Search

Facelift for West Somerton tomb

PUBLISHED: 09:52 31 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:28 03 July 2010

AS with many Victorian memorials, the stone tomb above the ground reflects something of the person beneath. In this case it is the size of the sarcophagus that is the big giveaway.

AS with many Victorian memorials, the stone tomb above the ground reflects something of the person beneath. In this case it is the size of the sarcophagus that is the big giveaway.

For in West Somerton churchyard lies the neglected grave of the Norfolk Giant, who was born in the village in 1820.

Robert Hales' parents were both unusually tall and Robert grew to a height of 7ft 8ins and weighed 32.8 stone.

Accompanied by his sister Mary, who was also over 7ft tall, he appeared at fairs and shows throughout the country and in 1848 he visited the United States.

Something of a superstar in his day ,his celebrity continues to attract visitors to the churchyard today - but records show his York stone tomb has not been done up since 1926.

Now, Jary's stonemasons Glen Thain and Simon Betts say they will do the improvement work for free, delighting churchwarden Pauline Burckitt.

The pair made the offer after a chance chat with Mrs Burckitt who was bemoaning the state of the grave and lack of funds to do anything about it following a major and celebrated restoration project to re-roof the church and protect Medieval wall paintings inside.

Mrs Burckitt said parish records revealed a local whip-round had raised £20 to cover the restoration of the stone tomb in 1926 - but nothing appeared to have happened since.

“We are very grateful for this wonderful gesture,” Mrs Burckitt said, adding: “It was their suggestion and very much appreciated.”

Many of the details about Robert Hales' life are unclear, conflicting and shrouded in myth, but on returning to England he apparently became licensee of the Craven Head in London where his great height attracted considerable custom.

A wedding between Robert and another circus star in America was possibly a publicity stunt because he returned single and married a woman called Maria. Many of the stories about him are unsubstantiated and he may have lied about his age because various dates do not tally.

He was presented to Queen Victoria and became well-known for his genial manner and generosity. He died in 1863, aged 50, and is buried in the churchyard where his tomb, erected by his widow, can be seen.

Mr Thain said the work mainly involved hard graft with a wire brush and would take a whole day.

Robert Hale had a chest measurement of 62ins and a waist of 64ins

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years, through good times and bad. Coronavirus is one of the greatest challenges our community has ever faced, but if we all play our part we will defeat it. We're here to serve as your advocate and trusted source of local information.

In these testing times, your support is more important than ever. Thank you.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Great Yarmouth Mercury