Schools revive legend of Fenland folklore

Tilney All Saints Local History Group have obtained a copy of an ancient pedigree roll, covering Til

Tilney All Saints Local History Group have obtained a copy of an ancient pedigree roll, covering Tilney genealogy from 1097 to 1740 - Tilney village sign. Picture; Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

He is a giant of East Anglian folklore, though has perhaps shrunk somewhat from the public's imagination. Now, as LOUISE HEPBURN reports, a new project is aiming to revive the legend of Tom Hickathrift

School children in the Fens will revisit the stories of Tom Hickathrift, the giant who hailed from t

School children in the Fens will revisit the stories of Tom Hickathrift, the giant who hailed from the Marshland between King's Lynn and Wisbech. - Credit: Archant

He is illustrated on village signs in the Fens, yet the tales of the Norfolk giant Tom Hickathrift are seldom told these days.

But a school's project is set to revive the traditional stories of the giant who lived in The Smeeth with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Gordon Phillips, a co-ordinator of the Tall Tales of Tom project, said: 'In this area of the Fens and Norfolk, there are stories to tell that are much forgotten. We want to bring those tales back to people through a programme including drama, songs and traditional dance.'

The Windmill Primary Federation of West Norfolk Schools secured the £45,000 funding for village primary schools in West Walton, Walpole Highway, Tilney St Lawrence and Terrington St John.

Tom Hickathrift battling the Wisbech Giant. Picture: Supplied

Tom Hickathrift battling the Wisbech Giant. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied


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Executive headteacher Jill Davis said: 'In our federation, we embrace many projects to work together across the four schools and in this, the children will benefit enormously from the exciting creative and imaginative experiences we'll be able to put into the curriculum.'

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Who was Tom Hickathrift, the giant of the Norfolk Marshland?

Versions of the tales of Tom Hickathift have evolved over time, but it is believed he was born in the Marshland region in the reign before William the Conqueror.

His widowed mother worked long hours to afford enough food for her son's huge appetite. One story says that by the age of 10, he was eight feet high and five feet wide.

The earliest printed mention of Tom appears in a text from 1631 and details a conflict between the inhabitants of the Smeeth and their landlord over land rights.

At the time, Tom had a job carting beer for a King's Lynn brewer and took on the landlord as he was driving through Marshland. He used the axel of his cart as a sword and a wheel for his shield, winning the land back for the people.

Later writers may have adapted this tale by replacing the landlord with a fierce ogre that lived in the Marshland, and Tom had to avoid the area when travelling through. One day he had enough, and sliced off the ogre's head with the same weapons.

Tom Hickathrift is also mentioned in other texts, including Lavengro by George Borrow, the same writer who also coined the phrase 'Norwich, a fine city' used on signs heading into the city.

Meanwhile, elaborate plasterwork decorating the Old Sun Inn in Saffron Walden, Essex also features the giant's battle.

How is your school learning about local heritage? Email louise.hepburn@archant.co.uk

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