● Joyce, the Mighty Giant
The giant William Joyce was renown for his Herculean strength. On November 15, 1699, King William invited him to Kensington Palace to demonstrate to the court his extraordinary ability at lifting weight. When the king asked him how much he could lift, Joyce replied: “Above a tun weight.” So King William ordered some servants to prepare a huge chunk of solid lead about that weight. This chunk, when placed on the scales, weighed fourteen pounds above a ton. As the king and his court gasped in wonder, Joyce lifted it off the ground. The superman then boasted to the king that his strongest horse could not move him. Taking up the challenge, William commanded that a thick rope be brought and tied around the giant’s waist and then fastened to the horse. Even under the strokes of a whip the horse failed to budge Joyce. The mighty man then took the thick rope in his hands and broke it in two, “seemingly as easy as another man does a piece of pack-thread.” A few days before his audience with the king, Joyce astonished a large crowd at Hamstead by pulling a tree out of the ground by its roots. The roots measured near a yard and a half in circumference, while the tree itself was “modestly computed to weigh nearly 2,000 weight.”
● Knipe Twins
The twin Knipe brothers, each rising seven feet two inches in height, arrived in London in April, 1785, and issued this handbill: “Irish Giants. The most surprising gigantic twin brothers are just arrived in this metropolis, and to be seen at the Silk-dyer’s, No. 2 Spring-gardens, Charing Cross. These wonderful Irish giants are but twenty-four years of age, and measure very near eight feet high. These extraordinary young men have had the honour to be seen by the gentlemen of the faculty, Royal Society, and other admirers of natural curiosity, who allowed them to surpass any thing of the same kind ever offered to the public. Their address is singular and pleasing, their persons truly shaped and proportionate to their height, and affords an agreeable surprise: they excel the famous Maximilian Miller, born in 1674, shewn in London in 1733; and the late Swedish giant will scarce admit of a comparison. To enumerate every particular, would be too tedious; let it suffice to say, that they are beyond what is set forth in ancient or modern history. The ingenious and judicious who have honoured them with their company have bestowed on them the most lavish encomiums, and on their departure have express’d their approbation and satisfaction. In short the sight of them is more than the mind can conceive, the tongue express, or pencil delineate, and stands without a parallel in this or any other country.”
● Edward Longmore
Edward Longmore, a seven-foot-six-inch giant who was known as the “Herefordshire Colossus” during his exhibition days, died in early February, 1777. To keep his body from falling into the hands of the surgeons, friends of Longmore dug his grave at Hendon fifteen feet deep and kept watch on it for several weeks. But the Morning Post in its March 30, 1777, issue reports that about six weeks after Longmore’s interment and shortly after the watch was removed someone opened the grave-in the dead of the night, no doubt-and stole the giant’s corpse.
● James MacDonald
The Annual Register for 1760 reports that James MacDonald, who attained to a height of seven feet six inches, died at his home near Cork-at the great age of one hundred and seventeen years. Because it confined him too much, MacDonald in his early years abandoned his career as a touring giant for the more active life of a soldier. From 1685 to “the rebellion,” he served as a Grenadier. After his return to Ireland in 1716, he worked as a day-laborer until just three years before his death.
● Cornelius MacGrath,
In the January 31, 1753, issue of the Daily Advertiser, his sponsors ran the following notice: “Just arrived in this city, from Ireland, the youth, mentioned lately in the newspapers, as the most extraordinary production in nature. He is allowed by the nobility and gentry, who daily resort to see him, to have the most stupendous and gigantic form (altho’ a boy), and is the only representation in the world of the ancient and magnificent giants of that kingdom. He is seven feet three inches in height, without shoes. His wrist measures a quarter of a yard and an inch. He greatly surpasses Cajanus the Swede, in the just proportions of his limbs; and is the truest and best proportioned figure ever seen. He was sixteen years of age the 10th of last March and is to be seen at the Peacock, at Charing Cross, from eight in the morning, till ten at night.” Like Patrick Cotter O’Brien and Charles Byrne, alias O’Brien, Cornelius MacGrath’s giant skeleton ended up as a public attraction.
● Samuel M’Donald, Big Sam
Samuel M’Donald, of Lairg, in Sutherlandshire, who some claimed grew nearly eight feet high, served as a private in the Sutherland Fencibles in the latter years of the American Revolution. Later, after he became a fugleman with the Royals, he so impressed the Prince of Wales (afterward King George IV) that he was made lodge-porter at Carlton House. Big Sam, as he was commonly called, apparently did not take to this kind of life. So, after two years, he resigned and reenlisted with the Sutherland Fencibles with the rank of sergeant.
● John Middleton
Born in 1578 in the chapelry of Hale just southwest of Manchester, John Middleton grew almost to the height of 9 feet, 3 inches. He was also endowed with extraordinary strength. In 1620, Sir Gilbert Ireland, the sheriff of Lancashire took him to London to meet King James I. On his return home, the fancy-dressed Middleton had his portrait painted. It is preserved in the library of Brasenose College at Oxord.
● Christopher Munster
A record of the great height of Christopher Munster, who served many years as yeoman of the Guard at the Court of Duke John Frederic at Hanover, appears on his tomb in the new town church-yard in Hanover. His epitaph states he stood four Flemish ells and six inches, or eight and one-half English feet. He died in 1676 in his forty-fourth year.
● Phelim O’Tool
In 1817, the Leixlip churchyard yielded to diggers the skeleton of a man not less than ten feet high. According to local tradition, the giant Phelim O’Tool was buried in that same churchyard some thirteen hundred years earlier.
● Walter Parsons
After Walter Parsons became an apprentice to a smith, he soon grew to such a stature he eventually stood seven and a half feet tall-that his employer was “forced to digg a hole in the ground for him to stand in up to his knees, when he struck at the anvil… or sawed wood with another, that he might be at a level with his fellow-workman.” That unusual scene the Earl of Buckingham came upon one day when his horse pulled up lame as he rode through Staffordshire. While watching the young giant work, it struck the earl that he would make an excellent bodyguard for King James I. So he offered him the job as the king’s porter on the spot.
● Portrush Giantess
In his Short History of Human Prodigies, Dwarfs, etc., James Paris du Plessis mentions that while in London in 1696 he saw a handsome, well-proportioned “giantess who was seven feet high without her shoes, who was born in the Isle of Portrush, not far from the wonderful Causeway in the most northern part of Ireland.” In 1701, he saw her again at Montpellier in Languedoc, France, exhibiting herself at a fair. “I not knowing she was the same I had seen five years before in London, and though I was something disguised by wearing a periwig, she remembered me very well and told me where she had seen me.”
● Repton Giants
In 1687, while digging into some hillocks at Repton in Derby-shire, Thomas Walker came across an old stone wall enclosure that contained a stone coffin with a skeleton nine feet long. A century later, because of renewed interest in Walker’s find, the “ancient sepulchre was again opened… when bones of a very gigantic size, appertaining to numerous skeletons, were discovered, together with some remains of warlike instruments.”
● St. Bees’ Giant
A giant warrior, found buried in his armor in a corn field at St. Bees, in Cumberland, once rose to a height of thirteen and a half feet.
● Somersetshire Giantess
A Mrs. Cooke, of Merriott in Somersetshire, billed as “the tallest, largest, and strongest woman in the world,” proved a crowd-pleaser in the early 1800s. A remarkably stout woman, she looked down on her many admirers from a height of almost seven feet. On April 15, 1818, she exhibited at the Earl of Yarmouth’s in Seymour-place, May-fair, where the Prince Regent, the Duke and Duchess of York, the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland, and several other members of the royal family, plus about one hundred of the nobility, came to see her.
● Elizabeth Stock
In his Every-Doy Book, Hone records that on September 5, 1825, he visited Bartholomew Fair where he saw a young woman who styled herself as “The Somerset Girl, taller than any man in England.” When her audience entered, writes Hone, the lass “arose from a chair, wherein she was seated, to the height of six feet nine inches and three quarters, with ‘Ladies and gentlemen, your most obedient.’ She was good-looking and affable, and obliged the ‘ladies and gentlemen’ by taking off her tight-fitting slipper and handing it round. It was of such dimension, that the largest man present could have put his booted foot into it. She said that her name was Elizabeth Stock, and that she was only sixteen years old.”
● Toller, James
James Toller, of St. Neot’s, Huntingdonshire, England, finally stopped growing at the height of eight feet six inches. He first exhibited in London in 1815, and appeared before the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia. In the following year he was shown at Piccadilly, and in 1817, he posed for his portrait, which later appeared in Kirby’s Wonderful Museum.
● Wotton Giant
While digging in some ground to enlarge the vault of the Evelyn family in the churchyard of Wotton, near Dorking in Surrey, workers found a human skeleton which measured nine feet three inches long.
● York Twins
The Gentleman’s Magazine for December, 1765, and the Annual Register for the same year informed their readers that in York, England, lived a set of giant twins, a boy and girl, who though not yet seventeen years in age still stood to heights of seven feet three inches and seven feet two inches respectively.
Giants in English History (Part 3)
● Joyce, the Mighty Giant