James Toller, the Eynesbury Giant

An engraving from 1817 of the dwarf Simon Papp next to James Toller

James Toller was born in Eynesbury, St Neots in 1798. His parents, who were both of average height and lived in a small cottage near the old Rectory.

By the age of ten James was already five feet or 153cm tall, and by the time he was eighteen years old he was said to be over eight feet or 244cm tall, his feet were fifteen inches in length.

As news of the young man from Huntingdonshire who had grown into a giant spread across the country, 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 twenty-eight inches or 70cm 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 returned to Eynesbury to live 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.

He died on the 4 February 1818, when he was only 20 years of age. It was rumoured that a doctor had offered £20 (a year’s wages for an ordinary working person) for James’s body so that it could be dissected, and his family feared that his body might be stolen by body-snatchers once he had been buried. For this reason, 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.

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 but his story is still told to the children in local schools and who knows maybe one day we’ll get a donation of his shoes?