Thomas Topham, born in London about 1710, was brought up in the trade of carpentry and eventually found himself as the landlord of a small pub, the Red Lion Inn. Though he was by no means remarkable in size, he was endowed with extraordinary muscular powers and was able to entertain the patrons by performing various feats of strength. Crowds began to gather at the inn, not to drink but to see him perform.
To entertain the crowds, he might break a broomstick by striking it against his bare arm or lift a horse and toss it over a fence or roll up a pewter plate weighing seven pounds as another man would roll up a sheet of paper. In addition to his freakish strength, Topham could also sing in a basso profundo voice said to be so deep and resonant that it was scarcely human.
Strong as he was, he had basically a gentle nature. Sure, he might wrap an iron pipe around the neck of a man who irked him, but all in all he was a good-natured soul.
Naturally, the fame of this amazing strong man spread throughout England, and he became known as the Modern Samson. He continued to wow bigger and bigger crowds – lifting 200-pound weights on his little finger or a six foot long oak table with his teeth, smashing a coconut by striking it against his ear, bending a one-inch thick iron bar around his bare arm with one blow.
Alas, great fortune was not to continue for our Modern Samson. Like his biblical namesake, he was done in by the wiles of his very own Delilah. On August 10, 1749, his world came crashing down like that ancient temple when he discovered his wife’s infidelity. After stabbing her to death, he used the knife on himself; dying from his wounds shortly thereafter.
She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more
My, my, my Delilah
Why, why, why Delilah
So before they come to break down the door
Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn’t take any more.
— Delilah, as sung by Tom Jones