Nine foot Giant.
It seems that the Beatles are not the only big thing to come out of the city of Liverpool, for in a small village on the outskirts of Liverpool can be found the grave of a man who according to historical accounts grew to an incredible nine feet three inches. The imposing presence of this giant has left an indelible mark on this small village, and even though he was born in the fifteen hundreds you don’t have to travel far in the village of Hale to be reminded of his existence.
Known fondly as the Childe of Hale his real name was John Middleton and he was born in 1578 and died in 1623. I parked a short way from the end of the village and walked towards the centre of the village where the war memorial is located looking for evidence of John Middleton. I did not have to wait long for on the other side of the road from the war memorial is a pub named “The Childe of Hale”, and even the pub sign depicts an image of the giant.
From here I carried on walking down church lane which I believed would lead me to the church where I knew John Middleton was said to be buried. I did not have to travel far before I came upon more evidence of the connection with this village and the Childe of Hale. On my right hand side can be seen a whitewashed thatched cottage, the end of which faces the pavement, high up on the side of the house can be seen a wall plaque stating that this was the cottage which John Middleton had lived in when he was alive. I have also come across references to the fact that because he was unable to fit in the bedroom properly, he was forced to sleep with his feet hanging out the window.
It is said that John Middleton worked as a farm labourer and also as a bodyguard for Sir Gilbert Ireland who was Lord of the Manor of Hale Hall.
King James Ist had heard about the giant that resided in the village of Hale. The King invited Sir Gilbert and the Giant to attend court. A costume was specially made for John and when he was presented to the King’s Court he created a sensation.
The King’s Champion challenged the Giant to a wrestling match and courtiers placed bets on the Champion, however the Giant defeated him and left the Champion with a dislocated thumb. The King was in a difficult position, and , not wanting to offend his courtiers, he sent Middleton home with a payment of twenty pounds which was a considerable sum of money in those days. Unfortunately on his return journey his travelling companions robbed him of his twenty pounds. A contemporary source notes: “he was coming down into the country, his comrades rob’d him of what he had, so that he was oblig’d to follow the plow till his dying day”.
I carried on heading towards the church after I had photographed the place where he had lived, and it was not long afterwards that I came across a huge bronze statue of the man in question on the opposite side of the road. This sculpture was the second contemporary likeness of John Middleton. The first known as the History Tree was carved in 1996 by the sculptors Phil Bews and Geoff Wilson from the trunk of a dead beech tree. When this structure had to finally be removed due to the ravages of nature, this replacement life size bronze was by Diane Gorvin and unveiled by the Mayor of Halton, Cllr. Tom McInerey on the 11th April 2013.
It was a short walk from here to St Mary’s Church where John Middleton’s grave can be found taking up a large portion of land in the southern part of the graveyard It didn’t take me long to find it as it has a iron fence around it and unsurprisingly it dwarfs the other graves around it.
The following information can be seen on a sign which is attached to the iron railings which surround his grave and are as follows: This gentle giant provides an extraordinary between Hale village and an Oxford rowing club. The Childe of Hale has long been the mascot of Brasenose college rowing club, whose first VIII wear the Childe’s colour’s of red, purple and yellow.
Middleton’s association with the college dates back to around 1617 when he was returning north, with his mentor Sir Gilbert Ireland, from a wrestling bout at the Royal Court. Sir Gilbert had graduated from Brasenose and remained a senior member of the college, so he decided to take the Giant to meet the students. While he was there, two life -sized portraits were painted. One still hangs in the college, while the other may now be seen in Speke Hall.
Middleton’s story passed into legend at Brasenose and was an inspiration to the students when the College Boat Club was formally established in 1815. The college donated an oar to Hale village and it is currently displayed in St Mary’s church.