Jane "Ginny" Bunford (26 July 1895-1 April 1922) is the tallest person ever recorded in British medical history. She was the tallest woman in the world during her lifetime, and she still may hold two further records - that she was twice the tallest person in the world, - between 1916 and 1919, and between 20 May 1921 and 1 April 1922. She may also have had the longest hair in Britain during her lifetime. Jane Bunford remains one of the most mysterious giants to have lived during the 20th Century.
Jane's parents were John Bunford (March 1856-December 1916) and Jane Bunford (May 1857-November 1913) of Bartley Green, Northfield, Birmingham, UK. Her father was a metal caster. She was the youngest of seven children but the sixth to survive, her elder sister by three years, Elizabeth died at the age of three months. Known as "Ginny", Jane enjoyed good health during the first 11 years of her life. While she was fairly tall for her age, her growth rate was never exceptional or unusual. All this was to change in 1906.
In June 1906, she was 5 ft (1.52 m) tall but later that year she fractured her skull after falling off her bicycle. Although the 11-year-old Jane wouldn'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. It was not until nine years after her accident that scientists determined that the pituitary gland is clearly responsible for producing growth hormones in humans, and though it was identified, no treatment for this was available during Jane's lifetime.
She attended St. Michael's elementary school in Bartley Green, where she displayed a talent for embroidery, but Jane was picked on 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, she left school before her thirteenth 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. On her 21st birthday she was measured at 7 ft 10 in (2.39 m) tall, her peak standing height.
Jane rejected several opportunities to benefit financially from her size and appearance. She had 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. No one has photographs of her when alive so it is not known if she had very long hair before her accident. She refused an offer to purchase her hair for a small fortune and also rejected offers to appear in various shows for what were large sums of money at the time. She worked at a Cadburys chocolate factory for a time after leaving school. After her father died in December 1916, Jane moved from Adams Hill, Bartley Green, to Jiggins Lane, Bartley Green, where she lived until her own death.
In her final years she became a recluse. Jane gave up work as her spine developed a severe curvature through not being able to support her great size. This may have also developed because she had to stoop and bend down often when passing through doors. This condition is often seen in very tall people as their spine is unable to support their rapid growth rates. It occurred in both Eddie Carmel and John F. Carroll, who like Jane, grew normally during their early years. Carmel's and Carroll's abnormal growth started at the ages of 15 and 16 respectively.
Jane eventually could not stand fully erect, and her final measurement, shortly before her death, was 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in), estimated at 2.41 m (7 ft 11 in), if she had not developed the curvature.
Her 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 4 in long and was probably the longest ever used for a UK funeral. It was locked in the church overnight on 4/5 April.
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 and weight 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 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.
Nothing was reported or written about Jane Bunford during the next 49 years. No obituary or verses appeared in the local newspaper when she died, and outside family and friends 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 within Birmingham University.
The October 1971 edition of the Guinness Book of Records published a photograph of Jane's skeleton. It stated that the identity of the skeleton "remains a 50-year-old secret",. All 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 who the skeleton belonged to, but interest had now been awakened, and Jane Bunford was the only giantess living in the Northfield area who fitted the description, and who had died around that time, which made it impossible to keep silent on who it belonged to. The skeleton's identity was finally revealed to be that of Jane Bunford, and the "50-year-old secret" was uncovered. Her 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 the university finally admitted the skeleton's identity, they still refused to state how it was obtained. 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 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. Some of them were dead by the time the controversy arose over her skeleton's whereabouts. Her surviving siblings tried to get the publicity down when the scandal broke in the Autumn of 1971.
The Guinness Book of Records obtained a copy of Jane's death certificate on 10 February 1972 and a copy of it appeared at the foot of page 11 in the 1972 publication.. According to her death certificate, she died of hyperpituitarism and gigantism.. In October 1972, the Guinness Book of Records listed Jane Bunford as being Britain's tallest recorded woman. For several years she was named as the tallest female recorded in medical history, and she would be listed in that publication for the next 30 years.
When interviewed in January 1972, elderly residents of Bartley Green remembered Jane Bunford as a woman with a deep voice (Common in pituitary giants and giantesses) 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. Everyone who knew her has consistently remarked on her shyness. It is not known if this arose because she was self-conscious and embarrassed about her size, or whether it was a personality trait she had before her accident.
Jane 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.
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 until 2005, when her family managed to regain it from the university. After a private ceremony, and an absence of 83 years, she was finally buried in her family plot. No headstone marks Jane's grave to this day.
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."
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