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Friday, 13 September 2013

Datchworth Boy

Last term I ran poetry workshops at a lovely school in a village called Watton-at-Stone in Hertfordshire. On my way to the school I drove through an equally lovely village called Datchworth, and was reminded of a newspaper article I'd read some years previously.

The article told of the village's recent commemoration of a family who starved to death there in 1796. James Eaves, his wife and two children were, apparently, ostracised and left to die by member of the community. Eaves' 11-year-old son survived, and went insane following his ordeal. Here is a contemporary illustration of the Eaves family:


When I read the article, and when I saw the picture, I was highly disturbed. I told the children during the school assembly that I knew a 'scary' story connected with Datchworth, but that it was genuinely not nice, and I'd leave it up to them to do their own research. Perhaps predictably, however, they clamoured to hear it, and did not seem to be overly disturbed by it. (Let it be known that I did not show them the horrible picture above.)

I am hopefully going back to visit the school some time in the next school year. When I visit schools I often try to write a bespoke poem for them, so I wrote a poem entitled 'Datchworth Boy', about James Eaves' 11-year-old son. The poem is the first villanelle I've ever tried to write. I chose the form because I think its repetitive, cyclical nature would be good at conveying the insanity into which Eaves Jr. irrecoverably fell. I will hopefully read it out to the older children during my visit:

Datchworth Boy

His mother gathered water from the lake.
They found him dressed in rags, decayed and pale.
A madness grew from which he couldn’t wake.

His baby sister’s body couldn’t take
The strain, his dad too weak to wail.
His mother gathered water from the lake.

The door was bolted shut, as though to make
That house on Datchworth Green into a jail.
A madness grew from which he couldn’t wake.

And some say Datchworth’s haunted by the ache
Of wounds left by the family it failed.
His mother gathered water from the lake.

The village voice lies silent now. Let’s stake
A claim to history unveiled:
His mother gathered water from the lake.
A madness grew from which he couldn’t wake. 






2 comments:

  1. My father was the headmaster there in the early 60's
    Thanks, that was very interesting and I have passed it onto my mother, Jean Howlett.
    Len Howlett passed in the 90's

    ReplyDelete