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Folklore and curiosity

Peter the Wild Boy

Peter the Wild Boy - © Berkhamsted Town CouncilLink with the Chilterns

Once in England Peter was sent to live in the country near Berkhamsted while still only a youth, and then spent nearly 60 years of his life there.

Born

about 1713

Died

1785

Biography

In 1725, a boy, about twelve years old, was found wandering in fields near Hamlin in Germany , unable to speak and apparently having been living wild, surviving on fruit, nuts and roots. After he had been seen by King George I in Hanover in 1725, he was brought to the royal household in London as an oddity, and given the name Peter. But after a time the novelty of having him about the court wore off, and Peter was sent away from London , eventually to be looked after by farmers in the parish of Berkhamsted St Mary. He was mentally retarded and never learned to speak; even so he survived there for nearly 60 years. Because he would sometimes wander off far and wide and get lost, he was given a heavy leather collar to wear with this inscription: ‘Peter, the Wild Man from Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble’.

Not only the general public but famous writers were enthralled by the story of Peter, and visitors from all walks of life would come to Berkhamsted to seek him out.  A great deal was written about him, much of it fanciful, and Daniel Defoe wrote an account of his early life. Such was the national fascination with Peter that a satirical pamphlet was eventually published (possibly from the pen of Jonathan Swift) with the title The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation.  It is thought that the story of Peter gave some ideas to Swift in writing Gulliver’s Travels.  And long after Peter’s death, Dickens mentioned him in two of his novels.

Peter died in 1785 and is buried in the churchyard at Northchurch

Further Information

Wikipedia article on Peter the Wild Boy.

Grid Reference

TL012067

What you can visit

Haxter’s End farmhouse where Peter stayed for his first 30 years in Berkhamsted no longer exists, but the nearby Broadway Farm where he moved to after that is still there, just off the main road between Bourne End and Berkhamsted.

Peter’s grave is in St Mary’s churchyard in Northchurch, and his small gravestone with its simple inscription is just opposite the church door. Inside St Mary’s on the south wall of the nave is a brass tablet, paid for by the Treasury, that tells something of Peter’s story.

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