On this day in history : 13th March 1770 – The birth of Daniel Lambert – who was to become the heaviest man in England…. He was larger than life in both size and personality….

Daniel Lambert by Benjamin Marshall c.1805 – Public domain

Daniel was born in Blue Boar Lane, Leicester….into a country family of gamekeepers, huntsmen, animal breeders and field sportsmen…. He was a healthy, active boy and a strong, keen swimmer…. He taught many of his childhood companions to swim in the River Soar and continued to teach children to swim for most of his life…. Daniel was also fond of horse riding and enjoyed hunting, fishing and shooting – he also bred hunting dogs….

In 1788 he began to assist his father, who was the gaol keeper at Leicester’s House of Correction, for minor offenders…. At the age of 21 Daniel took over from his father and soon gained a reputation of being fair to the inmates and looking out for their welfare…. He brought about many improvements to the prison….

However, by the time he reached the age of 32 he had ballooned to a huge 32 stone…. As he claimed to be neither a big eater or drinker he blamed his sedentary lifestyle as a gaoler and spent much of his free time exercising and gaining strength…. He was indeed extremely strong and could lift extraordinarily heavy weights….

There is a story involving a bear, which if it is true demonstrates his impressive strength…. He had been watching a dancing bear, which was being displayed near to his home, when his dog slipped its lead and snapped at the bear…. Not surprisingly the bear retaliated and knocked the dog to the ground…. Daniel requested that the bear’s owner restrain it so he could retrieve his dog – but the owner’s response was to remove the muzzle from the bear so it could attack Daniel’s dog…. To which Daniel reacted to by reportedly punching the bear in the head, felling it, to allow his dog to escape….

Daniel was not restricted by his weight, he remained fit and active, was never ill, not even suffering from colds…. He kept up his hunting; although he was forced to give up horse riding he still continued to keep a pack of some 30 terriers…. However, eventually questions began to be asked, as his weight steadily increased, as to whether he still had the ability to continue as a gaoler…. As it was, times were changing – traditional gaols were being replaced by forced labour – and in 1805 Leicester’s House of Correction closed…. Daniel was unemployed….

Being the size he was Daniel found it impossible to find employment…. By this time word had got around about this enormous man and people were curious…. Visitors started to arrive, making up excuses to see him…. Daniel was sensitive about his weight – but he needed to earn money…. He began to form an idea….

Travelling to London, in a purposely built coach, he took up residence at 53 Piccadilly…. Here for 5 hours a day he received visitors at a shilling a time…. It did not take long for his popularity to soar…. With his interests and knowledge of hunting, animals and related sports he had much in common with the middle and upper classes – it became quite the ‘in thing’ to visit him….and there were those who made many repeat visits…. Obesity did not carry the same stigma that it so often does today – he was respected and admired…. His business was a huge success, he would often receive up to 400 visitors a day…. He became rather famous, a life style wax work of him was displayed in London and proved to be extremely popular….

Daniel Lambert during his first exhibition in London – Public domain

The medical profession became interested in him and carried out examinations…. They found him to be in full functioning order; he was active and mentally alert, with no health problems…. He ate only a normal amount and slept an average of 8 hours….

In September 1806 Daniel returned to Leicester a wealthy man…. To keep his finances topped up he would do the occasional tour exhibiting himself in places such as Birmingham, Coventry and York…. His last such tour was to be of East Anglia, ending at Stamford so he could attend the races…. On the 20th of June 1809, no longer able to climb stairs, he took lodgings on the ground floor at the Waggon and Horses Inn on the High Street…. He admitted to feeling tired but rose the next morning at his usual time and nothing seemed amiss…. As he began to shave he complained of having breathing difficulties…. Ten minutes later he collapsed and died – as there was no post mortem the exact cause of his death is unknown….

His body quickly began to deteriorate so it was necessary for a speedy burial – there was certainly no time to take him home to Leicester…. An elm coffin was hastily made – a massive 6ft 4in long, 4ft 4in wide and 2ft 4in deep – to take his 5ft 11in tall body with a waist measurement of over 9ft around…. His coffin had to be built on wheels in order to move it and a wall of Daniel’s lodgings had to be demolished in order to facilitate it…. It took 20 men to lower the coffin into the grave in the churchyard of St. Martin’s Church, St. Martins….

His headstone, which was erected by his friends in Leicester, reads….

In remembrance of that prodigy in nature

Daniel Lambert a native of Leicester

Who was possessed of an exalted and convivial mind and,

In personal greatness had no competitor

He measured three feet one inch around the leg and

Weighed fifty two stone and eleven pounds

He departed this life on the 21st June 1809

Aged 39 years

Daniel Lambert’s grave – Image : Dave via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

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