Whilst searching for records of an old house which used to stand in Homefield Park, I came across this fantastic ‘true story’ of the Histon Giant, Moses Carter (1801 – 1860). It immediately reminded me of Ellis’s story “Once there was someone who walked on the sky” and his “giant who fell down the clouds” – a great meeting of the stories that already exist and ‘the new stories these children will make’ (see A Place of Possibilities).
From “A Third Ramble About Our Village (Histon)” by Dellas Oates (http://www.hisimp.net/history/hishist3.htm)
Nearly seven feet in height and over 23 stone in weight, he was not a fat man but was well proportioned and very strong.
He lived alone in a hut built of clay hods in Clay Street and every week he made and cooked a huge beef steak pudding and six large dumplings in an old copper he kept for that purpose. He washed himself and his clothes in “Dodd’s Pond” in Clay Street. He went around the village and to Cambridge pushing a large hand cart with vegetables and could be heard all over the village shouting his wares.
He owned and cultivated land on Histon Moor on the way to Cottenham, pulling the harrows himself, “I don’t want no hoss” he said. Children loved him and he would carry them about, two or three under each arm. He would tease little girls and let them kick his legs and would roar with laughter and tell them to kick harder so that he could feel it. He could carry a coomb (18 stone) sack of corn under each arm.
Naughty children were told “Keep quiet here comes Mo Carter, he will cut off your head and put on a cabbage.”
He went to Stourbridge Fair and in a boxing booth he defeated all the boxers and threw out the Proprietor when he refused to pay him as promised.
For a bet he carried a huge boulder newly dug out of the ballast hole (on Park Lane) and put it at the “Boot Corner”. The stone can still be seen at the Boot public house but it has been moved from the corner to the garden at the back.
Moses was a kindly man and most popular in the village. There was great consternation when on one occasion he disappeared, only to return a few days later from Ely Fair. He had walked there and back with his barrow!
His “Stove Pipe” hat, a ring and one of his hobnailed boots survive. He is buried close by the walls of Histon Church. His headstone is crumbling and the inscription has been eroded by the weather but we have a record of this.
On Wednesday 8 July 1998, Rev. Hugh McCurdy dedicated a new memorial in the churchyard to Moses Carter, the Histon Giant. The date marked the 138th anniversary of his death.
Ellis’s class came to the end of their visits to the woods (though they may go again in the summer term) – just when many stories had really got going – proof, if we needed it, that eight weeks is really a pilot project and that there are huge benefits in continuing right through the year. So we haven’t had the chance to explore the true and amazing tale of Moses Carter with the children yet – but it picks up the fascinations with size and scale, scaryness and humour, that were so clear in so many of their stories from the woods…and with the stone right there at the pub round the corner, it’s a story asking to be explored.