The Story Of Tom Hickathrift, The Wisbech Giant

Tom fights the ogre to make the Fens safe

Gordon Phillips

The village sign depicts Tom and the tinker.
The young Tom Hickathrift after performing at St Cyriac Church, Swaffham Prior

Tom Hickathrift

Tom Shows His Strength

Once upon a time and a long time ago there lived a young man in one of the Marshland Villages called Tom Hickathrift.  Tom was like some young men when it came to helping around the house and tidying his room and doing the washing up.  He didn’t like any of those things but he did like sitting by the fire, doing nothing.  He was different from most young men though in his size.  He was the biggest person in the village by the time he was ten and he just kept growing.  One day he was sitting in his favourite chair, when his Mum, who was trying to tidy up, started to get angry because her broom kept hitting his long legs.

She said, “Just move your feet Tom when I’m sweeping up.”

Tom replied  “Oh Mum it’s too much effort my feet are so big and heavy it takes a lot of energy to move them.”

Mrs. Hickathrift went red in the cheeks, her temper was never very far from the surface,  “Too much effort, Too much effort, I’ll effort you.  If you want to sit in front of that there fire you can do your bit and go and get some more firewood.  Old Farmer Paice from up Spice Chase he says we can have some more firewood.  You can just stir yourself and get round there and pick some up for me.”

Tom made a real mistake with his reply this time,  “Oh Mum that sound like hard work. Can’t you do it when you’ve finished with that there sweeping.’

Mum picked up the broom and swung it over her head, nearer and nearer to Tom’s and shouted:  “I haven’t finished and I’ll sweep you out boy…go on, get you up the road.”

So Tom was forced away from the fire and he strode up the road with his long strides to Farmer Paice’s place.  When he got there Farmer Paice was warming himself in the sun in his farmyard.  Tom was very polite and said:

“Afternoon Farmer Paice, my mum said that you would let us have some firewood.”

“  That you can boy, you can have as much wood as you can carry.” The farmer replied.

Tom asked where the wood was and the farmer replied:

“In that there barn which keeps everything as dry as a bone.”

Tom went into the barn where there were a lot of sticks lying around but he thought it would be too much effort to load them all into a bundle so he walked over to a large treetrunk weighing half a ton, picked it up with no effort at all, and made off down the road.

Farmer Paice called after him:  “What on earth have you got there boy, it look like half an oak tree?”

To which Tom called back,” You did say that we could have what I could carry so I thought I’d pick up this little twig and take it back for the fire.”

” Cor bless my soul, I’ve never seen nothing like that.” said the amazed farmer, shaking his head.

 Tom Meets The Ogre

Tom’s fame spread around the villages and soon everyone wanted him to work for them and do jobs that no one else could manage.  Tom wasn’t very keen on that but soon he was offered a job he couldn’t refuse.  A brewer of beer in King’s Lynn needed someone to take barrels regularly to Wisbech and he offered Tom a good wage and all the ale he could drink.  Tom took the job and with his regular drinking of good beer he soon grew even bigger and stronger.  He even took to pulling the cart himself instead of using a horse for the job as he said it built up his muscles and gave him a good thirst.

There was one thing about the job that annoyed him though.  The route from King’s Lynn to Wisbech didn’t go in a straight line but took a detour of several miles to avoid an area known as the Smeeth.  In this area there lived a terrible ogre who ate anyone who dared come near.  One hot day Tom decided that he had had enough of going the long way and he decided to go through the Smeeth.

Tom thought to himself, I don’t believe all them stories about ogres and stuff, it’s a lovely day and I’ll go the way I want to.  He opened the gate into the Smeeth; it creaked a lot as it obviously hadn’t been used for many years, and he started making his way down the path.

Pretty soon though he started to think that he might not have made a very good decision, for on his left hand side, there was a tree that didn’t have branches at its top, but a head had been impaled onto the thinning trunk.  Then a bit further on there was another one like it on his right, and this head looked very scary.  He started to turn his cart around when out jumped the Ogre.

The Ogre leapt towards Tom and swung a huge club at his head.  Tom jumped out of the way and the club came crashing down on the cart, smashing it to pieces.  Tom thought that any moment might be his last as the awful ogre repeatedly swung the club and Tom jumped from one side to another.  But then he thought that he could protect himself by using one of the cartwheels as a shield.  This he did successfully for a while and then he decided that he needed to fight back, so picked up the heavy axle as it if was as light as a hammer and he traded blows with the monster.

Tom’s great strength eventually won the day as he beat the Ogre down to the ground and stood over him, holding his axle high in the air.  The Ogre was forced to beg for mercy:

“Wait, wait, don’t kill me.  I wasn’t really going to hurt you.  Look I’ve got a cave over there with lots of treasure in it and you can join me in robbing people and share some of it.”

Tom’s reply was simple and local: “That I won’t, you int going to rob no one no more.”

With those words Tom swung his axle down on the Ogre and ended his life but we don’t want to describe that bit very much.  Tom walked over to where the Ogre had said his treasure cave was.

“Cor I’ve never seen nothing like this.” he said.  “Gold and jools and money.  Well I can’t take it now so I’ll just roll this pebble up to the door to keep it all safe and come back later.  I’d better get that beer to Wisbech, oh and I think I’ll show them the ogre too.”

Tom lifted the beer barrels on one shoulder and put the ogre over the other and tramped his way through the Smeeth.  When he arrived in Wisbech everyone rushed out onto the streets and they soon started cheering.  They were amazed to see the ogre’s dead body and they were so pleased that the way between Wisbech and Lynn was now safe that even the Mayor came out to officially thank Tom.

 Tom Is Made A Knight

Word even got to the King and Tom was eventually summoned to London to be made into one of the King’s knights.

Tom arrived at the King’s Palace, where he waited patiently to be summoned.  Eventually the Herald called out:

“Please come forth Thomas Hickathrift to be knighted by His Majesty.”

Tom walked forward and knelt before the King, who tapped to one shoulder, then the other, and then the first again and said:

“Arise Sir Thoman Hickathrift.  Now then Sir Thomas now that you are one of my knights you will have to come to my assistance whenever I call.”

Tom replied” It will be a great honour your majesty.”

Then the King asked him: “Tell me have you decided what will be put on your coat of arms, for all knights must have symbols to represent them.”

Tom had thought of that,   “Well yes I had thought about that.  As I managed to kill the ogre using an axle and a wheel I thought my symbols should be straight line for the axle and a circle for the wheel.”

That the King thought very appropriate.

 Tom Is Defeated By A Tinker

Tom went back to the marshland and built himself a great hall, using the money from the ogre’s treasure.  He did, however, have to come to the King’s assistance on several occasions.  Tom was very generous to all the members of his family and to people in the villages who were poor.  But he did still have a bit too much of a liking for beer as a result of his days working for the brewer.  Sometimes when he drank too much he would say or do things that he regretted later.  One day he was in his favourite fenland pub.  He had had a lot to drink. and decided to challenge anyone there to a competition, or fight:

“Well now you’ve all heard of me and I thought we should have a little sport.  Who’ll give me a boxing match……..What no one, call yourselves fen tigers… How about any sort of competition, I’ve never been beaten yet.”

Out stepped a small, but nimble Tinker who said he accepted the challenge.

Tom was amazed and said:” What you a little runt of a tinker.  What sort of weapon could you challenge me with.”

Tinker:  “A broom.”

Tom:  “A broom, why with a broom I’ll knock your top off.”

Tinker:  “No you have to do what I can do with a broom.”

Tom:  “All right then.  Landlord bring out your two best brooms.”

Tinker:  “All right Tom, all you have to do is copy me.”

The Tinker was an excellent dancer and he danced over, under, around the broom, passing it under his legs in different ways.  Tom tried to copy each move, but it was a disaster and he became more and more embarrassed as everyone in the pub started to laugh at him.  Eventually he tripped over the broom and sat on the floor, laughing at himself.  Tom admitted he’d been beaten for the very first time,

“  All right Tinker, I give up, you’re a better man than me.”

The tinker and Tom became the best of friends and had many adventures together.

 Tom Grows Old

When Tom was a very old man the local people came to visit him.

The first villager said to him,  “How are you feeling today Sir Thomas.”

Tom:  “Not too good, I imagine it’s not long until to I lie down for the last time.”

The second villager said,  “When you are finally buried, your lordship, we’re afraid there will be a big argument around here.”

Tom:  Why should that be?

Villager 1:  Well you see everyone loves you so much that every village wants you to be buried in their graveyard.

Tom:  Well we can’t have arguments.  Here help me to my feet.  Now just give me your arm and we’ll go over to that little stone over there.  Now then I’m going to throw this as far as I can and where the rock falls there I will be buried.


Tom:  Now off you go, and tell all the people where to bury me.

Narrator: It is said that the boulder flew across the Marshland and eventually hit the tower of Tilney All Saints Church. Tom was eventually buried there and it is said that they had to fold his body in half to fit him into the largest coffin they had.  And on his gravestone is still the symbol of the line and circle for the wheel and axle he used to kill the ogre and make the fenlands safe.


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