Jack Russell Lambert was born on 23rd June 1898 at Queens Road, Crowborough, Sussex, England and baptised on 14th August 1898 at All Saints Church, Crowborough, Sussex, England. He was baptised in the name of Jack Russell Lambert, 'Russell' being his mother's maiden name, and was not given this as a nickname later in life. In 1898 there were so few houses on Queens Road, Crowborough that alone was sufficient for an address on his birth certificate. His father, Charles William Lambert 1846, had married twice, and Jack was the second child of the second marriage.
Charles, a gardener at the time of Jack's baptism, and previously a dairyman with his own business, was born in Rotherfield, and his mother Harriet Russell was born about 1858 at Mayfield, Sussex, England, (daughter of John Russell and Eliza Pilbeam 1825). Charles's first wife Fanny Card had presented him with six children. She had died at about the same time or soon after their sixth child was born.
Jackie Lambert's claim to fame was that he was the shortest man ever to be born in the south of England: he was just two feet ten inches tall when fully grown and weighed only twenty-seven pounds. He would tell people that he was the shortest man in the world but this was not strictly true. He may have been for the time that he was alive, but there have been smaller people.
When his parents died during the first world war, he moved in with his brother Harry and his wife at "Guildford Lodge", Eridge Road, close to The Cross. He was 20 years old at this time and the height and weight of an average two year old.
He loved to frequent the local pubs, especially the "Red Cross Inn', about 100 yards from his door. He was never known to pay for his own beer, but was frequently drunk! The local lads and intrigued visitors would happily fund his drinking to see him 'happy'! He seemed to be treated, in more ways than one, as the village mascot, and the local folk were very proud of him.
One of his closest friends, Mr F J Markwick, a member of a well known and respected local family of long standing, fitted a special saddle to the crossbar of his bicycle so that he could give Jackie rides around the countryside, and visit neighbouring towns. This is quite typical of the many ways in which Crowborough people assisted, as if they had some part to play in the life of this small man.
He was always smartly dressed, mainly due to the efforts of Tom and Arthur Bradley, who were brothers, and great friends of Jackie. Tom had a tailoring business at No 3 London Road and Arthur was the manager of of Rice Brothers Saddlers, who made all of Jackie's boots, gaiters and swaggersticks, and Tom made all of his clothes. These included riding jackets and breeches, naval officers' uniforms and many other striking sets of clothing, in any of which he loved to strut about Crowborough, especially if there were plenty of visitors to admire him, and to buy the picture postcards, many depicting him in naval uniform and smoking a large looking manly cigarette, so that he could not be mistaken for a child. He also sold miniature visiting cards measuring 1" x 1 1/2", and these together with the postcards appear to have been his only source of income.
The visiting cards and postcards were produced by local business men, who welcomed the opportunity to use this free publicity at the small cost of supplying the commodities. This style of advertisement by proxy must have been one of the very few ways that were open to Jackie to earn money, as he had promised his parents that he would not become part of a freak show or similar, as many such small people had. He was not in the usual manner of dwarfs, being perfectly formed and in proportion, and was an exact miniature of an average sized person. He had an ego that was larger than life, and was something of an extrovert who loved to be the centre of attention.
To really bathe in this attention, he had become an amusing speaker, having many anecdotes that he loved to recite to any interested party. He was always the joker, and would wager any visitor, who happened to be visiting the pub, that he could do something that they, so large strong and normal sized, could not do. And when his wager was inevitably accepted, he would take off his hat and walk perfectly upright under the nearest table! An excellent way of earning his beer!
Jackie often showed his discharge papers, having been called up for the army in 1917. He was instructed to go to Eastbourne for his medical, and with his usual spirit of fun he alerted the local Kent and Sussex Courier reporter, the result of which was a picture of him boarding the train at Jarvis Brook with two tall friends. And when the medical board saw him they all reportedly roared with laughter and sent him back home on the next train, complete with his discharge papers. He was always very proud to show that he had been a serving soldier for one day!
Jackie died in May 1936, a month short of his 38th birthday. His funeral took place on 28th May 1936 and it is reported that the whole village, as it was then, came to a halt while the black- plumed horses drew the ancient glass-sided hearse around the streets, and finally to his last resting place at Herne Road Cemetery, Crowborough, Sussex, England. The Kent and Sussex Courier reported the event and it was stated that "the local Buffaloes* attended, and RAC (Royal Automobile Club) man Bert Moore stood to attention and saluted as the cortege passed"'
* The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes are a world-wide organisation with local lodges that work within and for communities. It is not clear whether Jackie was a member, or whether the lodge was simply honouring him with their presence.
We would also like to acknowledge Malcolm Payne's Crowborough - The Growth of a Wealden Town.