LOOKING BACK: James Toller the Eynesbury Giant
- Credit: Archant
James Toller was born in Eynesbury, St Neots, in 1798 and became known as the Eynesbury Giant.
His parents were of average height, but by the age of 10, James was already five feet and by the time he was 18, he was said to be more than eight feet tall and his feet were fifteen inches in length.
News of the young man from Huntingdonshire who had grown into a giant spread across the country and James became famous.
In 1815 he was ‘exhibited’ in London and was presented to the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia. 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.
James Toller lived with his mother in Rectory Lane, and the local Rector allowed him to walk in the rectory gardens to avoid being seen by the public.
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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 and examined. His family feared his body might be stolen by body-snatchers once he had been buried and he was buried inside Eynesbury church 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. A local 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.
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Sadly there is no mark or initials on the church floor to indicate the exact spot where Toller is buried in Eynesbury church and his fame has diminished over the last two hundred years.
Information courtesy of the St Neots Museum. For more information about the St Neots Museum, go to: www.stneotsmuseum.org.uk.
The museum is at The Old Court, 8 New Street, St Neots, PE19 1AE, and is open from Tuesday to Saturday.