In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, being tremendously fat was an anomaly, and the men known for it became famous. One famous overweight gentleman was a Prussian fellow named Hermanes Bras. He was designated the “gigantic Prussian Youth.” At nineteen years of age he was said to have weighed five hundred pounds and stand nearly six feet tall. When he was “presented to the Emperor of Austria, the Kings of France, Prussia and the Netherlands, the Prince of Orange, and most of the nobility of the different kingdoms, … [they] pronounced him to be the greatest prodigy of nature now extant.” However, there were several corpulent men considered the fattest men in England who among them was Edward Bright of Maldon, John Love of Weymouth, and Daniel Lambert, a resident of Leicester.
Edward Bright was born in 1721 and always seemed to be on the heavy side. Perhaps, because he supposedly “descended from families inclined to corpulency.” One article noted that when he was just over 12 years old, he already weighed a “horseman’s weight.” Before he reached the age of 20, he weighed 24 stone, or 336 lb. Measurements taken at the time of his death show he was just over “five feet 9 inches … high; his body round the chest, just under the arms, measured 5 feet 6 inches, and round the belly 6 feet 11 inches; his arm, in the middle … was 2 feet 2 inches, and his leg 2 feet 8 inches.”
Bright lived in Maldon, Essex, England, where he gained the moniker of “fat man of Maldon.” At the time of his death, it was claimed he was among the fattest men in England, if not the fattest. That was partly because of his girth and partly because of a bet. Apparently, an inveterate gambler agreed to a wager that “seven hundred men” could fit into Bright’s waistcoat. He lost the bet after it was shown the waistcoat only could accommodate a mere five “men [who] were buttoned in his waistcoat, without breaking a stitch or straining a button.”
Bright died on the 10 November 1750 from “lethargy,” He reputedly weighed 615 pounds at the time. (There are varying reports, with some claiming his weight at death was 47.5 stone or 665 pounds.) Measurements of his casket showed the coffin was “3 feet 6 inches broad at the shoulders, and 2 feet 3 inches and a half at the head; 22 inches at the feet, and 3 feet 1 inch and a half deep.” It took a dozen men to carry it “amidst a vast concourse of people, who flocked from all parts of the adjacent country to see the interment.” When it came time for the burial at Madlon’s Church of All Saints, he and the casket were so heavy “an engine, fixed up in the church for that purpose [lowered him into the ground].”
Another person listed as one of the fattest men in England was John Love. He was a Weymouth bookseller. Unlike Bright, Love didn’t start out heavy and was, in fact, initially remarkably thin. He was so “lean and puny … his friends dreaded … [he would die of] consumption.” Even his physician was concerned. He advised Love to enjoy “every kind of delicious nutriment.” Love took his doctor’s advice to heart and soon developed a “habit of ease and indulgence … gave himself up entirely to wine and dainties … [and] gave full scope to his desires.”
Because of his overeating and drinking he soon grew remarkably heavy and corpulent. His weight and bulk became an astonishing sight to beholders. In fact, it was claimed he had a “waistband … nearly up to his chin, in order to prevent … [his pants from] falling off; he was seldom seen in a coat … as he could not bear the confinement of sleeves.” The main item Love wore was his nightgown, which afforded him comfort and ease of movement.
Because of Love’s addiction to food and drink, he became so obese, he died at the age of 40, reportedly “suffocated by fat.” Records show he weighed 26 stone or 368 pounds. He was buried in October of 1793, the same month that the French Queen Marie Antoinette was guillotined. Allegedly, his coffin and the corpse weighed about a ton altogether. Similar to Bright, it was not an easy task to move Love’s corpse: “He was obliged to be put out of the window, and conveyed down by ropes on two pieces of timber.”
Love’s death, corroborated “a general opinion [held at that time], that what is intended as a cure for one disorder, is too often the occasion of another.” Those people familiar with his story advised judicious temperance and daily exercise to preserve a person’s life. Indulgence, they concluded, was “a poison … [for] what cured Mr. Love of … consumption, was doubtless the cause of his death … [and] Mr. Love being a man of great weight, must certainly have felt his consequence, and … [was] as great a burthen to himself as he was to his coffin-bearers.”
Daniel Lambert outdid both Bright and Love when it came to being among the fattest men in England. It does not appear that he was particularly heavy until sometime after 1791. Around that time he returned home and became a timekeeper at the Leicester gaol after his father resigned. By 1793, he weighed 32 stone, and, by 1805, the gaol had closed and he found himself destitute, but having gained additional weight, he decided to profit from “the fame for corpulence which had hitherto brought him merely annoyance’ [and he traveled to London and began greeting spectators] from twelve to five at No. 53 Piccadilly.”
His arrival excited great curiosity among Londoners. Everyone wanted to see Lambert and when the wife to comedian Charles Mathews, saw him she wrote about the meeting.
“The half-courteous, half-sullen manner in which this ‘gross fat man’ received the majority of his visitors met the humour of my husband, and he liked, as well as pitied him; for it was distressing sometimes to hear the coarse observations made by unfeeling people, and the silly unthinking questions asked by many of them about his appetite, &c.”
Numerous other descriptions and reports were also published about Lambert.
“When sitting he appears to be a stupendous mass of flesh, for his thighs are so covered by his belly that nothing but his knees are to be seen, while the flesh of his legs (which resemble pillows) projects in such a manner as to nearly bury his feet.”
He returned in 1807 and 1808 to London, and, in 1809, he visited in Cambridge, traveled to Huntingdon, and then to Stamford where he “attained the acme of mortal hugeness.” He died at the Waggon and Horses Inn on 21 July 1809 from what fatty degeneration of the heart. However, modern sources believe his death was caused by a pulmonary embolism.
Similar to Bright and Love, Lambert had an immense coffin. It “contained 112 … [square] feet of elm … built upon two axle-trees and four wheels.” Lambert’s corpse was not any easier to move than Love’s or Bright. At the time Love’s death, he outweighed them both and was nearly 53 stones or 739 pounds. In fact, to wheel his corpse and coffin out of the inn involved demolishing a window and wall, and this time neither engines nor ropes were employed to move him. Rather the movers wheeled his casket “down a gradual incline from the inn to the burial-ground.” It took 20 men over 30 minutes to deposit his coffin into the trench of Stamford Baron St. Martin’s.
After his death, Lambert’s fame survived as one of the fattest men of England, and his name became synonymous with hugeness.
“Mr. George Meredith, in One of Our Conquerors, describes London as the ‘Daniel Lambert of cities,’ Mr. Herbert Spencer, in his Study of Sociology, speaks of a ‘Daniel Lambert of learning,’ and Mr. Donisthorpe, in his Individualism, of a ‘Daniel Lambert view of the salus populi.‘”
Moreover, his clothes were preserved at the King’s Lynn Museum in Stamford, with his waistcoat showing a “girth of 102 inches.” Numerous inns and taverns were adorned with Lambert’s picture. Even today Lambert remains a beloved and cherished icon of Leicester and its people.
-  Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, Vol. 6, 1820, p. 378.
-  Ibid., p. 378.
-  Freemason’s Magazine, Or General and Complete Library, Vol. 2, 1794, p. 195.
-  Tales of the Wars, 1838, p. 14.
-  Chambers, Robert, ed., The Book of Days, Volume 2, 1881, p. 100.
-  Freemason’s Magazine, Or General and Complete Library, p. 195.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Granger, William, etal., The New, Original and Complete Wonderful Museum and Magazine Extraordinary, Vol. III, 1805, p. 1573.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid., p. 1574.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Lee, Sir Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 32, 1892, p. 7.
-  Yates, Edmond, The Life and Correspondence of Charles Mathews, 1860, p. 384.
-  Granger, William, The New Wonderful Museum, and Extraordinary Magazine, 1808, p. 2678
-  Lee, Sir Sidney, p. 7.
-  Platts, John, The Book of Curiosities, 1822, p. 888.
-  Lee, Sir, Sidney, p. 7.
-  Ibid., p. 8.
-  Ibid.