An oversized man

MALDON IN ESSEX was home to a truly remarkable man. Edward Bright (1721-1750) was short lived but easily recognisable. In his younger days, he was a post boy riding between Maldon and Chelmsford (www.itsaboutmaldon.co.uk/edwardbright/). He had to give up this job when at the age of 12 years, his weight had reached 12 stone (www.bbc.co.uk/essex/content/articles/2008/05/15/fat_man_maldon_feature.shtml).

Later, Edward became a candle maker and grocer in Maldon. His business operated from rented premises opposite the Plume Library, a converted church in the heart of Maldon. He died at the early age of 29, which might not come as surprise when you learn that when he was 28, he weighed nearly 42 stones (265 kilogrammes). A year later, he had put on another two stones. By that time, he was 5 foot and 9 inches in height, his chest measurement was 5 foot and 6 inches, and his stomach measured 6 feet and 11 inches (about 210 centimetres). These measurements necessitated special clothing to be made to fit him.

On the first of December 1751, a bet was made at Maldon’s King’s Head Inn. A prize of a ham, some chickens, and several gallons of wine, was to be awarded if nine men were able to fit inside Bright’s enormous waistcoat. The nine men, whose names and professions are listed on a memorial in Maldon, were easily accommodated inside the vast waistcoat. The memorial, located in an alleyway that connects the High Street with a car park, has a depiction of this occasion, a bas-relief sculpted in bronze by Catharni Stern (1925-2015) in 2000.

Bright fathered at least one child, also named Edward Bright. The parish burial register records that when the overweight man was buried at All Saints’ Church:

“’A way was cut through the wall and staircase to let it down into the shop; it was drawn upon a carriage to the church and slid upon rollers to the vault made of brickwork, and interred by the help of a triangle and pulley. He was a very honest tradesman, a facetious companion, comely in his person, affable in his temper, a tender father and valuable friend.” (www.itsaboutmaldon.co.uk/edwardbright/)

Although there was much of Edward Bright to be seen when this larger than average character lived in Maldon, this pleasant town has much more to offer the visitor including a lovely promenade alongside the estuary of the River Blackwater.

Eating ice cream in an old harbour

CHARLESTOWN IN CORNWALL should not be confused with the dance named after Charleston in South Carolina, as it is just south of the Cornish town of St Austell. The latter, named after a sixth century Cornish saint, St Austol, was first associated with the tin trade and then with the China clay industry, which burgeoned after the material was discovered in the area by William Cookworthy (1705-1780) in the 18th century.

In 1790, only nine families lived in the tiny seashore settlement of West Polmear, a fishing village just south of St Austell. A year later, much was to change in this little place. For, in 1791, Charles Rashleigh, a local landowner, began building a dock at West Polmear, using designs prepared by the engineer John Smeaton (1724-1792), who is regarded by many as ‘the father of civil engineering’. By 1799, a deep-water harbour with dock gates had been constructed. The water level in this dock was maintained by water that travelled in a ‘leat’ (artificial channel) from the Luxulyan Valley, some miles inland. The harbour was fortified against the French with gun batteries.

Named after nearby Mount Charles, the Charlestown harbour was used first for loading boats with copper for export, and then later with China clay, also for exportation. Charlestown prospered during the rapid expansion of the Chana clay industry that lasted until the start of WW1. By 1911, the former fishing village, by then Charlestown, had a population of almost 3200. Between the end of WW1 and the 1990s, Charlestown continued to be a port for exporting clay, but rival ports and the use of ships too large to be accommodated, led to its gradual decline. Now, the lovely, well-preserved 18th century harbour has become a tourist attraction and a home for a few picturesque tall ships. It is also used occasionally as a film set.

We visited Charlestown on a warm, sunny, late June afternoon. After exploring for a while, we homed in on an ice cream stall, a small hut with a pitched roof tiled with slates, located above the northern end of the dock. After queuing for what turned out to be first class ice cream, we sat at a table near the stall to enjoy what we had ordered. It was then that I noticed that some of the tables and chairs were standing on a vast cast-iron plate, which was covered with geometric patterns and some words, which I examined. My suspicion that this plate had once been part of a weighbridge was confirmed when I noticed the words: “20 tons.  Charles Ross Ltd. Makers. Sheffield”. I checked this with the ice cream seller in his stall. He told me that his stall had been the office of the officials who used the weighbridge and pointed out that there was another weighbridge nearby. I found this easily. Its metal plate bore the words: “Avery. Birmingham-England”, Avery being a well-known manufacturer of weighing machines. And the hut that used to be used by the officials now sells a range of snacks.

After eating our ice creams and examining the former weighbridge plates, a trivial thought flashed through my mind: by consuming ice cream at this stall, we were putting on weight at the weighbridge.

Weightless

HBY Kitchen 1960s

My late mother (see picture above, taken in the 1960s) was averse to weighing machines.

When she visited the doctor and had to be weighed, she did not want to be told or in any other way infrormed of her weight.

Her dislike of weighing machines extended into the kitchen. There were no kitchen scales in our home. A good cook, she managed without them. However, she did use a conical measuring device made by the Tala company. This contains printed markings that allow the user to dispence known amounts of powdered ingredients such as, for example, flour, rice, and sugar.

Years after my mother died, I married a lady from India. She told me that in the olden days, professional cooks of Indian origin often measured out cooking ingredients by feel rather than using a weighing device. For example if a cake required an equal weight of egg and flour, the cook would hold the egg in one hand and estimate its weight by feel and then measure the required amount of flour, also assessing its weight be feel alone. I do not know whether my mother possessed this skill, but regardless of that she was widely recognised to have been a competent cook.