Historic grave of ‘wild boy’ gets listed status

editorial image

The final resting place of a child who was kept as a pet by King George I nearly 300 years ago has now been given protected status.

Peter the Wild Boy was found dishevelled, unable to speak and walking on all fours in Hertswold forest near Hanover, Germany, in 1724.

Peter the Wild Boy from Berkhamsted. Heritage

Peter the Wild Boy from Berkhamsted. Heritage

Peter, who was thought to be in his early teens, was taken to a hospice next to a prison in the nearby town Celle by his finder, Jurgen Meyer.

It was here that Peter met the British king, who brought him back to England in 1726.

Peter – given the name as whenever the word was mentioned he seemed to respond – lived as a curiosity in the King’s court.

When his novelty waned, he was sent to Northchurch to become a farm labourer.

He was buried in the village’s St Mary’s Church after dying in 1785 aged about 72.

People who lived nearby are said to have paid for his gravestone, which has now been given official Grade II listed status. Flowers are regularly laid on it to this day.

St Mary’s vicar, the Rev Jonathan Gordon said: “I cannot believe he was treated kindly in court and his life must have been quite hard.

“But it is nice to know he moved to this area and was treated with great kindness. He was seen as a gentle and kind-hearted man that people looked after and treated well.”

Peter is now thought to have had Pit-Hopkins syndrome, a chromosome disorder first identified in 1978.

Symptoms of the condition identified in Peter include his ‘Cupid’s bow’ mouth, short stature, coarse hair, drooping eyelids, thick lips, two fused fingers and poor mental development.

English Heritage team leader Tony Calladine described Peter as ‘a significant figure in the country’s history of disability’.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said: “Peter the Wild Boy’s story is both extremely interesting and, at the same time, poignant and unsettling.

“It also reminds us how far public attitudes to disability have changed.”