Who was Rab Ha’ aka The Glasgow Glutton?

A painting of Rab Ha, also known as the Glasgow Glutton, which hangs in the Glasgow pub that bears his name. PIC: TSPL/John Devlin.
A painting of Rab Ha, also known as the Glasgow Glutton, which hangs in the Glasgow pub that bears his name. PIC: TSPL/John Devlin.
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He was well known in 19th Century Glasgow for his ability to eat, eat - and eat some more.

Rab Ha’, or Robert Hall, slept rough on the streets of the city and survived by entering eating competitions and accepting challenges on how much food he could put away.

Known as the Glasgow Glutton, he could put away a stone of potatoes in once sitting or devour an entire calf turned into pies.

One contest pitted him against his English rival - who went by the competition name of the Yorkshire Pudding - at an eating contest at the old Saracen Head pub in the Gallowagate.

Rab emerged victorious much to the delight of his backers, many from the upper classes, who were fond of betting on Rab’s extraordinary powers of consumption.

Rab died in 1843 in a hayloft near the River Clyde following a particularly heavy night.

Today, Rab Ha’s bar and restaurant in the Merchant City, anarea where he would often mingle, is named in tribute to him.

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Rab originally worked as a farm servant or labourer but abandoned “settled employment” for the “idle roystering life of a vagrant,” according to his obituary in the Glasgow Herald.

“Powerful in frame and of unbounded capacity of stomach, Rab wandered all over the west country and was rarely absent from a horse-race, fox hunt or coursing, for which he had a natural taste.

“He would delight in these meetings more from the unlimited qualities of meat and drink which were supplied to him occasionally by those who... were anxious to see how much the man could devour.”

His “eccentricity of manners and appearance” made him well known to many, according to obituary. Generally clothed in rags, he would often wear four pairs of trousers and as many jackets.

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Rab was a “great favourite” among the noblemen and gentlemen or Glasgow who would often invited him into their homes for food and a spot of gambling.

Once, a wager was placed on a boat trip back from Rothesay on whether he could eat seven pounds of ship’s biscuit.

This was a challenge that was to defeat even the Glasgow Glutton. He was to give up after eating around four pounds of biscuit given the pain in his jaw.

On another occasion, while “lounging about the Broomielaw” Rab went into a house for a drink of water.

As the woman who lived there went to fetch some water from a nearby well, Rab reportedly “demolished a stone of potatoes” which he had prepared for her family.

“On being questioned by the woman, he said he was very dry and he thought the potatoes would quench his drouth,” the newspaper report added.

Rab Ha’ was last seen heading allow Stockwell Street as he made his way towards Hutchensontown, an area which formed part of the Gorbals where he had been sleeping in a hay loft of a Mr Whitelaw, who had offered him shelter during the winter months.

Rab had been found the next morning face down in the hay.

“It is supposed that he died partly by the drink he had swallowed and partly by suffocation, thus ending the career of poor Rab,” his obituary said.

It added: “He died as he lived in the midst of gluttony and intemperance and we can only lament that the man should have given himself up to such sensual appetite.”