Villon Society.

Chap-books and folk-lore tracts (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryVillon SocietyChap-books and folk-lore tracts (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




QR^ C0

BOOK 398^5X365 - ' '^^qbe TRACTS
l^Z'-fooA SS "oU-,0,-,E,TB»CTS

=1153 0015M422 ^




Folk-Lore Tracts.

Edited by

G. L, Gomme, F,S,A.


H, B. Wheatley, F,S,A,

First Series.









Printed for the Villon Society.



There seems to be some considerable reason for believing
that the hero of this story was a reality. The story tells us
that he lived in the marsh of the Isle of Ely, and that he
became "a brew^er's man" at Lyn, and traded to Wisbeach.
This little piece of geographical evidence enables us to fix the
story as belonging to the great Fen District, which occupied the
north of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

The antiquary Thomas Hearne has gone so far as to identify
the hero of tradition with a doughty knight of the Crusaders.
Writing in the ^arterly Review (vol. xxi. p. 102), Sir Francis
Palgrave says : —

" Mr. Thomas Hickathrift, afterwards Sir Thomas Hicka-
thrift, Knight, is praised by Mr. Thomas Hearne as a * famous
champion.* The honest antiquary has identified this well-
known knight with the far less celebrated Sir Frederick de
Tylney, Baron of Tylney in Norfolk, the ancestor <yi the
Tylney family, who was killed at Aeon, in Syria, in the reign
of Richard Coeur de Lion. Hycophric, or Hycothrift, as the
mister-wight observes, being probably a corruption of Frederick.

ii Intr eduction.

This happy exertion of etymological acumen is not wholly due
to Hearne, who only adopted a hint given by Mr. Philip le
Neve, whilome of the College of Arms."

There does not seem to be the slightest evidence for Hearne*s
identification any more than there is for his philological con-
clusions, and we may pass over this for other and more reliable

We must first of all turn to the story itself, as it has come
down to us in its chapbook form. It is divided into two parts.
The first part of the story is the earliest ; the second part
being evidently a printer's or a chapman's addition. Our
reprint of the former is taken from the copy in the Pepysian
Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and which was
printed probably about 1660 — 169O; the latter is taken from the
British Museum copy, the date of which, according to the
Museum authorities, is 1780.

In trying to ascertain something as to the date of the story
apart from that of its printed version, it will therefore be
necessary to put out of consideration the second portion. This
has been written by some one well acquainted with the original
first part, and with the spirit of the story ; but in spite of this
there is undoubted evidence of its literary origin at a date later
than the first part. But turning to the first part there are two
expressions in this early Pepysian version which have not
been repeated in the later editions — those of the eighteenth
century; and these two expressions appear to me to indicate a

Introduction. iii

date after which the story could not have been originated. On
page I we read that Tom Hickathrift dwelt " in the marsh of
the Isle of Ely." In the earliest Brit'sh Museum copy this
appears as " in the parish of the Isle of Ely." Again, on page 1 1
Tom is described as laying out the giant's estate, " some of which
he gave to the poor for their common, and the rest he made
pastures of and divided the most part into good ground, to main-
tain him and his old mother Jane Hickathrift." In the earliest
British Museum copy the expression " good ground " is dis-
placed by " tillage." Now it is clear from these curious trans-
position of words in the earliest and latest editions that some-
thing had been going on to change the nature of the country.
The eighteenth-century people did not know the *' marsh " of
Ely, so they read " parish " : they did not know the meaning of
" good ground " so they read " tillage." And hence it is clear
that at the printing of this earliest version the fen lands of
Cambridge and Norfolk had not yet been drained ; there was
still " marsh land " which was being made into " good land."

But I think there is evidence in this printed chap-book
version of the story which tells us that it was taken from a
traditional version. Let any one take the trouble to read aloud
the first part, and he will at once perceive that there is a ring
and a cadence given to the voice by the wording of the story,
and particularly by the curious punctuation, which at once
reminds us of a narrative from word of mouth. And besides
this there is some little evidence of phonetic spelling, just such

iv Introduction,

as might have been expected from the first printer taking the
story from the lips of one of the Fen-country peasantry.

Now this internal evidence of the once viva-voce existence
of the printed legend of Tom Hickathrift has a direct bearing
upon the question as to the date of the earliest printed version.
The colloquialisms are so few, and the rhythm, though marked
and definite, is occasionally so halting and approaches so nearly
a literary form, that we are forced to observe that the earliest
printed edition now known is certainly not the earliest version
printed. There are too {q'vj phoneticisms and dialect words to
make it probable that the print in the Pepysian collection is the
one directly derived from popular tradition. As the various
printers in the eighteenth century altered words and sentences
here and there, as different editions were issued, so did the
seventeenth-century printers ; and therefore it is necessary to
push the date of the printed version farther back than we can
hope to ascertain by direct evidence. There is no reason why
there should not have been a sixteenth-century printed version,
and to this period I am inclined to allocate the earliest appear-
ance of the story in print.

And then prior to the printed version was the popular version
with its almost endless life, perhaps reaching back to that vague
period indicated in the opening words of the story, *• in the
reign before William the Conqueror." Already internal
evidence has, it is suggested, pointed to a popular unwritten
tradition of Tom Hickathrift's life and exploits. But we must


ask now. Is there, or was there, any tradition among the pea-
santry of Lyn and its neighbourhood about Thomas Hicka-
thrift ? And, if so, how far does this popular tradition reach
back, and how far does it tally with the chap-book version ?
Again, is this popular tradition independent of the chap-book
story, or has it been generated from the printed book ? To
answer these questions properly we must closely examine all
the evidence available as to the existence and form of this
popular tradition.

Turning first of all to the historian of Norfolk, Blomefield,*
writing in 1808, gives us the following account : —

" The town of Tilney gives name to a famous common
called Tilney Smeeth, whereon 30,000 or more large Marsh-
land sheep and the great cattle of seven towns to which it
belongs are constantly said to feed. Of this plain of Smeeth
there is a tradition, which the common people retain^ that in
old time the inhabitants of these towns [Tilney, Terrington,
Clenchwarton, Islington, Walpole, West Walton, Walsoken,
and Emneth] had a contest with the lords of the manors about
the bounds and limits of it, when one Hickifric^ a. person of
great stature and courage, assisting the said inhabitants in their
rights of common, took an axle-tree from a cart-wheel, instead

* Blomefield's History of Norfolk, vol, ix. pp. 79-80; the same story is related by
Chambers in his History of Norfolk, vol. i. p. 370. The parishes of W. and N. Lynn,
though lying In marshland, are excluded from any right of pasturage on the Smeth

vi Introduction.

of a sword, and the wheel for a shield or buckler, and thus armed
soon repelled the invaders. And for proof of this notable exploit
they to this day show, says Sir William Dugdale [Dugd. Hist, of
Imhankingy Sec. p. 244 ; Weever's Fun. Mon. p. 866], a large
grave-stone near the east end of the chancel in Tilney church-
yard, whereon the form of a cross is so cut or carved as that
the upper part thereof (wherewith the carver hath adorned it)
being circular, they will therefore needs have it to be the grave-
stone of Hickifric^ and to be as a memorial of his gallantry.
The stone coffin, which stands now out of the ground in
Tilney churchyard, on the north side of the church, will not
receive a person above six feet in length, and this is shown as
belonging formerly to the giant Hickifric, The cross said to
be a representation of the cart-wheel is a cross pattee, on the
summit of a staff, which staff is styled an axle-tree. Such crosses
pattee on the head of a staff were emblems or tokens that some
Knight Templar was therein interred, and many such are to be
seen at this day in old churches."

Now the reference to Sir William Dugdale is misleading,
because, as will be seen by the following quotation, the position
of the hero is altered in Dugdale's version of the legend from
that of a popular leader to the tyrant lord himself: — " Of this
plain I may not omit a tradition which the common people
thereabouts have, viz., that in old time the inhabitants of the
neighbouring villages had a fierce contest with one Hickifric
(the then owner of it) touching the bounds thereof, which

Introduction, vii

grew so hot that at length it came to blows \ and that Hicki-
fric, being a person of extraordinary stature and courage, took
an axletree from a cart instead of a sword, and the wheel for
his buckler, and, being so armed, most stoutly repelled those bold
invaders : for further testimony of which notable exploit they
to this day show a large gravestone near the east end of the
chancel in Tilney churchyard, whereupon the form of a cross
is so cut as that the upper part thereof by reason of the flou-
rishes (wherewith the carver hath adorned it) sheweth to
be somewhat circular, which they will, therefore, needs have
to be the wheel and the shaft the axletree." This version,
taken from Dugdale's History of Jmbanking, 1772, p. 244,
though differing in form, at all events serves to carry us back
to 1662, the date when Sir William Dugdale's History was first

But the local tradition can be carried further back than
1662, because the learned Sir Henry Spelman, in his Icenia
sive Norjolciae Descriptio Topographica, p. 138, and written
about 1640, says, when speaking of Tilney, in Marshland
Hundred : " Hie se expandit insignis area quae a planicie nun-
cupatur Tylney-smelth, pinguis adeo et luxurians ut Paduana

pascua videatur superasse Tuentur eam indigenae velut

Aras et Focos, fabellamque recitant longa petitam vetustate
de Hikifrico (nescio quo) Haii illius instar in Scotorum
Chronicis, qui Civium suorum dedignatus fuga, Aratrum
quod agebat, solvit ; arrcptoque Temone furibundus insiliit

viii Introduction.

in hostes victoriamque ademit exultantibus. Sic cum de agri
istius finibus acriter olim dimicatum esset inter fundi Donninun
et Villarum Incolas, nee valerent hi adversus eum consistere ;
redeuntibus occurrit Hikifricus, axemque excutiens a curru
quern agebat, eo vice Gladii usus ;, Rota, Clypei ; invasores
repulit ad ipsos quibus nunc funguntur terminos. Ostendunt
in caemeterio Xilniensi, Sepulcrum sui pugilis, Axem cum
Rota insculptum exhibens."

A still earlier version is to be found recorded by Weever
in 1631, The full quotation is as follows : " Tylney Smeeth,
so called of a smooth plaine or common thereunto adioyning.
. . , In the Churchyard is a ridg'd Altar, Tombe, or sepulchre
of a wondrous antique fashion, vpon which an axell-tree and
a cart wheele are insculpcd. Vnder this Funerall Monument
the Towne dwellers say that one Hilcifricke lies interred ^ of
whom {as it hath gone by tradition from father to the sonne)
they thus likewise report : How that vpon a time (no man
knowes how long since) there happened a great quarrell betwixt
the Lord of this land or ground and the inhabitants of the
foresaid seuen villages, about the meere-marks, limits, or bon-
daries of this fruitfull feeding place; the matter came to a
battell or skirmish, in which the. said Inhabitants being not
able to resist the landlord and his forces began to giue backe ;
Hikifricke, driuing his cart along and perceiuing that his
neighbours were fainthearted, and ready to take flight, he
shooke the Axell tree from the cart which he vsed instead of a

Introduction. ix

sword, and tooke one of the cart-wheeles which he held as a
buckler ; with these weapons he set vpon the Common aduer-
saries or aduersaries of the Common, encouraged his neigh-
bours to go forward, and fight valiantly in defence of their
liberties; who being animated by his manly prowesse, they
tooke heart to grasse, as the prouerbe is, insomuch that they
chased the Landlord and his companie to the vtmost verge of
the said Common ; which from that time they haue quietly
enioyed to this very day. The Axell-tree and cart-wheele are
cut and figured in diuers places of the Church and Church
windowes, which makes the story, you must needs say, more
probable. This relation doth in many parts parallell with
that of one Hay, a strong braue spirited Scottish Plowman,
who vpon a set battell of Scots against the Danes, being
working at the same time in the next field, and seeing some
of his countreymen to flie from that bote encounter, caught vp
an oxe yoke (Boethius saith, a Plough-beame), with which
(after some exhortation that they should not bee faint-
hearted) he beate the said straglers backe againe to the maine
Army, where he with his two sonnes (who tooke likewise such
weapons as came next to their hands) renewed the charge so
furiously that they quite discomfited the enemy, obtaining the
glory of the day and victory for their drad Lord and Soue-
raigne Kenneth the third. King of Scotland ; and this hap-
pened in the yeare 942, the second of the King's raigne. This
you may reade at large in the History of Scotland^ thus abridged


by Camden as followeth." — Weever's Funerall Monuynents,
1631, pp. 866-867.

And Sir Francis Palgrave, quoting the legend from Spelman,
observes, — "From the most remote antiquity the fables and
achievements of Hickifric have been obstinately credited by the
inhabitants of the township of Tylney. Hickifric is venerated
by them as the assertor of the rights and liberties of their an-
cestors. The * monstrous giant ' who guarded the marsh was
in truth no other than the tyrannical lord of the manor who
attempted to keep his copyholders out of the common field,
Tylney Smeeth j but who was driven away with his retainers
by the prowess of Tom armed only with his axletree and
cart-wheel."* This does not appear to me to put the case too
strongly. A tradition told so readily and believed so generally
in the middle of the seventeenth century must have had a
strong vitality in it only to be obtained by age.

Let us now turn to the other side, namely, the existence of
a traditional version in modern days, because it is important
to note that the printing of a chapbook version need not have
disturbed the full current of traditional thought. In a note Sir
Francis Palgrave seems to imply that the story was still extant
without the aid of printed literature. He writes :

" A Norfolk antiquary has had the goodness to procure for
us an authentic report of the present state of Tom's sepulchre.

i^arterly Reu'ieiv, vol. xxi. p. 103.

Introduction. xi

It is a stone soros, of the usual shape and dimensions ; the
sculptured lid or cover no longer exists. It must have been
entire about fifty years ago, for v^hen we were good Gaffer
Crane would rehearse Tom's achievements^ and tell us that he
had cut out the moss which filled up the inscription with his
penknife, but he could not read the letters." *

And Clare, in his Village Minstrel, tells us that : —
'* Here Lubin listen'd with awestruck surprise.
When Hickathrift's great strength has met his ear ;
How he kili'd giants as they were but flies.
And lifted trees as one would a spear,
Though not much bigger than his fellows were ;
He knew no troubles waggoners have known.
Of getting stall'd and such disasters drear ;
Up he'd chuck sacks as we would hurl a stone.
And draw whole loads of grain unaided and alone."
And this view as to the existence still of a traditional form of
the story is almost borne out by what the country people only
recently had to say relative to a monument in that part of the
country over which Sir William Dugdale travelled, and of
which he has left us such a valuable memorial in his History of
Imhanking. A writer in the Journal of the Archaeological Asso-
ciation (vol. XXV. p. 1 1 ) says : — " A mound close to the Smeeth
Road Station, between Lynn and Wisbech, is called the Giant's

^arterly Revie^Vy vol. xxi. p. I02, note.

xii Introduction,

Grave, and the inhabitants relate that there lie the remains of
the great giant slain, by Hickathrift with the cart wheel and
axletree. A cross was erected upon it, and is to be seen in the
neighbouring churchyard of Torrington St. John's, bearing the
singular name of Hickathrift's Candlestick."

It appears, then, that the following may be considered the
chief evidence which we have obtained about the existence of
the story : —

That a chapbook or literary form of the story has existed
from the sixteenth century ;

That a traditional story existed quite independently of the
literarv story in the seventeenth century ;

That a traditional story exists at the present time, or until
very recently ;
And knowing what folk-lore has to say about the long life of
traditions, about their constant repetition age after age, it is not,
I venture to think, too much to conclude that a story which
can be shown by evidence to have lived on from mouth to
mouth for two centuries is capable of going back to an almost
endless antiquity for its true original.

Let us now consider what may be the origin of this story.
There is one theory as to this which has gained the authority
of Sir Francis Palgrave. The pranks which Tom performed
" must be noticed," says Sir Francis, " as being correctly Scan-
dinavian " He then goes on to say, ^' Similar were the achieve-
ments of the great Northern champion Grettir, when he kept

Introduction. xiii

geese upon the common, as told in his Saga. Tom's youth
retraces the tales of the prowess of the youthful Siegfried
detailed in the Niblunga Saga and in the book of Heroes. It
appears from Hearne that the supposed axle-tree, with the
superincumbent wheel, was represented on ^ Hycothrift's * grave-
stone in Tylney churchyard in the shape of a cross. This is
the form in which all the Runic monuments represent the
celebrated hammer or thunderbolt of the son of Odin, which
shattered the skulls and scattered the brains of so many luckless
giants. How far this surmise may be supported by Tom's skill
and strength in throwing the hammer we will not pretend to

Now this takes the story entirely out of the simple category
of local English tradition, and places it at once among those
grand mythic tales which belong to the study of comparative
mythology and which take us back to the earliest of man's
thought and belief In order to test this theory let us have
before us the passages in Tom Hickathrift's history which
might be said to bear it out, and then let us compare them with
the stories of Grettir.

The analysis of the story based upon the plan laid down by
the Folk-Lore Society is as follows : —

(i.) Tom's parents are nobodies, " a poor man and day
labourer " being his father.

* Sluarteriy Revie^Vf vol. xxi. pp. 102»I03.

xiv Introduction.

(2.) Tom was obstinate as a boy.

(3.) Loses his father, and at first does not help his mother,

but sits in the chimney corner.
(4.) Is of great height and size.
(5.) Strength is unknown until he shows it.
(6.) Commits many pranks, among which is the throwing

" a hammer five or six furlongs off into a river."
(7.) Kills a giant with a club, Tom using axletree and

wheel for his shield and buckler.
(8.) Takes possession of the giant's territory and lives

(9.) Commits more pranks, " kicks a football right away."
(10.) Escapes from four thieves and despoils them.
(11.) Is defeated by a tinker.
It will not be necessary to analyse the whole of the stories to
which we are referred for the mythic parallels of Tom Hickka-
thrift ; but I will take out the items corresponding to those
tabulated above. In the story of " Grettir the Strong " we
have the following incidents : —

(i.) Grettir's father "had his homestead and farm land."
(2.) Grettir was obstinate as a boy {does nothing on board

(3.) Plays pranks upon his father, and returns from

attending the horses to the fire-side (Iceland).
(4.) Is short, though strong, and big of body,
(5.) He had not skill to turn his great strength to account.

Introduction, xv

(6.) He wrestles with other lads, and commits many
pranks, flings a rock from its place.

(7.) Wrestles with Katr, the barrow dweller; and •

(8.) Takes possession of Karr's weapons and wealth.

(9.) Fights with and conquers robbers.
Now it cannot be denied that there is a great similarity in
the thread of these two stories. Norfolk, the colony of the
Northmen of old, may well have retained its ancient tradition
until the moving incidents of English economic history brought
about the weaving of it into the actual life that was pressing
round men's thoughts. It would thus leave out the great mass
of detail in the old northern tradition, and retain just sufficient
to fit in with the new requirements; and in this way it appears
to me we have the present form of the story of Tom Hicka-
thrift, its ancient Scandinavian outline, its more modern English
application. Now it is curious to note that the cart-wheel
plays a not unimportant part in English folk-lore as a repre-
sentative of old runic faith. Sir Henry Ellis, in his edition of
Brand's Popular Antiquities (vol. i. p. 298), has collected toge-
ther some instances of this ; and whatever causes may have led
to this survival there is nothing to prevent us from looking
upon the wheel and axle in the story of Tom Hickathrift as a
part and parcel of the same survival.

There now remains to notice one or two points of interest
outside the narrative of the story itself. Of curious expressions
we have —

xvi Introduction.

fitted (p. 3), to pay any one out, to revenge one's self;

buttle of straw (p. 3) ;

shift (p. 3), to support, to make shift. See Davies's Sup-
pkmentary Glossary^ sub voce " make-shift,'* " shiftful " ;

bone-fires (p. 1 1 ). See Ellis's Brandos Popular Antiquities,
vol. i. p. 300, note j

cocksure (p. 14), quite sure.
Of proverbs there are—

to vi^in the horse or lose the saddle (p. 8) ;

to make hay vi^hile the sun did shine (p. 10).
Of games there are mentioned —

cudgells (p. 4) ;

wrestling (p. 4) ;

throwing the hammer (p. 4) j

football (p. 13);

bear-baiting (p. 13).
It will be observed that the spelling of the name in the
Pepysian copy is specially divided thus — Hic-ka- thrift ;
and though it seems probable that some good reason must be
assigned to this, I cannot find out points of importance. But
about the dubbing him Mr. (p. 7) or Master, as it would
be in full, there is something of great interest to point out.
This was formerly a distinct title. In Harrison's Description
of England we read, " Who soeuer studieth the lawes of the
realme, who so abideth in the vniuersitie, or prcfesseth physicke
and the liberall sciences, or beside his seruice in the roome of

Introduction, xvii

a capteine in the warres can Hue without manuell labour, and
thereto is able and will beare the post, charge, and counte-
nance of a gentleman, he shall be called master, which is the
title that men giue to esquiers and gentlemen and reputed for
gentlemen." — Harrison's Description of England, ^577 (edited
by F. J. Furnivall for the New Shakspere Society, 1877),
p. 129.

Of yeomen he says, " And albeit they be not called master
as gentlemen are, or sir as to knights apperteineth, but onelie
John and Thomas,'* &c. (p. 134): and of "the third and
last sort," " named the yeomanrie," he adds, " that they be
not called masters and gentlemen, but goodmen, as goodman

1 3

Online LibraryVillon SocietyChap-books and folk-lore tracts (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)