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One man and his pig at Christmas

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 21, 2013

By John Workman

  • Many Black Country folk kept a pig in days gone by

  • One of the oldest pubs in West Bromwich, the Sow and Pigs at Hill Top, and where Ebenezer waited for his master.

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THE pig, the old porker, hog, boar or swine, whatever name is used to describe an animal that is known to have been domesticated from the wild boar as early as 13,000BC, is as much a part of Black Country folklore as anywhere else in the world.

From the pigs that starred in The Three Little Pigs, to the Beast of Dean, an abnormally large wild boar that stalked the Forest of Dean, to the Black Country's very own legend of the Gornal Pig on the Wall, there are many tales about pigs.

A postcard by George Baldwin of Dawley in Shropshire, published in 1875, showed a procession to celebrate the achievement of Captain Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, but he also included a man and a pig on a wall with the caption "Who stuck a pig on the wall to see Captain Webb's procession pass"?

This idea was borrowed for a Gornal postcard asking the same question about who put the pig on the wall, but in this case "To see the band go by in Gornal," and the man deemed responsible was Johnny Longstomach, a Gornal character who used to sell greengroceries from a donkey and cart and was forever getting drunk. The story stuck and has now become a Black Country legend.

To continue the porker theme, Chris Smith, an avid reader of the Bugle from Walsgrave in Coventry, has sent us a "crackling" Christmas story:

"This story is based on true facts. Most people in days gone by kept either chickens, rabbits, pigs, or any combination of the three as a food source. Also many had allotments to grow vegetables, etc., so all the peelings and unwanted matter was recycled to feed the animals.

"In those days people were often in poor health and had very little money, with wages very low, often only shillings paid for a full week's work. Jobs were often very hard and dirty, and as a consequence the only escape for many from the grime and the noise of the factory was the pub. This tale is about one of those families whose father, my grandfather's uncle who lived at Hill Top in West Bromwich in around 1900, made a pet of a domestic pig called Ebenezer.

"It came to pass, with Ebenezer sitting quietly in the corner, between the step and the wall, where the grill allowed the dank, smoky air to escape from the building, his place on many previous occasions. It was a dark, damp, drizzly night upon Christmas Eve in the year 1900, and inside the pub the tipplers had spent the best part of the night, and most of their money.

"Their off-tune slurred, beery singing was about to culminate into the age-old chorus of Nelly Dean, signalling the evening was about to come to an end. Ebenezer, with ears tuned in to the bawdy commotion, listened intently, knowing that it wouldn't be too long before his friend came stumbling down the steps, a vision he had seen many times before.

"As Nelly Dean began its raucous crescendo, Ebenezer's thoughts slipped back in time and in his mind's eye he could see flashes of events associated with his benefactor. His earliest memory, bathing in an old tin bath in front of a roaring coal fire, and afterwards enjoying a long drink of warm, sweet milk accompanied with morsels of fresh bread. Similarly later events; of long walks in the nearby park to the local shops listening to his friend's tales of working at the factory. Ebenezer had paid attention, as would any pupil, but had found it somewhat difficult to accommodate the Black Country accent.

Often they had spent time together at the allotment where he had grubbed about in the freshly turned earth, sometimes vying for a position when seeds were sown in the spring.

"All the locals in the Hill Top area knew him and often shouted a greeting as he walked by, but most times they just politely moved out of his way.

"With a shake of his head and a snort, he listened as the last garbled notes of Nelly Dean rang out. He then stood looking up at the steps. Suddenly, the double doors were flung open and an avalanche of rowdy, laughing people spilled out onto the top step.

"Sure enough, Ebenezer's friend was among them and, being one of the first through the door, he came tumbling down the steps in a rolling heap to the bottom, managing somehow by experience, drunken dexterity or sheer good fortune, to balance a beer bottle in his hand, preventing its destruction and being stopped from any further damage by colliding with Ebenezer's large, bulky body.

"Ebenezer waddled up to the crumpled shape that was now caressing the footpath and noticed the bleary look in a pair of unseeing eyes. Yet again, thought the pig, 'It's a good job he's got me to lead him home.'

"The large, former iron-caster's hand stretched out to make contact with Ebenezer, allowing him to stagger to his feet, and after several attempts to right himself he slurred the command, 'Come on my friend, let's goo um.'

"And so, clutching the pig's tail, the master and the old porker danced as only two drunken fools could, down the centre of the street covered in glistening Christmas snow."

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