Friday, June 26, 2015

The Childe of Hale

by Elizabeth Ashworth

In 1578, John Middleton was born in Hale, on the banks of the River Mersey, not far from Liverpool. He lived with his widowed mother and seemed to be a normal child until he grew and grew until he could only enter the cottage on his hands and knees, and once inside he  could only stand upright under the highest point where the ceiling had to be cut away to accommodate his height. Legend tells that when he went to bed, he was obliged to sleep with his feet hanging out of the upstairs window.

Locals attributed his size to magic and said that it came about because John had drawn the image of a giant in the sand on the riverbank and then fallen asleep within the image. When he woke he had grown to fill the outline and burst out of all his clothes. The real reason was probably that he suffered from a hormonal growth defect.

In 1617, Sir Gilbert Ireland, the Lord of the Manor of Hale decked John out in fine clothes. He wore
a  crimson and white striped doublet with ruffs around his neck and wrists, white breeches with blue flowers, a blue girdle embroidered with gold, green stockings and shoes tied with red ribbons. Sir Gilbert took him to London to challenge King James’ prize fighter to a wrestling bout. Of course John, who was nine feet three inches tall, defeated the king's champion, who suffered a dislocated thumb. Reports say that the king was furious, but he gave John a prize of twenty pounds, a huge sum of money at the time.

On the way back to Hale, the party stopped off at Oxford, where Sir Gilbert had recently graduated from Brasenose College. Here two portraits of John were painted. One of these now hangs in Speke Hall, not far from Liverpool, and the other provides inspiration to the Brasenose College Boat Club whose boat is named The Childe of Hale.

John Middleton died six years after his trip to London, in 1623. For years his bones were kept at Hale Hall as a curiosity, before being given a decent burial. But even then John was not allowed to lie in peace. Arguments and doubts ensued about how big he had really been and his remains were exhumed in 1768, when examination proved that he had been as tall as people claimed. John now rests in the churchyard at the parish church of St Mary. The inscription on the grave reads:"Here lyeth the bodie of John Middleton. Nine foot three. Born A.D. 1578. Dyed A.D. 1623."


The story of The Childe of Hale first appeared in my book Tales of Old Lancashire. I've also written another book about other interesting burials: Lancashire: Who Lies Beneath. I have some copies of this book for £3.99 including postage (UK only) if anyone would like one. Please just leave a message at:

1 comment:

  1. A truly phenomenal size. I had an acquaintance who was over seven 1/2 feet tall and
    that was awesome. I am glad his life was as normal as it was....that he did not become a circus animal.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.