Tom Hickathrift was a giant of a man. As a child, he ate as much as five ordinary men could in one sitting and, by the time he was ten years old, he was already eight feet tall!
Tom was well known for having supernatural strength but boy, was he lazy. He wasn't that smart either - until one day, when he came face to face with the Ogre of the Smeeth.
“Tom, Tom,” yelled the old lady. “Get your lazy self out of there. I need some straw fetching.” Reluctantly, the young man hauled himself out of his favourite spot in the chimney corner, and, bent nearly double, he crawled out of the cottage. “Look at the size of you,” his mother scolded up at him as he stretched, towering above her, “yet all you do is laze around in there, whilst I am out here, trying to make a few coppers to keep your enormous bulk in food!”
“What do you want me to do?” he stood, staring vacantly around him. “Can’t you remember what I said, you great oaf? I need some straw fetching – for the animals.” “Where do I get that?” Tom looked bewildered. “Try farmer Walton, at the end of the lane. He usually has plenty to spare. Here, take this rope with you to tie it together.”
“I wish you’d been granted brains as well as brawn,” she muttered as she watched the young giant lumber away. “I worry what’s going to become of you.”
“Hey, Mister Walton, my mam wants some straw,” Tom called. “Plenty here, lad,” the farmer replied. “Just take her what you can carry.” Tom gathered and roped some straw bales into a huge pile. “’e must ‘ave more than 20 hundredweight there!” commented one amazed farmhand. The farmer laughed and called Tom a fool. "Do you really think you can carry such a heavy load?" he jeered. Tom flung the load over his shoulder, as if it was as light as a feather. The farmer and his men stood by, speechless.
Once his incredible strength became known, Tom's lazy days were over. No more could he sit in the chimney corner doing as little as possible, as everyone wanted to hire him for work. Tom soon found that work brought its own reward and he became very merry, taking delight in company, going to fairs and meetings and he had many Adventures.
Tom's fame soon spread to a wealthy brewer at King's Lynn. Wanting a good strong man to carry his beer to Wisbech, he hired Tom. The brewer was very careful to tell Tom the route he must take around the Smeeth, an area of boggy marshland between the two towns, for a fearsome and terrible Ogre lived in a cave there.
Ogres in general are not very pleasant and this one was worse than most. He had a monstrous appetite for eating passers-by!
Unfortunately, avoiding the Ogre meant taking the long route - over twenty miles - around the great common, which belonged to the seven villages of the marshland; a very long detour for one so naturally lazy.
It was a scorching hot summer's day, as Tom wearily hauled his cart of beer barrels along the winding path. Weary of the long trek, he foolishly decided to take a short cut through the Smeeth - into the Ogre's territory.
The first sign that this was a mistake was the sight of human skulls hanging from every tree along his path. The second sign was even more obvious, the Ogre stood silently on the path before him!
If you thought Tom was big, you should have seen the Ogre! He was twelve feet tall and six feet around the waist, a large Ogre indeed.
"Who gave you authority to come this way?" he roared. "I'll make an example of you - see how many heads hang on yonder tree? Yours shall hang higher than all the rest."
Suddenly, Tom realised he had no weapon! For once in his life, Tom thought quickly and, without hesitation, he ripped an axle and a wheel off his cart. He bravely faced the slavering Ogre with these for sword and shield.
The fight was long and terrible, the sound of the mighty blows echoed across the marshland. The Ogre was strong and rained down heavy blows on Tom, but Tom gave as good as he got and was quicker and lighter on his feet. A well aimed blow to the side of the Ogre's head sent him reeling.
Knowing that he was weakening, the Ogre tried a trick and asked Tom for a drink. Tom would have none of it; his dim days were behind him.
"Oh no," he said, "my mother taught me better than that; who'd be a fool then?"
Using all his strength, Tom felled the Ogre with one last crushing blow. The severed head rolled and stopped at Tom's feet. The Ogre was dead.
Exhausted, Tom rested on a rock and looked around. Nearby, he spotted a cave. The ogre’s? He rose, curious, and cautiously looked inside.
Imagine his amazement as a glittering hoard of treasure met his gaze. Piles of gold and silver coins and glittering jewels lay everywhere! Dazzling crowns, ruby necklaces, diamonds as large as his fist sparkled in the gloom. Astonished and unbelieving, Tom ran his fingers through the brilliant gems, again and again. Eventually, he pulled himself away, rapidly repaired his cart and hurried home.
The next day, Tom took the brewer and some villagers to see the Ogre's head and the treasure.
The news of the Ogre's death spread quickly. The local people leapt for joy and lit bonfires, for the Ogre was an enemy to all.
Tom had earned the respect of the people and they decided he should have the land and treasure. Tom was rich for life and he built a great house on the site of the cave. He gave half the Ogre's marshland to the poor, for their common land, and farmed the rest to keep himself and his mother.
He took, as his family crest, a circle with a line over it, symbolising the axle and wheel that he had used to defeat the ogre. He was no longer plain Tom, but Mr Hickathrift, Hero of the Marshland, the one person smart enough to defeat the dreaded Ogre.
Tom lived a long and happy life. Today, on the church of Walpole St. Peter, there is a little stone figure that is known as Tom Hickathrift, the Hero of the Marshland.
His traditional resting place is said to be in Tilney Churchyard in a grave eight feet long. The locals say Tom had to be folded in half to fit in!