William Bradley – People of Yorkshire Volume 13

William Bradley, otherwise known as “The Yorkshire Giant” is the tallest ever recorded Englishman, who reached a height of 7ft 9 inches during adulthood.
He was born in the East Riding town of Market Weighton on February 10th 1787. Bradley was the fourth of thirteen children, who were all of normal build and his father was a master tailor in the town.
At birth he weighed 14lb and was noticeably big for his young age. His unusual size meant that he towered above his peers at school. By the age of eleven he weighed eleven stones. At school the unusually tall boy was teased for his height, and as 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, Bradley worked on a local farm near Pocklington. Due to his size he would constantly break the existing tools and so his employers had to give him specially designed equipment to use instead.
Bradley also had a competitive side to his nature and would challenge locals in a series of wagers where he would use his size to his advantage. One of which was to load a wagon of manure before two normal sized men did the same job. Another 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.
One day the Barnum travelling circus visited the town and spotted the tall figure of William Bradley. They wanted him to become their star attraction as part of their freak show at fairs across the country, including the very large one in Hull. Along with a massive pig, bred in nearby Sancton and Edward Calvet, a local dwarf from Shiptonthorpe, Bradley travelled the country, drawing in massive crowds to witness the amazing sight of Britain’s tallest man.

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)

He fell out with the circus owners, after they failed to pay him the promised cut of the profits and also because of the cramped conditions he was kept in, which were definitely not designed for somebody so tall.
Instead 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 his weight further increased. Moreover throughout much of his adult life Bradley had to walk with the aid of a stick, which itself was 5ft 10in in height. He 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 meaning that it is definitely recognisable as being the home of a Giant!

William Bradley died on May 30th 1820 of tuberculosis and was buried inside Market Weighton Church, for fear of being dug up by grave robbers. The coffin was 9ft long and 3ft wide.
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. Through its early years it was opened by the current tallest man in Britain, Chris Greener, who is 7ft 6in tall.

In recent years this has changed its name to the “Giant Community Day,” but whatever the name it still celebrates the life of the tallest man in Yorkshire and is a major summer event in the town. In 2007 a life-size wooden statue was unveiled, created by local sculptor Malcolm McLachlan. There is also a plaque on Giant Bradley’s house, which still stands today. 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.
The tale of Giant Bradley is rather a sad one. He made it into the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s tallest person, but died tragically young aged just thirty-three.