THE GENTLE GIANT

We found in an old copy of the London evening newspaper "The Star", dated Thursday, November 9, 1893 an article about a burial in Bournemouth’s Wimborne Road. It reads:Advertisement to visit Moyuen

"Chang, the Giant, was buried yesterday at Bournemouth Cemetery in the same grave as his wife, who died in the early part of this year. The coffin was eight and a half feet long."

Investigating further, we discovered that the Giant was Chang Woo Gow and his remarkable height of nearly eight feet, made him, we believe, the World's tallest man. He came to Bournemouth in 1890, like many others of the time, hoping for a cure to his suspected TB. Chang was described by his close Bournemouth friend, William J. Day, who had been summoned by Chang to be beside him at his deathbed, as "a gentle giant, a giant of giants, great of stature, but with the kindest nature and a heart as true and tender as ever beat".

Chang was born in 1841 in the port of Fy-chow, now in Canton Province, China. He was educated and travelled the world, spoke six languages (including English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese) had been the guest of monarchs and conversed with politicians, artists and scientists. He returned to China in the 1880’s from Australia, having married there his Liverpool-born wife, Catherine, formerly Miss Santley. Famous and earning considerable money he found himself losing as much, by way of his generosity and good nature constantly being imposed upon.

Photograph of Chang Woo GowThe family, with their two sons, moved to Britain, first to the Isle of Wight and finally settling in Bournemouth, where they bought a villa at 6 Southcote Road, which is only a walk from both seaside and town centre. He named it "Moyuen" after his birth place and lived there until he died of a broken heart, at the age of 52, just four months after his wife’s death.

Chang established an Oriental Bazaar and tearooms at his home, which provided a modest income, and was where William Day the photographer met him. He was intrigued with Chang’s fine collection of Far Eastern curios, art embroideries, craft pieces and real Chinese tea. Chang was nearly eight feet tall, and he had recalled that he had had a sister even taller.

On one of his previous visits to Britain, he participated publicly at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London, advertised as "The Magic Giant" and dressed in elaborately decorated satin robes, together with his wife, and Chung Mow - a dwarf of 3 feet high; and also a dozen other Chinese. It was remarked upon that they always travelled with their own coffins.

From an engraving of a photograph of Chang, his wife and also Chung, at the Egyptian Hall, LondonAmidst a hushed room Chang would arise to the tinkles of bells and a piano playing a Polka. He slowly descended to greet his audience, and to gasps of amazement at his great height, he would gently shake hands with those nearest the front. With excitedly playing music he would "chin chin" to his audience and then, with a great flourish of gongs he would majestically regain his throne - and the exhibition would be finished.

The admission fees to this spectacle of Victorian human curiosity were up to three shillings. Chang's employers disgracefully refused him permission to walk about town with the shameful excuse that this lowered his value as an "exhibit". This he found untenable, and longed for a quieter life.

In his home, Chang had a huge table which was 5 feet tall. The door lintels were cut back nearly to the ceiling to accommodate his passing through and very high windows were installed. It is said that when he strolled around Bournemouth in the evening he would light his cigar from the gas street lamps, and he has been recalled by local people as a kindly and popular man. His sons attended a school in Drummond Road, and he was a gracious host to a large circle of friends and visitors.

Photograph of Chang holding William Day's daughter MurielChang’s wishes to keep his burial secret were honoured, and fewer than 50 people accompanied the polished oak coffin to offer their sympathy and condolence, but the whole town might have turned out otherwise to mourn his passing. William Day said that Chang "passed away among strangers in a foreign land, one of the noblest and gentlest of men". The two teenage boys, Edwin and Ernest, were taken in and looked after by the Day family.

Today, "Moyuen" at number 6 Southcote Road, is known as The Ashleigh Hotel. Should you visit a while, you will have the opportunity if you desire it, to learn much more about our "Gentle Giant", as Ray and Julie Bright are custodians to the collection of historic documents and photographs, of which only a few appear here on this page, which commemorate Chang Woo Gow and his stay during the last century, and will be more than pleased to recall for you all you may wish to know.

The two pictures below are taken from old postcards dated a little nearer to the time of Chang Woo Gow and show Bournemouth cliff tops and The Square as they used to be.

Bournemouth cliff top The Square

More History See a little more about the OLD Ashleigh Hotel

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