Daniel Lambert – The heaviest man of the 18th Century

Daniel Lambert 1770 – 1809 was a gaol keeper (jail) and animal breeder from Leicester, England, famous for his unusually large size. After serving four years as an apprentice at an engraving and die casting works in Birmingham, he returned to Leicester around 1788 and succeeded his father as keeper of Leicester’s gaol. He was a keen sportsman and extremely strong; on one occasion he fought a bear in the streets of Leicester. He was an expert in sporting animals, widely respected for his expertise with dogs, horses and fighting cocks. In fact one of his dogs was said to be the finest in the kingdom.

Daniel Lambert

Daniel Lambert

At the time of Daniel’s return to Leicester, his weight began to increase steadily, even though he was athletically active and, by his own account, abstained from drinking alcohol and did not eat unusual amounts of food. In 1805, Lambert’s gaol closed. By this time, he weighed 50 stone and had become the heaviest authenticated person up to that point in recorded history. Unemployable and sensitive about his bulk, Lambert became a recluse.

In 1806, poverty forced Daniel to put himself on exhibition to raise money. In April 1806, he took up residence at 53 Piccadilly in London, charging spectators a shilling (about £4.20) to enter his apartments to meet him. Visitors were impressed by his intelligence and personality, and visiting him became highly fashionable.  He must have fared well as he would have up to 400 visitors a day and back then those of a large size were not sneered at or looked down upon but were rather admired for being a great physical specimen.

After some months on public display, Daniel Lambert grew tired of exhibiting himself, and in September 1806, he returned, wealthy, to Leicester, where he bred sporting dogs and regularly attended sporting events. Between 1806 and 1809, he made a further series of short fundraising tours.

During his life he was widely respected despite his obvious gigantuan measurements.  He wasn’t one of those unfortunate Victorian freak-show acts but was educated and considered, a businessman of sorts who mingled freely with high society and even King George!  He was known to  have walked 7 miles one day from Woolwich to the City of London and was also a swimming instructor.  Perhaps due to his size he disliked changing clothes and would often continue wearing the previous days clothes the following morning even if they were still wet.

Daniel's Breeches

An old photograph illustrating the size of Daniel’s Breeches

Other than his extreme size, he exhibited no other signs of possible conditions such as thyroid problems and it is is thought his extreme size was likely due to simply a lack of exercise and eating copious amounts of an extremely rich diet.

Whilst he was in London, Daniel was visited by Józef Boruwłaski, a 3-foot-3-inch (99 cm) dwarf then in his seventies and one of the last of the old fashioned dwarfs that would live at Royal Courts.  It was possibly the meeting of both the largest and smallest man in the world at the time and the pair worded out that the sleeve of Daniels coat had more than enough material to clothe Józef’s entire body!

In June 1809, he died suddenly in Stamford, Lincolnshire. At the time of his death, he weighed 52 stone 11 pounds (about 335 kilos) and his coffin required 112 square feet of wood. There was no chance of getting Daniel back to his come city of Leicester and so he was buried near to his site of death.  Despite the coffin being built with wheels to allow easy transport, and a sloping approach being dug to the grave, it took 20 men almost half an hour to drag his casket into the trench, in a newly opened burial ground to the rear of St Martin’s Church.

The grave of Daniel Lambert

The grave of Daniel Lambert

The rather weathered inscription on his headstone reads thus:

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

After he died, the name Daniel Lambert was used to signify any great fat man and around Leicester and Stamford his name was adopted by many pubs as well as in other places such as Ludgate near St Pauls in London.

Lambert is still a popular character in Leicester, described in 2009 by the Leicester Mercury as “one of the city’s most cherished icons”.

A set of Lambert’s clothes, together with his armchair, walking stick, riding crop and prayer book, are on permanent display at the Newarke Houses Museum in Leicester.

In 2009, on the 200th anniversary of his death, Leicester celebrated Daniel Lambert Day, and over 800 people attended an event in his name at Newarke Houses Museum.

To read about an even more fascinating figure of the same era then do read about John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton – craziest man in history! or Peter The Wild Boy.  And while you’re here, check out my new book!

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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