FREAK SHOWS & CIRCUSES: ‘Manuscript of the Life of William Bradley the Yorkshire Giant by J Browne’

James Browne
Manuscript biography of William Bradley who was exhibited in the Regency period as ‘the Yorkshire Giant’, drawing upon memories of surviving frie… Read more
Published in 1885 by Unpublished.

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FREAK SHOWS & CIRCUSES: ‘Manuscript of the Life of William Bradley the Yorkshire Giant by J Browne’ by James Browne

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Manuscript biography of William Bradley who was exhibited in the Regency period as ‘the Yorkshire Giant’, drawing upon memories of surviving friends and acquaintances who encountered Bradley around his East Yorkshire hometown of Market Deighton. In an accompanying letter Browne who lived in nearby Bridlington reveals that this was a passion-project of some 25 years standing, with testimony offered by an old resident of the village and schoolmate of Bradley ‘James Brown’, the village Sexton and other local residents. Accompanying the manuscript is a collection of preparatory notes about ‘Giants in General’ and Browne in particular. Browne seems to made strenuous efforts (recorded in copy letters found with the manuscript) to have his manuscript published, seemingly without success although the MS bears what seem to be printer’s marks. The second part of the manuscript is devoted to a short biography of an earlier East Yorkshire worthy, the architect William Kent who was born in Browne’s native Bridlington.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Small quarto, recently rebacked to style; marbled boards with a manuscript title in Browne’s hand. 6 pages of preliminary notes precede ‘William Bradley the Yorkshire Giant.’ Browne writes in a legible, forward sloping hand. There are pencil emendations which suggest printers’ marks though we can find no trace of publication surviving. The biography runs to 23 pages, written on rectos only with a few notes to the versos, c3500 words. Although a fair copy the text is occasionally emended. Browne begins with the known facts of Bradley’s life, adding to these with his local knowledge, transcribing, for example, ‘a small hand-bill, a Copy of which is pasted on the wall of Mr Shoemaker’s shop in Market Weighton: “To be seen at the fair, at the house No 15, Queen Street, Mr Bradley, the most wonderful and surprising Yorkshire Giant.... the sight of him never fails to give universal gratification.... Admittance One Shilling. Hutchinson Printer, Silver Street, Hull, 1815” Browne discusses about the decline in Bradley’s health that these exhibitions caused, the subsequent alterations to his home after retirement (in his 20s) living in a house, then still standing, ‘with rooms sufficiently lofty’ and his desire not be attract attention in death: ‘as it was feared that an attempt might be made to steal his body in order that his skeleton might be preserved in some national museum or other collection of curiosities.’ The most interesting part of the MS is in the sequence of first hand reports on Bradley that Browne goes on to record, beginning with ‘James Brown, an old inhabitant of Market Weighton’ (surely the author’s father or grandfather?) about Bradley as ‘an object of his playmates’ wonder and derision, and was much teased by them’ as well as testimony from Jeremiah Roantree on Bradleys’ exploits of strength and extraordinary reach. Browne recalls Bradley’s involvement in travelling circuses, and his consent to being exhibited alongside ‘the largest pig in Yorkshire’. Browne describes the relics still held by residents in the town and the opening of his tomb in 1872 to measure Bradley’s bones, concluding with a poem by the Market Weighton ‘Poet Laureate’. Browne’s life of William Kent runs to 11 pages, c1550 words and draws heavily on Horace Walpole, being prefaced by a pencil sketch. Accompanying the main manuscript is a collection of notes, often written on broadsides and advertisements. Most interesting is Browne’s retained 1888 copy letter to a bookseller, Mr Burdekin, in Driffield proposing publication of his life of Bradley ‘the materials for which I have been collectinG during the last quarter of a Century, principally in visits to Market Dreighton during the period... The work is copied in a book’: our book.

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Added under Manuscript
Publisher Unpublished
Date published 1885
Subject 1 Manuscript
First edition Yes
Signed Yes
Product code 8637

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