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Jack o' Legs

This folktale was kindly brought to our attention by Alma Oakley of Weston in Hertfordshire.

Weston churchyard is reputed to be the final resting place of the Weston Giant: Jack o' Legs. Two stones mark his grave. One is positioned at his head and another at his feet, a distance of eight feet apart.

Jack o' legs was famed both for his stature and for his skill with a bow and arrow. It was said he could shoot an arrow for three miles, and take down a bird at a distance of half a mile.

Jack was a hermit roaming the downs on the outskirts of Weston and Gravely. He was also thief, but in the generous tradition of Robin Hood his ill-gotten riches were distributed to the poor and needy, adding to his fame and notoriety in the area. This fame did not go unnoticed, and the wealthy tradesmen upon whom he preyed were not wont to stand idle as he gave away their riches. One day a band of wealthy bakers from the market town of Baldock decided to be rid of their bane once and for all.

They waited in ambush for Jack, and - fearing his giant strength - attacked him from behind. Before he could respond they smashed his skull with a long heavy pole, bound him tightly, and then cruelly burned out his eyes with a red-hot poker. They then took him to a field near Weston where they planned to hang him from a giant oak tree. Jack regained consciousness just long enough to ask one last request: that he might shoot an arrow to mark the place of his burial. The Bakers allowed this one respite, and the arrow flew from his bow into Weston churchyard where his monument stands to this day.

Although time has distorted his tale Jack o' Legs may have been a very real character. There are other fabled giants in Britain, based on real people of large stature, who captured the imagination of the people. One would hope that Jack o' Legs did not meet with the grisly fate that folklore has recorded. In some versions of this story Jack lived in a cave, and is attacked as he is passing through Baldock. From here he shoots his arrow a distance of over three miles into Weston churchyard.

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