PUBLISHED: 18:00 23 November 2019 | UPDATED: 20:29 23 November 2019
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Stacia Briggs and Siofra Connor
Robert Hales, The Norfolk Giant. Picture: Wellcome Collection
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For a big man, the tomb is disappointingly baby – but it bears a fable categorical in stone: “Beneath are deposited the bitter charcoal of Robert Hales, the Norfolk Giant”.
Born in West Somerton abutting to Great Yarmouth in 1820 and baptised on Halloween at the apple church, Robert was the sixth of nine accouchement built-in to William Hales and Elizabeth Dyble, both said to be over six anxiety in acme at a time aback the boilerplate acme in Britain was aloof 5ft 5. He had bristles sisters with an boilerplate acme of 6ft3 and two of whom, Mary and Anne, were either aloof beneath or aloof over seven anxiety tall. His three brothers were about 6ft 5 tall, but Robert would be the better affiliate of the ample family. As a child, Robert fell in adulation with the Norfolk Broads and boats, spending blessed hours operating Norfolk wherries and agilely signing up to accompany the Royal Navy as a 13-year-old. His activity on the sea was, alibi the pun, short-lived. Aback he accomplished the admirable old age of 17 and the admirable old acme of 7ft 6 he had to be paid off: he was too alpine to fit beneath the deck, there was no allowance for a giant. But with his aerial ability and arty basic statistics – his weight was 33 stone, his chest was 64 inches, his waist 62 inches and his thighs 34 inches – a cast new career was aloof about the corner, beneath a stripy tent.
Hailed as The Norfolk Behemothic at fairgrounds, Robert began his new activity at bounded fairs including the fairs at Tombland in Norwich and on the Britannia Pier in Yarmouth. Along with sister Mary, who was aloof four inches beneath than her brother, and her bedmate Joseph Laskey, who was additionally her husband, the brace toured annular the canton in a big chicken van which boasted eight bottom beds. By 1840, account of Robert had accomplished the Royal court, and at Epsom Races in 1840, the Norfolk man met an bugged Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen mentioned a arresting affinity amid Robert and the backward George IV and he said he had been told the aforementioned affair before. The afterward year, Mary died age-old aloof 30. Joseph took aloof two years to accomplish her sister Ann his additional wife – Robert was not blessed about the alliance and the accumulation parted. Afterwards affair a carnival impresario’s abettor at a banquet in London, Robert was absorbed to accomplish the continued adventure to America and a new activity beyond the pond.
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It was in America that the Norfolk Behemothic agreed to assignment with the Greatest Showman, PT Barnum, who active him for £800 for his American Building and bound began to affectation him in New York, area his appellation was born. He alike lived with Barnum for a time at his Bridport country villa. Located at Broadway and Ann in Lower Manhattan, it was a building which not alone housed artifacts from the American Revolution, accurate exhibits and oddities – the block of a timberline beneath which Jesus’ aggregation sat, waxworks and the FeeJee Mermaid (a diminished monkey’s anatomy with a fish’s tail) to name but a handful. There were additionally active creatures: a flea circus, a approach run by a dog, Ned the abstruse seal, Grizzly Adams’ accomplished bears and it is said that aback a blaze destroyed the building in 1865, two whales were reportedly above alive. But the greatest attractions of all, however, were the “human curiosities”. There was General Tom Thumb (whose babe Minnie Stratton is active at Earlham Cemetery in Norwich), accessory twins Chang and Eng, Annie Jones The Bearded Lady, Prince Randian the Human Caterpillar, Isaac Sprague The Active Skeleton and then, amidst others, the Norfolk Giant. Robert was with Barnum for two years, during which he affiliated Irish Behemothic Eliza Simpson, who was advertised to be eight anxiety alpine and with whom he possibly had a adolescent alleged General, although best bodies accept the alliance was a publicity achievement masterminded by Barnum.
In 1851, he came aback to Britain afterwards Eliza and instead affiliated a woman alleged Maria Charlotte Webb beneath a possibly bigamous shadow. He was arrive to Buckingham Palace to accommodated Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, bristles of the Royal children, the Duke of Wellington and several acclaimed nobles. A address at the time said: “The Royal affair – decidedly the accouchement – were addled with admiration and astonishment. Colonel Buckley, continuing 6ft 3 and about advised the tallest administrator in the army, her Majesty observed, ‘I anticipation the Colonel actual tall, but absolutely he looks absolutely baby by the ancillary of Mr Hales.'”
Tired of touring, Robert became the freeholder of the Craven Head Tavern in Drury Lane in London and then, as his bloom worsened, he and Maria alternate to alive in a band at Cumber Bend in Beighton area he survived on an assets from affairs leaflets that told the adventure of his life, still cutting the gold watch and alternation accustomed to him by Queen Victoria. He eventually confused to Yarmouth, active at 3 Wellington Road where, on November 22 1863, age-old alone 43, he died of bronchitis, abrogation aloof beneath £600 in his will to Maria. His anatomy was alternate to the apple he had loved, West Somerton, and was active at St Mary’s Abbey in a tomb far beneath than 7ft 6 continued – and there lies addition mystery, aloof how did he fit aural it?
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His adolescence home that housed giants and which acclimated to be abutting to the column appointment in the village, was burst 100 years afterwards Robert’s afterlife in 1963, but his lantern and walking stick can still be apparent on affectation at Yarmouth museums, a big admonition of a Norfolk Behemothic active a stone’s bandy from a witch, addition fable aloof a minute or two’s airing away.
For a circadian dosage of Weird Norfolk chase our Instagram actuality or our Facebook accumulation here.
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Head to www.norfolkstore.co.uk for Weird Norfolk merchandise.
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