Eyam shelters to the south of the gritstone moorland
of Eyam Edge, where rainwater filters through the
gritstone at the top of the edge, and issues as a series of
springs where the underlying impervious shale is
exposed. It drains away into limestone further down
the hillside. Church Street, Eyam's main road, follows
the junction between shale and limestone, with a
plentiful supply of water off the shale to the north of the
road, and excellent drainage to the south. The Saxons named the village for the plentiful supply of water, and in 1588 Colonel Bagshawe piped water from the source of the springs to a series of public troughs, with a number also serving private houses - one of the first public water-supplying systems. Lead mining has been fundamental to Eyam's prosperity, which was reflected in the particularly high quality of its architecture.
Throughout the village, buildings either stand alone or have developed incrementally, each new building being added organically to its neighbour. This results in a great variety of styles and detailing. The character is unified by the use of gritstone as a dominant building material. The gritstone is generally formally coursed rather than laid randomly, and varies from rubble to squared stones, occasionally with 'pitched' surfaces giving a flat chiselled effect and with heavy gritstone quoins common until the later 19th century. Stone walling was built using mortars made from quick lime, made by burning local limestone in kilns with sand and fine grit added. This contributed considerably to the character of the stonework.
Windows are generally dressed with gritstone heads and sills, and with vertical gritstone jams adding a hint of formality to even the simplest cottage. Some of the 17th century stone cottages have stone mullions separating small casement windows, while in the 18th century these were sometimes removed, and slightly larger wider windows with horizontally sliding Derbyshire sashes were inserted. Sash windows, although invented about 1650, did not become commonplace until the middle of the 18th century. The extraordinarily sophisticated Derwent Cottages on the south side of Church Street, with their highly fashionable arched Venetian windows, are indicative of the wealth of the village at that time.
Doorways show an enormous wealth of detail, ranging from the monolithic lintels and jams at Rose Cottage next to the Plague Cottage, to the more refined late 18th Century doorway with architraves at Bagshaw House, and the superbly fashionable arched and rusticated door surrounds to Derwent Cottage.
Roofs are generally of stone slates with one ton covering just six square metres. Traditionally stone slates were each held in place by a single oak peg through a hole at the top of the slate, which was then hooked on to a batten. Nowadays they tend to be nailed.
Note the traditional Derbyshire gables which extend above roofs to form copings. The lowest horizontal coping stone prevents the remainder from sliding off, and is supported on a projecting corbel called a 'kneeler'.
A number of buildings reflect Eyam's industrial past, including the shoe factory in a yard opposite the church, and the 18th century Audrey Cottages at Little Edge, where the continuous range of mullion windows below the eaves gave maximum light for cotton spinning.
Many of the buildings between Town End, at the Square, and Town Head are listed, including the church of St. Lawrence which originates in the 13th Century. The church was partly rebuilt in 1619, and was again altered by the famous architect John Edmund Street, whose work included the Law Courts in London, in 1868-9. Note the sundial of 1775, the magnificent 9th Century Saxon Cross, as well as some superb table top graves. Eyam Hall dates from 1672, and has the character of an Elizabethan H-plan house with contemporary leaded lights. The splendid rusticated gate posts decorated with strip work motifs and banded wall finials must have seemed 'up to the minute' in Eyam in 1672, although they would have been noticeably outmoded in more fashionable society! The Old House of 1615 at Town Head predates the Hall, whilst the mid century Mechanics Institute opposite the church is a typical regency style building with a projecting portico with tuscan gritstone columns - the only columns in Eyam!
The character of the village is marked by the consistent high quality of its architecture with its uniform thread of style and character interrupted by occasional buildings of contrasting style and period. The bends in the road restrict views to short segments of the village, creating a constant sense of surprise. Several interesting buildings are set back from the street, resulting in some unexpected sideways views.