Not everyone lives with a giant on their door step. Hearing tales of “The Il’son Giant”, I’d dismissed them as tall stories, no pun intended. Il’son was how the locals say Ilkeston.
An old rundown Victorian graveyard, which I passed daily on my way to work, had a grave belonging the famous Ilkeston Giant. His name, Samuel Taylor, born on June 4th 1817, in Little Hallam, a small village near Ilkeston, Derbyshire,. His loving parents were Samuel Taylor a tall man of six feet nine inches. His mother Anne a mere five feet, short by comparison.
They lived on a farm where Samuel grew and grew and grew some more. By the age of ten he was already the height of an average adult, a gangly 5″ 5″, taller than his mother. Two years later he had reach the height of 6″ 4″ and by 14 years of age was a lofty 6″ 10″. No fe-fi-fo-fum could slow him down, adding further inches until he reached the almighty height of 7″ 4 and a ½”.
Samuel wanted to work seeking employment locally but to no avail. Potential employers were afraid of his ungainliness, his difference, worried he would hurt himself or them.
In 1832, Samuel visited a travelling fair in Castle Donnington, Derbyshire, the likes he had never seen before. Curious about an exhibit he paid his penny entrance fee to gawp at the giant on display. This, so called, giant was just a man, 30 years of age who was no taller than 6′ 4″. Samuel was disappointed, hoping to find someone like himself. Turning to leave everyone in the tent gawped at Samuel, including the proprietor of the fair, Mr Reader. Recognizing his potential, Mr Reader offered him a job as the new attraction to the traveling fair.
Touring the country Mademoiselle Reader the extraordinary glass blower took a shine to Samuel. A union her father objected strongly too. Samuel was also smitten by Mademoiselle Reader, together the left the fair to marry and make a life for themselves. Mr Reader wanted Samuel arrested for abduction, but the police found no crime had been committed. Reluctantly Mr Reader accepted the marriage and welcomed Samuel into the family with a 5 pounds wedding gift. He wanted the revenue Samuel attracted to his fair.
Samuel and his wife often visited Derbyshire while traveling with the fair. During one of these visits, Samuel saw the graveyard. He expressed his final wishes to be buried there upon his death, close to the place of his birth.
Living in Manchester with his wife, Samuel injured his leg. He died on June 3rd 1875 aged 59 years. His coffin transported from Manchester to Ilkeston by train. A large crowd and Ilkeston brass band played followed the coffin to the cemetery.
The grave is marked with a simple message “In loving memory of Samuel Taylor, The Ilkeston Giant, Height 7′ 41/2” died June 3, 1875 aged 59.
The cemetery on Stanton Road, a jungle of over grown weeds, a tangle of untidy shrubs looked derelict. Monuments neglected, there were no family members to care for the ancient graves. Until money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, 47,000 pounds, was awarded to help restore gravestones and memorials in the Victorian cemetery. New railing and pathways erected improving access for heritage walks.
To honor Samuel Taylor the Ilkeston giant, friends of the cemetery carved a tree into a 7 feet statue. A remarkable monument for the cemetery the carving stands watch. The statue is not meant to be a likeness of Samuel, only a visual impression of the giants height.
Samuels’ remains, his wife and child share the same grave.
Robert Lindsay, a local actor who stars in televisions My Family and Citizen Smith, visited the cemetery. Robert Lindsay, who is president of Friends of the Stanton Road Cemetery, grew up in the area. He was very impressed with the restoration, statue and work carried out to date. Robert and his brother Andrew played in the cemetery as children and often tried to find the giants grave hidden amongst the overgrown weeds and shrubs. The statue now marks the sight for future generations who visit the cemetery.
An awesome tribute to The Il’son Giant.