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Daniel Lambert: High, Wide and Handsome

 

blue boar

Blue Boar Lane, Leicester

 

Daniel Lambert's life began in Leicester on the 13th March 1770. In a house in Blue Boar

Lane, Mrs. Lambert gave birth to a fine, bouncing baby boy. Daniel was a perfectly

ordinary infant who grew up to be a perfectly ordinary boy. As time passed, Daniel was joined

by two sisters and a brother; unfortunately Daniel's little brother died at an early age.

Daniel's life continued to follow an ordinary path. By eight years old, he had become an

enthusiastic swimmer; he taught his childhood friends how to swim and went on to school

many other local children in swimming.

poll

Daniel Lambert's entry in the County of Leicester Poll

 

Soon, Daniel was following in the footsteps of family members. His father worked with

animals, while his uncle on his father's side was a gamekeeper by trade, and Daniel's maternal

grandfather bred fighting cocks. These influences led to Daniel's developing a strong

interest in hunting, shooting, fishing and horse racing. By his early teens, Daniel was known

as a dedicated sportsman. Five years later he was an expert breeder of hunting dogs.

Daniel took up an apprenticeship in Birmingham, at a die-casting and engineering works.

After four years in this post, he returned to Leicester to follow in his father's

footsteps even more closely than before. John Lambert was a gaoler (jailer), the keeper

of the House of Correction in Highcross Street, Leicester. Daniel took over his father's

position there in 1788, at the age of eighteen.

The new gaol keeper proved to be popular, particularly with the inmates of what was a

relatively low-security institution. Daniel would talk to prisoners in their cells, offering them

comforting, rather than judgmental, words.

 

A Growing Problem

Daniel Lambert was bright, successful, hard working, well liked…and strong. Sporting

Magazine published, in 1807, 'Biographical and sporting anecdotes of the famous Mr.

Lambert'. This included the story of Daniel's fight with a bear, whose keeper had set it

on Daniel's dog. This unusual conflict ended when…

 

'He [Daniel] struck [the bear] with his left hand such a violent blow on the skull, as brought

her to the ground, on which she declined the contest, and yelling, fled.''

 

Daniel was known to be a healthy child. Among his younger pic

immediate family, only a paternal aunt and an uncle

were described as 'very heavy'. A Leicester composer,

William Gardiner, even remembered giving little Daniel

piggy-back rides. But Daniel's return to Leicester

coincided with his gaining weight at a astounding rate.

By the age of 23, his weight had ballooned to 32 stone,

which is 448 pounds, or 203 kilogrammes.

Despite Daniel's remaining active as a sportsmen, not

eating unusually large amounts of food and not drinking

alcohol, the weight gain continued. Daniel was already 

struggling at work. The inside of the prison wasn't really

designed to accommodate anyone of such massive girth,

so Daniel was having difficulty in moving about freely in

the building.                                                                                            Daniel Lambert, the work of an unkown artist

 

 

The year 1805 brought the closure of House of Correction. Along with it came a

less-than-ideal solution to Daniel's problem. By then, he weighed a whopping 50 stone, which

is 700 pounds or 318 kilogrammes. His having achieved the accolade of being the heaviest

person in history was small consolation for being unemployable. Daniel, who was also

sensitive about his size, became reclusive but soon, dire poverty struck. His meagre

pension from the gaol simply couldn't sustain his needs. Something had to be done.

 

Showmanship

 

'Daniel Lambert is having a special carriage built to convey himself to London where he

means to exhibit himself as a natural curiosity.' The Stamford Mercury reported this in

March 1806. Daniel found himself faced with Hobson's Choice: he didn't want to be a

sideshow freak but his remarkable size was all had to sell.

 

In April 1806, Daniel moved into a house in London and began charging people to come in

and meet him. A contemporary advertisement appeared, to attract visitors…

 

EXHIBITION

Mr. DANIEL LAMBERT, of Leicester, the greatest Curiosity in the World, who, at the age

of 36, weighs upwards of FIFTY STONE (14lb. to the stone). Mr. Lambert will see Company

at his House, No.53, Piccadilly, opposite St. James's Church, from 12 to 5 o'clock.

Admittance 1 shilling.

The Times, 2 April 1806

red daniel

                    Benjamin Marshall's 1807 portrait (the original is owned by Leicester Museum & Art Gallery)

 

For five hours each day, Daniel would delight middle and upper class Londoners with his

intensive knowledge of sports and animals. Visitors were impressed with Daniel's

intelligence and geniality; to visit him or become his friend was soon fashionable among

the glitterati. Many called over and over again, paying the admission fee willingly. One

particular gentleman - a banker - visited 20 times.

 

Daniel's new 'career' earned him a considerable amount of money. His popularity and his home's,

'…having the air of a fashionable resort' drew about 400 visitors a day. Interested

spectators would travel to meet him. Once, a group of 14 travelled from Guernsey, on a 280-mile trip.

 

Daniel mixed well with the upper classes; even King George III arrived to meet him. In

addition, being obese in early 19th Century London was not an unforgivable sin. Rather than

being seen as a freak of nature, Daniel was treated as a natural wonder, a fascinating

phenomenon. He was generally treated with respect and courtesy. But he always had a

ready caustic response for anyone who treated him or his customers badly.

 

Lambert Fever

In many ways, Daniel became a celebrity, even though the media of the day was relatively

undeveloped and of necessity slow. Newspaper cartoonists would draw him, often casting

him as England's formidable symbolic character, John Bull.

dan nap

Daniel caricatured attacking Napoleon Bonaparte

 

postcard

Thomas Rowlandson postcard, dated May 1806. Daniel is 'THE Wonderful

GREAT PUMPKIN of LITTLE BRITTAIN.'

 

A life-sized waxwork of Daniel was commissioned, made and dressed in a suit of his own

clothing. In 1806, it went on show in London, and the figure was then taken on a tour of the

United States. It appeared in 1813 at New Haven, Connecticut; 15 years later, it was on

show in the Boston Vauxhall Gardens. Later, the famous P.T. Barnum bought the figure to

display in New York, at Barnum's American Museum.

 

Daniel was reaping financial rewards but all was not well, and the longer he stayed in

London, the more sullen he became. Constant questions about the size of his clothes

irritated him beyond measure. One visitor pointed out that, since his shilling was paying for

Daniel's clothing, he had every right to ask questions about it. Daniel replied, "Sir, if I knew

what part of my next coat your shilling would pay for, I can assure you I would cut out the

piece".

 

Since he had the good sense to refuse the many offers to be his chargé d'affaires, Daniel

kept his funds out of the grasping hands of entrepreneurs, impresarios and potential agents.

In September 1806, he returned to Leicester a wealthy man. He turned the clock back to

some extent, breeding fighting cocks and sporting dogs. And although he was too hefty to

ride with the hunt any more, he assembled a pack of greyhounds. These were put to

hare coursing, which Daniel watched from his carriage.

 

Over the next couple of years, Daniel went on tour, appearing in Birmingham, Coventry,

London and York. He also continued with his dog-breeding programme, selling a pair of

spaniels in London, in 1808. This sale fetched 75 guineas – about £5,200 in today's money.

To help put this in perspective, a new suit of clothes for Daniel would cost him £20 – about

£1,400 today.

 

                                      breeches

                                        

'Once more unto the breeches', Daniel's trousers illustrate his waist size amply.

 

Swansong

In June 1809, Daniel set off on what was considered to be his 'farewell' tour. He was, after

all, a rich man, with more than enough funds to sustain him through retirement. The tour was

to be a further excursion into East Anglia. The aim was for it to come to an end at Stamford

Races, in Lincolnshire.

 

During this tour, Daniel was weighed – a process he didn't appreciate – at Ipswich. His

weight was recorded as being 52 stone 11 pounds, which is 739 pounds, or 335 kilogrammes.

Again for the sake of perspective, just under 3 ¼ Daniel Lamberts equal one Mini Cooper.

 

DanMin + DanMin + DanMin + DanMin2  = Min

 

Unsurprisingly, Daniel used ground floor accommodation in Stamford; for him, climbing stairs was a

distant memory. On the 20th June 1809, Daniel was established at The Waggon &

Horses, an inn at 47 High Street, Stamford. Though he felt tired, Daniel summoned a local

printer, to discuss the production of some handbills advertising his presence in town. When

this interview was over, Daniel – and his beloved greyhounds- settled down for the night.

The following morning, Daniel awoke as usual, in seemingly good health. After he began

shaving, he started to feel short of breath. Minutes later he collapsed; he was dead by

8.30am.

 

Medical Musings

 

It's easy to simply write off Daniel Lambert as a corpulent slob whose gluttony finally caught

up with him. But Daniel was no fool. Concerned about his health, he'd concentrated on

building himself up by exercising. At one stage, he could not only lift five hundredweights (560

pounds or 250 kilogrammes), he could also carry this weight with ease.

 

The medical profession naturally became interested in Daniel. Soon after he moved to

London, he was examined; the results were published in The Medical and Physical Journal.

The doctors found that Daniel was active, mentally alert, well-read and had a remarkably

good memory.

 

They also reported that Daniel was a keen singer, and that his speaking voice was normal,

showing that his lung function wasn't unduly compromised. All his bodily functions worked

normally. The doctors confirmed that he weighed 50 stone (700 pounds/318 kilogrammes)

and was 5 feet 11 inches tall (1.80 metres). This gives a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 97.67 on

the NHS calculator. Modern BMI charts only go up to 25 stones weight – Daniel was well

beyond being classified as clinically obese!

 

What was wrong with Daniel? Well, he had tumefaction (swelling) of the legs and feet.

Earlier attacks of erysipelas (bacterial infection) had thickened the skin on his legs and fat

had accumulated in his abdomen. He also had varicose veins.


These afflictions were actually indicative of Daniel's condition at the time of the

examination. They weren't considered as health problems as such.

Daniel told the doctors that he could walk for a quarter of a mile without difficulty. He said

that when younger, he hadn't indulged in strong drink like his peers, and had drunk only

water since about 1795. He also said that he ate ordinary food in normal amounts.

He slept well every night, for up to eight hours. He slept with a window open - snoring was

never heard. On waking, he soon became alert and never took daytime naps.

 

z chair

Impressive chair, specially built for Daniel

 

 

Dead End

Establishing the cause of Daniel Lambert's death with any degree of certainty is impossible.

No post-mortem examination was carried out but the expected glandular and genetic causes

of massive weight gain could be ruled out as many recognisable signs and symptoms were

missing.


One of Daniel's contemporaries said, "Mr. Lambert scarcely knows what it is to be ailing or

indisposed". When in London, Daniel had occasionally suffered "depression of the spirits".

This was the only recorded mental health issue he had, and nearly all the members of his family

were of normal build.


This begs a question: what made this apparently healthy man reach such massive

proportions and ultimately killed him? Daniel was a well-built teenager but as we've seen, he

was athletic too. A contemporary biographer said of Daniel, "...it was within a year of this

appointment [as goalkeeper] that his bulk received the greatest and most rapid increase".

So, although Daniel claimed to be a teetotaler, and said he ate normally, these factors were

self-reported and not necessarily reliable. Daniel had a chiefly sedentary job, in the kind of

social group in which meat, bread and beer in quantity figured largely.


However, the cause of Daniel's sudden death is not so neatly deduced. Many suggest fatty

degeneration of his cardiovascular system, or the sheer strain of his bulk on his heart, was to

blame. But Daniel appeared well in the period up to his death – there were no signs of

cardiac insufficiency. It seems that Daniel Lambert wasn't digging his grave with his teeth.


In 2006, medical author Jan Bondeson suggested that the circumstances surrounding Daniel

Lambert's demise was indicative of his having suffered a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot

blocking the blood flow from the heart to the lungs). This fits well with Daniel's medical

history and symptoms. Naturally, without a post-mortem and with no soft tissues remaining

for examination, we will never know for sure.

 

Logistical Nightmare

Daniel Lambert's sudden death brought about a number of problems, about how best he

could be buried in the local churchyard. His ultimate destination was the newly consecrated

burial ground by St. Martin's Church in Stamford.

 

The first difficulty was that Daniel's body quickly began to putrefy. Any idea of his corpse's

being returned to Leicester was soon dismissed as impossible. Just as he had special

carriages in life, Daniel needed a special coffin for his last journey. In the event, the need

for prompt action was met: Daniel's coffin was taken to the Waggon & Horses the day after

he died.

 

The coffin was made of elm, 112 square feet (10.4 square metres) of it. It was six foot four

inches (193 centimetres) in length, four foot four inches (132 centimetres) wide and two foot

four inches (71 centimetres) deep. As Daniel was laid to rest in the coffin, it was reported

that skin of his stomach gave up the unequal struggle and split. The bursting of the body

may have been some sort of urban legend but no-one really knows for sure.

 

The next problem soon became obvious. Someone had been blessed with foresight; the huge

coffin was equipped with wheels. Daniel's grave had been dug with three conventional sides

and a long ramp, down which the coffin could be wheeled. However, for the coffin to leave

the building, a window and part of the wall had to be removed. On the 23rd June 1809, this task was

carried out and the coffin and its occupant were pulled to the grave. 'Upwards of twenty men'

took nearly half an hour moving the coffin to its resting place.

 

We know that Daniel Lambert was respected and the fine headstone that his friends bought

for him some time after his burial still stands as a mark of this respect. It is engraved…

 

In Remembrance of that Prodigy in 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 three Feet one Inch round the Leg
nine Feet four Inches round the Body
and weighed Fifty two Stone eleven Pounds!
He departed this Life on the 21st of June 1809
Aged 39 years

As a Testimony of Respect this Stone is erected by his Friends in Leicester

 

headstone

With a little help from his friends: Daniel Lambert's Headstone

 

church

 

Ongoing Story

It is, of course, difficult to keep a good cult figure down, and Daniel's contemporaries started

as they meant to go on. Virtually everything he'd owned was preserved in one way or

another. Collectors thronged the auction of his goods and chattels. Mr. Berridge, the

landlord of the Waggon and Horses, kept two of Daniel's suits, later selling one to a

colleague.

suit

Original suit? Possibly, but replicas were made.

 

Inns and pubs, especially in Stamford and Leicester suddenly found themselves re-named in

Daniel's honour. Stamford's former Ram Jam Inn became The Daniel Lambert. The owner,

James Dixon, had bought the suit Daniel had been wearing at the time of his death. Further

south, the Daniel Lambert pub on London's Ludgate Hill boasted a huge portrait of Daniel,

displaying his walking stick nearby. These artifacts made their way north again after the pub

closed. They are now exhibited in The George of Stamford.

 

A set of Daniel's clothes, another walking stick, his prayer book, riding crop and armchair

are on display in Leicester's Newarke Houses Museum.

 

Daniel is also remembered in less tangible ways. Daniel appeared in Thackery's works and

he, or rather his ghost, had a leading role in Sue Townsend's 1981 play 'The Ghost of Daniel

Lambert'. The local soccer team's members, of Stamford Amateur Football Club are

nicknamed "The Daniels". And movingly, it is still possible to track down original Daniel

Lambert commemorative ware, as numerous items including teapots, Toby jugs and novelty

inkwells were made in his likeness.

 

             well 1  well 2

              Well, well. This brass inkwell, showing Daniel about to tuck into a tasty capon, turned up

                                           at G & L Antiques of Eastbourne, New Zealand

 

 

Arguably the saddest loss is that of the waxwork of Daniel Lambert. This was on display at

Barnum's American Museum in New York until 1865, when a disastrous fire struck.

Workmen did their very best to save it, but Daniel's waxwork ended up as a puddle of

melted wax.

Toby

Circa 1880 toby jug, at Naylor Antiques of

Stevenson, Maryland. Many such items were

made


Newarke Houses Museum and Gardens
Newarke Houses Museum & Gardens
The Newarke
Leicester
LE2 7BY

Telephone: +44 (0)116 225 4980
Email: museums@leicester.gov.uk

http://www.leicester.gov.uk/your-council-services/lc/leicester-city-museums/museums/newarkehouses

 

 

 

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