By his fifteenth year, a boy from Hurtfield in Sussex had already soared to a height of seven feet four inches. The "young Colossus" not only showed none of the clumsiness common to that age but had such command of his huge frame that he could perform well on the tight rope. In 1745, he came to London and soon won a large public following with his balancing acts. He became such a hit, in fact, that on June 3, 1745, his sponsors ran this ad in the Daily Advertiser. "Whatever is in itself good will always make its way, although not ushered into the world with pompous paragraphs or pageant-like puffs. As an example of this truth the undertakers of the New Wells, near the London Spaw, beg leave to assure the town, since thronging audiences have been pleased to encourage their endeavours, they intend to double their pains, and hope for a continuance of favour. The god of wine and deity of wit have long gone hand-in-hand, and to keep them both alive the best way is to blend them; therefore, for the reception of the curious, they have provided the best of both their productions; and, as varieties in nature are as pleasing as those of art, the greatest that can now be shown is every evening to be seen at the Wells, viz. a young Colossus, who, though not 16, is seven feet four inches high, has drawn more company this season than was ever known before, and must convince the world that the ancient race of Britons is not extinct, but that we may yet hope to see a race of giant-like heroes.
"The Wonderful Young Giant will perform on the rope this present Saturday at the New Wells, near the London Spaw, Clerken-well."1
An African woman who exhibited at London's Bartholomew Fair in 1832 stood seven feet in height.2
A girl who billed herself as "Miss Marion, the Queen of the Amazons," became a popular attraction in London in 1882. Though barely eighteen, she rose before her audiences at the Alhambra in Leicester Square to a height of eight feet six inches.3
Some human bones dug up on an old Roman camp site near St. Albans, in Hertfordshire, just outside of London, were examined by W. Cheselden, a well-known anatomist. After measuring the skull, the femur, and the tibia, he concluded that the man stood about eight feet tall. Writing in the Philosophical Transactions for 1712, Cheselden noted that near the bones was found an urn inscribed with the name "Marcus Antoninus." (See Caesar's Triumph over the Giants; Graveyards of the Giants)
Arthur, King (See Glastonbury Giant)
In 1903, Barnum and Bailey Circus added George Auger, an eight-foot-four-inch native of Wales, to its stable of curiosities. Billed as "The Cardiff Giant, positively the tallest man on earth," he immediately became one of America's most recognizable public figures, especially when he paraded down the nation's main streets in his frontiersman's clothes, high-heeled boots, and a plumed hat that made him appear nine feet tall.4
After retiring from circus life, he wrote short stories and skits. One of his satirical pieces, "Jack the Giant Killer," played in vaudeville, with Auger in the starring role.
While serving as a blacksmith's apprentice to his father, Thomas Bell grew to seven feet and two inches. Like his father and his father's father before him, he only wanted to be a good blacksmith. But as word of his great height spread, many curious people came by to see him. When this became disruptive to his father's business, young Bell decided to leave blacksmithing and cash in on his tallness. He thereafter toured England, exhibiting himself in the principal towns and at fairs. Billed as the "Cambridge Giant," he appeared in May, 1813, at the age of thirty-six, at the Hog in the Pound on Oxford Street. That same year his portrait was included in Kirby's Wonderful Museum, showing him dressed in a collegiate gown and knee-breeches.5
While building a new road near Mold in Flintshire in 1833, workers came across a tumulus in which they found some bones and a skull of great size, along with a Lorica or golden vest. Most believed the bones to be the remains of the renowned giant Welsh warrior Benlli who lived at Mold (c. A.D. 500), and who was surnamed the "Giant of the Golden Vest."
The golden vest, of leather and inlaid with thin, fine gold of beautiful workmanship, is preserved in the British Museum.6 (See Graveyards of the Giants)
Henry Blacker, styled "The British Giant," hailed from Cuckfield in Sussex. In 1751, at the age of twenty-seven, he came to London to launch his career as a touring giant. Because the pro-portions of his seven-foot-four-inch body were so exceptional, he gained a large following of admirers, including William, the tall Duke of Cumberland. That same year H. Carpenter made an engraving of Blacker, and some years later his full-length portrait was included in Caulfield's Remarkable Persons.
This promotion for one of Blacker's earlier appearances ran in the December 9, 1752, issue of the Daily Advertiser: "This is to acquaint the curious, that Mr. Blacker, the Modern Living Colossus, or Wonderful Giant, who has given universal satisfaction, is to be seen in a commodious room, in Half-Moon-court, joining to Ludgate. This phenomenon in nature hath already had the honour of being inspected by great numbers of the nobility and gentry, by many of the Royal Society, and several gentlemen and ladies, who are lovers of natural curiosities; who allow him to be of a stupendous height, and affirm him to be the best proportioned of his size they ever saw. He is to be seen by any number of persons, from nine in the morning till nine at night, without loss of time. Note. --Lost, last Tuesday night, between Norton Falgate and Ludgate, a boot. Whoever has found it, shall receive three shillings reward."7
Boudicca, the Giant Queen
When some Roman centurions plundered the estate of Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, and raped his two daughters, his giant red-haired widow, Queen Boudicca, grabbed a spear and led an uprising against their Roman overlords that became the bloodiest inflicted upon the Latins during their long occupation of Britain. The rebel-lion also cost the Celts eighty thousand of their own people.
According to the Roman historian Dio Cassius, the Amazon-like queen was no beauty. "She was enormous of frame, terrifying of mien, and with a rough, shrill voice," he writes. "A great mass of bright red hair fell down to her knees; she wore a huge twisted torque of gold, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle held by a brooch. When she grasped a spear, it was to strike fear into all who observed her."8 (See Caesar's Triumph over the Giants)
At nineteen, the English lass Susannah Boyd, of Scribe, near Seaford, measured seven feet and one inch and weighed about two hundred and sixty pounds, all of it remarkably well-proportioned.9
In 1826, a showman named H. Lee took a young giantess under his wing for a tour of England. A handbill announcing this new attraction to the public proclaimed: "The British Phenomenon, Miss Hold, the Somersetshire Giantess, of Crewkherne, only 16 years of age, whose immense stature measures nearly seven feet, commanding a prepossessing figure beyond description, and must be seen to be believed. She is a striking instance of nature unassisted by art, and has proved a magnet of irresistible attraction to the wondering world. This is the first time she was ever exhibited in this town, and it is great to say, that she is the only giantess now travelling the United Kingdom. She is remarkably stout and well-proportioned, possessing a pleasing and interesting countenance, and is allowed by every visitor to be the Tallest Woman in the World!"10
Jane Bunford (d. 1922), from Barley Green, England, extended upward a full seven feet seven inches. She grew her hair to a length of eight feet--very possibly the longest head of hair in all history.11
Byrne, Charles (alias O'Brien)
In April of 1782, Charles Byrne came to London to see what fame and fortune his towering eight-foot-two-inch physique might bring him. He quickly attracted a lot of attention, as this glowing May 6, 1782, newspaper report bears out: "However striking a curiosity may be, there is generally some difficulty in engaging the attention of the public; but even this was not the case with the modern living Colossus, or wonderful Irish Giant; for no sooner was he arrived at an elegant apartment at the cane-shop, in Spring Garden-gate, next door to Cox's Museum, than the curious of all degrees resorted to see him, being sensible that a prodigy like this never made its appearance among us before: and the most penetrating have frankly declared, that neither the tongue of the most florid orator, or pen of the most ingenious writer, can sufficiently describe the elegance, symmetry, and proportion of this wonderful phenomenon in nature, and that all description must fall infinitely short of giving that satisfaction which may be obtained on a judicious inspection."
But fame and fortune enticed Byrne, or O'Brien, as he liked to be called, to drink to excess. The following newspaper item of April 23,1783, indicates he was on such a binge when a pickpocket stole all his savings: "The Irish Giant a few evenings since, taking a lunar ramble, was tempted to visit the Black Horse, a little public-house facing the King's-mew; and before he turned to his own apartments, found himself a less man than he had been the beginning of the evening, by the loss of upwards of 700l in bank notes, which had been taken out of his pocket."
Following this substantial loss, the huge Irishman lapsed into a fit of dark despair, which no amount of drink could dispel. In June, 1783, in his elegant apartment on Cockspurstreet, Byrne, one of England's most famous giants, died at the young age of twenty-two.
Fearing on his deathbed that the surgeons would try to get his body and dissect it, Byrne asked that he be buried at sea. His great fear of the surgeons was not unfounded, as this June 5, 1783, newspaper account confirms: "The whole tribe of surgeons put in a claim for the poor departed Irish Giant, and surrounded his house just as Greenland harpooners would an enormous whale. One of them has gone so far as to have a niche made for himself in the giant's coffin, in order to his being ready at hand, on the 'witching time of night, when church-yards yawn.'" In another newspaper that same day appeared this grim story: "Since the death of the Irish Giant, there have been more physical consultations held than ever were convened to keep Harry the Eight in existence. The object of these Esculapian deliberations is to get the poor departed giant into their possession; for which purpose they wander after his remains from place to place, and mutter more fee, faw, fums than ever were breathed by the whole gigantic race, when they attempted to scale heaven and dethrone Jupiter!"