Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  English Folklore  Index  Previous  Next 


YOUNG giant, who does not appear to have been known by any other name than Tom, lived somewhere westward of Hayle, probably in Lelant. Tom would eat as much meat as three men, and when he was in the humour he could do as much work as half a dozen. Howbeit, Tom was a lazy fellow, and spent most of his time wandering about the parish with his hands in his pockets. Occasionally Tom would have an industrious fit; then, if he found any of his neighbours hedging, he would turn to and roll in all the largest rocks from over the fields, for "grounders" [b] This was the only work Tom took delight in; he was won't to say, he could feel his strength about such work as that Tom didn't appear so very big a man in those days, when all men were twice the size they are now. He was about four feet from shoulder to shoulder, square built, and straight all the way down from shoulder to cheens (loins).

Tom's old mother was constantly telling her idle son to do something to earn his food, but the boy couldn't find any job to his mind for a long time. At last he undertook to drive a brewer's wain, in the hope of getting into plenty of strong drink, and he went to live in Market-Jew, where the brewery was. The, first day he was so employed, he was going to St Ives with his load of beer, and on the road he saw half a score of men trying to lift a fallen tree on to a "draw." It was, however, more than the whole of them could do.

"Stand clear!" shouts Tom.

He put his hands, one on each side of the tree, and lifted it on the "draw," without so much as saying "Ho!' to his oxen, or looking behind him. The feat was performed in Ludgvan Lees, and a little farther on was a giant's place diverting the road, which should have gone straight to St Ives but for it. This place was hedged in with great rocks, which no ten men of these times could move. They call them the Giant's Hedges to the present day. There was a gate on that side of the giant's farm which was nearest Market-Jew, and another on that side which joined the highway leading on to St Ives. Tom looked at the gate for some time, half disposed to drive through, but eventually he decided on proceeding by the ordinary road. When, however, Tom was coming back from St Ives with his empty wain, his courage screwed up by the influence of some three or four gallons of strong beer which he had drunk, he began to reason with himself thus

"The king's highway ought not to be twisting and turning like an angle-twitch. [c] It should go straight through here. What right has the giant to keep his place closed, stopping honester men than he ever was longer on the road home? If everybody were of my mind, the road would soon be opened. Faith, I'll drive through. He wouldn't eat me, I suppose. My old mammy never told me I was to come to my end that way. They say the giant has had scores of wives. What becomes of them nobody can tell; yet there are always more ready to supply their place. Well, that 's no business of mine. I never met the man to make me turn back yet; so come along, Neat and Comely," shouts Tom to the oxen, opening the great gate for them to pass through. On went Tom, without seeing anything of the giant or of anybody else, except the fat cattle of all sorts in the fields. After driving about a mile, Tom came to a pair of gates in a high wall, which was close to and surrounding the giant's castle. There was no passing round those, as deep ditches, full of water, were on either side of these gates. So at them went Tom. The huge gates creaked on their hangings and the wheels of Tom's wain rattled on over the causey. [d] A little ugly midgan of a cur began to bark, and out tore the giant, a great ugly unshapely fellow, all head and stomach.

"You impudent little villain," roared the giant, "to drive into my grounds, disturbing my afternoon's nap. What business have you here?"

"I am on the road," says Tom, "and you--nor a better man than you--shan't put me back. You ha' no right to build your hedges across what used to be the king's highway, and shall be again."

"I shan't bemean myself to talk with such a little saucy blackguard as thee art," said the giant; "I'll get a twig, and drive thee out faster than 'thee came in."

"Well," says Tom, "you may keep your breath to cool your porridge; but, if that's the game you are up to, I can play at that as well as you."

The giant had pulled up a young elm-tree, about twenty feet high or so, and he began stripping the small branches from the head of the tree, as he came up the hill, gaping (yawning) all the time, .as if he were half asleep. Tom, seeing what he was up to, upset his wain. this he did without the oxen moving, as the tuntsy (pole) turned round in the ring of the yoke. He then slipped off the further wheel in a wink, hauled out the exe (axle-tree) fast in the other wheel, against the giant came up. (In old time the axle was made to work in gudgeons under the carts or wains.)

"Now then," says Tom, "fair play for the buttons. If you can beat me, I'll go back. The exe and wheel is my sword and buckler, which I'll match against your elm-tree." Then Torn began whistling.

The giant got round the uphill side, lifted his tree, and tore towards Tom without saying a word, as if he would cleave him from head to heel.

Tom lifted the axle-tree, with the wheel, up, to guard off the blow of the giant's twig--the giant being in such a towering passion to hear Tom coolly whistling all the time, that he couldn't steady himself. He missed Tom's head, struck the edge of the wheel, and, the ground being slippery, the giant fell upon his face on the ground. Tom might have driven the " exe" through him as he lay sprawling in the mud, and so have nailed him to the earth; but no, not he! Tom would rather be killed than not fight fair, so he just tickled the giant under the ribs with the end of the "exe." "Come, get up," says Tom, "let 's have another turn." The giant rose very slowly, as if he were scarcely able to stand, bent double, supporting himself on his twig. He was only dodging--the great cowardly skulk--to get the uphill side again, and take Tom unawares; but he was waiting with his right hand grasping the "exe," the wheel resting on the ground. Quick as lightning the giant raised his tree. Tom fetched him a heavy kick on the shins, he slipped, fell forward, and Tom so held the "exe," that it passed through his body like a spit. Good Lord, how the giant roared!

"Thee stop thy bleating," says Tom. "Stand quiet a moment. Let 's draw the exe out of thy body, and I'II give thee a chance for another round. Thee doesn't deserve it, because thee aren't playing fair."

Tom turned the giant over, laid hold of the wheel, and dragged out the "exe." In doing this he was nearly blinded with the blood that spouted out of the hole. Blunderbuss rolled on the ground like an empty sack, roaring amain all the time in great agony.

"Stop thy bleating," says Tom, "and put thy hands in the hole the 'exe' has made in thee, to keep in the blood, until I can cut a turf to stop up the place, and thee will'st do again yet."

As Tom was plugging the wound with the turfs, the giant groaned and said, "It's all no good; I shall kick the bucket. I feel myself going round land; but with my last breath I 'll do thee good, because I like thee better than anybody else I ever met with, for thy fair play and courage. The more thee wouldst beat me, the better I should like thee. I have no near relations. There is heaps of gold, silver, copper, and tin down in the vaults of the castle, guarded by two dogs. Mind there names are Catchem and Tearem. Only call them by these names and they'll let thee pass. The land from this to the sea is all mine. There is more head of oxen, cows, sheep, goats, and deer, than thee canst count. Take them all, only bury me decent."

"Did you kill all your wives?" asked Tom.

"No," sighed the giant, "they died natural. Don't let them abuse me after death. I like thee as a brother."

"Cheer up," says Torn, "you 'll do again."

He then tried to raise the giant up, but the plug of turf slipped from the wound, and all was over.

Tom put the wheel and axle in order, turned over the wain, and drove home to Market-Jew. The brewer was surprised and well pleased to see Tom back so early, and offered him good wages to stop for the year.

"I must leave this very night," says Tom, "for my old granfer, who lived up in the high countries, is dead. I am his nearest relation. He lived all alone. He 's left me all his money and lands, so I must go and bury my old granfer this very night." The brewer was about to pay him for his day's work--" Oh, never mind that," says Tom; " I 'll give up that for as much beer as I can drink with supper."

After supper Torn went and took possession of the giant's castle and lands--nobody the wiser except a little woman, the giant's last wife, who came from some place not far from the castle. Some name Crowlas, some Tregender, others Bougiehere, as the place where she dwelt. Howbeit, she knew all about the giant's overthrow, and thought it the wisest course to "take up" at once with Torn; and she being a tidy body, Tom was by no means unwilling. Tom and this woman took possession of the castle. They buried the giant down in the bottom, and placed a block of granite to keep him down. They gave the carcass of a sheep to Catchem and Tearem, visited the caves of the castle, found lots of treasure, and fairly got into the giant's shoes.

[a] The similarity of this story to the well-known tale of "Tom Hickathrift" will strike every one. It might be supposed that the old story of the strong man of the Isle of Ely  had been read by some Cornish man, and adapted to the local peculiarities, This may possibly have been the case, but I do not think it probable. I first heard the story from a miner, on the floors of Ding-Doug Mine, during my earliest tour in search of old stories. I have since learned that it was a common story with the St Ives nurses, who told it to amuse or terrify their children. Recently, I have had the same tale communicated to me by a friend, who got it from a farmer living in Lelant. This story is confined to the parishes of Lelant, St Ives, Sancreed, Towednach, Moors, and Zentror. Mr Halliwell thinks the adventures of Tons Hickathrift are connected with "some of the insurrections in the Isle of Ely, such as that of Herewood, described in Wright's ' Essays,' ii. 91" Now, Herewood the Saxon is said to have taken refuge in the extreme part of Cornwall, and we are told of many romantic adventures, chiefly in connection with the beautiful daughter of Alef, a Cornish chief. May it not be, that here we have the origin of the story as it is told in Lincolnshire and in Cornwall?

[b] in making the really Cyclopean hedges which prevail in some parts of Cornwall, the large boulders of granite, or other stones, which lie scattered on the moors are used for the foundation. Indeed, one purpose, and a very important one, served by those hedges, has been the removal of the stones from the ground which has been enclosed, and the disposal of the sones so removed.

[c] A worm,

[d] Causeway, pavement.

Next: Tom the Giant, his wife Jane and Jack the Tinkeard