Under the hammer . . . undershirt and longjohns worn by Bath Giant Fred Kempster
He was probably the tallest Englishman ever to walk the Earth and so his pyjamas are easily the nation’s biggest ever.
And now the undershirt and longjohns worn by Fred Kempster, known as the English Giant, the Avebury Giant or even the Bath Giant, are going up for auction after they were found in the loft of a descendant of one of his friends.
Kempster’s incredible life saw him taken in by Barnardo’s as a child, sent to Canada for a better life, tour the world in a circus, hone a comedy act, return to England to be reunited with his sister in Wiltshire and then held as a prisoner of war by the Germans during the Great War, even though he was never allowed to join the army. Military chiefs, not surprisingly, said the trenches weren’t the safest place for a man who might find himself an easy target.
Fred was the second youngest of seven children born into poverty in Bayswater, London in 1889. His father died when he was just eight and within a year Fred and his younger brother were admitted to a Barnado’s orphanage.
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Like so many in care at the turn of the 20th century, Fred was shipped to Canada and was fostered by various families, but returned at the age of 15. He was only slightly taller than average at the age of 15, but grew to be a staggering 7ft 11ins tall by the age of 19.
He returned to England and in the years before the Great War, lived in Bath and Wiltshire with his sister, before travelling to the US and Europe as part of a circus. In 1914, when war broke out, he had the misfortune of being in Germany, and was interned by the Germans in a prisoner of war camp.
In 1916, when Kempster was released, he returned to convalesce in Wiltshire, and was instantly the most famous ever resident of the Barge Inn, on the Kennet and Avon canal at Seend, near Melksham.
His sister Ruth ran the pub with her husband and Fred settled in Wiltshire for the rest of the war, living for a time in villages such as Worton and Avebury. Tragically, his health never fully recovered from the two years in the PoW camp and he went back on the road with the circus too soon, and died of pneumonia in Blackburn, Lancashire, in April 1918, at the age of just 29.
When he was struck down with pneumonia after performing in a pub called the Nags Head in Blackburn, he befriended Tom Cook, the son of the landlady. Sixty years later, after Tom died, his nephew cleared his house and found the giant’s underwear stored away – and that family are selling them at an auction house in Yorkshire next month.
The nightshirt has a 62-inch chest and the arms are 29 inches long. The inside leg measurement of the longjohns is a staggering 37 inches.
In an age before the kind of official verification demanded of Guinness World Records, Fred’s full height has never been confirmed. He was certainly 7ft 11ins at the age of 19 and was measured by doctors then.
But in the years before the war, it is believed he grew even more, and by the time he died at the age of 29, it is said the undertaker measured him at 8ft 4ins, and made a nine-foot-long coffin for him.
If he was indeed 8ft 4ins tall, he would be the fourth tallest person in history.
American Robert Pershing Wadlow – who died in July 1940 – was the tallest person in history for whom there is irrefutable evidence. Wadlow was sometimes known as the Alton Giant or Giant of Illinois because he was born and grew up in Alton, Illinois.
Wadlow reached a height of 8ft 11.1 ins at his death aged 22. His size and continued growth in adulthood was put down to hypertrophy of his pituitary gland.