GENTLE Giant sportsman Fred Kempster – who played football, cricket and darts  – stood a lofty 8ft 4ins tall – dubbed Britain’s tallest man.

Fred, a reserve goalkeeper at Swindon Town, had a great knowledge of cricket, his most sporting pastime.

Fred’s longjohns were found by John Jardine, of Hurst Green, Clitheroe, Lancashire, whose uncle Tom Cook befriended him in Blackburn.

Tom Cook’s mum was the Landlady of the Nags Head, Blackburn, where Fred went drinking – and played darts.

Born at Bayswater on April 13, 1889, Fred, one of seven children, came from a poor family and after his dad died, his mother Jane put him into care, and he was shipped off to Canada, for a new life in the colonies.

Fred is Jim Kempsters great-uncle. Speaking from Ontario, Canada, Jim said: “My grandpa lost almost all contact with – and knowledge – of his family.

“I have contacted descendants of siblings. And Fred’s role in helping re-connect with family has been a great gift.  It’s nice he is remembered.”

Fred joined Astley and Company’s American Circus at Chigwell in Essex as a professional giant in 1911: “Fred was a happy chap who liked the public,” said great-nephew Jim.

“In the spring of 1911, Fred was the tallest man in a ‘Parade of Giants’ as part of the celebrations for the Coronation of King George V,” said Jim.

Fred’s father died, aged 50, on Christmas Day 1897. His mother struggled, and Fred, aged 8, and his brother George, 2, were placed in the care of Barnardo’s.

In 1904, aged 15, Fred returned to England, deemed unfit for farm work, due to a congenital knee problem, due to his ligaments and tibia growth.

Gentle Giant 8' 4" Fred Kempster
Gentle Giant 8′ 4″ Fred Kempster


On his return to Britain, Fred settled in Wiltshire, Swindon, with his sister Ruth and brother-in-law Jim Rayner.

A congenital knee condition led to ligament problems, that triggered uncontrolled growth, and a rapid increase in Fred’s height. Age 22, Fred was 7ft 4in.

Apart from his sports talents, Fred could play 16 notes on piano – with one hand!

A Mr A.K. Bathe reported comments, in seeing Fred in Avebury: “The first meeting of a man of his stature was frightening, to a child of five.

“But as time went by, and you got used to him, he was kind and gentle.”

Ivy Hockey, whose father Henry Lawes ran The Red Lion at Avebury, where Fred played darts, said: “He used to let me sit on his knee – and pass a half crown through the ring he wore on his little finger.”

*In Part 2 of sportsman Fred Kempster, Andrew Atkinson looks at the Gentle Giant’s life – including lighting cigars from streetlights; the Circus. Germany: WWII; developing pneumonia, being hospitalised, his passing and burial. Next week.