James Lucas (1813 – 21 April 1874) was a celebrated English Victorian eccentric and hermit who gained international renown by his strange way of life. 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 (Red Coats)
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. 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.
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 including Charles Dickens who came to engage him in conversation.
Lucas died of apoplexy in 1874, having hoarded a considerable sum of money in his living room. He is buried in the family grave in Hackney churchyard, London.
After his death 17 cartloads of dirt and ashes were removed from the house.
‘Mad’ James Lucas