Joseph’s Countryside Holidays – Louisa Knightley of Fawsley Hall, Daventry (UK), read about Joseph, probably in the ‘Times’ newspaper. She read that he had been confined to city accommodation, and kept from society, because of his appearance.
Suffering from ill-health and low morale, Dr. Treves wanted to take Joseph out to the countryside – to “bring him out of himself”. Unfortunately, the only offers he received came with strings attached – that Merrick couldn’t venture out by day.
Being in a position to offer help, Louisa wrote to Treves, and offered him lodgings on the Fawsley Estate. Fawsley, at this time, included the areas of Badby and Byfield. There were no restrictions, Joseph was free to come and go as he pleased.
There has been some confusion as to how many holidays Joseph had, but it is now common knowledge that he went three times to the countryside (that’s three holidays that he ever had).
Local Historian, Colin Eaton of Northampton wrote:
“Special precautions were mounted in getting him [Joseph] from London to Northampton. A carriage with the blinds drawn was taken to sidings at Euston [a London train station] where he boarded. It was then attached to the rest of the train and proceeded to Weedon. At Weedon he was transported by horse and carriage to Haycock Hill Farm, chosen by Lady Knightley as his holiday home. The farm, situated on the Daventry to Hanbury road between Badby and Charwelton, is sufficiently far from the main road as to afford Merrick the privacy he wanted and needed.
He was looked after during his holiday by the farmer and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bird. In her diary of September 1887, Lady Knightley wrote, “I drove to Haycock’s Hill where Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, about whom there has been so much in the papers, has been boarded out for some weeks with the Birds. Merrick has such nice brown eyes; I looked straight into them — but he is awful to behold.”
Merrick returned to London in October 1887. In August the following year he came for a second holiday, but it appears that the Birds were not resident at Haycock Hill – for the farmer’s wife obviously had not been properly prepared for what to expect, and, on meeting Merrick at the door, threw her apron over her face and ran screaming into the fields.
Hurriedly other plans were made and Merrick was transported to another of the Knightley estates at Byfield.
His destination at Byfield was Red Hill Farm which was again very suitable because it lies about a mile from the village and was concealed from the road by Red Hill Wood. The wood was a game preserve so he was able to wander through it undisturbed. His new guardians were the gamekeeper and his wife Mr. and Mrs Goldbye.
Enchanted The commonest of wild flowers flowers enchanted him and he wrote to Sir Frederic [Treves] relating his experiences such as befriending a fierce dog, and seeing trout swimming in a stream. From the edge of the wood he was able to see the agricultural work being carried on in the fields. On occasions he was taken out through the fields where he could collect specimens to take back with him to London. August, 1889, saw him again at Byfield which was to be his last holiday. The Goldbyes once more looked after him, It was during this holiday that Merrick made friends with a young man from Byfield who had just started work. The young man used to take Merrick’s letters to the village post box”.
These were Joseph’s only holidays – ever. He felt totally at peace with his surroundings and was immensely happy. It was such a contrast to what he had been used to. Although he was well cared for at the Whitechapel hospital, he longed to feel the fresh air on his face – for once he didn’t need to hide it. He wrote letters to London, expressing his delight at this chance to experience the overwhelming beauty of nature. The Fawsley Estate comprises some 2,000 acres.…
The Illness – One early belief was that Merrick suffered from elephantiasis (a tropical disease), a disorder of the lymphatic system that causes parts of the body to swell to grotesque proportions.
Later it was theorized that he had an extremely severe case of neurofibromatosis.
This nervous system disorder causes nerve cells to grow out of control, creating large, misshapen tumors.
Neurofibromatosis is not phenomenally rare, occurring in one of every 4,000 births, although no known case of neurofibromatosis has ever been as profound as Merrick’s condition.
In 1979, a much more rare disease was identified as causing overgrowth of bone and other tissue.
Joseph’s disorder, named Proteus Syndrome, has been recorded in fewer than 100 cases, ever.
Several years ago a U.S. National Institutes of Health panel suggested that PROTEUS SYNDROME may have been the true cause of John Merrick’s condition.
A study of Merrick’s remains at the Royal London Hospital (Whitechapel), backs up this diagnosis.
Radiologist Amita Sharma at the Whitechapel found that Merrick’s spine was not as sharply curved as is normally found in cases of neurofibromatosis.
In addition, Merrick’s ribs do not demonstrate the peculiar notches and thinness associated with neurofibromatosis, and are actually abnormally thick.
The extreme overgrowth of bone in Merrick’s skull and the right side of his body is consistent with Proteus Syndrome.
Sharma based her conclusions on a series of x-rays and CAT scans produced at the Royal London Hospital, where Merrick’s remains have been kept since his death.
In July of 2011, a team led by Dr. Leslie Biesecker of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health discovered that the genetic cause of the condition is a point mutation — a single-letter misspelling in the DNA of the genetic code — in the AKT1 gene that causes sporadic tissue growth.
Unlike inherited genetic disorders, the gene variant that causes Proteus syndrome occurs spontaneously in each affected individual after conception in just one cell of the developing embryo.
It is believed that the severity of the disease depends on when this spontaneous genetic change occurs in embryonic development.
As the embryo grows and develops, only the descendants of the cell with the original AKT1 gene mutation display the hallmarks of the disease, leaving the individual with a mixture of normal and mutated cells, a condition called genetic mosaicism.
Newborns with Proteus syndrome almost always appear unaffected, and symptoms typically arise in the child’s first two years of life.
The mutation in AKT1 alters the ability of affected cells to regulate their own growth, causing some parts of the patient’s body to grow to abnormal and even enormous sizes, while other parts of the body remain normal.
The irregular overgrowth worsens with age and increases the susceptibility to tumours. .. Contrary to popular belief, the Elephant Man’s skeleton has never been in the possession of Michael Jackson or any ‘freak-hunting’ private collector.
“….The face was no more capable of expression than a block of gnarled wood…..”
“….To add a further burden to his trouble, the wretched man, when a boy, developed hip disease, which had left him permanently lame, so that he could only walk with a stick. He was thus denied all means of escape from his tormentors. As he told me later, he could never run away…..”…
Joseph Carey Merrick’s Parents – According to Frederick Treves’s memoirs and Joseph’s own autobiography, he loved his mother very much – he wrote: . “I went to school like other children until I was about 11 or 12 years of age, when the greatest misfortune of my life occurred, namely – the death of my mother, peace to her, she was a good mother to me”.
Mary Jane Merrick (née Potterton) was born on 20 November, 1836, in Evington, a suburb of eastern Leicester. Her parents were farm laborers but they sent her to school, where she learned to read and write. According to the family, she was “crippled” in some way. However, she was able to work as a servant to a candlemaker until she met and married Joseph Rockley Merrick, a cab driver, on December, 1861. She was twenty-five and pregnant; he was twenty-four. Their first child was born on 5th August, 1862. He was christened Joseph for his father and given the middle name of Carey for the eminent Baptist minister, William Carey, who served the poor in Leicester. .
During Joseph’s early years, Mary Jane taught Sunday School at Archdeacon Lane Baptist Church. She gave birth to three more children; John Thomas, William Arthur, and Marion Eliza, but the two younger sons died in infancy, and Marion was also disabled. In addition to her household burdens, she helped in her husband’s haberdashery business, (while he worked as a warehouseman). Mary Jane’s health declined and she died of bronchial-pneumonia on 19 May, 1873 at the age of thirty-six and six months. After Mary Jane died, Rockley Merrick moved the family to a lodging house run by a widow named Emma Wood-Antill. Emma had two daughters, Annie and Flora. The following December, Rockley married Emma. They went on to have three daughters together; Cassandra, Pauline, and Dora. . Rockley’s new wife made Joseph’s life a “perfect misery”. She forced him to seek ‘hawking jobs’ – walking street to street selling goods from his father’s shop such as boot polish, laces, etc to earn his food……….
. When he joined the sideshows several years later in 1881, Joseph wrote in an autobiography: . “…. unfortunately for me he married his landlady; henceforth I never had one moment’s comfort, she having children of her own, and I not being so handsome as they, together with my deformity, she was the means of making my life a perfect misery; lame and deformed as I was, I ran, or rather walked away from home two or three times, but suppose father had some spark of parental feeling left, so he induced me to return home again ….”
Unfortunately, Joseph’s deformities were increasing. The initial growth in his mouth was nearly eight inches long, his right arm was overgrown, and he had suffered a crippling injury and infection in his left hip, causing him to limp. Neighbors refused to buy from him. Children taunted him in the streets. Life at home was even worse; his father thrashed him if he failed to meet his quota of sales. Finally Joseph had had enough abuse. He fled home and was taken in by his father’s brother, Charles Barnabas Merrick. Charles and his wife Jane gave Joseph a secure, loving home for two years. . Frederick Treves wrote in his memoirs that Mary Jane Merrick had abandoned Joseph to the workhouse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mary Jane’s devoted care gave Joseph a solid foundation of love and attention that allowed him to withstand the worst of life’s circumstances with grace and courage. . During the course of researching “Measured by the Soul: The Life of Joseph Carey Merrick,” the graves of Joseph’s parents, stepmother, and siblings have all been located, and a well-deserved tribute plaque for Mary Jane Merrick is in the works.…
Joseph Carey Merrick’s Armchair – William Taylor, the great-grandfather of the present owner of the chair, worked at the Royal London Hospital as Chief Engineer.
It was he who converted the rooms in the basement of the East wing for use by Joseph. He also made the armchair, or had it made.
At some point, the chair came into the possession of the engineer and, as you can see, it’s still in the family today.
Chair Description and Name Plate
This is the actual, commissioned chair, in which Joseph sat whilst at the London Hospital.
The frame is untouched, so are the legs and swivel wheels.
At some point however, it was re-covered, (this is not the original fabric); it had become worn with time.
What you see is probably very close to the original fabric design.
The specially designed angle of the chair was to accommodate Joseph’s uneven form.
It is not known when the painted name plaque was attached; as it was there before it came into the present family’s possession.
William introduced his son, Edward Charles Taylor, (the chair owner’s grandfather, (below), to Joseph. Edward was rather partial to playing a little amateur violin and his artistic talent soon became known to our Friend, Joseph. According to the Taylor family, Joseph once asked Edward if he would play him something – he did. The piece that was chosen is unknown. From what I understood, he often played for Joseph.…
Artwork by Audrey Kantrowitz – Audrey Kantrowitz was born in the New Haven, Connecticut. A prominent city made famous by the Peabody Museum and Yale University.
Though parents, Seth and Patricia Kantrowitz, were overjoyed at her birth, she remained their only child.
Audrey’s childhood home was small and modest with a backyard that overlooked downtown New Haven.
While still young, Audrey showed a powerful interest in art and drawing. The first time she ran out of drawing paper, she burst into tears. Her parents bought printer paper even before they had a computer.
School is tough for most children, Audrey was no exception. She had few friends and preferred to be alone. Mathematics would be a constant difficulty for her.
Along with academic struggles, it was difficult for Audrey to process multiple auditory information.
Teachers were concerned for the quiet girl but intrigued by her artistic ability.
Nevertheless, she was referred to a specialist. A doctor performed a myriad of tests.
The diagnosis was Central Auditory Processing
Leaving New Haven would be something Audrey could never accept. By 1993, it was decided the Kantrowitz family was to move.
Audrey’s parents wished to leave the urban setting for Guilford.
A small rural town only half an hour away. Audrey hated the idea of moving.
The culture shock of the sleepy suburban town was jarring.
Having grown up in the diverse, multicultural environment of her old school, she now was forced to conform to the bland, monochromatic student body.
If it wasn’t for Katherine Roberts, a British immigrant, Audrey would’ve remained isolated in her new home.
Audrey suffered her first panic attack at age 12. It would be the first of many.
Fueled by her disorder, loneliness and frustration, her mind became a ticking time bomb.
She was periodically sent home from school due to her breakdowns.
To say that she was interested, would be a monumental understatement.
Now, as FoJCM Artist in Residence, she is responsible for the delightful illustrations you find on many pages.
Due to her passionate interest and extensive knowledge of Joseph’s life, she has also happily accepted the post of Historian & Archivist, for both the Tribute and Foundation web sites.
Thanks you very much Audrey. Jeanette Sitton, Founder, Friends of Joseph Carey Merrick (FofJCM),
During her years of Middle School, Audrey found inspiration. While still on Christmas vacation, she happened upon a documentary titled “Would you Believe It?” It was through this that she became aquainted with Joseph Merrick.
Her fascination in the strange and unusual had been fanned into a flame.
She quite simply had to know everything about Joseph and over the years she acquired numerous books, videos and memorabilia devoted to him.
Joseph became her artistic muse. Devoting many paintings and illustrations to his image.
Along with her interest in Joseph Merrick, Audrey found fascination in people like him.
Sideshow performers including Tom Thumb, Chang and Eng Bunker, and Julia Pastrana became her heroes.
By seventeen, Audrey finally realized her goal. To return to London. Having taken a trip to the U.K. during sophomore year, she was infatuated with the city.
But at only fifteen and with four family members in tow, she was unable to see what she really wanted.
To view the London Hospital. The final home of her mentor.
Never the less, Audrey’s intellectual passion was turned on.
A great lover of museums and history, our Miss Kantrowitz adored every minute she was there.
Audrey is now out of school. She was unsuccessful in College and decided to simply be an artist and writer.
She is currently working on a graphic novel about the life of Joseph Merrick and hopes to get it published.
Along with the hopeful comic-book tome, Audrey continues her work with drawing, painting and photography.
She wishes to thank The Joseph Carey Merrick Tribute Website for giving her art an audience and purpose.…
While spreading a message of tolerance and understanding, we shall share the knowledge we have on Joseph Carey Merrick with anyone wanting to know more.
To be the principle source of information on all things pertaining to the heroic life story of Joseph Carey Merrick.
FoJCM Code of Personal and Professional Integrity:
Every Friend of Joseph Carey Merrick must agree to the following Code of Personal and Professional Integrity:
“As a FoJCM, I accept the responsibility to promote and uphold the Code of Personal and Professional Integrity of our group. It is a privilege being listed as a Friend of Joseph Carey Merrick on the tribute website. While preserving my professionalism, I will represent our group’s cause and maintain a source of factual information. I understand that I will be held accountable for my actions. Protecting the integrity of Joseph Merrick’s story and the status of the josephcareymerrick.com website is paramount.”…
Joseph Merrick and Isaac Watts – Joseph has become famous for quoting from a poem called ‘False Greatness,” by English hymn writer, Isaac Watts. At first the whole poem was thought to be by Joseph. ‘Tis true my form is something odd
But blaming me is blaming God
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with my span
I would be measured by the soul
The mind’s the standard of the man.””
Then, in their book, “The True History of the Elephant Man,” Michael Howell & Peter Ford figured out that Joseph had borrowed from “False Greatness” and changed the wording slightly to suit his strong sense of self-dignity. Well, it turns out that Joseph probably did write the first four lines himself. I’ve discovered that they don’t appear in “False Greatness” at all!
Isaac Watts, like Joseph, was a small man in delicate health most of his life but he had a fiery spirit, and started a revolution in church music. He was sick of hearing the same old psalms every week, so he wrote hundreds of new hymns that we still sing today, like “Joy to the World” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”
Here’s Isaac Watts’ version of the lines from “False Greatness”:
Were I so tall to reach the pole,
Or grasp the ocean with my span,
I must be measur’d by my soul
The mind’s the standard of the man
Thia is powerful stuff. It must have meant a lot to Joseph.…
Following in Joseph’s Footsteps – Last week I had the joy and honor of retracing Joseph’s footsteps, from Whitechapel London and the Royal London Hospital, to the lovely English countryside manor where he spent three peaceful holidays.
Although the city is modern and bustling, not riddled with slums and smokestacks, there is a definite Victorian feel to some of the older train stations and buildings.
Jeanette Sitton, founder of this website, met me at Heathrow International Airport, and guided me every step of the way, snapping dozens of photos after my camera broke.
We came through Liverpool Street Station, where the famous glass ceilings still exist as seen in the “ELephant Man” movie. It’s a bustling, crowded place.
One can imagine Joseph being overwhelmed and mobbed by a curious crowd.
I was staying at a comfortable bed & breakfast in Whitechapel, directly across from the Royal London Hospital.
That was a thrill in itself! We explored the neighborhood and went to the shop where Joseph had been exhibited as “The ELephant Man.”
It is right across from the hospital and now specializes in Indian saris and jewelry.
The kind owner allowed us to see where Joseph would have displayed himself and lived between showings.
During my stay, we visited the Museum Archives, which houses Joseph’s actual hat and mask, his cardboard church, his letter to Leila Maturin, and a replica of his skeleton.
It’s all very tastefully arranged in the glass case. Joseph’s bones speak so eloquently of his pain and suffering.
They are twisted and warped to impossible angles, there are bony knobs and the head is oversized.
The left hand is so very small and delicate. He must have had great patience and dexterity to do the things he did.
The left hip joint basically doesn’t exist.
There is no ball and socket. Alas, hip replacements were invented only a few years after he did, but it might not have helped much.
It was a miracle he could walk at all.
On Monday, we were treated to an excursion by train to Fawsley Hall, where Lady Louisa Knightly had hosted Joseph.
Set on 2,000 acres of rolling green farmland, it must have felt like paradise.
Emma-Jane Hartley joined us there and kindly drove us around the villages and farms.
The three of us took tea in the great Tudor-era hall of the Knightley family, and then went tromping in the woods where Joseph strolled near Redhill Farm.
It was easy to imagine Joseph peacefully savoring the sun and fresh country air.
All this was a wonderful way to retrace vital moments in Joseph’s life, but the main reason for my crossing the pond was to be interviewed by BBC Radio Leicester and BBC TV’s science program, “Inside/Out” which will air in a few months.
Jeanette and I both talked about Joseph’s story and legacy, and what he means to all of us. It was a whirlwind trip of three days in the UK, one I shan’t soon forget!…
Our Book and Education – We would dearly like to see our book, ‘Measured By The Soul: The Life of Joseph Carey Merrick’, used in education, either as a teaching medium, or simply made available on school / college / university bookshelves, as a reference material.
If you believe you can, or would like to, help in this regard, please do get in touch, we would very much like to hear from you.
With best wishesJeanette SittonFounder & ChairFRIENDS OF JOSEPH CAREY MERRICK…
Joseph Carey Merrick’s Life Story – Anyone who has ever read the story of Joseph Merrick, could not fail to be captivated by this man’s incredible sensitivity and courage.
He was an intelligent individual, not only being able to write and speak eloquently but also able to read.
The ability to read was a rarity amongst the poorer classes of the 19th century and therefore one can only further admire Joseph for his inner struggle to become educated and to pull himself out of his impoverished background and circumstances.
Born in Leicester, England, in 1862, Joseph first began to develop tumors on his face before his second birthday.
Joseph lived with his Mother (Mary Jane Merrick); younger brother (William Arthur) and sister (Marion Eliza) during his childhood.
His baby brother, John Thomas, died at 3 months (April to July, 1864). Mary Jane died on 19th May 1873 of bronchial-pneumonia when Joseph was just 11.
‘Unfortunately, by all historical accounts, no actual photograph of Merrick’s Mother is reported to have survived the passage of time’.* Interestingly though, according to family & eye witness accounts, she too was ‘crippled’. The photo presented in the film ,’…is that of Phoebe Nicholls, (the actress who portrayed his Mother)’.*
Joseph had lived in several places, one of these was a Workhouse’ where he was forced to publicly work for his keep, (despite his appearance).
Another place, was living with his father and step-mother.
His father certainly didn’t really want him around and there were untold rows over him.
As far as the step-mother was concerned, Joseph was just an embarrassment and inconvenience and she finally gave her husband the ultimatum of, “it’s either him or me”.
If they were going to give Joseph a roof over his head they at least expected him to work for it. He was forced to ‘street-hawk’, selling shoe-black along cold, cobbled neighbouring streets.
It was hard enough for him to walk on even surfaces, but cobble stones were a real hazard.
His form was a source of great amusement for the scores of children that would follow him from street to street, taunting him and calling out cruel names.
His condition quickly worsened as bulbous, cauliflower-like growths grew from his head and body, and his right hand and forearm became a useless club.
In later life, (previous to his involvement with the Whitechapel Hospital), Joseph was most of the time unemployable, destitute and stripped of all his self-worth by the ignorance of the people of the day.
He was prepared to take any job that would offer him a crust.
As a last resort he took a job as a side-show ‘freak’. However, ‘there were no ritual beatings, and neither was he kidnapped from the London Hospital (that part is a product of Mr. Lynch’s artistic lisence – I’m certainly not knocking ‘the Elephant Man’ film – it was superb and I wholeheartedly recommend it).
I’ve dedicated a page to the film and there’s a film trailer too.
The entrepreneur Tom Norman (right), who took Merrick under his wing, was anything but the monster Bytes depicted in the film.
In reality, he treated Merrick with great care – afterall, Joseph was his livelihood.
Joseph’s three page autobiography makes no mention of beatings or mistreatment.
In fact, the experience left him rather well off (he’d amassed some £200 – that was a heck of alot of money in those days).
Surgeon Frederick Treves (later to become, Sir Frederick Treves) of the Whitechapel Hospital (now Royal London Hospital), came to hear of Mr. Merrick and paid him a visit.
He privately viewed him at 123 Whitechapel Road, opposite the then Whitechapel Hospital – now, an Indian Saree Shop (left).
‘Treves expressed scientific/medical interest in Merrick, presenting him before the London Pathological Society (December 2, 1884), and then sent him back on his way.
Joseph arrived at London’s Liverpool Street railway Station in June 1886.
He had been earning a living in the only way he knew how, as a freak.
Freak Shows had become outlawed in the UK by this time, so he worked across the Channel in Belgium.
An Austrian showman, not connected with Tom Norman, robbed Joseph blind, and left him destitute in Belgium.
The Police found Dr. Treves’ business card in Joseph’s pocket.
The mission of this site is to introduce you to the courageous and inspiring life story of Joseph Carey Merrick and to sensitively raise the profile of those with disabilities.
These pages have been created with love and in the hope that we all may learn from Joseph’s unique life experience.
After campaigning for four years, the Webmaster finally succeeded in having Joseph formally and publicly commemorated, by way of a plaque.
The plaque was unveiled on 15th May 2004, by the Lord Mayor or Leicester, in Joseph’s hometown of Leicester.…