s going is pretty selfish and miserable.”

The first of the new comic strips will be published on Friday the 4 December (with subscribers receiving an exclusive preview two days earlier), marking the continuation of an exciting online series that has enthralled over 12,500 readers to date. Nick’s bold and memorable characters have certainly proved popular, as was also shown when HOME’s gallery reopened, featuring the comic strips on display, earlier this year.

Bren O'Callaghan, HOME’s Curator, who commissioned Our Plague Year, added:

"’If you build it, they will come...’ so said someone about a baseball diamond or a netball court or maybe it was a pop-up chicken wing shack. Regardless, I knew this project had legs, and the opportunity to respond to the parallel and similarly nightmarish Plague Year unfolding around us in real time was too ripe an opportunity not to pluck. 

“Our new goal of 52 episodes split by seasons will draw upon not only historical reference but contemporary news cycles as past and present become intertwined. I can't wait to see what fresh bile young Godelena has to share about her neighbours, or what new miracle brew Fanny Dankwoth is peddling. Bring it on, Nick!”

The series will be made available via HOME’s website, with email subscribers receiving the digital strips before anyone else plus additional bonus material from the villagers of Eyam, digital updates, news and more.

To sign up to subscribe, click here.

Image 1 by Nick Burton, image 3 by Renée Goulet. 

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