Jane Bunford - 7 feet 11 inches (241 cm)
Jane Bunford (also known as Ginny Bunford or Jinny Bunford - 26 July 1895-1 April 1922) is the tallest person ever recorded in English medical history. She was the tallest woman in the world during her lifetime, and she still may hold four further records - that she was twice the tallest living person in the world, - around 1914 (after Machnow had died, and before Bernard Coyne overtook her) and between 20 May 1921 and 1 April 1922 (after Bernard Coyne's death until Ginny died). There is more information about the tallest person in the 20th century on our Statistics page. She may also have had the longest hair in Britain during her lifetime.
Jane Bunford continues to be one of the most mysterious giants to have lived during the 20th Century. No photographs, if any still do exist of her, have ever been seen by or shown to the general public. Jane was listed in the Guinness Book of Records between 1972 and 2001, and they only 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.
Jane's parents were John Bunford (March 1856-December 1916) and Jane Bunford nee Andrews, (1857-November 1913) of Bartley Green, Northfield, Birmingham, UK. Her father was a metal caster. Known as "Jinny" Bunford, Jane was an ordinary, quiet, shy and well-behaved child who enjoyed good health during the first 11 years of her life. While Jane was quite tall for her age, her growth rate was not unusual.
Life changing accident
In June 1906, she stood 5 ft (1.52 m) tall but in October of that year, Jane's life changed forever, when she fractured her skull after falling off her bicycle and hitting her head on the pavement. Although the 11-year-old Jane couldn't have known it at the time, the injury permanently damaged her pituitary gland, releasing an excess of growth hormone which sent her growth patterns out of control. The accident also indirectly led to her death in April 1922. 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 Jane's lifetime.
Jane attended St. Michael's Secondary School in Bartley Green. At school she displayed a talent for embroidery, but some pupils picked on Jane after her accident, mainly because of her abnormal growth and height. Also, the desks and chairs became too uncomfortable for her to sit at. As a result of both factors, Jane's parents took her out of school before her 13th birthday on 26 July 1908. That day Jane was measured, in her bare feet, as being 6 ft 6 in tall or 1.98 m. Two years after that, around the time of her 15th birthday in July 1910, Jane hit the 7ft (2.13 m) mark. Four years later, in 1914, she was measured at 7 feet 8 inches (2.33 m) tall. On her 21st birthday Jane was measured at 7 ft 10 in (2.39 m) tall, her peak standing height.
Life as a giantess
Jane rejected several opportunities to benefit financially from her size and appearance. She had dead straight auburn hair, which she grew until it was 8 ft 1 in long. 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 it 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, Jane 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, and under occupation there is nothing listed.
Jane's mother died in November 1913, at the age of 56, and after her father died three years later, Jane moved from Adams Hill, Bartley Green, to Jiggins Lane, Bartley Green, where she lived until her own death. She took holidays away from Bartley Green, to visit relatives or the seaside.
Jane, however, in her final years, became a recluse. She hated the attention her size brought her, and her spine developed a severe curvature through not being able to support her huge body. Due to this, Jane 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 Jane, grew normally during their early years. She now was also in constant pain because of joint problems and other ailments.
Jane's final measurement, taken in March 1922, was 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in), estimated at 2.41 m (7 ft 11 in), if she had not developed the spinal curvature. After taking the measurement, Jane's doctor informed the medical school of Birmingham University that she did not have long to live and he was proved to be correct. Jane died at her home on 1 April 1922, her death being registered two days later.
Jane's 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 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 Jane's size but they didn't inquire why. If they had, the later outrage of the whereabouts of Jane's skeleton may have been avoided. However if Jane's full body had been buried on 5 April 1922, then she almost certainly would never have been listed in the Guinness Book of Records half a century later and probably would have been consigned to anonymity forever.
Nothing was reported or written about Jane Bunford during the next half-century. No obituary or verses appeared in the local newspaper when she died, and outside friend and family circles, she appeared to have been forgotten. That all changed in 1971 when the Guinness Book of Records heard about the skeleton of a giantess that was on display in the anatomical part of Birmingham University.
The October 1971 edition of the Guinness Book of Records published a photograph of Jane's skeleton. They didn't say it belonged to her, but that the identity of the skeleton "remains a 50-year-old secret". The edition revealed was that it 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".
Measurements of Jane 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 Jane was the only giantess living in the Northfield area who fitted its description, and as a result of the publicity, in November 1971 the University were forced to admit that the skeleton was that of Jane Bunford's, 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, Jane'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. Both of Jane's parents died several years before, and some of her siblings were dead by the time the controversy arose over her skeleton's whereabouts.
According to her death certificate, Jane died of hyperpituitarism and gigantism. In October 1972, the Guinness Book of Records listed Jane Bunford as being 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.
Memories of Britain's tallest person
When interviewed in January 1972, elderly residents of Bartley Green remembered Jane Bunford as a woman with a deep voice but 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 Jane, and went to the same school, and they said she was a kind, gentle and shy girl 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. Jane had a close friend named Emma, who was a dwarf and lived nearby.
A second funeral
As the 20th Century drew to a close, plans arose for a plaque to be erected in Bartley Green to commemorate her 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 7 ft 11 in (2.41cm) high, as tall as Jane was.
Despite the controversy over the 1971 discovery, Jane'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 being used for medical purposes.
At some point between January and June 2005, after a private second funeral, and an absence of 83 years, she was finally buried in her family plot. However, no headstone marks Jane's grave to this day. Only her mother has a headstone.
Birmingham University's Medical School confirmed in 2007 that: "The skeleton of Jane Bunford is no longer in the Medical School. We disposed the anatomy collection two years ago and the skeleton of Jane Bunford at that time was buried."
More images of Jane Bunford
Click on thumbnail to enlarge.
Jane Bunford with Pauline Musters.
From 'The Radiology of Bones and Joints' by Brailsford, 4th edition (1948), believed to be about Jane Bunford.
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