James Lucas (hermit)

James Lucas, the Hermit of Hertfordshire

James Lucas (1813 – 21 April 1874) was a celebrated English Victorian eccentric and hermit who gained international renown by his strange way of life.[1] He was known as the Hermit of Hertfordshire and Mad Lucas.


Lucas was an amiable, eccentric landowner who was well-educated, had studied medicine and was a good conversationalist. However his mother's death, in 1849, greatly accentuated his eccentricities. He became a complete recluse, and barricaded himself into his home.[2][3]

He refused to administer his mother's will, in which he inherited the family estate at Elmwood House near Redcoats Green, Hertfordshire, and deferred burial of her for three months. He developed a paranoid fear of his relatives. He locked himself in his mansion and allowed nothing in the building to be touched. It sank into a dilapidated and decaying condition. He lived solely in the kitchen, sleeping on a bed of ashes and soot. He went naked except for a blanket, enveloped in which he used to appear at his windows. He never washed and his hair grew to waist length. He lived on bread, cheese, eggs, red herrings and gin.[4] His house became infested with rats and he kept his food in baskets hung from the ceiling to protect it from them. He always kept a gun at his side.[3][5]

Lucas communicated with the world only through an iron grille and employed two armed watchmen who lived in a nearby hut. He was, however, quite willing to receive visitors, mostly tramps and children but increasingly the well-to-do who came to engage him in conversation.

Lucas died of apoplexy in 1874, having hoarded a considerable sum of money in his living room.[2] He is buried in the family grave in Hackney churchyard, London.[3]

After his death 17 cartloads of dirt and ashes were removed from the house.[3]

Lucas is the subject of the song Mad Lucas by The Breeders on their 1993 album, Last Splash.


  1. ^ Irving, Joseph (1879). ""Mad Lucas" the hermit". The Annals of Our Time from March 20, 1874, to the Occupation of Cyprus. London: Macmillan. p. 3. The protagonist "Mr. Mopes" of the 1861 story Tom Tiddler's Ground by Dickens is based upon James Lucas.
  2. ^ a b A History of the County of Hertford: volume 3
  3. ^ a b c d Hertfordshire Curiosities
  4. ^ Caufield, Catherine. (2006). The Man Who Ate Bluebottles: And Other Great British Eccentrics. Icon Books. p. 125. ISBN 978-1840467772
  5. ^ NY Times obituary


  • From: 'Parishes: Great or Much Wymondley', A History of the County of Hertford: volume 3 (1912), pp. 181–185. URL: [1] Date accessed: 10 February 2008.
  • NY Times obituary
  • Lucas, John (1990). "69". Hertfordshire Curiosities. Winborne, Dorset: Dovecote Press. ISBN 0-946159-75-0. The Hermit of Redcoats
  • Whitmore, Richard (1983). Mad Lucas. North Hertfordshire District Council and Hitchin Museum. ISBN 0-902755-02-1. Archived from the original on 2008-05-02.

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