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Berkshire Family Historian
September 2001

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Main Page, September 2001 Contents

Shady and pig killing in Lambourn

Jill Wohlgemuth

Some three years ago my uncle Vic, now in his 92nd year, started jotting down memories of his early years in response to questions from various relatives regarding family history. I found them so interesting that I offered to type them up and encouraged him to keep going. Eventually I submitted the manuscript to Plowright Press for inclusion in their Ordinary Lives series.

My uncle was born in Lambeth, but has had a lifelong connection with Lambourn, his mother's home village. He spent childhood summer holidays there and his family sought refuge in the village from the London Blitz, whilst he himself served in the RASC in Iceland and North Africa. After the war, Vic decided not to return to his previous occupation as a waiter at London's Waldorf Hotel and has lived in Lambourn ever since.

Vic's Grandma was Mary Alice Taylor nee King (born in Pewsey) widow of Tom Taylor, a Lambourn butcher. Her unmarried son Fred, the pig slaughterer, was always known as Shady. Two other sons, Harry and Jack were the fathers of Vic's Lambourn cousins. Harry was also a butcher and Jack a carpenter. Vic's mother was Harriet Annie Cox nee Taylor, who went to London in service and married Ted Cox, the manager of an off-licence in Southwark. Ted also had Berkshire connections as his father George was born in Hungerford and his grandfather Barnard in West Hannay. George and Barnard were both blacksmiths. This is one of Vic's clear memories of rural life just after the end of the First World War.

I was born and brought up in Lambeth, but as children my sister Gert and I often used to spend holidays in Lambourn. I always stayed at Grandma's and Gert at our Auntie Emily's, where there were plenty of cousins to mix with. Our mother's only unmarried brother, Uncle Fred, lived with Grandma. His nickname was Shady and he was a well-known, popular character in the village. Many country folk kept pigs and Shady was always called in to kill the pigs when they were ready to eat. They would rely on Shady, not just people living in or around the village, but on isolated farms on the downs, perhaps a three or four mile walk away.

The picture was taken on the occasion of an Alexandra Day fancy dress procession in the village around 1919. Vic is on the extreme right dressed as a baker. Next to him is his younger sister, Gert.

I must have been about ten or eleven years old when I went to my first pig killing. I remember that morning when I got up Shady said to me, 'Get theeself ready, we be going pig killing'. He told Grandma that he was taking me and she said she'd have a hot dinner ready for us when we got back. I can still remember starting off that day. It was a beautiful morning, Shady slung his bags containing his butchering knives over his shoulder and we set off. We went up Sheepdrove and after walking some distance we left the roadway and walked over the fields until a small farmstead came into sight down in the valley. Shady said that was where we were going. I was glad as it was a warm day and I was beginning to get tired and thirsty.

When we eventually reached the farm a couple of dogs came out to greet us and we met the farmer and his wife and family. The first thing the farmer did was to go into his shed and draw a mug of ale from a barrel, which he brought to Shady. I can even now hear the farmer's wife saying, 'You've brought an assistant today', and Shady answering, 'Aarh! That's my boy'. She then fetched me a large bottle of what I think was cherry cider. I was feeling parched by this stage and just gulped the first lot down - my first enjoyment of the day.

Now it was time for work. The farmer had two younger men there, maybe his sons, and they got everything ready: a large heavy wooden stool and plenty of straw. Pig killing is not for the squeamish and for my first introduction I never stood and watched everything, but I couldn't escape the sound of the pig squealing. The men had to get the pig on the stool (I'm not sure if they tied it down or not) and then Shady cut its throat and drained the blood into a bucket. An alternative method was to hang the pig up by its back legs before cutting its throat and bleeding it that way. I witnessed several more pig killings later and began to get used to it.

Shady told me that nothing is wasted with a pig. The blood is used, also the trotters and chitterlings (intestines) and the head made into brawn, with the rest of the meat cut into different joints. After he'd cut it all up, Shady was always given a share, especially the chitterlings which he would take home to Grandma. Then you'd find her sitting in the woodshed which adjoined the cottage and she'd be cleaning and washing the chitterlings ready for cooking. With a variety of ingredients she would make faggots and get them ready for Saturday, when so many people would come to buy them that she could never make enough. Grandma's faggots were legendary.

At the end of the summer, usually the beginning of September, Dad always took his holiday and he and Mum joined us at Lambourn. One of the reasons they liked to go then was because the Lambourn flower show was held about that time. The flower show was always held in the cricket field along the Upper Lambourn Road. It was a large field bordered on one side by Lambourn Woods with trees all round the other sides. There was a beer tent run by Mr Bellinger, landlord of the Sawyer's Arms in the High Street, and two or three other marquees housing different showpieces. Besides the flower, fruit and vegetable, and craft exhibits there was also pony racing with betting, athletics in the afternoon and a dog show. Then there would be a fair with roundabouts and swings and all the other wotnots. During the evening the village band would arrive for dancing on the green to round off what was always, weather permitting, a truly enjoyable day.

It's perhaps not surprising that when I was young I always had a tear in my eye when it was time for us to return to London. Each year it would be the same - Mum would be carrying a big bunch of flowers, Dad would be carrying the luggage, and Gert and I would be carrying the bags of fruit and veg from Grandma's garden.

['Vic: Lambeth to Lambourn' is 11.95 Plus p&p 1.50 and can be ordered from bookshops, on-line from Amazon or direct from the publisher: Plowright Press, PO Box 66, Warwick CV34 4XE. The ISBN is 0951696084]

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updated 27th November 2001