The Ilkeston Giant

(With thanks to Peter Seddon and Derby Evening Telegraph 'You and Yesterday' monthly heritage supplement)

 

SAMUEL TAYLOR (The Ilkeston Giant) buried in Stanton Road Cemetery

It is by no means unusual these days to encounter someone who is more than 6ft tall. But, in the 19th century, when the average height was much less than it is today, even a "six-footer" would have stood out in a crowd.

No wonder, then that Samuel Taylor became a celebrity, for he attained the astonishing height of 7ft 4.5 ins.

Taylor was born in Little Hallam, near Ilkeston, in 1816, the son of a farmer, also Samuel, who was himself an imposing 6ft 9ins. Yet, Samuel's mother, Ann, was a mere 5ft.

cem 1

It became apparent in Samuel's childhood which set of genes had become dominant. By the age of 10, he stood at 5ft 10ins. At 12, he was 6ft 4ins; by the age of 14 he had sprouted to 6ft 10ins; and by adulthood he had attained his maximum height of 7ft 4ins...and a half!

This certainly got him noticed around Ilkeston but it didn't guarantee him an easy life. Employers viewed his height as a handicap and he was unable to find a job through the usual channels.

The course of Samuel Taylor's life changed on a visit to Castle Donnington in 1832. It coincided with that of a travelling fair, the first he had ever seen. He ws naturally attracted to The Giant sideshow but, on paying his penny admission, he was sorely disappointed. The giant proved to be a lanky 30 year old measuring a mere 6ft 3ins. Little wonder that, when Samuel Taylor strode in aged only 16 and already more than 7ft, the gathered crowd began to gawp at him instead.

The showman in charge of the fair, a Mr Reader, quickly realised his opportunity and Taylor was hastily engaged as his new star attraction on handsome terms. For some months, he travelled the country making a great impression on everybody who saw him. And thereby arose a problem.

The proprietor of the fair had a daughter, "Mademoiselle Reader glass blower extraordinaire", who took rather a fancy to "Big Sam". This didn't please Mr Reader, doubtless fearing that a junior glassblower might be in the offing, and he gave Taylor his marching orders.

But Samuel reciprocated the girl's feelings and was in no mood for compromise. The night after his dismissal, when the fair was in Arbroath, the couple eloped to Montrose, pursued there by the girl's irate father. He demanded Taylor's arrest but, when it was established that his daughter fully consented, the police declined to take action.

The giant and his glassblower were duly wed and only then did the girl's father have a change of heart, re-engaging Taylor and giving the newlyweds a handsome gift of £5. Some 12 months later, the couple set up in the show business on their own account. But what Samuel Taylor had in inches, he lacked in business acumen. They fell on fell on hard times and Taylor took an excavating job on the railways. But at that, too, he struggled and soon took his fair back on the road, this time more successfully.

Feeling flush, the couple bought a public house in Manchester. But Samuel too often dipped into the till to share a glass with customers and, before long, the business was £100 in debt. So, back on the road once more went the giant and the glassblower. Samuel Taylor often visited Derbyshire with his travelling show and in 1869, attended his favourite fair, the age-old Ilkeston Statutes.

One of his sons said that, whenever his father left Ilkeston, he "looked back until the very last moment until the town he called home finally disappeared from view". That makes it fitting that the "Ilkeston Giant" is buried there. In Oldham, in 1875, he slipped and badly fractured his thigh. After complications set in, he was admitted to Manchester Infirmary and died there suddenly on June 3, aged 59, leaving his wife and two sons.

His huge coffin was taken by train to Ilkeston and met at the Midland Station by a large crowd and the Ilkeston Brass Band. The bells of St. Mary's Church rang a muffled peal and, from the Independent Chapel, the body was taken to Stanton Road Cemetery.

Samuel Taylor was buried there where his gravestone remains today, engraved with a simple legend: "In loving memory of Samuel Taylor, the Ilkeston Giant. Height 7' 4.5". Died June 3, 1875, aged 59".

 

A celebration day was held on the 16th April 2011 to commemorate the completion of the Heritage Lottery Project. The event was a huge success and stimulated lots of new interest in the Cemetery. Below is a video taken during the event.

giant song

 

The Erewash Valley Telegraph - Saturday, June 12, 1875 p.4

Local and District News

Death of the Ilkeston Giant. - Some nine weeks ago, whilst at Manchester, Mr. Samuel Taylor, commonly known as the Ilkeston giant, was assisting to take off the "tilt" of the caravan, when his leg slipped through a hole in the platform between the caravans, resulting in a severe fracture of the thigh. He remained in the caravan for a month, afer which, by his own request, he was removed to the Manchester Infirmary. He appeared to improve until last week, when inflammation of the chest set in, to which he succumbed rather suddenly on Thursday.

The last time he passed the Ilkeston Cemetery he remarked what a beautiful place it was, and said that, in case of anything happening to him, he should like to be buried there. Accordingly, his corpse was brought from Manchester to Ilkeston on Tuesday, for interment. The Ilkeston Brass Band, as a token of respect, met them at the station, and played mournful music through the streets which the procession passed. The body was taken to the Independent Chapel, and from thence to the Cemetery, where it was interred amidst the muffled peal of bells, the dull beat of the drum, and the solemn strains of the "Dead March in Saul."

This extraordinary man was the son of a farmer at Little Hallam, and was born in 1816. His father was a tall man, being about six feet nine inches in height, but his mother was the reverse, being only five feet. At the age of eighteen months he was rendered fatherless. At the age of ten he was five feet ten inches, and during the next four years he grew three inches each year.

On account of his remarkable height he found it difficult to obtain a situation in his native village, and, at the age of sixteen, he went to Castle Donnington statutes, intending to obtain a situation in service.

A giant was being exhibited in a show there, and young Taylor, never having seen a show before, patronised this one, expecting, from a painting outside, to see a man about fourteen feet in height. But he was doomed to disappointment, in his own words, "I entered the exhibition - a curtain was drawn, and discovered a man perhaps about six feet three. All eyes were turned upon me. I stood beside the giant and made him look very insignificant. He didn't seem much to like the comparison. When I was leaving the showman tapped me on the shoulder and wished to speak to me - would I accept of an engagement to travel, and be exhibited as a giant? I laughed at the idea; however, handsome terms were offered me, and I accepted the situation, regretting at the same time that I had to supplant, as well as succeed, the giant I had just seen. He was much chagrined at my intrusion, as he called it; became very violent, and struck me. Now I was quite a youth - only sixteen, and he a man of thirty. I had never fought, and always inclined to be peaceable, but the blow seemed to arouse the man within me: I madly attacked my rival, and notwithstanding his superior weight and strength, I succeeded in making him cry peccavi."

He travelled with this establishment for some time, during which he was exhibited as being seven feet four inches high; eventually, he became connected with an establishment in which glass-blowing was cleverly practised by the daughter of the proprietor. An intimacy sprung up, and resulted in young Taylor's dismissal at a moment's notice when the proprietor got to know. The two, however, were determined to become one, and on the following evening, when the show was at Arbroath, in Scotland, they eloped, and went to Montrose, where they were found by the father , who, finding that he could not prevent their getting married, made the best of it, presented them with a £5 note, and got them to return to the show.

After remaining here a twelvemonth they commenced business for themselves, but, that not paying, railway excavating was tried, but that failed also. The show was again tried, and with better luck, after which a public-house was taken in Manchester, but in a short time they lost £100. We again find them in the caravan, which they have kept on ever since, visiting his native place annually. When leaving the town he would often turn back to catch a last glimpse of the home of his childhood. Mr. Taylor had nine children, only two of whom are now living.

(with thanks to Ilkeston Library)

 

Ilkeston Advertiser 11 October, 1929, p.4.

(by "Tilkestune")

One other show I ought to mention, our own native show, Taylor's Waxworks. Taylor, surnamed the Giant, or the Ilkeston giant, was born at Little Hallam. His wife did some very pretty glass-blowing in the show, and the waxworks did their share in attracting the public. The giant's brother used to exhibit some enormous snakes in the front of the show. Taylor was 7ft. 4 1/2 in. in height. He stood in the doorway and everybody who entered could walk under his arm. One day he slipped from the roof of one of his caravans (1875), and died from his injuries.

Knowing of the funeral at the General Cemetery in Stanton Road, I strolled in that direction and soon found myself in the midst of the largest crowd of people I had then seen. The road was packed with spectators and I somehow managed to get into the midst of them. I soon began to experience the want of fresh air, as I only reached up to the jacket tails of the crowd around me. I began to feel in physical distress, when a man, realising my trouble, picked me up with some difficulty in the press, and raised me to his shoulder, the surrounding men shouting approval of his action. And so we went on, tramp, tramp, to the cemetery gates. I very uncomfortable, more from the perspiration of the crowd than from my position.

Here at the cemetery gates was my deliverer, Mr. Bostock, the cemetery caretaker. With a kind word he took me from my guardian's shoulder, and deposited me on the grassy bank to the left of the entrance. Here I sat some time recovering my senses, and later, keeping to the south side of the cemetery, I walked slowly along and saw the finish of the funeral service and the departure of the crowd. Then I came nearer still, till I got to the grave. I have often seen it since, long and expansive, as befits a giant.

Taylor was so tall that he harnessed his horse completely while standing on one side of it. He simply bent over the animal while fastening the harness on the other side. This action of his I was fortunate enough to witness one Saturday morning after the fair. It must have been the last Saturday morning he was privileged to spend in Ilkeston.

I append the inscription on his tombstone:-

"In loving memory of Samuel Taylor, the Ilkeston giant. Height 7 feet 4 1/2 inches. Died June 3rd, 1875, aged 59 years. A loving father, not forgotten in death."

(With thanks to Ilkeston Library)

 

Ilkeston Advertiser 22 September, 1983, p.5.

Giant Step

Cotmanhay councillor Mike Campion could not have got much closer to his subject after his "Postbag" letter last week about Ilkeston giant, Samuel Taylor.

The most interesting story his letter prompted was from an elderly Cossall woman, Mrs. W. Henshaw, whose grandfather, Mr. Herbert Brewer, made the giant's coffin.

"Apparently, the box was so large he had to make it outside, placing a tarpaulin over it when it rained!" says Councillor Campion, who wants Mr. Taylor's grave to be restored, a pathway made to it and information displayed about the legendary giant.

(With thanks to Ilkeston Library)

A celebration day was held on the 16th April 2011 to commemorate the completion of the Heritage Lottery Project. The event was a huge success and stimulated lots of new interest in the Cemetery. Below is a video taken during the event.

inscription grave restored grave before

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