Nestled in the quaint Lincolnshire countryside is the village of Tattershall where, according to legend, the remains of a miniature folk hero can still be found. Visitors who step inside the town’s 16th century church will find a tiny grave marker, adorned with flowers and bearing the name Tom Thumb.
Local legend tells of Tom, a native of Tattershall, who was reputedly just over 18 inches tall and lived to the age of 101 when he passed away in 1620. However, beyond these meagre statistics it becomes almost impossible to unpick fact from fiction and discover more about the man buried beneath this plaque.
The problem seems rooted in the fact that Tom Thumb has been a common character in English folklore for hundreds of years, with the first written examples of his escapades appearing in the early 1500s. According to the wider myth, Tom was born no bigger than his father’s thumb, thus earning him his name. In many stories, Tom’s mother gives him an assortment of tiny clothes including a hat made from an oak leaf, a shirt made of cobweb and shoes crafted from mouse’s skin.
Traditionally, the character of Tom Thumb was a canny, cunning boy who used his size to trick and beguile foolish people. In these stories it was also common for Tom to be swallowed by a variety of humans and animals including: a cow, a salmon, a beggar, a giant, and even the King of England. In older tales Tom escapes from these predicaments in several rather crude and disgusting ways. However, modern interpretations of the story removed these vulgar elements by having Tom use his quick wits to deliver himself from danger instead.
There are rumours that the Tom Thumb buried at Tattershall was popular with the King’s court and often visited London. Whether or not this is true and whether or not a man named Tom Thumb really is buried in that small church, it’s safe to say that his story has become forever intertwined with wider folklore.
Know Before You Go
The Holy Trinity Collegiate Church can be found next to the ruins of Tattershall Castle.