John Middleton, reputed to have reached 9' 3" in height, was born in Hale in Lancashire in the 1570s; legend suggests that he was originally of normal size and grew in a single night. In 1617 his patron Sir Gilbert Ireland took him to the Court of King James I in London where he put out the thumb of the King's wrestler in a bout, which feat is reported to have earned him the disdain of the courtiers and a gift of £20 from the King.

Sir Gilbert Ireland was probably at Brasenose; a man of that name had matriculated at the College in 1578. On the way home from London he and John Middleton visited the College, and there is a tradition that Middleton left an impression of his hand on a wall in the College. This is supported by an entry in Samuel Pepys' diary for 9th June 1668: 'to Brazen-nose College to the butteries, and in the cellar find the hand of the Child of Hales'. A Fellow of the College, questioned in the 1930s, recalled that until the 1880s there was an outline of a hand on a gilt background on one of the door posts of the cellar door under the south side of Hall.

One tradition records that the Childe was robbed on his return journey and as a result of this, and the fact that the King's gift was less than he had anticipated, he was 'obliged to follow the plow to his dying day'. He died in Hale in 1623 and his grave can be seen in the parish churchyard.

An 1882 edition of Ormerod's History of Cheshire describes the 'somewhat fantastic costume' in which the Childe was dressed on his visit to London: 'large lace ruffles about his neck and hands, a striped doublet round his waist, a blue girdle embroidered with gold, large white plush breeches adorned with blue flowers, green stockings, shoes, with red heels, tied with red ribbon, and wearing at this side a sword suspended by a broad blue belt over his shoulder, embroidered like the girdle'. It is in this costume that the surviving portraits of the Childe depict him. Brasenose possesses one life-sized portrait, two smaller paintings and two life-sized representations of his hands. Another life-sized portrait can be seen at Speke Hall in Liverpool, a National Trust property. The Childe is also depicted in a modern carving made from a tree stump opposite the churchyard in Hale.

The Brasenose VIII is always called 'The Childe of Hale'. There is a punning reference to the name of the boat in the Brasenose Ale Verses for 1841, only four years after the official beginning of the College races at Oxford:

Yes, Childe of Ale, well named, you too can tell

The virtues of that beer you love so well;

While with nice skill, and mixture true, you float,

Beer for the crew, the water for the boat.

 

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