TOPHAM, THE STRONG MAN.
(From, " The Northern Heights of London.'" By
At the south-east corner of G-add's-row, now St. Alban's-plaee, formerly lived a man whose feats of strength are only exceeded by those of a Sampson or a Hercules. This Thomas Topham was the son of a carpenter, and followed his father's trade till he was of age. At the age of twenty-four he became the host of the "Eed Lion," near the old Hospital of St. Luke. This location he had no doubt chosen, because, as Pennant observes, " Moorfields was the gymnasiam of our capital;" and the famous ring, over which Old Vinegar presided, was the great resort of cudgellers, wrestlers, backsword players, and boxers, from all parts of the metropolis. Here he gave the first exhibition of his amazing strength, by lying on his back and, placing his feet against the low wall which divided Upper from Lower Moorfields, pulled against a horse. He afterwards pulled against two horses; but his legs being placed horizontally, instead of rising parallel to the traces of the hor3es, he was jerked from his position, and had one of his knees much hurt. Dr. Desaguliers, who was considered, from his knowledge of mechanics, a good authority, says that, had he been in a proper position, he might have kept his position agaipst the pulling of four horses without the least inconvenience. On another occasion, he proved his strength
against a horse* to tha great amuaettisnt of a crowd. A race being run on the Hackney-
road, a fellow with a horse and cart interrupted the pleasures of the spectators bykeeping close to the contending parties. Topham suddenly stepped into the road, seized the tail of the carfc, and in spite of all the fellow's exertions in whipping his horse to get forward, drew it back. The man was in a towering rage, but dared not apply his lash to a person of such prodigious strength, and the crowd were in the highest delight at the spectacle. Dr. Desaguliers says he himself saw him perform the following feats :— By the strength of his fingers he rolled up a very strong and huge pewter dish of the hardest metal. He broke seven or eight pieces of a tobacco-pipe by the force of his middle finger, having kid them on his first and third finger. Having thrust the bowl of a strong tobacco-pipe under his garter, his leg being bent, he broke it to pieces by the mere action of his muscles without altering the position of his legs, Another bowl of this kind he broke between his first and second finger, by pressing them together sideways. He took an iron poker, about a yard long and three inches round, and struck upon his left arm, between the elbow and the wrist, as though he had no feeling, till he bent the poker to near a right angle. With another, holding the ends of it in his hands, and the middle of it at the back of his neck, he brought both ends of it together before him; and, what was yet more difficult, he pulled it almost straight again. He broke a rope of two inches circumference, though, in consequence of his awkward manner, he was obliged to exert four times the strength that was necessary. He lifted a rolling-stone of 800 pounds weight with his hands only, standing in a frame above it, and taking hold of a chain that was fastened to it. Probably the exercise of these feats drew his attention from his business, for ho failed at the " Eed Lion," and afterwards took the " Duke's Head" at Islington. A print in Kirby's ""Wonderful Museum," Bvo., 1803, represents Topham performing the amazing feat of lifting three hogsheads of water, weighing 1831 pounds, by means of a wooden stage on which he stood over the hogsheads. This he performed publicly in Cold Bath Fields, on May 28, 1741, before Admiral Yernon and thousands of spectators in commemoration of the taking of Portobello. Topham not only travelled to exhibit his marvellous powers, but he was fond of an extempore lark. On his way home one night, finding a watchman asleep in his box he lifted man, box, and all upon his shoulders, and carried his load with the greatest ease into Bunhill Fields burying ground, where he set it down, to the great; amazement of the watchman on awaking. On another occasion, sitting at the open window of a pnblic house, a butcher happened to pass with half an ox on his back. Suddenly streaching out his arm, Topham lifted the load from the butcher's back into the room, to the man's infinite amazement. Gi-oing once on board a vessel lying in the river from the "West Indies, he picked up a cocoanut and cracked it at the ear of a sailor, just as one might crack an eggshell, giving the sailor a great fright.
That shrewd observer, "William Hutton, the historian of Derby, saw Topham there, and relates many marvels of his performances. Alderman Cooper, on his application for a permission to exhibit at a shilling a head, requested him to strip that he might see whether he exhibited muscular development corresponding to the fame of his doings, and he was astonished at the sight of his arms and thighs. He appeared nearly five feet ten inches high, and. walked with a
slight limp, the consequence of his hurt when pulling against the two horses. Hutton says he could lift two hundred weight with his little finger, and move it gently over his head. He lifted an oak table six feet long with his teeth, though half a hundred weight was hung to the extremity. He broke a rope fastened to the floor that would sustain twenty hundred weight; took up Mr. Chambers, Vicar of All Saints', who weighed twenty-seven stone, and raised him with one hand. His head being laid on one chair and his feet on another, four people, fourteen stone eacn, sat on his body, whom he heaved at pleasure. " Being a master of music,"
adds Mr. Hutton, "he entertained his company with 'Mad Tom.' I heard him sing a solo to the organ in St. Warburgh's Church, then the only organ in Derby ; but though he might perform with judgment, the voice was more terrible than sweet, and scarcely seemed human. Though of a pacific temper, and having the appearance of a gentlemen, he. was liable to the insults of the rude. The ostler at the Virgin s'lnn, where he stayed, having offended him, he took one of the kitchen spits from off the mantlepiece, and bent it round the fellow's neck like a handkerchief, but as he did not choose to tuck the ends into the ostler's bosom, the cumbrous ornament excited the laughter of the company till he condescended to-untie
his iron cravat."
In the JEccenlric Minor, preceding the account of Topham, there is an^engraving of this scene. Hutton says that Topham had lifted his own horse over1 a turnpike gate, through which the keeper would not let him pass without an exorbitant toll; and that he carried away the beam of a house, as a soldier carries his firelock. Two quarrelsome fellows who came to his house would insist on fighting. Topham, weary of tjbeir bravadoes, took each by the neck and knocked their heads together as he would have done those of two boys, till they very humbly begged his pai'don, and prayed, him to cease. It is a curious coincidence that this modern Samson had also his Delilah, in the person of a faithless wife, whose infidelities drove him to desperation, in a fit of which he beat her unmercifully, stabbed her in the breast, and then inflicted several wounds upon himself with the same weapon, of which he died in a few days, in the prime of life, on August 10, 1749. This occurred at a public house in Hog Lane, Shoreditch, which he kept, having left Islington. Unquestionably Thomas Topham, the strong man of Islington, was one of the most I powerful men that ever lived.
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The Colonist, Colonist, Volume XII, Issue 1216, 3 September 1869
TOPHAM, THE STRONG MAN. Colonist, Volume XII, Issue 1216, 3 September 1869
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