On this day in history : 10th February 1787 – The birth of William Bradley – also known as ‘The Yorkshire Giant’ – and the tallest British man on record….

William was born in Market Weighton, in the East Riding of Yorkshire…. He was the fourth son in a family with 13 children….and he weighed 14lbs at birth…. By the time he was 11-years-old he weighed 11 stone….and as an adult 27 stone – at a height of 7 feet and 9 inches (2.36m)…. His shoes were 15 inches long and 5.5 inches wide – and his walking stick measured 5ft 10″…. With his enormous appetite it is said he could eat an entire leg of mutton with accompanying vegetables in one meal….

William Bradley, a giant. Coloured etching, 1810. Credit: Wellcome Collection CC BY

It could quite possibly be assumed that William came from a tall family – but his father was a modest 5ft 9″ (1.75) and his mother and siblings also of average height…. With the exception of one sister – who was growing at a rate of that to match William…. Sadly she was involved in a fatal accident at the age of 16, so her full height potential was never realised….

By all accounts William was teased at school because of his height…. However, his teacher had a special job for him…. When one of the pupils misbehaved the teacher would instruct William to lift the errant child up into the cross beams of the classroom – and there they would stay, clinging-on for dear life – until they had learned the error of their ways….

On leaving school William worked as a farm labourer near to the town of Pocklington – earning less than 10 shillings per week…. Then an opportunity arose to make a far more substantial living….when he was spotted by a travelling circus visiting a neighbouring town….

A deal was struck with Barnum’s, who were touring with a huge pig – known as ‘The Great Yorkshire Pig’ – which had been bred in the nearby town of Sancton…. Along with a dwarf named Edward Calvert from Shiptonthorpe, William joined what was to become an extremely successful travelling show – he became known as ‘The Yorkshire Giant’…. These travelling circuses, or ‘freak shows’, were a very popular form of entertainment at the time….

However, life on the road living in a caravan, took its toll on William’s health. In 1815 this, coupled with the small matter of the circus regularly neglecting to pay him, prompted William to make the decision to ‘go it alone’…. He began to hire venues, such as hotel rooms and would charge visitors a shilling a time to have an audience with him…. William became quite a wealthy man….

On one occasion he was presented to King George III at Windsor Castle – who gave to him a magnificent gold watch on a chain…. William wore this for the rest of his life….

William died of tuberculosis on the 30th of May 1820, he was 33-years-old. As his health had begun to fail he had returned to live at the family home in York Road, Market Weighton. The house still stands today….a memorial plaque – the size of his footprint – can be seen on the side…. A carved, life-sized, wooden statue can also be found in the town and an annual festival in his memory has been held since May 1996….

William was buried within the building of the town church – as it was feared grave robbers would be attracted to his remains…. His funeral took place in the early morning to avoid large crowds – but still people turned out en-masse – either to pay their respects, or to satisfy their own morbid fascination…. William’s coffin was 9ft long and 3ft wide….

William Bradley, a giant. Engraving by S.Freeman, 1811 after T.Peat. credit: Wellcome Collection CC BY

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