Hidden East Anglia:

Landscape Legends of Eastern England











Landscape Features





Maid's Hole


"There used to be a spring of water at a place called Marham, called Maid's Hole, and they said when I was a boy that to drink from that spring was a cure for the ague".


Source: 'The King of the Norfolk Poachers', in Lilias Rider Haggard (ed.): 'I Walked by Night' (Oxford University Press, 1982), p.21.





Marsham Pits


Marsham Pits, allegedly similar to the early medieval iron workings in the Aylmerton and Weybourne areas, are said to have been made by rebels during the Norfolk peasants' uprising of 1381.


Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore' (unpublished, 1892), p.44.



Marshland St. James:


The Giant's Grave


In the centre of the Smeeth, an area of Marshland, two roads cross at a point known as Hickathrift's Corner, and not far away is Hickathrift Farm (TF526098), both named after Norfolk's legendary giant. Across the road until partially built upon was Hicifric's Field, and in it two circular ponds and a large earthen mound. One of the ponds was called Hickathrift's Bath or Feeding Bowl, while the other seems to have had a low embankment round it, and was known as the giant's Hand-Basin or Wash-Basin.1


This, according to Basil Cozens-Hardy, was really "a Scandinavian doom ring, the meeting place for centuries of the inhabitants of the Seven Towns of Marshland..."2 The 'commoners' were supposed to have continued gathering here twice a year as late as the close of the 18th century.

The mound too was a moot place, but at midsummer only; at Easter the people congregated at St. John's Gate, just over a mile to the north. The mound, called by some the Giant's Grave, may well have been a round barrow. Locals said a giant killed by Tom was buried there, with the cart wheel and axletree that were Tom's traditional weapons. Some called it Hickathrift's Castle, that it was hollow, and that Tom himself was buried there.

Virtually every writer on the subject notes a stone cross on top of the mound, called Hickathrift's Candlestick or Collar-stud, and say that it was moved into the churchyard at Terrington St. John. In fact I found the remains of the old cross were uncovered on the mound in 1929 and moved into a hedge by the roadside. Then a local man got fed up with it at the bottom of his garden and buried it in 1950. After that the base only was rescued and returned to Marshland St. James in 1979, being incorporated into the base of the village sign.


I don't know when it came about, but the tale is apparently now told in Marshland that Hickathrift is actually buried beneath the crossroads, rather than in the churchyard at Tilney All Saints, where his grave is shown.4


For more details, and the full story of Norfolk's giant, see 'The Quest for Tom Hickathrift'.



1. Elizabeth Wortley: letter in the ‘East Anglian Magazine’ (Sept. 1955), Vol.14, p.656.

2. Basil Cozens-Hardy: 'Norfolk Crosses' in 'Norfolk Archaeology', Vol.25, p.324-5.

3. Information from Ms. Rosalinda M. C. Hardiman, former Curator of the Wisbech & Fenland Museum.

4. Found on former webpage: http://marshlandstjames.com/MarshlandStJamesSpecialEvents.html



Hickathrift's curse


According to locals, a few years before the village sign was erected something else was found pertaining to their own Norfolk giant. One or more slates were uncovered near the crossroads bearing writing that some have called Hickathrift's 'curse'. They apparently said: "Whomsoever cometh to smote or siege this fen with arms or ill intended shall leave it or leave it in pain or on pain of death for I Tom Hickathrift shall remain a guardian and beareth my right to defend." The slates, so it's said, were broken into pieces and scattered over Marshland so that Tom's spirit would continue protecting the area against those who would do it harm.

Source: Found on former webpage: http://marshlandstjames.com/MarshlandStJamesWhatsNew.html




The church that moved


The original site of St. Mary's church (TG454185) was supposed to be at the top of Church Lane, but like many others in British folklore, was mysteriously moved to its present location by the stones disappearing each night as it was being built.


Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore Collections' (unpublished, 1916-18, compiled by William de Castre), Vol.4, p.126.



Melton Constable:


Pigg's Grave


Where the Aylsham/Fakenham and Holt/East Dereham roads meet is Pigg's Grave (TG028331). Pigg is said to have been a highwayman, and here, where the parishes of Melton Constable, Briningham and Swanton Novers join, he was hanged, and presumably, buried.1 Alternatively, Pigg was the victim, with the robber later being hanged at nearby Gallowhill Lane.2 Then again, it's as likely to be the crossroads burial of a suicide.3



1. 'Norfolk Fair', Vol.2, No.3 (July 1969), p.18.

2. Pamela Brooks: 'Norfolk Miscellany' (Breedon Books, 2009), p.145.

3. http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk-Melton





The Merton Stone


The 'Merton Stone' is to be found near the western boundary of the parish with Threxton, just off Peddar's Way near an area marked as Capp's Bush,  at grid reference TL89649916. It is supposed to be a huge boulder of Neocomian sandstone, 3.6m x 1.5m x 1.5m, lying in a marl pit with only the tip showing. Indeed, when I visited in June 2019 only the north side was visible, the rest being rapidly overwhelmed by vegetation. According to the legend, if it were removed, "all the waters would rise and cover the whole earth".1

I have an addition to this tale from a Merton inhabitant, who says "My grandfather, the 5th Lord Walsingham, who was a very enquiring sort of man, got all the men (and women apparently) together, with ropes (and, I've no doubt, much beer) to try and move it. The attempt failed, but the tradition is that it was followed by an 'erotic debauch'; and even in my own boyhood, someone would say of some elderly love-child 'Ah, he's wun o' them wot cum the toime o' the ould stoon'."2 (See a similar tale under
Hartest, Suffolk).

The area of the twin villages to the south-east is known as the Rocklands, possibly, according to one antiquarian, from large boulders that stood there, like the one at Merton.

There seems to be some dispute over the stone's composition: "One of the natural curiosities in Merton is a huge boulder, thought to weigh about 20 tonnes, lying in a field on the west side of the parish. This massive boulder was swept to its present position by the ice during the last glacial period. It is believed to be the largest of its kind in Britain. It was described by Sir Robert Murchison as "...belonging to the Oxford Oolite, i.e., either to the clay or the band of drift called the calcareous grit. It contains the Ammonites duncani. It is likely to have been transported in the glacial period from the Bora district of Sutherland". Mr. Esteridge of the Geological Museum, however, differed in his interpretation saying "It is from the calcareous grit of the Oxford clay, a boulder from Yorkshire, enclosing Ammonites lamberti"."3


Apparently another attempt was made to move the stone, probably during the 1930's or '40's, using a huge rotary plough known as a Gyrotiller, but this was another failure.4



1. W. G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), pp.164, 188.

2. Information from the Hon. Richard de Grey of Merton

3. Former weblink: wayland.org.uk/site/site/mertonhistory

4. www.merton.ukgo.com/



Moulton St. Mary:


Callow Pit


On the boundary of Moulton St. Mary and Cantley parishes was a 'cavernous hollow' known as the Callow (or Caller) Pit (some say it’s the tree-shrouded pond on the west side of the Southwood Road/Grove Road crossroads at TG394058, which was bone-dry when I visited in September 2019), which in olden days was used as a hiding-place by smugglers and outlaws. By night the ghost of a headless horseman rides around it before galloping off to Callow Spong a mile away and vanishing.

Although the water was very dark, locals often talked about dragging out the iron chest of money they could see just below the surface. One night two men from Southwood tried, and managed to hook the iron ring on the end of the chest. After hours of struggling with its weight it broke the surface, and one of them cried out "We've got it now, and not even the Devil himself shall have it!" At that, a cloud of sulphurous vapour enveloped the pool, a long black arm erupted from the water, grabbing the chest with claw-like fingers, and a fierce tug of war ensued.

The Devil proved too strong, and the chest sank into the water, never to be seen again, and the men were left with only the iron ring from the chest. They took it home and fixed it as a handle onto the door of St. Edmund's church at Southwood, where it could still be seen as recently as 1890, but is now the door handle at Limpenhoe church. (See also



'Notes & Queries', 1 s. xii, p.487.

John Glyde: 'The Norfolk Garland' (Jarrold & Sons, 1872), pp.70-1.