Today we realise that we should not discriminate a person because of their physical appearance but this has not always been the case. It is clear that in the past, dwarves were used for entertainment particularly amongst the royal families of Europe. One of them possibly had a local connection. His name was XIT and he possibly had a Sussex connection.
XIT was born in Oakham, Rutlandshire in 1532, the son of the dwarves Narcissus LeGrand (the French groom of Queen Anne Boleyn) and Mab Leatherbottom a kitchen servant. His real name was Jeffrey Hudson.
Although his two brothers were over 8 feet, XIT was just two feet tall and lived at the Tower of London where he became the friend of three tall gatekeepers who were known as Og, Gog and Magog and who were rumoured to have been illegitimate children of Henry VIII. They teased him terribly but he became a favourite of King Edward VI. He obviously continued to be a Royal favourite after the death of Edward in 1553, as Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) knighted him “Sir Narcissus LeGrand” On one occasion he was served up for dinner in a cold pie. Apparently he also once fell into a large plum pie which was so sticky, he found it difficult to get out. (That must have been a huge pie!)
On 10th February 1554 XIT married Jane Beddes known as ‘Jane the Fool” at St Peter’s Church, Tower Green. Jane was the Court Jester and completely bald and apparently XIT liked to entertain people by drawing pictures on her head! The two had a son who was over 6 feet tall. XIT died in 1613 aged 81 years and was buried at St. Peter’s.
In 1840 William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882) wrote a novel “The Tower of London” which featured XIT and his friends. In the book XIT is caught with carrying secret letters and is tortured by being placed on the rack. I am not sure if Ainsworth was local but in 1860 wrote a book called ‘Ovingdean Grange – A Tale of the South Downs”. Ovingdean is to the east of Brighton and in Ainsworth’s book it is where a future Charles II stayed before escaping to France. Ainsworth was also friend with another Victorian author, George Meredith (1828-1909) who lived in Marine Terrace, Seaford.
But did XIT, the famous dwarf, have a Sussex connection?
In 1916 a ‘moss-covered and be-grimed’ statue of XIT was recovered from a garden in Abinger Place in Lewes and attracted considerable local interest. This find caused quite a sensation in the press at the time and the statute was put on display at the Crown Hotel, Lewes. W.E.Baxter, the Lewes merchant and stationer, had china models made in “Charlton-Ware” with the town crest on the front.
Writing in 1916, a Lewes Alderman, George Holman, remembered that when he was a schoolboy the statue was in the back garden of his school which was then situated at Milton House near St John Sub-Castro Church. He believed that the statue was originally owned by a Mr Barratt, a previous occupant of the house. Mr Barrett was the person who constructed the ‘new road’ between Abinger Place and Offham.
The statue was put up for auction in the town two years later andwas sold for £28 to a Mrs Holden of the Glastonbury Hotel, Eastbourne. Apparently a London resident arrived in Lewes too late for the auction and offered Mrs Holden £200 for the statue but she declined. XIT was later re-sold to James Gregg, the owner of the Tea Gardens at Wannock Glen near Polegate. The statue was on display there and postcards of the little fellow were sold.
I have one of these postcards and a piece of the crested china. It is about five inches tall and XIT is a plump figure with a scowl. He is wearing a gold-tipped helmet and is carrying a wooden stave and a sword. I would love to know where XIT’s statue is now and, as the statute was recovered in Lewes and once stood at Wannock Gardens, whether he had a local connection. An ideas?