Saturday, 21 September 2013


Following on to the unusual, there are interesting stories about some unusual people from the past, be they large, small or just old people or maybe just eccentric in some way :





The age of  The Ancient Briton of Gristhorpe  when he died, has not been established, but he was probably living at Gristhorpe near Filey, North Yorkshire about 1500 B.C.    For centuries his body had been lying with his weapons and ornaments, a wicker basket at his side and a sprig of mistletoe in his hand, until 1834 when a tumulus was excavated near the cliff edge at Gristhorpe.   A coffin, made from the trunk of an oak tree 7ft x 3ft, was  discovered and it contained the complete undisturbed skeleton of an Ancient  Briton, together with his belongings.   This interesting relic can be seen at the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough.


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St Andrew’s Church at Cleeve Priory in Worcestershire dates back to at least the 9th century and the village was mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086.   The burial ground was consecrated on 18th October 1315 – just before Sara Charlett was born, if details on her gravestone are to be believed.   It states that she died in 1693 at the age of 309 years!   Almost certainly a mistake but nevertheless an interesting curiosity.




Yorkshireman  Henry Jenkins is said to have been 169 years old when he died in 1670.  The following epitaph, composed by Dr Thomas Chapman, master of Magedelene College, Cambridge, can be seen in the church at Bolton-on-Swale near Richmond in North Yorkshire :
‘ Blush not, marble, to rescue from oblivion the memory of Henry Jenkins,
a person obscure in birth, but of a life truly memorable,
for he was enriched with the goods of nature, if not of fortune.
and happy in the duration, if not variety, of his enjoyments;
and though the partial world despised or disregarded his low and humble state,
the equal eye of Providence beheld and blessed it with a
patriarch’s health and length of days;
to teach mistaken man these blessings were entailed on temperance
or a life of labour and a mind at ease.
He lived to the amazing age of 169; was interred here December 6th 1670
And has this justice done to his memory 1743.’
A monument to the memory of Henry Jenkins was also erected in the churchyard in 1743, by public subscription, and the local pub at Kirby Malzeard near Ripon is called The Henry Jenkins Inn.
Although no parish register exists to support Henry’s claim that he was born in 1500 at Ellerton-on-Swale, he certainly died at Bolton-on Swale in 1670, having lived there for some 20 years.   Born of peasant stock, Henry remained totally illiterate all his life.   He worked as a farm labourer, as butler to Lord Conyers and later in life as a thatcher and river fisherman.   A teetotaller, he regularly swam across the Swale when he was more than 100 years old.   He was often questioned about his long life by Lord Conyers who failed to find fault with his recollections such as the Battle of Flodden (1513) when Henry claimed to have guided a horse load of arrows to Northallerton for use in that battle; and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.   Other Swaledale centenarians clearly remembered that Henry was a very old man when they were young and all the evidence pointed to the truth of Henry’s claim.   He was often called to testify in court in ancient disputed matters and was a witness at York Assizes during the latter years of his life when he testified that to his knowledge, tithes of wool and lambs had been paid to the vicar of Catterick for at least 120 years.
                                                                 Churchyard monument


                                                                           Church epitaph

The Henry Jenkings Inn






Cut into the base of the porch of the church at West Tanfield in North Yorkshire, is a memorial to another Yorkshire centenarian, Ralph Bourne 1615 – 1728.   Henry Jenkins was already 114 years old when Bourne was born and Bourne no doubt heard about Jenkins’ great age, in fact they may well have known each other.   Bourne lived during the stirring times of Charles Stuart and saw the Puritan rule give way to the dissolute days of Charles 11.  He survived the Great Plague and would have known about the Great Fire of London.  He died when he was 113 years of age just into the reign of George 11.



Thomas Parr was said to be  152 years old  when he died in 1635.   Known as Old Parr, he was born in 1483 at Winnington in Shropshire and apparently remained a bachelor until he was 80.   We are not told how old his bride was but she died 32 years later when Old Parr was 112.   He had an affair when he was 105, with one Catherine Milton, and when he was found out he did penance in a white sheet outside the local church.  This amazing man later married Catherine when he was 120, but how long it lasted we don’t know.  After he passed the age of 150, he was presented to the King, Charles 1, who asked him what he had done during his long life and Old Parr is said to have replied, ‘Sire, I did penance for seducing a lady when I was over a hundred.’  However, the long journey to London to meet the King, with its attendant excitement, was too much for the old man and he died shortly afterwards.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey on 15th November 1635.

In the graveyard at Braemar in Scotland there is a flat tombstone alongside the Invercauld Vault, in memory of one Peter Grant, known as Auld Dubrach.  He was born in 1714 at Dubrach in Glen Dee and became known as the oldest surviving Jacobite.  He had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Culloden but managed to escape from  Carlisle Castle whilst awaiting trial and returned home on foot to resume his normal trade as a weaver and tailor in Auchendryne where he married and had six children.  When he celebrated his 100th birthday, King George 1V heard about him and granted him a pension of 1 guinea per week.
Aud Dubrach died at Auchendryne in 1824 when he was 110 years old. His funeral was attended by over 100 people and it is said that an ‘anker’ of whisky (about 4 gallons) was consumed before he was interred, and at the graveside a piper played the Jacobite tune, ‘ Wha widna fecht for Charlie’s richt’.


A memorial plaque on a fine Georgian house at Market Weighton in East Yorkshire, depicts a large footprint, that of ‘The tallest Englishman ever recorded who lived in this house.’   William Bradley  was born at Market Weighton on 10th February 1787, one of 13 children and grew to be 7ft 9ins tall and weighed 27 stones.  A huge man, as a painting at the Londesborough Arms in the town, shows, together with a huge chair said to have belonged to Bradley.   One of his shoes, 15ins long and 51/2ins wide, can be seen in Hull museum.
The Yorkshire Giant travelled the country exhibiting himself at fairs and shows and it cost 1/- to see him, quite a considerable amount in those early days of the 19th century.   Apparently King George 111 was quite taken with him and presented him with a gold watch chain.
Bradley died at Market Weighton on 30th May 1820 at the age of 33 years.  His coffin measured 9ft x 3ft.  He was buried at 5-o-clock in the morning of 3rd June 1820, to avoid onlookers, originally in the churchyard, but in 1872 his remains were exhumed and reburied inside All Saints Church at Market Weighton, where a memorial tablet can be seen.
William Bradley is still recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest ever British person.   A fund has been started in recent years to raise money for a statue of the great man to be erected in his home town which now has a 'Giant  Bradley Day' each year.



An old thatched cottage on the Melton Road in Oakham, Rutland, was once the home of Jeffrey Hudson, who was born in Oakham in 1619.   He was  a dwarf, just 3ft 6ins tall.    Although he was so small, Jeffrey didn’t allow himself to be treated anything other than a man and during his lifetime he was a soldier, courtier, adventurer and duellist!   He fought on the Royalist side in the Civil War and was even said to have been captured by pirates and to have fought several duels .  On one occasion he chose pistols on horseback and shot his opponent dead.   He became page to the Duke of Buckingham, and it was whilst the Duke was entertaining Charles 1 that Hudson leapt out of a cold pie.  Queen Henrietta was so taken with him that he entered her service.  A life sized statue of Hudson can be seen in Fyvie Castle in Aberdeeenshire, depicting him as a soldier in helmet and breastplate and with a musket at his side.  Hudson died in 1682 when he was 63 years old.


Statue of Hudson at Fyvie Castle



A very fine statue can be seen in the entrance lobby of Durham’s Town Hall – it depicts one Count Joseph Boruwlaski who was born in Poland in 1739.  After wandering through Europe he apparently settled in Durham where he spent the last 37 years of his long life. He died in 1837 when he was 98 years old and was buried in Durham Cathedral.  His epitaph in the church of St Mary the Less reads:  Poland was my cradle, England my nest.  Durham is my quiet Place, where my bones shall rest’.    He was quite a dandy and his charm and wit made him a favourite guest.  He was an accomplished violinist and his violin, together with his clothing and cane are displayed in a showcase alongside a very fine painting of him, also in the Town Hall foyer.   Known as Lord Tom Thumb, The Count was only 39 inches tall.   Apparently he was not a dwarf but a perfectly formed man.  
A tetrastyle Greek temple, known as he Count's House, which stands on the riverside at Durham, is thought to have been an ornamental folly in the Count's garden.
The inscription on a gravestone in the churchyard at Christ Church in Keighley Road, Skipton tells us about an unusual 19th century Skipton man:
                   ‘In memory of the late Edwin Calvert, son of Richard Calvert of Skipton.                                                 (Known by the name of the “Commander in Chief” being the smallest and most perfect man  in the world, being under 36” in height and weighing 25 ½ lbs). Who died (much lamented and deeply regretted by all who knew him). Aug 7 1859 in the 17th year of his age. Blest lovely youth as thou art, it were so cruel to depart. Yet dear Saviour I resign, my lovely youth for ever thine.’

Daniel Lambert was only 39 years old when he died in 1809 and he was buried in the graveyard of St Martin’s church at Stamford in Lincolnshire. The epitaph on his gravestone reads :
‘ In remembrance of that Prodigy of 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 3ft round the leg, 9ft 4ins round the body and weighed 52 stones 11 lbs.
He departed this life on 21st June 1809 aged 39 years.
As a testimony of Respect this stone is erected by his friends in Leicester.’
Lambert was the keeper of Leicester Prison.   Apparently he was very fond of a wager and often boasted that he could beat any fit man in a race, provided he had the right to choose the course.  The course he always chose was a long narrow passage. A portrait of Lambert can be seen hanging in the George Hotel at Stamford.
 Daniel Lambert


Commemorative fence at Burley House.

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