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Did your Grandad keep a pig? – mine did

One of my enduring memories of visiting my grandparents at Wickhamford, as a small child in the late 1940s, was going to the top of the garden and peering into the sty at the pig. How long pigs were kept in my grandparents’ garden I have no idea and I have no one to ask now but I am sure pigs were kept for many years. Probably this finished around 1950, or just after, when my grandfather’s health started to fail. My grandparents’ next-door neighbours kept two pigs, but they had four growing sons to feed.

For millennia man has kept animals for his own consumption and the cottages built by John Pickup Lord on the Wickhamford Estate in the late 1800s and very early 1900s had a separate building in the garden that included a washhouse, toilet and a coal house. In some of them, a pigsty was situated at the rear of the building. The building at the rear of 1 and 2 Longdon Hill had a compartment to house the pig, although I think it would be surprising if anyone kept a pig there when there was a large enough garden to build a sty.

Food shortages that occurred in the Great War made the Government realise that, during WW2, people living in the countryside, or appropriate properties in towns, could rear a pig for their own consumption. Thereby, they could help to feed themselves and not have to rely on local butchers for their meat and thus help to reduce food shortages. 

Farmers between the wars had moved to meat and milk production, from fruit, vegetable and grain production, due to cheap imports. At the start of WW2 the farmers needed to turn back to growing crops as imports were impeded by the war. To free land for crop production animals were culled and reduced numbers were kept. There was also a drop in the number of pig farms as pigs didn’t provide milk, wool or eggs. This led to meat shortages and so the Government actively encouraged householders to keep a pig and suggested that people club together and start Pig Clubs where they could buy cereal feed in bulk and obtain the young piglets. 

The members of the club would then obtain their young pig, and feed, at cost price through the club. I have read that members could give up their bacon ration of four rashers per week in return for a voucher permitting the purchase of pig food through the club. A household could keep one pig for their own consumption. The clubs were run as non-profit making organisations. Wickhamford had a pig club as did Badsey with Aldington. Members were required to complete a monthly form for the supply of meal. Pig ClubPig Club

pig clubEvery pig had to be registered with the Small Pig Keepers Council, the governing body who gave advice and rules on how individuals and groups could raise pigs. 

There are a couple of references to Wickhamford Pig Club in the Evesham Standard newspaper. The club had given £33 to the Red Cross Agriculture Fund in January 1943 and in 1951 they sent a wreath to the funeral of Leonard Tigwell, the licensee of the Sandys Arms. The Pig Club meetings would almost certainly have been held at the Sandys.

There are many references to the Badsey and Aldington Pig Club. One interesting reference was in the Standard of 21st March, 1942 and the Golden Wedding of George Edwin Jones of Badsey Fields Lane. It states that Mr Jones started the Badsey Pig Club in 1902 and that it was still flourishing. In March 1935 there was a report that a Pig Club Supper was held and it was revealed they were in a healthy position with £100 in hand. It seems that Pig Clubs were nothing new to Badsey when the Government were encouraging towns and villages to set them up in WW2. 

I have found no references in the press to the Badsey and Aldington Pig Club during the war but there several references for after the war. The 1947 AGM was held at The Wheatsheaf and Edgar Salter was Chairman and the Honourable Secretary was Mr V. Wasley. Only six members were present out of a total membership of 159. They had cash in of £430 7s 3d, £387 11s 3d had been spent on pig meal, £6 2s went to the Small Pig Council, £4 6s 6d for Pig Insurance that was valid until July 17th and as no claims up to the present a rebate was due, and 5s for a cheque book. There was a balance in the bank £67 3s 1d. There was £35 0s 7d left in the club from the previous year and it was decided to pay it back to the 111 members from that year, less 6d per member for expenses. 

Up until that time no charge was made for the use of the room for meetings so Miss Wixey, the licensee of The Wheatsheaf was presented with a cheque and in future she would be paid £2 for the use of the room. Any person not paying their subscriptions would be left out of the following months meal ration. The secretary, Mr Wasley, stated he could not apply for coupons until the form was filled in by a member. 

On 26th June 1948, the Pig Club meeting was held at the Wheatsheaf, the hostess being Miss C. Wixey. The meal was followed by a talk by Mr F.S. Totterton of the Regional Pig Keepers Council of Worcestershire and Staffordshire. He said the Badsey club was the best in the whole of his area. The club had grown from seven members three years ago and now there were one hundred and eighty members. In 1949, Edgar Salter was still the Chairman when the Annual Dinner was held at the Wheatsheaf, attended by eighty members.

Evesham didn’t have a Pig Club during the war years but a meeting was held in June 1948 to start one. I guess it would have been more difficult to keep a pig in a small town garden, so perhaps there was no need for a club. However, people were fully entitled, according to an Act renewed in 1945, to keep a pig, providing it was not a nuisance to neighbours and the sty was properly drained with a covered sump. Even in villages pigs could create a problem. A report appeared in the local press in September 1950 of a nuisance  and annoyance to householders in Old Post Office Lane, Badsey by pigs kept in an orchard and belonging to Mr S. Johns of High Street, Badsey. Mr Johns was ordered to move the pigs elsewhere in the interest of public health.

In view of the encouragement from the Government those who hadn’t kept a pig before would have been busy erecting pig sties in their gardens or on their land. Pigs were an easy animal to keep and every part of the animal could be eaten in one form or another.

Pig ClubPigs were fed with the meal supplied through the Pig Clubs but also with household scraps, peelings, etc. The scraps were boiled up and mixed with the meal together with small potatoes that were excess to the needs of families. These potatoes were always referred to as ‘pig potatoes’.  In fact, pretty much anything was boiled up to feed the pig.  

In towns and cities people were supplied with buckets known as ‘swill pails’ that they put in their food scraps and these were collected and taken to farms to be used for the feeding of pigs and also poultry.

A Ministry of Food advertisement showed the importance of pig swill:

Because of the pail, the scraps were saved
Because of the scraps, the pigs were saved
Because of the pigs, the rations were saved
Because of the rations the ships were saved
Because of the ships, the island was saved
Because of the island, the empire was saved
All because of the housewife’s pail

Pig Club
Copy of George Robert's business card, courtesy of his daughter, Joan.

The pigs were always killed during the autumn/winter months, as there were no household fridges or freezers to store the meat. An experienced pig killer was employed to do the job. In Wickhamford, it was George Roberts, who lived in Sandys Avenue. 

Children were generally kept away from this event as it was probably not the nicest thing to witness. The one thing that the children enjoyed playing with was the pig’s bladder which was blown up and used as a football!

Once the pig was killed, it was drained of blood, straw was piled over it and lit to singe the hairs off, but ensuring not to blister the skin. The pig was swilled with hot water to clean it and then it was opened from the throat to the tail and the organs and innards removed. The carcass was then hung to cool for 24 hours usually in a shed. The pig killer then returned to cut up the pig into the various joints. Much of the meat was salted down. In my grandparents’ case the meat was placed on a wooden bench in their cold pantry and rubbed with large amounts of salt. This process was repeated each day.  If a bone showed at the surface of a piece of meat, a small pinch of saltpetre was applied around the bone area, to help with the cure. Sides of bacon took about three weeks to cure and thicker joints of meat like the leg would take around four weeks. 

It was a busy time for the ladies of the house when the pig was killed. The organs and innards had to be made into various dishes and cooked. Faggots were made with the minced-up liver, lungs, and heart, known as the ‘pluck’, and some of the pig meat was mixed with bread, sage, onions and seasoning. The mixture was made into balls and wrapped with caul (the white fatty lining of the stomach) and then cooked.  The entrails were cleaned and cooked into what is known as ‘chitterlings’. Cleaning was quite a laborious job, as there were yards of the entrails to be cleaned. They were often attached to a tap and flushed through with water. They had to be turned inside out and my father-in-law, Albert Harman, did this with the aid of a broom handle.

There was a piece of white rich fat that lined the chest cavity and surrounded the lungs and heart. This was rendered down and flavoured with rosemary and into what was known as rosemary lard. It was spread on bread or toast. This would keep fresh for quite a while and was a good addition to the meagre wartime butter ration.

Pig cheeks were cooked and I remember them being called ‘chorl’, but perhaps I misheard and it was ‘jowl’. Meat from the pig’s head was made into ‘brawn’, a cold cooked meat, set in jelly. Pigs trotters were boiled and often eaten with peas and mashed potatoes. There were always many small bones left on the plate after eating. The glutinous jelly that stuck to your fingers after eating pigs feet could have been used for hanging wallpaper, as it had wonderful glue-like properties!

When the pig meat had been cured the sides of the pig (bacon) were wrapped in muslin or a similar material and often hung on either side of the fireplace and this helped them to dry out.  These sides of bacon were often referred to as ‘the best pictures in the house’. As the meat was cured, it could hang there for a long time. When bacon was required, slices were cut from the hung meat.  The legs were often cured and then boiled to produce ham. This was particularly popular at Christmas. All this wonderful tasty food kept families fed for many months by which time there was another piglet in the sty being fattened up ready for the next autumn. There is a saying that the only thing about a pig that couldn’t be eaten was its squeal!

Inspectors were employed by the government to go around and ensure the rules of pig keeping were not being abused. However, the black market in pig meat flourished. I know of one family, who didn’t keep a pig, but managed to get a piece of pig meat on the black market. The prams in the war years had a deep body with a storage area underneath the baby, accessed by a lift-out lid. Mother was sent with pram and baby and returned with the black-market pork in the storage area. That was one way of concealing it.

In 1941 to 1944, a National Farm Survey was undertaken and details of the survey and the results can be seen on the Badsey Society website. In Wickhamford there were seventeen people, who had completed the survey, keeping pigs. Fifteen were keeping between one and six pigs. C. M. Oldacre of Field Farm was keeping seven pigs, the licensee of the Sandys Arms, Bert Ockwell, was keeping one sow in pig and eight pigs between two and five months old. Alfred Ballard of Sunnyside, Badsey who was working 17 acres in Wickhamford, was keeping six sows and fifty pigs under two months and Frank Morrall of 20 Port Street, Evesham was keeping four sows, twenty-one pigs over five months old and seventeen pigs aged between two and five months old.

The Badsey survey showed that there were just over thirty people who completed the survey were keeping pigs. The people keeping the larger number of pigs were Jack Bent of Bowers Hill, thirteen pigs, Mary Cull, 6 Bowers Hill, thirteen pigs, Arthur Jones, Stone House, Badsey, 16 pigs and Mrs L. K Wheatley, eight pigs.

The Aldington survey showed around five people were keeping pigs. Harry Byrd of Evesham who ran a butchers shop in High Street, Evesham was keeping thirty pigs, probably destined for his shop.

The above figures from the survey do not account for the individuals who were not involved in agriculture but were keeping a pig in their gardens. As the war progressed and food shortages became more acute many more people in Badsey, Aldington and Wickhamford would have been keeping pigs and fowl in their gardens and on their holdings to help eke out their meagre meat rations and help the war effort. That there were only seven members in the Badsey and Aldington Pig Club in 1945 but one hundred eighty members in 1948 probably illustrates this. Food rationing still had a few years to run, as did the life of the Pig Clubs. In 1954, Meat and bacon were the last items to be derationed so it is likely that the Pig Clubs had run their course and probably finished around that time. 

All-in-all people living in the countryside had a better war food-wise than people living in the towns and cities. Many had, however, done their bit for the war effort by keeping pig and fowl for their own and their families’ consumption and thus not relying on the meagre supply of meat that was available to go around the general population.

Valerie Harman – January 2021

See also:

Badsey Pig Club, 1902-1953