A year or so ago, my good friend A Noon-Day Eclipse and I visited Berry Brothers & Rudd in London. BB&R (as I shall henceforth call them) obviously sell wine, but they also have ledger books dating back to the 18th century recording the weights of various patrons who visited over the years. BB&R, then Clarke’s, sold coffee as well as wine, and had an enormous pair of coffee weighing scales. Wealthy patrons frequently came to Clarke’s to be weighed. Pitt the Younger was weighed numerous times in the 1780s. What we wanted to see, however, was the weight of his brother, John, 2nd Lord Chatham.
John was weighed eight times over the course of ten years. I’ve attached a photograph of the relevant ledger at the top of this post, but his weights were as follows:
1816 June 20 – 11st 13lb in boots
1818 July 17 – 11st 1lb in boots
1821 Sept 29 – 11st 13 1/2lb in boots
1825 Aug 3 – 9st 10 1/4lb in boots
1825 Nov 8 – 10st 13 1/2lb in boots and greatcoat
1825 Nov 25 – 10st 12lb in boots and greatcoat
1825 Dec 16 – 10st 12lb in boots and greatcoat
1826 Jan 20 – 11st 3 1/2lb in boots and greatcoat
From this I deduce that John was rather a spare man. I don’t know how tall he was exactly, but he was described physically as “tall”, so I think it’s fair to say he was above average height: maybe 5’11” or so (possibly taller). According to the NHS BMI calculator, in September 1821 John had a BMI of 23.4, comfortably on the upper range of healthy for a man of his age (of course he would have been fully clothed with boots when he was weighed, which I cannot correct for, but it’s an accurate enough guess). At his lowest weight in August 1825, however, he had a BMI of 18.9, which is right on the cusp of underweight.
Why the fluctuation? I can hazard some guesses. John’s “normal” weight was obviously about 11st 13lb or thereabouts. The dates above are suggestive. At the start of the records, in 1816, John was a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday, presumably in good health, happy enough. He had few official responsibilities as he had been out of office for six years, and I’m guessing his military duties were not especially onerous.
Two years later, however, he’s dropped nearly a stone in weight. This is perhaps not surprising: his wife Mary’s mental issues had begun, and John had been nursing her for some months. This was to carry on over the next few years with very little intermission, and from his letters (I’ve blogged about them in the past) it’s clear it took a toll on his health.
Three years later, in September 1821, John was a widower and about to leave for Gibraltar. He had some issues with depression after his wife’s death, but that doesn’t seem to have affected his weight: this is his heaviest ever, just shy of 12 stone.
It’s a different story in August of 1825. John left for Gibraltar in November 1821. He left there in May 1825. I have not yet managed to work out exactly why he left when he did, but there’s a hint in the newspapers of the time:
The fact that John’s “health [had] suffered materially” is reflected in August’s weight record: 9st 10 1/4lb fully dressed in boots. Clearly he was not a well man even after returning to England. He arrived in London on 1 July 1825. A friend who had not seen him for four years was shocked:
Years have bent him much. Time has made him, who was once a very fine-looking man in face and person, no longer, as to the latter, upright and straight as an arrow, and in countenance it has left him certainly fine remains of what he was, but only remains. (Lord Eldon to his son, 24 July 1825, H. Twiss, Life of Lord Eldon II, 559-60)
John obviously kept an eye on his weight for some time afterwards, and he was weighed four times between November 1825 and January 1826. His weight had clearly recovered to a certain extent, although he never seems to have gone beyond 11st 3lb in full winter greatcoat and boots. Still, I think it’s fair to say he went from “too thin” to “about OK”.
I have a feeling there are a few more John records at BB&R, which we did not find on the day we visited. Perhaps one day I will find them. It would be interesting to see how heavy John was in his younger days, although I suspect (like his brother, who was about 12st in his late 20s) he was never overweight.