Very Robin Hood, was our Tom
PUBLISHED: 11:36 10 November 2006 | UPDATED: 22:21 28 May 2010
Unless you ve been very lucky, you may have seen BBC Television s lavish new Robin Hood . Robin behaves like a cross between a social worker and a trades union leader. He speaks a weird modern slang. I keep expecting him to say, I m not bovvered. It s
Unless you've been very lucky, you may have seen BBC Television's lavish new 'Robin Hood'.
Robin behaves like a cross between a social worker and a trades union leader. He speaks a weird modern slang. I keep expecting him to say, "I'm not bovvered."
It's very different from the old ITV series starring Richard Greene. Those short films were each made in four and a half days at Walton-on-Thames. The scenery was simple. There was a 'stone' flight of steps (made out of plywood), an archway, a serf's hut and other bits, each mounted on wheels. The crew could re-arrange these to look like a completely new set in six minutes.
Apparently the new Robin Hood has sparked a tourist boom in Nottingham. It set me wondering why we neglect our own Fenland (or, rather, Marshland) hero: Tom Hickathrift.
So the story goes, Tom is said to have been the son of a Wisbech widow. He grew so fast he was six feet tall by the age of 10. A giant of a man, he used a cart's axle as his sword and a cart wheel for a shield. An eight-foot oval stone outside Tilney All Saints church is said to mark his grave.
Many stories were told about him. He defeated the devil in a game of football played in Walpole St Peter churchyard. He killed a giant who threatened travellers between Wisbech and King's Lynn - and, like Sherwood Forest's hero, was always on the side of the poor.
The villagers of Tilney were once in trouble with their rich landlord. He had denied them the right to let their cattle graze on common land in the village which was their due.
When they rebelled, the lord and his servants set about them with clubs and sticks.
Up came Tom Hickathrift, smashed in the servant's skulls and then turned his attention to the local lord. Not surprisingly, he quickly surrendered to Tom - and the villagers' grazing rights were restored. Very Robin Hood.
I've heard rumours that someone once tried to make a film about Hickathrift and he's certainly featured in various books for children.
His name is remembered in Emneth place names. Even so, he remains one of the many local traditions we fail to use to promote Fenland.