The legend of Jack O’Legs

Jack O’Legs is a figure obscured in myth or some element of fact, that has parallels with a Robin Hood type character, who stole from the rich to give to the poor.

According to legend, he was a towering giant, tall enough to look through the upper windows of large houses, and carried a huge bow which nobody else could pull.

- Advertisement -

Jack O’Legs supposedly lived in a cave in the middle of woodland near Baldock in Hertfordshire, England, first mentioned in a 16th century poem called ‘Speak Parrot’ by John SKelton, where a line references “The gibbett of Baldock was made for Jack Leg”.

Baldock was founded by the Knights Templar as a medieval market town in the 1140s, so the origin of Jack O’Legs can be placed between the town’s founding and the creation of the poem.

There are various oral accounts to the story, but the most prominent tells of a terrible harvest one year, resulting in the local bakers to raise the price of flour to an extortionate rate.

shutterstock 1174549366
The site of Jack ‘O Legs grave in Weston churchyard – Image Credit : M Rose – Shutterstock

Jack O’Legs would lay in wait to ambush the bakers and steal their bread, at a place now called Jacks Hill between the villages of Weston and Graveley.

- Advertisement -

He distributed the bread amongst the poor, but would eventually be captured unawares by the bakers who blinded and hanged him. As a last request, Jack O’Legs was handed his bow, and buried wherever the arrow would fall. He shot his arrow three miles away into the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Weston, where two stones set fourteen and a half feet apart are said to mark his grave.

In the 17th century, the antiquary John Tradescant the Younger purchased a thighbone claimed to belong to Jack O’Legs from the parish clerk, which was passed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and displayed as a ‘Thigh-bone of a Giant’. Later anthropological studies identified it as an elephant’s leg-bone and the specimen was discarded.

Header Image – Mural of the giant Jack O’Legs painted by Patricia Tew in the Grange Junior School in Letchworth in Hertfordshire – CC BY-SA 4.0

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Archaeologists reveal hundreds of ancient monuments using LiDAR

A new study published in the journal Antiquity has revealed hundreds of previously unrecorded monuments at Baltinglass in County Wicklow, Ireland.

Archaeologists use revolutionary GPR robot to explore Viking Age site

Archaeologist from NIKU are using a revolutionary new GPR robot to explore a Viking Age site in Norway’s Sandefjord municipality.

Highway construction delayed following Bronze Age discoveries

Excavations in preparation for the S1 Expressway have delayed road construction following the discovery of two Bronze Age settlements.

Archaeologists uncover possible phallus carving at Roman Vindolanda

Excavations at the Roman fort of Vindolanda have uncovered a possible phallus carving near Hadrian’s Wall.

Carbonised Herculaneum papyrus reveals burial place of Plato

An analysis of carbonised papyrus from the Roman town of Herculaneum has revealed the burial place of Plato.

Sealed 18th century glass bottles discovered at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

As part of a $40 million Mansion Revitalisation Project, archaeologists have discovered two sealed 18th century glass bottles at George Washington's Mount Vernon.

Study suggests human occupation in Patagonia prior to the Younger Dryas period

Archaeologists have conducted a study of lithic material from the Pilauco and Los Notros sites in north-western Patagonia, revealing evidence of human occupation in the region prior to the Younger Dryas period.

Fort excavation uncovers Roman sculpture

Archaeologists excavating Stuttgart’s Roman fort have uncovered a statue depicting a Roman god.