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Mary Toft or Tofts (1703-1763), became well-known as the lady who gave birth to rabbits. She was baptized in Godalming on the 21st February 1703, the daughter of John and Jane Denyer. In c.1720 she married Joshua Toft, a journeyman clothier, and had three children, Mary (b? ), Anne (1723-23), and James (1724- ).

In 1726 she became the centre of controversy when she deceived and hoaxed doctors into believing she had given birth to rabbits. In August she had a miscarriage but still appeared pregnant. Then on the 27th September 1726 she feigned labour and was delivered of a ‘monster’. John Howard, a Guildford surgeon, was sent for and early in November with Howard in attendance was giving birth to a rabbit a day. After 9 rabbits she was taken to Guildford where Howard could keep a close eye on her. Nathanael St Andre, surgeon and anatomist to King George I was sent for and in his presence Mary gave birth on the 15th November to the 15th rabbit. By now it had reached the press and was the talk of not only Godalming but London. George 1st sent Cyrius Ahlers, surgeon to the German household, and on the 20th November he delivered a rabbit part from Mary. However he became suspicious and reported to the King the next day that it was all a hoax. George I sent Sir Richard Manningham, physician and midwife to see what was happening, and after the 17th rabbit, he too exposed it as a hoax.

Mary was taken to London on the 29th November and lodged at Mr Lacy’s Bagnio in Leicester Fields. St Andre published his account on the 3rd December 1726 A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets, Perform’d by Mr. John Howard, Surgeon at Guildford. Finally on the 7th December 1726 Mary admitted it was hoax. Ahlers published his account the next day Some Observations Concerning the Woman of Godlyman in Surrey ....tending to prove her extraordinary deliveries to be a cheat and imposture. Mary was imprisoned in Bridewell, but after four months was released after the case was dropped.

Mary returned to Godalming. In 1740 she was charged with receiving stolen ‘fowles’. The 2nd Duke of Richmond, Charles Lennox who had a halfway house in Godalming between London and Goodwood liked to show Mary as a curiosity at Church House. Many pamphlets and songs were written, and William Hogarth parodied Toft in several engravings, and in a play. Rabbit stew and jugged hare were off the menu.

Mary was buried on the 13th January 1763 but no gravestone has been found.

 

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