A few years ago my parents moved to Stamford, a pretty stone town in the East Midlands. Like a lot of that area, I was surprised how important Stamford almost was. Once an important walled city that made cloth that was famous as far as Venice, it’s now rather unknown.The could have put its wool-riches into industry but the Lord Burlington didn’t want railways or canals near the place. It was touted as the third place to have a university town after Oxford and Cambridge but Durham beat it to it. As such the people of Stamford have to be happy with (and are proud of) living in a pretty little town best known as a go-to location for period dramas.
While there are a number of interesting things about the town, like a running of a bull held there for hundreds of years, during my visit in 2020, not much was open but church graveyards. One of the graves is for Daniel Lambert, here I am at it.
Why was his grave particularly noted on the ‘visit Stamford’ notice-boards? His grave explains.
“He measured three Feet one Inch round the Leg
nine Feet four Inches round the Body
Fifty two Stone eleven Pounds!”
You need to be a rather large person for your measurements to be celebrated on your gravestone.
Born the son of Leicester gaol’s keeper, Daniel was into sports and outdoor pursuits. Quite rarely for his time, he learnt to swim and gave swimming lessons to other children. He also liked hunting, horse-racing and breeding dogs for sporty pursuits (most of them involving in the death of some animal). He worked as an engraver for a while but ended up working with his dad in the prison, later taking over his dad’s job. It was while doing this largely sedentary job that he started to gain weight. He was reputedly very well liked in his position, being considered honest and kind to those under his watch. He also carried on dog breeding, reportedly punching a dancing-bear in the head to rescue one of his prize dogs from the bear’s paws.
However, when the gaol was closed, he was made redundant. Because of his good standing, he was given £50 a year pension and he still made money from his dogs but he began to grew more reclusive and to gain in weight. Soon, his weight was famous and people game to look at him. He was so discomforted by this, that he didn’t leave the house. That was until his finances forced him to.
He had a specially built coach made, rented rooms in Piccadilly in London and charged people a shilling to meet him. Then he and his guests would chat, often about dogs, races and other sports, though some guests would ask him questions about his weight. When one person asked him how much his large coat cost, Daniel told him that whatever it was, he’d be happy to do without the material brought by the enquirer’s shilling. Soon the shy, retiring Daniel Lambert was a media sensation and taking his private showings on tour around the country. It has to be asked (and has been by John Woolf in his book The Wonders) how this shy man became so keen to get himself ‘out there’ that he took himself on tours and crowd funded portraits of himself to be engraved and sold. It’s also strange that being forced against his deepest desires to exhibit himself out of lack of money, he had enough for the outlay of a purpose built carriage and lodgings in Piccadilly.
From then on, Daniel Lambert alternated touring and pursuing his sporting interests. He developed his dog breeding and found a lot of success in that. Often he’d mix business and pleasure and it was at the end of a tour when he visited Stamford to watch the races and make some money showing himself off. It may have even been his planned last engagement as he’d made enough money to live comfortably off. The morning of the race he woke up, set to shaving and experienced trouble breathing. He died ten minutes later.
His funeral was a huge affair in Stamford, with crowds gathered to watch the specially-made xxxxl coffin being taken to the specially enlarged grave. He wasn’t the fattest man on record for long, an American soon pipped him to that post but he is still a local legend and even has a beer named after him.
You could do worse.