Jane "Jinny" Bunford (26 July 1895 – 1 April 1922) was the tallest person in English medical history, measuring 2.41 metres (7 ft 11 in) at the time of her death (adjusted for spinal curvature).
She was the tallest person in the world during her lifetime, and she still may hold two further records – that she was twice the tallest living person in the world, – between 1916 and 1919, and between 20 May 1921 and 1 April 1922. and that she could have had the longest hair in Britain, during her lifetime. She is the tallest person ever recorded in England, Scotland or Wales, and the tallest person recorded in Britain since September 1806. At the time of her death she was also the tallest woman in world medical history, a record that stood for the next sixty years.
Bunford continues to be one of the most mysterious giants to have lived during the 20th century. Not much is known about her, and no photographs, if any still do exist, have ever been seen by or shown to the general public. Bunford was listed in the Guinness Book of Records between 1972 and 2001 but they only once published a photograph of her skeleton and a copy of her death certificate, which they obtained on 10 February 1972. A copy of it appeared at the foot of page 11 in the 1972 publication.
Bunford's parents were John Bunford (14 March 1856 – 10 December 1916) and Jane Bunford née Andrews, (1857–1934) of Bartley Green, Northfield, Birmingham, UK. Her father was a metal caster. Known as "Jinny" Bunford, Jane was born in Scotland Lane, Bartley Green on 26 July 1895. A quiet, shy child who enjoyed good health during the first 11 years of her life, while she was quite tall for her age, her growth rate was not unusual or exceptional before her accident. In June 1906, she stood 1.52 metres (5 ft 0 in) tall.
In 1906, Bunford fractured her skull after falling off her bicycle and hitting her head on the pavement. The injury permanently damaged her pituitary gland, releasing an excess of growth hormone which sent her growth out of control. The accident also indirectly led to her death. It was not until 1915, nine years after her accident, that scientists definitely determined that the pituitary gland is responsible for producing growth hormones in humans, and though the problem was identified, no treatment was available for hyperpituitarism during Bunford's lifetime.
Bunford attended St. Michael's Secondary School in Bartley Green. At school she displayed a talent for embroidery, but was tormented after her accident. Also, the desks and chairs became too uncomfortable for her to sit at. As a result of both factors, Bunford's parents took her out of school before her 13th birthday on 26 July 1908. That day Bunford was measured at her home, in her bare feet, at 1.98 metres (6 ft 6 in) tall. Two years after that, around the time of her 15th birthday in July 1910, Bunford hit the 2.13 metres (7 ft 0 in) mark. Four years later, in 1914, she was measured at 2.33 metres (7 ft 8 in) tall. On her 21st birthday Bunford was measured at 2.39 metres (7 ft 10 in) tall, her peak standing height.
Bunford rejected several opportunities to benefit financially from her size and appearance. She had straight auburn hair, which she grew until it was 2.47 metres (8 ft 1 in) in length. She wore it in two plaits and it came down to her ankles, according to the 1972 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. When loose her hair fell around her like a cloak reaching the ground. She refused an offer from a man who wished to purchase her hair for a small fortune.She also rejected offers to appear in various shows for what were large sums of money at the time. Spurning offers to become wealthy, Bunford worked at a Cadburys chocolate factory for a time after leaving school, though in the April 1911 Census, she is listed as "Jinny Bunford", aged 15, with no occupation listed.
After her father died in December 1916, aged 60, Bunford moved to live with her brother, Harry, or James Henry, at Jiggins Lane, Bartley Green, where she lived until her own death. She took holidays away from Bartley Green, to visit relatives or the seaside.
In her final years Bunford became a recluse. She hated the attention her size brought her, and her spine developed a severe curvature. Because of this, Bunford could not stand fully erect towards the end of her life. This also developed because she had to stoop and bend down often when passing through doors. This condition is often seen in very tall people and occurred in both Eddie Carmel and John F. Carroll, who like Bunford, grew normally during their early years. By the end of her life, Bunford was also in constant pain because of joint problems and other ailments.
When interviewed in January 1972, elderly residents of Bartley Green remembered Bunford as a woman with a deep voice and a gentle nature. A man from Birmingham who wrote to the Daily Mail newspaper on 22 September 2008 said two of his maiden aunts were contemporaries of Bunford, and went to the same school, and they said she was a kind, gentle and shy woman who was much loved by younger children.
She often baby-sat young children in the area, as a favour for neighbours, and several people in their old age recalled seeing her clean the upstairs windows of her cottage while standing on the pavement, such was her reach. Bunford had a close friend named Emma, who was a dwarf and lived nearby.
In March 1922, Bunford stood 2.31 metres (7 ft 7 in) tall, in her final measurement taken when she was alive. It was estimated that she would have been 2.41 metres (7 ft 11 in), if she had not developed the spinal curvature.
Bunford died at her home in Jiggins Lane on 1 April 1922 and her death was registered two days later by her older brother.
The funeral was held at St Michaels and All Angels Church, Bartley Green, on 5 April 1922. According to undertaker's records published in General Practitioner, her coffin was 2.50 metres (8 ft 2 in) long and was probably the longest ever used for a UK funeral. It was locked in the church overnight on 4/5 April 1922.
Four schoolboys who carried her coffin from the church to the graveyard remarked later that it felt strangely light for someone of Bunford's size but they didn't inquire why.
Nothing was reported or written about Bunford during the next half-century. No obituary or death notice appeared in the local newspaper when she died, and outside friends and family, she appeared to have been forgotten. But in 1971, the Guinness Book of Records heard about the skeleton of a giantess that was on display in the anatomical section of the University of Birmingham.
The October 1971 edition of the Guinness Book of Records published a photograph of a skeleton that had belonged to an "Unidentified giantess who died in Northfield, Birmingham, England in 1921 aged c. 24 years", and noted that the "Skeleton has a mounted height of 7 feet 4 inches but she had a severe curvature indicating a height of c. 7 feet 9 inches when alive. A note on page 304 said "The most recent research into the identity of the Northfield giantess indicates that she died in 1922", but that the identity of the skeleton "remains a 50-year-old secret".
Measurements of Bunford's skeleton were obtained in 1971. They were: Chin to top of head, 10.75 in (27.31 cm); arm span = 8 ft 1.25 in (247.02 cm). Length from top of head to waist, 3 ft 0.75 in (93.35 cm). Length from top of head to crotch, 3 ft 11 in (119.38 cm). Wrist to tip of middle-finger, 10.5 in (26.67 cm). Length from waist to heel, 4 ft 10.25 in (147.96 cm). Heel to tip of big toe, 13 inches (33.02 cm).
Birmingham University initially declined to reveal the skeleton's identity, but interest had been awakened by the photograph. The "50-year-old secret" was uncovered, as Bunford was the only giantess living in the Northfield area who fitted its description. As a result of the publicity, in November 1971 the University were forced to admit that the skeleton was that of Bunford, whose story was featured on ATV towards the end of 1971 and in a brief Daily Mirror article on 3 February 1972, with a headline stating "Body snatch mystery of Giant Jane".
Although Birmingham University admitted the skeleton's identity, they still refused to state how they obtained it. According to a February 1972 General Practitioner article, the University refused to allow any more photographs to be taken, further information was withheld and questions from journalists were not permitted, at the request of the head of the Bunford family.
In the General Practitioner article, Bunford's relatives denied that they had sold or given her body to medical science. It is not known whether her siblings were aware of the removal when she died or if they gave permission for the medical school to remove it. Her siblings were mostly dead by the time the controversy arose over her skeleton's whereabouts. Betsy, her elder sister, and Harry both died in 1970.
According to her death certificate, Bunford died of hyperpituitarism and gigantism. In October 1972, the Guinness Book of Records listed Bunford as Britain's tallest recorded woman. For the next nine years she was named as the tallest female recorded in medical history, and was listed in that publication for the next 30 years as the tallest women in British medical history.
As the 20th century drew to a close, plans arose for a plaque to be erected in Bartley Green to commemorate Bunford's life. Her cousin opposed the erection of the plaque whereas others wanted it to be as tall as Jane was when she was alive. Neither party got their way. A seven-foot plaque in commemoration of Jane "Ginny" Bunford was placed on the wall of Bartley Green Local Library on 10 April 2000, almost exactly 78 years to the day after her death. However the wall was 8 ft 0 in (2.44 m) high, an inch taller than Jane was at the time of her death.
Despite the controversy over the 1971 discovery, Bunford's skeleton continued to be displayed at Birmingham University until 2005, when her family managed to regain it, after changes in the Data Protection Act. Before then, they were not allowed access to see the skeleton as it was being used for medical purposes.
In 2005, after a private second funeral, Bunford's skeleton was finally buried but no headstone marks the grave.
Birmingham University's Medical School confirmed in 2007 that: "The skeleton of Jane Bunford is no longer in the Medical School. We have disposed the anatomy collection and the skeleton of Jane Bunford has been buried."
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