The Cheshire village home to the legend of the 9ft giant

Silence in the churchyard. Thick white smoke billows from chimneys down in Runcorn, mixing with fog that hangs over the river.

A roar of aeroplane engines rips through the fog. The plane skims the estuary, passing right over the modern graves, almost brushing the trees before disappearing behind large ‘20s houses over the road.

On the other side of St Mary’s church, near a stone that reads ‘A blessed day to thee and me,’ one grave is surrounded by railings. Beneath the pennies thrown onto the sandstone, an epitaph curls around: HERE LYETH [BO]DIE OF JOHN MIDDLETON THE CHILDE. NINE FEET THREE

Middleton towers over the village folk of Hale in death as he did in life. A statue in bronze, standing more than three metres tall, looks towards a little thatched cottage where Middleton once lived.

Legend tells that he would sleep with one leg hanging out of each small window. The statue was erected just under ten years ago as a more permanent memorial to Middleton, replacing a stylised timber monument to the Stuart giant.

The story of the Childe of Hale is well known and often told. A servant and bodyguard to Sir Gilbert Ireland, Lord of the Manor of Hale, Middleton travelled to the Court of King James I in 1620, where he wrestled the King’s champion and won, receiving a £20 reward from the King (over a years wages for a skilled tradesman or the price ten cattle according to the National Archives).

Returning north, Middleton stopped at Brasenose College, Oxford, leaving a handprint on the wall (the college’s rowing First VIII is nicknamed ‘Childe of Hale’ to this day). Leaving Oxford, Middleton was robbed of his earnings by his companions, and remained a labourer until his dying day, three years later.

It is a story that Laura Jones, 28, tells most days while working at the Childe of Hale pub in the centre of the village. “People love the story,” she says, adding that it’s a boon to tourism in the village, with many coming to the village to see the life-size statue and little house on Church Road.

“We’ve had more since the lockdowns,” she adds. “People really loved it and they’ve been coming back ever since.”

Laura has lived in the village all her life and says “everyone knows each other.”

“It’s quiet, but it’s nice,” she adds. She points me to the story of Middleton, framed alongside a portrait of the man and hung in pride of place above the fire.

Colleague Molly Hunt, 18, lives in nearby Speke, just over a mile away on the outskirts of south Liverpool. “I used to come here when I was little,” she says, recalling an experience many local children had, being beguiled by the story of the ‘gentle giant’.

“It’s lovely, it’s quiet; but that’s the point. It’s a very small village,” she adds. Buses run from Hale to the centre of Liverpool around every half hour, trundling slowly through south Liverpool and taking just under an hour to get to the city centre.

Back at Middleton’s old cottage, a sign outside advertises that the place is now a holiday let, ‘Childe of Hale’ cottage. Inside, Martyn Hindle, 66, is enjoying a holiday all the way from far-flung Wirral.

“Sometimes, you live not too far from a place, and you don’t take the time to enjoy what’s right on your doorstep,” he says. “The walks around here are fantastic,” Martyn adds, mentioning a walk down to Cheshire’s only lighthouse which stands at the very end of Church Road, where the road becomes a single track leading down to the estuary.

Plane engines boom and rev as we speak, echoing across the impressive park in the village centre. The centre of the village has one shop, a traditional, old fashioned shop facing the village green on High Street, with a sign written in the kind of font used to carry the names of classy broadsheets. The cottages, many of them listed, are whitewashed with uniform black doors, frames and sills.

A new, modern, almost state-of-the-art village hall has been opened up. Adverts for all sorts of classes, activities and events are posted on the boards around it.

Back on church road, a tall man, maybe 6’4”, measures himself against the life-size statue of John Middleton. His height is disputed. 9’3” would make him one of the tallest people to ever live. Guinness World Records states that an impression of Middleton’s hand indicates “a probable height of 7’9”.

The bronze statue of John Middleton erected almost ten years ago in Hale
The bronze statue of John Middleton erected almost ten years ago in Hale

The 9’3” number supposedly comes from an exhumation of Middleton’s remains in Victorian times.

Another of Hale's famous sons is remembered on a plaque nearby. 'Master Robert Molineux of Hale, Lancashire' is a name recorded on the crew list for James Cook's Endeavour on the first voyage to New Zealand and Australia.

The plaque records what Cook wrote of Molineux: "His drunkeness is reprehensible. I must constantly put him to task to keep him off the bottle." Molineux died on the return voyage after falling ill with malaria and dysentery, but is remembered in the name of a bay on New Zealand's south coast, and also gave his name to the country's mightiest river, later renamed the River Clutha.

NEWSLETTER: Sign up for CheshireLive email direct to your inbox here