Pupils enjoy a giant of day as they celebrate the Fenland legend of Tom Hickathrift

Fenland legend Tom Hickathrift and the Ogres in Wisbech. Picture: Ian Burt

Fenland legend Tom Hickathrift and the Ogres in Wisbech. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

He is a giant of East Anglian folklore, though has perhaps shrunk somewhat from the public’s imagination. But now a new project has helped to revive the legend of Tom Hickathrift.

School children in the Fens have revisited the stories of Tom Hickathrift, the giant who hailed from the Marshland between King’s Lynn and Wisbech.

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

The school’s project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund revived the traditional stories of the giant who lived in The Smeeth.

On Thursday pupils from the schools performed traditional dancing in the market square alongside their own versions of Tom Hickathrift and the ogres which had been made during workshops.


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The celebrations then continued at Wisbech Grammar School where a Hickathrift Festival was held.

Gordon Phillips, a co-ordinator of the Tall Tales of Tom project, said: “There have been so many elements to this project and we hope the children have enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a story connected with their area.”

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He added: “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.

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.”

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.

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