Huge Mystery

07 26 jane bunford coloured and croppedToday I want to tell you about Jane Bunford who was born on this day in 1895 in Bartley Green in the Northfield area of Birmingham. She is the tallest person British person ever. When she died in 1922 her height was estimated at 7′ 11” (2.41 metres) and until 1982 she was the world’s tallest woman.

At age 11 she was 5′ (1.52 metres) tall, which is not unusual. But in 1906 she fell off her bicycle, hitting her head on the pavement. She suffered a fractured skull. It was a serious injury but she eventually recovered, or seemed to. Her pituitary gland, which controls growth, was damaged and Jane began to grow. She was always a shy child and didn’t enjoy the attention her height brought her. Before she was thirteen, her parents took her out of school because she was too tall to sit comfortably in the classroom. She was 6’6” (1.98 metres) tall. Two years later she had reached 7′ (2.13 metres). By her 21st birthday she was 7′ 10” (2.39 metres).

The role of the pituitary gland in growth was not proved until 1915, so, at first, her sudden growth must have seemed very strange. She was diagnosed during her lifetime, but no treatment was available.

It is also thought that she held the record for the worlds longest hair. She wore her long, straight auburn locks in two plaits which fell to her ankles. Her hair was 8′ 1” long, she must have looked amazing. Someone even tried to buy her hair but she refused. She rejected several other opportunities to benefit financially from her size and appearance. Fair enough, it just wasn’t her thing. It does mean though that there are no known photographs of her. We only have stories from local people who remembered her as a shy and gentle woman with a deep voice who was much loved by children. She was also seen standing outside, cleaning the upstairs windows of her home whilst standing on the pavement.

After her death on April 1st 1922, her body was placed in a coffin that was 8′ 2” (2.5 metres) long which was locked in the church overnight on 4/5 April, awaiting the funeral the following day. Her pallbearers were four schoolboys who remarked that the coffin was rather light for someone of her size. Unfortunately, they never thought to ask why.

In 1971 the Guinness Book of Records heard about a medical specimen that was held at the University of Birmingham. The skeleton of an unidentified giantess who died in Northfield, Birmingham in the 1920s.. A photograph of the skeleton appeared in the 1972 edition of the Book of Records and the discovery piqued interest. Who could she be? Birmingham University were pretty cagey about it and refused to reveal the identity of the skeleton or how they had come by it. None of her relatives admitted having given (or sold) her body for medical research, but by that time her close relations had all died. Eventually the university admitted that the skeleton was Jane’s but we still don’t know how they came to have it, or what became of her beautiful hair.

Despite controversy, the skeleton remained on display until 2005, although no more photographs were allowed. Then the law changed and her relatives were able to reclaim her remains and she was finally laid to rest in an unmarked grave. I’m not going to show you the photograph of her skeleton as, from what I’ve read about her, it’s clearly not what she would have wanted. So I’ve drawn you this picture instead.

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