Remembering Hertfordshire family who starved to death

PUBLISHED: 14:31 27 October 2011 | UPDATED: 14:40 27 October 2011

A contemporary sketch of the bodies of the Eaves family

A contemporary sketch of the bodies of the Eaves family


A STARVING family were found naked, emaciated and filthy, in a roofless Datchworth poor house, which they were segregated to after contracting cholera.

The Eaves were apparently neglected by village parish officers, who were also accused of attempting to bury the bodies before a proper inquest could be held.

It is a tale worthy of any Halloween ghost-story.

And indeed there are actually sometimes-told accounts of a phantom cart which transports the bodies of James Eaves, his wife, one of his sons and his infant daughter up one of the village lanes after their death.

A third child survived the 1769 ordeal, but went insane shortly after he was discovered.

Now, following the uncovering of the story by the Royal Society of Chemistry – during a project into the relationship between food and science back in 2009 (which was reported in the Welwyn Hatfield Times) – Datchworth Parish Council has tried to put right any previous wrongs, with the erection of a plaque commemorating the Eaves’.

All Saints Church’s vicar Susannah Underwood said: “In 2009 local and national press interviewed the then vicar the Rev Coralie McCluskey, who said that the current villagers of Datchworth intended to erect a plaque in memory of the family in an attempt to put right some of the wrong.

“Well now that has happened.

“Through the work of churchwarden Peter Large and parishoner John Glanville, the parish church of All Saints has opened a memorial garden in part of its churchyard for the burial of ashes and a board on which names can be recorded.

“The first plaque on the board was donated by the Rev Coralie McCluskey and is for that of the Eaves family.”

In 2009 local historian Wally Emms told the Welwyn Hatfield Times the Eaves family died of “forced neglect”, when they were segregated after contracting cholera.

“In those days they just isolated them,” he said.

“They died from having the disease and not enough food.”

Mr Emms also said the problem of starvation was not unique to Datchworth at that time and as for the allegations of neglect, he added: “The [parish] overseers were exonerated by both the county court and the King’s Bench in London.”

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