Shropshire History

Shropshire Giant


to Index


Two men have been given the title of the Shropshire Giant


Thomas Dutton


Thomas Dutton was born at Stoke on Tern in 1852 and grew to be 7ft 3in tall and 23 stone in weight. It was said that he could walk at 8 mph. He joined the Army and in 1871 was at Wellington barracks in London, meaning that he was in a Guards regiment. He must have been injured in the First Boer War, since by 1881 he was back home in Stoke on Tern classified as a Chelsea Pensioner.


He left home in search of work and found employment as a doorman at Lewis’s department store in Manchester. Whilst living there, he met Betsy Allmark who worked as a dressmaker. They got married in 1884 and had 5 children. Shortly after marrying Betsy, Thomas joined Bostock & Wombwell’s Travelling Circus, becoming famous throughout Britain and Europe as the “The British Soldier Giant” and “The Shropshire Giant”. For the show, he wore a Roman style uniform.


Thomas and Betsy lived in France for about 7 years before returning to the Stoke on Tern area in 1901 to look after his elderly mother and to take over from his father as an agricultural labourer. He helped to build Stoke on Tern School and Church as he was able to carry the massive blocks of sandstone single-handed. Thomas had great difficulty getting shoes in the correct size for his large feet. He relied on the Whitchurch shoe shop of G. Owen to have them made for him. In order to do this, they kept one of his shoes as a template and this shoe still exists in the Whitchurch Heritage Collection. Thomas died in 1924, aged 70, and was his grave can be seen at the Parish church.






William Ball



William Ball was born at Horsehay in 1795 and was 5ft 9½in tall and 40 stones in weight. It was said that his waistcoat was so big that 3 men could be buttoned into it. From the age of 8, he was employed as a puddler in the Horsehay Ironworks. He later became a shingler and then by 1841 a forgeman. He worked at Horsehay for 40 years and was known to be very strong. Billy, as he was known, could lift a 9 cwt piece of iron from the ball furnace to place under the forge hammer. He only left the Ironworks after being blinded in one eye by a piece of molten iron. From that time on he wore thick lens glasses.

When he left employment at Horsehay Ironworks, he was exhibited round the county fairs as “John Bull the Largest Man in Britain”. In 1850, he was chosen as one of two men to lead a procession to celebrate the birth of Alfred Darby II. Because of his massive weight, he had to be hoisted onto his horse by a specially constructed pulley and blocks. His co-leader Little Bennie Poole, as the smallest man employed by the Coalbrookdale Company, was mounted on a pony for contrast. Billy was said to have exclaimed as he mounted “Dunno yo drop me!” His sturdy horse had to be destroyed after the procession because Billy’s weight had broken its back.


In 1851 he attended the Great Exhibition in London as a celebrity exhibit. He went by train to London, travelling in the guard’s carriage as there was no passenger seat big enough to take his size. At Birmingham, it is said that some businessmen came on board and started teasing him about his size. They asked him how much material would be needed and what the cost would be to make him a suit. He told them that, if they would take him to a tailor and pay for a suit, he would give them the information they wanted. They troubled him no more. Although Billy had the honour of being a celebrity at the Crystal Palace, his experience of the capital was tainted by falling prey to thieves and he left never wishing to return.


He married Mary Bailey in 1819 and they had 2 children, sadly both of whom died. Mary also died in 1824 and the following year he married Margaret Wood. William died in 1852, aged 56, and was buried in an unmarked grave at St Luke’s Church in Doseley. His coffin was so large that 10 lads were able to lie in it at the same time and it took 10 of the strongest men in the district to carry it. Even then, they had the assistance of poles and straps to assist them.