The quarterstaff in folk tradition
The quarterstaff features in many popular stories apart from those
involving Robin o' the Wood.
The following tale comes from
THE DROLLS,TRADITIONS AND SUPERSTITIONS OF OLD CORNWALL
(POPULAR ROMANCES OF THE WEST OF ENGLAND)
COLLECTED AND EDITED
BY ROBERT HUNT
(Published by Llanerch)
TOM THE GIANT, HIS WIFE JANE, AND JACK THE TINKEARD
......WHEN Tom and his wife had settled themselves in the giant's
castle, they took good care not to allow any one to make a king's
highway across their grounds. Tom made the hedges higher, and the
gates stronger than ever, and he claimed all the run of land on
the sea-side, and enclosed it. Tom's wife, Jane, was a wonderful
cleanly body- the castle seemed to be always fresh swept and sanded,
while all the pewter plates and platters shone like silver. She
never quarreled with Tom; except when he came in from hedging covered
with mud; then in a pet she would threaten to go home to her mother.
Jane was very famous for her butter and cheese, and Tom became
no less so for his fine breed of cattle, so that he fared luxuriously,
and all went on happily enough with Tom and his wife. They had
plenty of children, and these were such fine healthy babies, that
it took two or three of the best cows to feed them, when but a
few weeks old. Tom and Jane thought that they had all that part
of the world to themselves, and that no one could scale their hedges
or break through their gates. They soon found their mistake. Tom
was working one morning, not far from the gate, on the Market-jew
side of his property, when he heard a terrible rattle upon the
bars. Running up, he saw a man with a hammer smashing away, and
presently down went the bars, and in walked a travelling tinkeard,
with his bag of tools on his back.
"Holla! Where are you bound for?" says Tom.
"Bound to see if the giant, whom they say lives up here,
wouldn't let a body pass through where the road ought to be," says
"Oh, ay! are you?" says Tom.
"He must be a better man than I am who stops me," says
the tinkeard. "As you are a fine stout chap, I expect you
are the giant's eldest son. I see you are hedging. That's what
all the people complain of You are hedging in all the country."
The Tinkeard teaches Tom Single-stick. 61
"Well," says Tom, " if I am his son, I can take
my dad's part any way; and we 'll have fair play too. I don't desire
better fun than to try my strength with somebody that is a man.
Any way you like-naked fists, single-stick, wrestling, bowling,
slinging, or throwing the quoits."
"Very well," says the tinkeard, "I'll match my
blackthorn stick against anything in the way of timber that you
can raise on this place."
Tom took the bar which the tinker bad broken from the gate, and
said, "I'll try this piece of elm if you don't think it too
"Don't care if it's heavier. Come on !"
The tinkeard took the thorn-stick in the middle, and made it fly
round Tom's head so fast that be couldn't see it. It looked like
a wheel whizzing round his ears, and Tom soon got a bloody nose
and two black eyes. Tom's blows had no effect on the tinkeard,
because he wore such a coat as was never seen in the West Country
before. It was made out of a shaggy black bull's hide, dressed
whole with the hair on. The skin of the forelegs made the sleeves,
the hind quarters only were cut, pieces being let in to make the
spread of the skirts, while the neck and skin of the head formed
a sort of hood. The whole appeared as hard as iron; and when Tom
hit the tinkeard, it sounded, as if the coat roared, like thunder.
They fought until Tom got very hungry, and he found he had the
worst of it. "I believe thee art the devil, and no man!" says
Tom. "Let's see thy feet before thee dost taste any more of
The tinkeard showed Tom that he had no cloven foot, and told him
that it depended more on handiness than strength to conquer with
the single-stick ; and that a small man with science could beat
a big man with none. The tinkeard then took the clumsy bar of the
gate from Tom, gave him his own light and tough blackthorn, and
proceeded to teach him to make the easiest passes, cuts, &c.
Whilst the two men were thus engaged, Jane had prepared the dinner,
and called her husband three times. She wondered what could be
keeping Tom, as he was always ready to run to his dinner at the
first call. At length she went out of the castle to seek for him,
and surprised she was, and-if truth must be told-rather glad to
see another man inside the gates, which no one had passed for years.
Jane found Tom and the tinkeard tolerable friends by this time,
and she begged them both to come into dinner, saying to the tinkeard
that she wished she had something better to set before him. She
was vexed that Tom hadn't sent her word, that she might have prepared
In some of the old geese dances (guise dances, from danse deguise
) the giant Blun had a very active part. Blunderbuss was always
a big-bellied derbuss and Tom performed a very active fellow-his
smoke-frock being well stuffed with straw. He fought with a tree,
and the other giant with the wheel and axle. The giant is destroyed,
as in the story, by falling on the axle. The tinker, of whom
we have yet to tell, with his unfailing coat of darkness, comes
in and beats Tom, until Jane comes out with the broom and beats
the tinker ; and then,-as in nearly all these rude plays,-St
George and the Turkish knight come in ; but they have no part
in the real story of the drama.-See note, page 66. Appendix E.