Jack Russell Lambert was born on 23rd June 1898 at Queens Road, Crowborough.
He never grew taller than two feet ten inches and weighing just twenty seven pounds he is considered to be the smallest man ever to live in Sussex.
His father, Charles William Lambert, a gardener, was born in Rotherfield and his mother Harriet Russell hailed from Mayfield.
Jack (also known as Jackie) often told people that he was the shortest man in the world but this could never be verified as true.
Although of tiny proportions, he promised his parents that he would not exhibit himself as a fairground attraction and in doing so most certainly missed out on a lucrative career. However, he was happy to earn reasonable money selling postcode pictures of himself along with tiny calling cards. He made frequent visits to Brighton and Hastings where there were always new people to sell to.
Jack was a regular at Crowborough’s “Red Cross Inn” where he liked to drink sherry and amuse other customers with a host of anecdotes. His party trick was winning wagers by demonstrating he was able to walk completely upright under the tables in the bar. He reveled in his celebrity status and nurtured a considerable ego.
During the Great War, Jack received call-up papers and was told to report to Eastbourne for a medical check-up. He went accompanied by a friend - Corporal J.H. Ware of the Canadian Military Police. Not surprisingly, Jack was given his discharge papers immediately but loved to boast how he’d done his duty and had been in the army for almost a whole day.
When his parents died in 1918, Jack moved in with his brother Harry and his wife at their house in Eridge Road, close to Crowborough Cross. Jack was then 20 years old but was still only the height and weight of a two year old although he was the perfect miniature of an average-size adult male.
He was a smart dresser and a Crowborough tailor, Tom Bradley, made him a range of military uniforms and also riding habits complete with little spurs and horsewhip. Jack was very fond of horses and admired people who could work with them.
Jack Lambert died from pneumonia on 28th May 1936. The funeral was very well attended with a ceremonial role carried out by members of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes in full fig. The popular little man had himself been a Buffalo, an organization similar to the Freemasons. Two black horses drew the hearse bearing Jack’s small coffin. He was interred in Crowborough’s Herne Road Cemetery.
We can now go to the other end of Sussex to find a story that is the opposite in every aspect to that of diminutive Jack. Firstly, Miss Jane Cobden of Chichester was a woman and, secondly, she grew to be nearly seven feet tall. Thirdly, she had no qualms about exploiting her great height.
In 1824 and 1825 she was part of a traveling exhibition that was not far removed from a freak show. She was billed as the “Wonderful Giantess” and appeared alongside the “Scottish Giant”, Mr. Thompson. For good measure there was also a Mr. Robertson was less than three feet in height.
There appear to be no surviving drawings of Miss Jane but a newspaper advertisement of the time reads: “This interesting young lady is allowed by all ranks of people to be the tallest, handsomest, most elegant and accomplished young lady ever to be exhibited to the British public and possesses a most pleasing countenance. This British phenomenon is a striking instance of the power of nature and the natural beauty of this young lady has proved a magnet of irresistible attraction to a wonderful world.”
Such talk of tall people made me think of the Long Man of Wilmington, one of only two extant human hill figures in England, the other being the notoriously priapic Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset. At 70 metres, the Wilmington figure is the largest such giant in Europe being 15 metres “taller” than the Cerne Abbas example, so chalk that one up to Sussex! Indeed, in the whole world there’s only one larger figure and that’s in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
There’s an aura of mystery to the Long Man’s precise provenance. I like to think it dates from Neolithic times or at least the days of the Anglo-Saxons. Alas current thinking is that it’s more likely to have been created in the 16th or even the 17th Century AD. Intriguingly, a drawing made by Sir William Burrell in 1766 shows the Long Man holding a rake and a scythe as opposed to the two upright staves he grasps today.
Sir William wasn’t from Sussex but in later life developed an abiding interest in the county’s history. He visited nearly every Sussex parish to inspect records, make notes and trace the family trees of the gentry. He assembled a large collection of drawings of churches and sepulchral monuments. It’s a little puzzling as to why he never had any of his work published. However, he did bequeath his entire collection to the British Museum, where it remains today. Sir William died in 1796 and is buried in West Grinstead, Sussex.
The Long Man of Wilmington will be revisited in detail in a future column. Meanwhile, here’s a final factual titbit: During the Second World War it was painted green so that German aircraft could not use it as navigation aid.