Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
"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, 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Source: W. B. Gerish: 'Norfolk Folklore' (unpublished, 1892), p.44.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
'Notes & Queries', 1 s. xii, p.487.
John Glyde: 'The Norfolk Garland' (Jarrold & Sons, 1872), pp.70-1.