Man known as Eynesbury giant died 200 years ago this month

PUBLISHED: 10:00 13 February 2018

James Toller, the Eynesbury Giant

James Toller, the Eynesbury Giant

Archant

This month marks 200 years since the death of James Toller who was known as the Eynesbury Giant.

According to St Neots Museum, which keeps details and drawings of James, he was born in Eynesbury, in 1798, to parents who were of average height. They lived in a small cottage, in Rectory Lane, and by the age of 10, James was already more than five feet tall. By the time he was 18, he was more than eight feet tall and his feet were 15 inches in length.

As the news of a young man, from Huntingdonshire, who had grown into a giant, spread across the country, James became famous and in 1815 he was exhibited in London.

His great size was noted in various publications and in one drawing he was shown next to a Dutch dwarf called Simon Papp who was only 28 inches tall. After touring the country in a show, he enlisted in the Life Guards, but his health was not good and he had to leave the army and return home to Eynesbury to live with his mother. He was given permission to walk in the rectory gardens to avoid attention from the public.

He died on February 4, 1818, when he was just 20 years of age. It was rumoured that a doctor had offered £20 (a year’s wages for an ordinary working person at that time) for James’s body, so that it could be dissected. His family feared his body might be stolen by body-snatchers once he had been buried and so he was buried inside St Mary’s Church, in St Neots, rather than in the churchyard.

“Many stories have been told about James Toller since his death about how he could walk along the streets of St Neots and Eynesbury and chat with people through their bedroom windows or pass by the public houses along the High Street and reach up and swing the signboards,” according to the museum.

A shoemaker in Eynesbury was said to have a pair of Toller’s shoes that he displayed in his shop, but these have never been found.

There is no mark or initials on the church floor to indicate the exact spot where Toller is buried in the church and his fame has diminished over the last 200 years, but his story is still told to local school children.

The museum is at the Old Court House, in New Street, and is open from Tuesday till Saturday, from 11am-4pm.

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