William Bradley – Life, Career & Death

William Bradley was known as “The Yorkshire Giant” throughout the country. He is the tallest ever recorded Englishman who reached a height of 7ft 9 inches during adulthood.

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Growing Up

On the 10th of February 1787, William Bradley was born in the East Riding town of Market Weighton. William was the fourth of thirteen children all of which were of normal build. At the time, his father was a master tailor in the town.

An illustration of Giant Bradley, used as an advertisement to sell tickets for the circus where he worked.
An illustration of Giant Bradley, used as an advertisement to sell tickets for the circus where he worked. (Image source: www.hullcc.gov.uk)

At birth, William weighed 14lb and was noticeably big for his age. His unusual size meant that he towered above his peers at school and by the age of eleven he weighed eleven stone. At school, the unusually tall boy was teased for his height and as a punishment the teachers used him to put naughty children on the beams of the school until they were told they could come down.

After his education, William Bradley worked on a local farm near Pocklington. Due to his size, he would constantly break the existing tool so his employers decided to create specially designed equipment for him to use instead.

William Bradley had a competitive side to his nature and would often challenge locals in a series of wagers where he would use his size to his advantage. One of these challenges was to load a wagon of manure before two normal sized men did the same job.

Another challenge was to carry a huge stone over one quarter of a mile into the centre of Market Weighton. This is still present on the corner of Londesborough Road opposite the church where it has remained untouched ever since.


Barnum Travelling Circus

One day the Barnum Travelling Circus visited the town of Market Weighton. When they arrived they soon spotted the tall figure of William Bradley and wanted him to become their star attraction as part of their freak show at fairs across the country, including their large one in Hull.

Their Barnum Travelling Circus features a massive pig that was bred in nearby Sancton, and Edward Calvet who was a local dwarf from Shiptonthorpe. William travelled the country drawing in massive crowds to witness the amazing sight of Britain’s tallest man.

After a while, William fell out with the circus owners. They failed to pay him the promised cut of the profits and the conditions he was kept in were cramped and definitely not designed for somebody as tall as him.

Travelling Alone

Giant Bradley's specially built house, with hired ceilings it stands out amongst other nearby properties due to its hight, the true home of a giant.
William Bradley’s specially built house (image source: www.wicstun.com)

As a result he decided to travel and exhibit himself, charging a shilling for people to view him in a hotel room. This resulted in him being presented to George III at Windsor Castle who presented him with a massive gold chain.

The problem with this new lifestyle was that he lacked exercise and his insatiable appetite meant that his weight further increased. Moreover, throughout much of his adult life, William had to walk with the aid of a stick which was 5ft 10in in height.

Giant Bradley Day, a day commemorating Bradley, filled with events and small fair rides.
Giant Bradley Day (Image source: www.giantbradley.co.uk)

Once he’d grown tired of travelling, William Bradley moved back to his specially designed house on York Road, Market Weighton which still stands today. The property was converted with high ceilings and doorways to accommodate his extra height. Its structure is higher than the other buildings around it making it instantly recognisable as being the home of a giant.

The Death of William Bradley

On the 30th of May 1820, William Bradley died of tuberculosis at the age of 33. His coffin was 9ft long and 3ft wide and was buried inside Market Weighton Church for fear of being dug up by grave robbers.

William Bradley’s Legacy

William Bradley has been widely commemorated in the town. In 1996, the first “Giant Bradley Day” was held in the main street of Market Weighton which included stalls, rides, steam organs, children’s entertainment, and music. Throughout its early years, the day was opened by the current tallest man in Britain, Chris Greener, who is 7ft 6in tall.

In more recent years, this has changed its name to the “Giant Community Day”. However, whatever the name, it still celebrates the life of the tallest man in Yorkshire and is a major event in the town that happens in the summer.

The statue of giant bradley in market weighton
The statue of William Bradley in Market Weighton

The bypass which opened in 1991 was renamed The Giant Bradley Way and in 2005 a special Bradley heritage trail through the town was designed. In 2007, a life-size wooden statue created by local sculptor Malcolm McLachlan was unveiled. 

A plaque can be found on William Bradley’s house which still stands today. He also made it into the Guiness Book of Records and Britain’s tallest person.

The tale of the Yorkshire giant William Bradley is a rather sad one. Throughout his short life, William was seen as an outcast who was seen as an attraction rather than being an accepted member of society.