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  • Illustrated Tales of Lancashire by David Paul

    Grave of Chylde of Hale. (Illustrated Tales of Lancashire, Amberley Publishing)

    The ‘Chylde of Hale’

    In 1578 John Middleton, known locally as the ‘Chylde of Hale’, was born in the village of Hale, which was in the parish of Childwall and under the jurisdiction of the See of Chester. He was buried in the village churchyard in 1623. His gravestone bears the following inscription: “Here lyeth the bodye of John Middleton, the Chylde of Hale.  Born ad 1578.  Dyed ad 1623.”

    Middleton’s claim to fame is that he was reputed to stand nine feet and three inches tall. His hand alone measured seventeen inches from the carpus to the end of the middle finger; and the breadth of his palm was eight inches and a half. Because of his size, the Sheriff of Lancashire, Sir Gilbert Ireland, hired him as a bodyguard. In 1620, at the direct invitation of King James I, Middleton was taken to the court where he is said to have been regaled “with large ruffs about his neck and hands; a striped doublet of crimson and white round his waist; a blue girdle embroidered with gold; large white plush breeches powdered with blue flowers; green stockings; broad shoes of a light colour, having red heels, and tied with large bows of red ribbon; just below his knees bandages of the same colour, with large bows; by his side a sword, suspended by a broad belt over his shoulder, and embroidered, as his girdle, with blue and gold, with the addition of gold fringe upon the edge.” Whilst at court, it is said that he pitted against the king’s wrestler whom he overcame and inflicted a degree of injury, causing some disquiet amongst the courtiers. Middleton was immediately dismissed from court with a purse of £20; a significant sum at the time. On the way back to Hale, Sir Gilbert stopped off at Brazenose College Oxford, his former college, where, so taken by Middleton, a life-sized portrait of him was painted. Unfortunately, when continuing on their journey, they were set upon by robbers and his purse of £20 was stolen. John Middleton died in penury.

    Chylde of Hale's cottage. (Illustrated Tales of Lancashire, Amberley Publishing)

    Many years after his death, Middleton’s body was taken up and his principal bones were preserved at Hale Hall, where they were subjected to further examination. It was recorded that Middleton’s thigh bone, when measured against a normally-sized man, reached from his hip to his feet, and all of the other measurements which were taken were found to be in a similar proportion. It is thought that when Middleton grew to his great height, reputedly overnight, he could only stand upright in the centre of his cottage, and therefore had to resort to sleeping with his legs hanging out of the open window!

    Statue of the Chylde of Hale. (Illustrated Tales of Lancashire, Amberley Publishing)

    On one occasion Middleton’s was said to have fallen asleep near to the banks of the Mersey, only to find a massive bull stood some way in front of him when he woke up. The bull went to charge, but, because of his immense strength, Middleton caught the bull by the horns and threw him over to the next field. Middleton was able to walk home without any further hindrance.

    Another legend that lives on in Hale relates to the time when Middleton was suffering from an unknown illness. During the period of the illness he was imbued with immense strength, so much so, that one of his closest friends was forced to chain him to his bed so that he would not cause any damage in his delirium. Upon his recovery two of the chains were given away.  One of the chains was sent to Boston in order to prevent the Stump from being blown into the sea, and the second chain was despatched to Chester so that the Dee Mills could be saved from floating down the river. There was a third chain which, it was said, helped to restrain the king when he was suffering from a particularly troublesome complaint.

    David Paul's new book Illustrated Tales of Lancashire is available for purchase now.

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