Visitors to Burghley will undoubtedly be familiar with Lambert’s Sofa, Fence 2 on this year’s Cross Country course.
But just who was Lambert and why did he need such an enormous sofa?
Daniel Lambert (13 March 1770 – 21 June 1809) was a gaol keeper and animal breeder from Leicester, England, famous for his unusually large size. After serving four years as an apprentice at an engraving and die casting works in Birmingham, he returned to Leicester around 1788 and succeeded his father as keeper of Leicester’s gaol. He was a keen sportsman and extremely strong; on one occasion he fought a bear in the streets of Leicester. He was an expert in sporting animals, widely respected for his expertise with dogs, horses and fighting cocks.
At the time of Lambert’s return to Leicester, his weight began to increase steadily, even though he was athletically active and, by his own account, abstained from drinking alcohol and did not eat unusual amounts of food. In 1805, Lambert’s gaol closed. By this time, he weighed 50 stone), and had become the heaviest authenticated person up to that point in recorded history. Unemployable and sensitive about his bulk, Lambert became a recluse.
In 1806, poverty forced Lambert to put himself on exhibition to raise money. In April 1806, he took up residence in London, charging spectators to enter his apartments to meet him. Visitors were impressed by his intelligence and personality, and visiting him became highly fashionable. After some months on public display, Lambert grew tired of exhibiting himself, and in September 1806, he returned, wealthy, to Leicester, where he bred sporting dogs and regularly attended sporting events. Between 1806 and 1809, he made a further series of short fundraising tours.
‘This enormously fat man sat in a sofa wide enough for three or four people, and filled it well. He had a really quite handsome, small head, at least compared with his ungainly body. Had he been able to stand up, a feat that really must have been impossible for him to perform, he would have been quite a tall man. His wide cheekbones and huge double chin did not disfigure him very much, but his belly, dressed in a striped waistcoat, resembled a huge featherbed, and his legs, dressed in similarly coloured stockings, were the size of two large butter kernels.’
Johan Didrik af Wingård, Governor of Värmland County (1814–1840) and Swedish Minister for Finance (1840–1842), on an 1808 meeting with Lambert.
In June 1809, he died suddenly in Stamford. At the time of his death, he weighed 52 stone 11 lb (739 lb; 335 kg), and his coffin required 112 square feet (10.4 m2) of wood. Despite the coffin being built with wheels to allow easy transport, and a sloping approach being dug to the grave, it took 20 men almost half an hour to drag his casket into the trench, in a newly opened burial ground to the rear of St Martin’s Church. While others have since overtaken Daniel Lambert’s record as the heaviest person in history, he remains a popular character in Leicester, and in 2009 was described by the Leicester Mercury as “one of the city’s most cherished icons“. So a befitting memorial was the building of a feature fence ‘Lamberts Sofa’ at Burghley with the familiar figure lounging comfortably to one side and taking in all the cross country action as only Lambert could.