The Dilettante Society on Jackey Peet

Words: Lady M and F Dashwood
Illustrations: Christine Dilks
Saturday 14 May 2016
reading time: min, words

"He was rumoured to be unable to sit on a chair for fear of breaking its legs, and had to forfeit the luxury of a comfy bed for the floor"


Nothing colours the history books more than folk who forgo what is expected in favour of expressing their unique personality or style. Such characters are no modern invention borne of the rise of individualism, nor are the reactions of ridicule and rumour distinct to our times of media slander. There have always been those who are different while simply trying to be themselves. Allow us to introduce a rather more obscure Nottingham folktale of a fellow who is remembered for his extravagance, not only through excellent attire, but for better or worse, all of his indulgences.

Born around 1768, Jackey Peet was a poor man of the humblest of beginnings. Despite never attaining riches, he had a taste for the finer things in life, particularly when it came to lavish decoration, and he added to his apparel anything he considered worthy. On his chest he wore a great lion’s head, which he had repurposed from a furniture ornament into an outlandish brooch having deemed the majestic item far too good for its intended use. When it came to buttonholes, no single flower was enough for Jackey; instead his passion for flora saw to it that extravagant arrangements and beautiful bouquets were attached to his jacket. And what a jacket it was, embellished all over with brooches and buttons of all sizes, shapes and materials.

Much to his delight, this eye-catching garb garnered Jackey much attention, although it was not always well-intentioned. Folk were well aware of Jackey’s partiality to his collection and his unusual disposition, which made him an easy target for teasing. He would become hastily riled and make a quick getaway should someone threaten to pinch one of his precious buttons, while if anyone dared to touch one they would be met with a fit of rage. His treasured collection would have taken much time to piece together and Jackey wore it with utmost pride.

But it was not only for his outlandish style of dress that Jackey Peet was renowned across the town. Indeed, it was his primary passion which landed him in the sticky situation that ensured his memory would endure: his great love of food. As one might expect from a man so very fond of eating, Jackey grew into quite the imposing figure, becoming almost as wide as his low stature. This is perhaps not surprising for a man who literally ate all the pies, at the annual pie eating contests held at Goose Fair at least. He wore with exceptional pride the medal he was awarded one year for his efforts, for he almost always won. Morbidly obese long before the condition was named as such, he was rumoured to be unable to sit on a chair for fear of breaking its legs, and had to forfeit the luxury of a comfy bed for the floor, his size was so incredible.

Such a large character at a time when it was far more of a rarity, his insatiable appetite, unusual mode of dress along with his reputation for being one plum short of a pudding made him quite a distinctive character. Whether his name was used as a warning against gluttony, as the butt of jokes, or in pursuit of harmless fun, Jackey was well known all over Nottingham. Be it as an act of kindness or a joke at his expense, people loved to test his huge appetites by producing formidable feasts for him to conquer. The cruel townsfolk would dare him to eat all manner of strange things, and he would usually take them up on it.  

Descriptions of his appearance suggest he had some kind of forehead deformity, which at the time was considered to be a sign and symptom of idiocy; most accounts portray him as a lovable simpleton. This accusation was put to him directly once when he went to poll, by the opposing party who objected to his vote being recorded. He retorted quickly, among loud laughter “I wasn’t an idiot last time, when I voted for your side” in a display of both wit and quick thinking. Although some tales of his character suggest speech problems, it is thought he had a rather high opinion of his vocal capabilities; his favourite ditty being “Come unto my nose, ale, good ale, and down it goes”.


Aside from his unusual appearance, Jackey’s reputation for being a rather simple lad was due in part to the many mishaps he embroiled himself in while trying to fulfil this insatiable appetite.

The tale which cemented his infamy tells that while ambling through a back alleyway one evening, Jackey caught the scent of delicious food wafting from a nearby house. Hearing not a peep from inside, he decided to investigate. However, rather than using a more practical method of unlawful entry, he chose instead to simply burrow straight through the soft peat wall and directly into the pantry of the house. He excavated excitedly, not just to allow a blind, cheeky swipe of the hand, but a hole that could fit much of his great, round body and grab all of the food he could reach.

He must have gorged for quite a while, for most of the kitchen was bare when the family returned home to find the unlikely figure stuck in their wall. They raised the alarm and neighbours who came to find the cause of the ruckus, rushed about both beating Jackey and trying to get him unstuck. For his crime, Jackey was made to stand in the stocks in the Old Market Square while the public threw food at him. His reputation was indeed set.

Jackey’s story is often described akin to a moral folktale, echoing the fable of the weasel who eats so much it is unable to escape from the shed. A well-meaning but condescending narrative presents the lovable idiot whose insatiable greed often gets the better of him. It is simplified and exaggerated in places with larger-than-life hijinks, dismissing his complexity in favour of a laughable caricature. Indeed he was even noted in verse, albeit a rather poor one, “Old Jackey Peet you must be, the greediest man in Nottingham. Old Jackey Peet you might even be, the greediest man in the whole country.”

Looking a little deeper into his behaviour, there are sign that suggest he perhaps suffered from something other than eccentricity. Little was understood about mental, physical or cognitive ailments in the eighteenth century and this is clear in the response to Jackey’s singularity by his community. Rather than being a gluttonous buffoon, it is equally possible that he may have been born with Prader-Willi Syndrome – a rare genetic disorder which can cause learning difficulties, behavioural problems and most notably, an unquenchable appetite. However, too little is known outside of these tales to ever know for sure.

Aside from his light criminal misdemeanors, Jackey Peet seems to us a fine individual, his shortcomings and wrongdoings reprieved by his jaunty character and unique flair for style. To observe the ignorance of the past is an opportunity to learn tolerance over discrimination, and a reminder not to jump to conclusions when met with an unusual character.

The Dilettante Society Meeting, The Chameleon Arts Cafe, Monday 16 May, 7.30pm, free. The theme is Objects of Wonder – if you fancy, take along a special item and/or share a story about something with a sense of awe and mystery. All welcome, the more the merrier.


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