East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

Pig and cow clubs…

In my previous blog about food-related occupations I mentioned some that were to do with pigs – which reminded me about pig clubs… These were common during World War II, when the government encouraged people to club together to buy and rear a few pigs to supplement the basic meat ration. The pigs could be fed on household scraps or virtually anything edible from other sources, and once killed the meat was shared between the club members. See the BBC People’s War site for some memories of pig clubs in the North East -  www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/89/a4464489.shtml.  

Pig clubs were also a feature of 19th century village life, where families commonly kept a pig in a stye at the bottom of the garden. This was a major source of their food supply, and the main purpose of these clubs was to insure the owners against the illness or death of the pig before it was ready to be slaughtered. One was formed in Gretton in Northamptonshire in 1875, for instance. Members paid an entrance fee of 4 shillings and an annual subscription of 6d, and the club also bought food in bulk and provided a butcher at the appropriate time. As a publication by the Gretton Local History Society notes:

‘The pigs were generally bought in as store animals early in the year and fed on scraps. They were killed before Christmas and six weeks prior to this would be fattened up with pig potatoes and barley meal. They were usually about 20 stone by the time they were killed. It was a difficult time when the butcher came as people became fond of their pigs. All parts of the pig were used… Meat was often shared with friends and relatives who had given scraps to feed it’ . 

The rules of the society required any member ‘having a pig bad’ to send for the club stewards (three members of its committee) ‘and they shall decide what shall be done’. If a pig died or had to be killed, the club would then compensate the member for the loss, but ‘he shall not receive any more than what he gave for it’. The Pig Club in Gretton continued until 1977 when is was dissolved. None of the members any longer kept a pig – and the balance of the funds was used for donations to the local church and Baptist chapel – the latter being ‘particularly pleased as they were at the time considering renovating the kitchen’.*

Cow clubs served a very similar purpose, helping to pay for a replacement if a cow died. There are several memories of these from Lincolnshire in a book produced by the Lincolnshire Federation of Women’s Institutes, Within Living Memory (Countryside Books, 1995), not least of the hard work involved in ‘getting the pig out of the way’ once it had been killed – that is, dealing with the meat, fat and offal before it ‘went off’ and became inedible. In the absence of fridges and freezers, it was usual to pass on parts of the pig to friends and neighbours, in the expectation that they would return the favour at some point, hence this traditional rhyme from Rushden in Northamptonshire:

Health to the man who kills a pig,

And sends his neighbours fry;

And after that a leg of pork;

And then a big pork pie.**

If you’d like to know more about the history of pig-keeping, then have a look at R. Malcolmson & S. Mastoris, The English Pig: a history (Hambledon & London, 2001).

*Gretton Local History Society, Taking Stock: Gretton’s Archives (No. 15, Summer 2006, p28-9

** Ian Andrews, Traditional Northamptonshire Recipes (W.D. Wharton, 2000), p12


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A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.