What would the Food Controller say...........
We have all heard of Daniel Lambert, “The Worlds Fattest Man” or Joseph Merrick – “The Terrible Elephant Man”, but I want to tell you the story of a young sixteen-year-old boy.
He was not a Georgian Curiosity or a Victorian Freak, Lenny Mason was born in 1903 and at the age of fourteen was exhibited around the country as "The Worlds Fattest Boy".
Lenny Mason was born William Lennard Mason in 1903 in rooms adjoining a sweet shop at 6 HighCross Street (now Applegate) opposite Wyggeston Hospital and Boys School in the town of Leicester. Lenny was baptised on 31 May 1903 at St Martins Church (now Leicester Cathedral) and attended St Martin’s School. Unfortunately, Lenny had to abandon his education as his size was becoming a distraction for the other boys in his class.
Approx location of 6 HighCross Street, Leicester
Lenny was one of five surviving children of George and Clara Mason.
Elsie Gladys (1889-)
George Arthur (1892-)
Ada Ann (1893-1893) ** Died in infancy
Ann Eliza (1895-1949)
Walter Leonard (1897-1897)** Died in infancy
William Lennard (1903-1920)
Frederick Frank Ernest (1907-1956)
** buried in an unmarked grave in Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester
George Mason and Clara (nee Brown) married on 26 December 1888 at St Margaret’s Church in Leicester and settled 67 Friday Street where they lived for approximately five years and then moved to Watling Street.
Lenny was born a normal average weight but by the time he was two years old he weighed three stone, his two brothers and two sisters and his mother and father were of normal stature.
In 1911, Lenny’s father was unemployed, an oppressive heat wave ravaged all of England from July through September 1911, then there was the war of 1914-1918 followed by the Spanish Flu. Fairs, Shows and the Circus were probably cheap entertainment to raise the spirits of those suffering the effects of the last ten years. Exhibiting Lenny around the country may have supported the family in times of dire straits.
At twelve years old Lenny weighed in at twenty-two stone, his chest sixty-two inches, waist sixty-six inches, arm twenty-two inches, thigh thirty-eight inches and his calves twenty-four inches. Considering his size and age he enjoyed good health, and had a good appetite, enjoyed the gramophone and music. Lenny was fond of football and watched Leicester play regularly, his last match Saturday 25 October 1919, when Blackpool beat Leicester.
Daniel Lambert, another famous rather large Leicester son who was upwards of fifty-five stone was a bit more sensitive then Lenny of his physical peculiarity. But Lambert, like Lenny, consented to exhibition himself in London and the provinces, though he always felt keenly that the position was a degrading one.
Lenny was exhibited in many parts of the British Isles. In 1918, when Lenny was only fourteen years old, he was exhibited in Sheffield and Derby. His advert for his Derby show read:
“What will the Food controller say????
There will be plenty of fat in Derby for the next 14 days”.
And as part of the showman’s sale technique, a £100 reward was offered to anyone who could find Lenny Mason’s equal.
In Sheffield, his show ran from 12 – 10pm and in Derby from 2 – 10pm and cost 2d (long hours for a Fourteen year old boy!!!)
Lenny Mason died on 4 February 1920 whilst being exhibited at the World’s Fair, Agricultural Hall in Islington of Heart Failure and according to the coroner “Extreme Fatness”, he was only sixteen years old.
His mother, Clara Mason was with him when he died. Just days before he seemed lively and cheerful but had complained of cold. He had been out shopping, buying clothes which cost in excess of £10 (approx. £500 today) and he had not long received an offer of marriage from a lady in Tennessee who wrote “Wanted to marry somebody out of the ordinary”
On the evening of Wednesday 4th February 1920, he seemed feverish, and the doctor was sent for, but on his arrival Lenny had died.
Lenny’s father, George Mason who was not in good health himself, now living at 4 ½ Southgate Street in Leicester received a telegram the morning after his son’s death reading “Lennie passed away”.
Lenny was buried at Welford Road Cemetery in Leicester on 7 February 1920. Clara Mason brought her sons body back from London on a Midland train on the day of the funeral, her husband George and other members of the family met her at the station.
The polished coffin with brass fittings had to be moved on rollers across the platform because of the weight and then laid in the hearse which was brought up close to the platform. The coffin bore the inscription :
"William Leonard Mason; died 4th February 1920, aged sixteen years."
Upon it lay wreath of chrysanthemums, lilies, and violets, having the words "At rest" fashioned in dowers. This was sent by
Mr Mrs. Lennard of High-street, Chatham (one of Lenny's managers). Lenny was known as happy with a loveable temperament that endeared all who met him. An incident bearing upon the pleasantry of Lenny’s disposition was related by an admirer, who happened to be a witness of the event.
One day several children were snowballing in the neighbourhood of Mason's home, and when Lenny appeared in the street the temptation to throw one at him was irresistible. Catching the culprit, Lenny picked up some snow with the intention of putting it down the offender's neck, but be changed his mind, adding with a smile, "No, I won't. I can do more harm to you by rolling on you."
George Mason died one year after Lenny and followed five years later by Clara Mason. All three are buried in the same plot at Welford Road Cemetery.
William Lennard Mason
1903 - 4 February 1920
If you want to see a little more of Lenny, click on this link
Lenny with Mary the elephant at the Worlds Fair in 1920. Mary would follow Lenny around the Exhibition Hall
Lenny with his mother Clara. Photograph taken not long before he died.