Abbot John Gerard Eaves, O.S.B., 1909-1975

Portrait of Abbot John Gerard Eaves, O.S.B., 1909-1975 (also known as Abbot Oswald Eaves, O.S.B.)


Abbot John Gerard Eaves, O.S.B., 1909-1975
(also known as Abbot Oswald Eaves, O.S.B.)

An account of the Southworth and Eaves families of Lancashire, being also a personal memoir of my own connection with the story of Saint John Southworth, one of the 40 martyrs canonised on October 25th, 1970, by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

Abbot Oswald Eaves, O.S.B.
Abbot Oswald Eaves, O.S.B.

In March 1952 Father John (Jack) Gerard Eaves, a Preston born Roman Catholic Benedictine monk, was elected Abbot of Fort Augustus Abbey, near Loch Ness. The position of Abbot carried with it recognition by the Lord Lyon of Scotland and the holder of the office was entitled to a personal coat of arms. Father Jack was of the belief that he was descended from the Eyves (latterly spelt Eaves) family of Fishwick Hall, Preston, who had resided in the township since the late 14th Century until the 1670s and, as such, there was the possibility that he may already have been a holder of a coat of arms.

This turn of events set Father Jack on a quest to research his ancestry and with the assistance of the Preston Roman Catholic community and Reginald Sharpe France, archivist at the Lancashire Record Office, produce a pedigree that would satisfy the Lord Lyon into allowing Father Jack adopt the Eyves family’s coat of arms whilst he was Abbot at Fort Augustus.

In the mid-1960s Father Jack took up pastoral work in Sweden which led him to being appointed Bishop of Karlstadd. And it was at Karlstadd that Father Jack, during the latter stages of his life, recorded his memoirs detailing the research into his pedigree, his dealings with the Lord Lyon and the design of the arms.

Father Jack, a very pious man, had a strong devotion to John Southworth, the Lancashire priest, who was executed for his faith at Tyburn in 1654, and also believed he may have had family connections with the martyr.

David Eaves 2013

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Abbot John Gerard Eaves, O.S.B., 1909-1975

I have often promised relations and friends that I would write up notes on the above subject, and have postponed it over many years. Now that Blessed John Southworth is about to be canonised as a saint along with 39 other English and Welsh martyrs, and at which ceremony I hope to be present in Rome, the time seems opportune to put on record some interesting facts of genealogy, and even stories of a personal nature which connect me and my relations with this martyr and saint.

I leave facts about the martyr himself and his life-story to his biographers. The chief biographies to date are:
Blessed John Sothworth, by the Rev. Albert Purdie (Burns, Oates & Washbourne Ltd. 1930)
John Sothworth – Priest and Martyr, by E.E. Reynolds. (Burns & Oates Ltd. 1962).

My own interest in the Southworth-Eaves relationship began when I was a young boy of some 10 years of age, just over 50 years ago. My father’s sister Walburga Eaves (born 23 November 1860) was the eldest child of Richard Eaves and his wife Margaret, nee Southworth, both of Preston, Lancashire. The other children of the marriage were: Joseph Oswald my father, (born 1864); Thomas (born 1867) and Edward (born 1870). All this generation of children had been brought up to know that their mother, Margaret Southworth, claimed to be of the family of Southworth of Samlesbury and, therefore, were relations of the martyr-priest John, martyred at Tyburn, on 28 June 1654.

It was my aunt Walburga who impressed upon me at a young age that my grandmother had been a relation of the martyr. One can only surmise that there had been 240 years of tradition.

Abbot Oswald's medal
Abbot Oswald’s medal

My aunt even gave me a blessed medal which she said had been handed down through the Southworth family for several generations. I have it to this day. It is unusual and bears the face of Christ on one side with the words ‘Salvator Mundi’ and on the other side the face of the Virgin Mary with the words ‘Mater Divine Gratiae.’ The medal hangs on my rosary. A detail of interest is that my own mother, two sisters and a brother have died holding it in their hands.

Of my grandmother’s immediate ancestry I know little. Of her family, I know that her sister was a member of the Good Shepherd Order and was called in religion Sister Charity Southworth. She was stationed at Ford Convent, Liverpool, for many years, where. she died and was buried in the Convent’s cemetery. To have followed their immediate ancestry would have been an interesting study, but the latter generations of Southworths after the family had left Samlesbury Hall are difficult to follow especially since some members emigrated to the United States.

Samlesbury Hall Lancashire
Samlesbury Hall

There are a good many Southworths in Lancashire who claim relationship to the martyr of whom I will only mention two. One was a member of the Holy Child Society. Her name was Sister Alphonsus McGiveney and was sister to a well-known actor, Owen McGiveney. His family had a breviary which they claimed had belonged to Blessed John Southworth, and this they donated to Westminster Cathedral, where it is still exhibited in the Sacristy.

The head of John Southworth
The head of John Southworth

Sister Alphonsus had in some way been involved with the drawing of Blessed John’s face for a leaflet to be sold in Westminster after the martyr’s body had been found. She said it had been easy to reconstruct the features since the face was in such good preservation. This is borne out by Father A. Purdie who states in his book: ‘the head in particular was found to be in a good state of preservation: the skin of the face had taken on a coppery tint, and there was a slight moustache and beard ‘a la Richelieu’ of chestnut colour.’

In 1927 I became a novice in the Order of St. Benedict at Fort Augustus Abbey, Scotland. My interest in the martyr was at once renewed because letters and newspaper cuttings began to arrive telling me of a great discovery. It was thought that the body of Father John Southworth had been found buried in Douay, France. The English Catholic authorities had known that this relic had been in the possession of the famous English College founded by Cardinal Allen in Douay, but trace of its burial place in 1793 had been lost.

Towards the end of 1951, it was announced that there was to be an election of a new Abbot of Fort Augustus. The eight year period of office of Abbot Wulstan Knowles was drawing to a close and it was felt that his failing eyesight and general state of health would not allow of his being re-elected for another period. I had not the slightest idea that this would affect my life in any way. I was Prior and headmaster of Carlckemp Priory in North Berwick and was particularly happy there and, by God’s help, the foundation which I had founded was thriving.

I accordingly wrote to a true friend of the English martyrs, Canon Kevin Waring of Catforth, near Preston – one whom I admired greatly for his sanctity, and who was a good friend to me. I asked him to offer Mass at his chapel dedicated to the English martyrs and that the intention should be that we would acquire a good Abbot for Fort Augustus. I shall not forget his reply, and by the time it arrived, I was already myself the Abbot. Canon Waring later gave me from his altar a small carved picture of Blessed John bearing at the foot the martyr’s family Coat of Arms – a chevron between three cross-crosslets.

Shortly after I had become Abbot of Fort Augustus, I was asked if I would choose a Coat of Arms, as was the custom. I refused to have one composed, for I felt that I belonged to the old family of Eyves of Fishwick, Preston. They had armorial bearings and I might well have a right to use them. The Eyves family had returned a pedigree at the Visitation of Sir William Dugdale in the year 1664. The arms were: sable, a chevron between three cross-crosslets all argent.

My task was now to find my own pedigree connecting me with this family, but I already had moral certainty of it. The difficulty was to find the time to go into family records.

A strange chain of circumstances soon gave me the opportunity. In 1952 I was invited by the Jesuit priests at St. Wilfrid’s, Preston to take part in two events at their Church. The first was, the celebration of the Preston Guild and the second event was the Consecration of their Church. There were about three weeks separating these events and I was offered hospitality by the Jesuit Community. Shortly after my arrival there I met Father James Quinn S.J. He had become most interested in Preston history through helping Mr R. Sharpe France, the County Archivist, in writing a small handbook for the Guild Week.

Fr. Quinn happened to ask me if I were related to a Miss Jane Eyves of Fishwick whose name he had come across in records, as having harboured a priest at Fishwick Hall during times of persecution. I replied that I knew of this story and felt that without doubt I was of the same family, but could not prove it. He suggested that we should work together in searching records in the short time that lay before us. I was indeed willing, and most glad for the opportunity. We thought we may even have to travel around the Preston district searching in Catholic Church registers. However, we started with the old records of St. Mary’s Church, Friargate – the oldest Catholic church in Preston. The registers were actually now in St. Wilfrid’s archives. There we found registered among baptisms, a long run-back of my immediate forebears. It did not solve our problem completely, but gave us a wonderful start.

Fr. Quinn introduced me to the County Archivist, Mr France with no other intention than just to make his acquaintance. Mr France welcomed me and almost at once, quite unbidden to take up the subject, said that he was interested in the family connection between the Eaves’ and Southworths. This was quite astonishing for me and I told him that my grandmother had been a Southworth, but how was he to know that. He replied that, of course, he didn’t know this, but was referring to the much older connection of intermarriage between the two families, both of which were of Samlesbury. This he proved through the Coat of Arms of both families which was the same, and was proof of intermarriage, and that the two families had become one. He had, in fact already written notes about this in the local ‘Lancashire Evening Post’ newspaper under the pen-name of ‘John o’ Gaunt’.

Coat of Arms of Southworth family of Lancashire
Southworth Arms
Coat of Arms of the D'Eyvas family of Lancashire
D’Eyvas Arms

This fact became of the greatest importance to me, for it gave me a double relationship to Blessed John Southworth. The armorial bearings of both families show that the original family of Samlesbury had been D’Eyvas or de Ewyas or Deyvas or D’Ewes, later spelled Eyves, and later still Eaves.

From the Chetham Society publication Vol 98 we know that sometime before 8 July 1325 Sir Gilbert de Sotheworth married Alice D’Evyas, the heiress of the Samlesbury family. The Southworths who originated in the hamlet of Southworth, Winwick, near Warrington had not a Coat of Arms at this time. However, when he married Alice D’Eyvas she brought to the Southworths the Samlesbury Estate, and adopted for his Arms those of the D’Eyvas family with the colours reversed, and quartered them with the Samlesbury Arms to give the following results:

Chetham’s Society publication Vol. 98 writes of the Southworth family: ‘they owed their importance to their acquisition by marriage of manorial rights in Samlesbury in the Hundreds of Blackburn. They entered their Arms at the Visitations of 1567 and 1664.’ Among the deeds of the Leghs of Lyme, Cheshire, seals of Gilbert de Sothworth 1347 and of Matthew de Sothworth 1394 have been found, each bearing on a shield a chevron between three crosses patonce.

In a roll of Arms of the reign of Richard II (1374-1399) edited by Thomas Williment (number 316) the coat of (sic) Mons Thomas Southworth is given as: sable, a chevron between three crosses patonce argent.

Despite the quartering of the Arms, one often sees the Coat of Arms of the Southworths that of the original D’Eyvas arms, viz: sable, a chevron between three cross-crosslets, all argent. (See frontispiece of the book ‘Blessed John Southworth’ by Rev. Albert Purdie). I have seen it depicted alongside Blessed John’s Statue. The genealogy of Blessed John would be the reason for this: So far as I have discovered this genealogy was as follows:

Sir William de Samlesbury = Avine d. of William de Notton
Cecily = John D’Eyvas (or D’Ewes)
Son of Nicholas D’Eyvas. m. before 13 April 1259.
Arms: sable, a chevron between three cross crosslets, argent.
Alice = Sir Gilbert de Sothworth.
m. before 8 July 1325. Living in 1363.
Arms: quarterly, first and fourth, argent a chevron between three cross-crosslets sable: second and third, sable a chevron between three cross-crosslets argent.
Sir John de Southworth = Margaret, d. of Sir Richard de Hoghton.

Having established that the Southworth and Eaves family, or rather D’Eyves family, had the same Coat of Arms, I now turned my attention to the Eyves family of Fishwick Hall ascertain if I had a claim to this old Coat of Arms. In this I was assisted by Father Quinn J. and particularly by a friend and expert in Heraldry – Mgr. David McRoberts, then of St. Peter’s College, Cardross. Through him I approached Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, the Lord Lyon King of Arms in Scotland.

Fishwick Hall, Lancashire c.1890.
Fishwick Hall, c.1890.

I based my claim to matriculate on these arms through the pedigree which the Eyves family of Fishwick Hall, Preston, had returned at Dugdale’s Visitation of Lancashire in 1664. The Catholic Record Society Vol 6. records it thus:

Thomas Eyves (latterly spelt Eaves) of Fishwick Hall returned a pedigree at the Visitation of 1664, being then at the age of forty. He married Margery, daughter of Ralph Sherdley of Farington, and his son Richard, was born in 1659. Thomas was still a recusant Fishwick in 1679-82, but soon after that date the family parted with Fishwick Hall. They had been seated there for many generations and were recusants throughout. The father of Thomas of the text, Richard Eyves, lost his life during the civil wars in 1664. By his wife Jane, daughter of Richard Grimshaw of Clayton Hall, he had two younger sons and two daughters: James, father of Dom Thomas Eyves, O.S.B. born 1659 died 1747, and probably of Dame Mary Eyves O.S.B. of Cambrai who died in 1732; Oswald who settled at Ashton-super- Ribble, whose will was proved in 1715; Anne wife of Thomas Dale of Walton; and Jane, wife of William Shaw of Preston. Oswald, whose widow Elizabeth was a Catholic non-juror in 1717, had two sons Oswald of Ashton, and Robert. The former was the father of Dom Oswald Eyves (or Eaves) born 1739 who died at Brownedge in 1793; James, Ellen and Anne, coheiress to her brothers who married John ffrance of Greaves Town.

The name Oswald, and also Richard, recur constantly in the pedigree, which is almost a proof in itself of the connection between these generations and my own. However, the pedigree of 1664 as recorded by Sir William Dugdale is still more interesting. It is recorded thus:

Raphe Eyves
Richard Eyves = m. Elizabeth, d. of …Brewer
Richard Eyves = Margaret, d. of Gilbert Cuerdale
Raphe Eyves = d. of Richard Rishton of Sparth.
Richard Eyves of Fishwicke b. 1664 = Jane, d. of Nicholas Grimshaw
Thomas, aged 40 on 14/3/1664 = Margery, of Ralph Sherdley of Ffarington
plus two further brothers and a sister: James Eyves, Oswald Eyves, Anne Eyves m. Thomas Dale
Thomas and Margery had two children: Richard Eyves (aged 5 on 14/3/1664) and Jane Eyves.

The pedigree of 1664 ends here, but we can continue it through the Catholic Record Society thus:

Oswald Eyves (above) son of Richard of Fishwicke died 1664
Two sons: James Eyves (born 27/7/1632) and Oswald Eyves of Ashton (Will proved 1715) = Elizabeth d. of …. Bruere of Ribbleton

James (above) had two children: Thomas Eyves, O.S.B. (1659-1714) and Mary Eyves, O.S.B. (died 1732). Oswald Eyves of Ashton and Elizabeth had two sons and two daughters: Oswald Eyves, O.S.B. (1739-1793); James Eyves (died young); Ellen Eyves (died young); Anne Eyves, m. John ffrance of Greaves Town.

St Mary’s Priory, Brownedge, Preston Lancashire
St Mary’s Priory, Brownedge

There are several notes on the above in Catholic Record society (Vol 23) from which I quote:

Dom Oswald Eyves (or Eaves) … born in 1739 … professed at Dieulward in 1755, was at Cuerdon 1764-80, and Brownedge 1786 till death on Oct. 15th, 1793 … his sister Anne, eventual heiress to the Eyves family upon his death married John ffrance of Greaves Town in Ashton-on-Ribble, gent; who representative of a very ancient family from which descended the ffrances of Little Eccleston Hall and Rawcliffe Hall, whose grandson and namesake of Greaves Town, married Oct 25th 1826 Mary, daughter of John Gillow of Salwick Hall, gent. The Eyves family of Fishwicke Hall always retained the Faith and suffered severely in consequence. They intermarried with many families of distinction as shown in the pedigree returned at Dugdale’s Visitation. Mass was very regularly said in the domestic chapel of Fishwick Hall from the reign of Elizabeth. It was reported to the privy council in 1586 that Sir Evan Banister, a Marian priest of Preston was being harboured by Mistress Jane Eyves. The family ceased to reside at Fishwick Hall towards the close of the 17th century. (CRS vol 23).

The task before me had been to link up myself and my immediate relatives with these generations of Eyves of Fishwick Hall, later of Ashton-on-Ribble. With the help of records of St. Mary’s Church, Preston and records kept in the Harris Library at Preston, I was able to do this.

Mgr. David McRoberts, mentioned earlier, at length made out the petition for me to the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and we were able to send the following invaluable letter from the County Archivist of Lancashire, who had been kept informed throughout.

To: The Rt. Hon. the Lord Lyon King of Arms,
Court of the Lord Lyon,
H.M. Register house,
Edinburgh. From: Lancashire Record Office,
County Hall, PRESTON.
Our ref: U 33.
5th April 1954

May it please your Lordship,

From evidence brought before me in records of the Lancashire family of EAVES (formerly spelled D’EYVAS and later EYVES), first residing in Samlesbury and then at Fishwick Hall near Preston, Lancashire, I conclude the the Right Rev. Dom Oswald Eaves, Abbot of St. Benedict’s Abbey at Fort Augustus in Scotland, has right to lay claim to that Coat of Arms which was declared by the Eyves family at the Visitation of Sir William Dugdale, Norroy King of Arms, to Lancashire in 1664, and which had belonged to the family of D’Evyas at a much earlier date: viz. – Sable a chevron between three cross-crosslets argent.
(Vide Chetham Society, Old series Vol LXXXV Eyves of Fishwicke).
I beg to remain,
Your Lordship’s obedient servant,
(signed) R. Sharpe France.
County Archivist of Lancashire.

In petitioning I had to suggest, as happens in all cases, where one is not the eldest son of the eldest son etc, a ‘difference’ … ‘suitable to my circumstances’. We suggested accordingly that the Benedictine corbic (or raven) should be placed on the chevron.

My petition was granted, and fittingly enough the parchment, of which I here show a reproduction, arrived on the day I celebrated the silver jubilee of my priesthood March 18th 1959. The parchment is beautifully and ornamentally painted and bears the seal of the Lord Lyon King of Arms. At the public dinner to mark the occasion of my jubilee, both the new Arms of the Abbey (connecting us with the Abbeys of Raisbon and Lambspring) and my own arms as Abbot arrived on the same day and were exhibited publicly. They are now in place in the Monastic Library at Fort August Abbey.

I was indeed proud to have the same Coat of Arms as Blessed John Sothworth, thereby proving beyond doubt the close relationship between our two families. May we now have his patronage as a Saint.

To clarify the above genealogy, and to extend it to the members of the present generation, I will tabulate it, with the hope that it may arouse interest for the future, and that even further research may be made.

Oswald Eaves b 1743=Agnes Worden
Two sons Richard b 1779; Peter b 1781=Agnes Baldwin
Oswald b 1802=Alice Parker
Richard b 1830=Margaret Southworth
Three sons, one daughter: Mary Walburga b 1860; Joseph Oswald b 1864; Thomas b 1867; Edward b 1870.
Of the above Joseph Oswald b 1864 had four children: Joseph Richard b 1892; Mary Teresa b 1894; Dorothy b 1902; John Gerard Oswald O.S.B. Abbot b 1909.
Of the above Joseph Richard b 1892 had two children: John Oswald (1920-1942 killed in 2nd World War) and Joseph.

Window dedicated to Fr Oswald Eaves, St Mary’s Priory, Brownedge

A personal note in connection with the Eyves (or Eaves) genealogy is that Dom Oswald Eaves O.S.B. (born 1739, died 1793) was born in Preston. He was educated from young age at Dieulounrd in France (of which Ampleforth Abbey, in North Yorkshire, is the lineal descendant). As a very young priest (25 years old) he came home to serve the mission in Lancashire, and was at Little Mosna and Cuerden, near Preston. In 1780 he removed this mission to Brownedge, where there must have been a missionary station already, for in 1774 Bishop Walton confirmed 212 persons at Barm Bridge (Bamber Bridge) or Brownedge. Dom Oswald served this mission for the next 13 years and the records state that he died suddenly on October 15th 1793. I have heard it said by tradition that he was thrown from his horse whilst on his missionary duties. I have a record of his burial from the Preston Parish Register which reads: ‘Buried in October 1793. Oswald Eaves a Romish Priest the 17th day.’

A memoir of mine is that my mother once told me that before my birth and not long after my parents had come to live in Bamber Bridge from Preston, an old Benedictine priest, Fr. Fozzi had welcomed my father saying ‘Welcome back to Brownedge, Oswald Eaves’. That name had not been known in the parish since its first parish priest. I was born in the parish of Brownedge in 1909. I was baptised in the Church there, and received all the first sacraments there, including Confirmation from Bishop John Vaughan, brother of the Cardinal. In 1934, I returned there to sing my first Mass as a priest. In 1952, I again returned to sing my first pontifical mass as Abbot. The family graves are in the cemetery there – and there lie the bodies of my parents, sisters and brother, and a nephew John Oswald. One thinks of these words now: ‘Welcome back to Brownedge, Oswald Eaves.’


Information from the Benedictine Monastery Library at Ampleforth, concerning the three male members of the Eaves family who became members of the Benedictine Order.

Dom Oswald Eaves OSB. Died 8th January 1975. Abbot of Fort Augustus Abbey

John Gerard Eaves, the son of Joseph Oswald Eaves and Frances Fair, was born at Bamber Bridge on 31st March 1909. A true son of Catholic Lancashire he was proud of his family connections with the martyrs (St John Southworth). He went to school at Fort Augustus, entered the Noviciate in 1927 and was ordained priest in 1934. For 18 years his work was the care and education of boys, first in Edinburgh, then at Fort Augustus and lastly at North Berwick, where he was the first superior of the Community and headmaster of the school. In 1952 he was elected Abbot of Fort Augustus.

Abbot Oswald’s natural gifts were social, energy, enthusiasm and a sympathetic interest in his fellow men. As Abbot he was eager to develop the schools, and to maintain the splendour of the traditional liturgy. He was able to complete the nave of the Abbey Church, begun by Abbot Wulstan, and to build the new wing of the school of Fort Augustus. The spirituality he taught his monks was straightforward without complications, no doubt it reflected his own very orthodox piety as well as his happy unquestioning temperament.

When his term of office came to an end, Abbot Oswald accepted an invitation to pastoral work in Sweden. He met the challenge of a new language, harsh material conditions of life, and saw his work blessed.

In 1974 failing health led his return to Scotland, where he took up monastic life amongst his brethren at Carlekemp. He died, in Yorkshire, on January 8th 1975 and was buried at Fort Augustus – a tireless worker for his Master, and now we trust at rest with him.

Dom Thomas Eaves OSB. Died 29th April 1747

Fr Thomas Eaves was professed at St Laurence’s in 1684 during the Priorship of Fr Bernard Gregson. As Fr Gregory Hesketh had obtained the house and property at Fishwick through the right and title of his father, the General Chapter in 1693 decided that a fourth part of the income arising from this property should be yearly paid to his Convent towards his maintenance (Act of Chapter 1693 Aug 9-12). Having no taste for the Mission this exemplary Father appears to have spent his long life in his Convent and to have been a pattern of religious regularity to the rest of the Community. Having attained the great age of 87 he slept with his Fathers on 29th April 1747 in his 88th year.

Dom Oswald Eaves OSB. Died 15th October 1793

Fr Oswald Eaves was born in Lancashire on 2nd April 1739 and was professed at St Laurence’s, 28th December 1755, during the Priorship of Fr Ambrose Kaye. He would have been 16 years old in 1755.

He passed to the Mission in the North Province and was stationed at Little Mosna and Cuerden in Lancashire in 1764. He was elected Secretary to the Provincial Chapter in 1769 and was continued during three quadrienniums. He was elected the Procurator of his Province in 1773 and was continued in the Office until his death. Having lived many years at his post, he broke up the old Establishments and removed to Brownedge in 1780, where he erected a commodious house and chapel and was allowed to take up funds belonging to his Mission to the amount of £292 17s for the building of Brown Edge.

The building at Brown Edge cost in all £292 17s 0d which was defrayed by taking up funds, besides some other funds taken up which were in the hands of the trustees. At the Chapter in 1789 his long meritorious services were rewarded with the Cathedral Priorship of Rochester. This was the last Chapter he was doomed to witness dying suddenly of apoplexy on the road on 15th October 1793, being very corpulent, aged 54.

Matriculation of Arms for Dom Oswald Eaves
Matriculation of Arms for Dom Oswald Eaves, Abbot of Fort Augustus Benedictine Abbey granted by the Lord Lyon of Arms, March 1959.
Pedigree of the Eyves family of Fishwick Hall from Chetham Society, Old series Vol LXXXV.
Pedigree of the Eyves family of Fishwick Hall from Henry Fishwick’s History of Preston.

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