Over many years, numerous people in Palterton have practiced a dual economy in that they mostly worked at their regular occupation and also had an allotment of land, where they grew their own flowers and vegetables. Many kept pigs, poultry and pigeons.
This is especially so since the early 1890's when miners came into the village.
Although the pits have long since closed, some villagers still practice a dual economy.
Since the turn of the century (1900) some families in the village, including mine, kept pigs. My great grandfather, Mark Richards, kept his pigs in a sty in his garden at the rear of his home. Many other families did likewise.
Prior to my grandfather's (Jacob Richards) death in 1945, he also kept pigs and at one time had as many as six sows! It was a shared enterprise with my uncle Matt (Mathew Henry Richards).
One sow had a litter of nineteen piglets, but was unable to feed all of them. Consequently some were given away and the runts killed. Two piglets were given to Mrs Ruth Audis, a neighbour who managed to hand rear one of them. Some six months later she sold her pig for £7..10 shillings.
Our pigs were kept in a large pigsty behind number 1 Ten Row. It was split into two sections, one part being used for sleeping quarters, the other for feeding. The feeding troughs and shutes (the method of pouring the pig swill into the trough from outside the sty) were of thick wood and were hand made; the floor was ridged concrete, so designed to prevent the swine from slipping. I can remember this floor being laid. I watched fascinated whilst the ridged pattern took shape which was quite simply achieved by pressing a brush handle into the wet concrete!
The pig food was cooked outside in a purpose-built boiler which was housed in a brick built affair. The boiler had a home made wooden lid with a handle and was heated by a fire beneath.
The pig swill comprised mainly of waste food collected from here, there and everywhere, together with special pig meal and pig potatoes which were bought cheaply locally.
Pig killing was an event - a day with a difference in my childhood world.
Looking back to the time when the pigs were slaughtered is not a pleasant episode to remember, but nevertheless the story has to be told so that future generations will know how inhumane and primitive were such events.
Arrangements were made beforehand for the slaughterman to visit your house by appointment. Often men in the village took a day off work and in turn walked their pig down the street or path to be slaughtered.
The slaughter man duly arrived with his 'humane' gun and table, which was a strong 'form' (bench type table) with four legs and a handle at each corner. Mostly villagers gathered when a pig was due to be killed, often to help with the aftermath. Word spread like wildfire amongst the village children so they were always well represented.
The name of the local slaughter man in the 1920's and later was Sam Rimmington.
The boiler normally used to boil the pig food was used to boil the water for scalding the dead pigs. Several containers were on hand to carry the boiling water.
The sacrificial pig was led out of its' sty squealing loudly as if it knew its' fate. Mostly I am certain these animals sensed fear. They were either led or dragged to the pre-determined execution spot where the slaughter man waited with his loaded gun. This gun was known as a 'humane killer' though I cannot understand why it was so called.
The gun didn't fire a bullet but instead fired a bolt which penetrated the pig's skull but remained attached to the gun. The slaughter man stood in front of his terrified victim, who, by this time, was squealing so loud one could hear it from the far end of the village!
The gun was held at the pig's head pointing straight between it's eyes and suddenly there was a crack and the pig reeled over, stunned, not dead!
Then followed a flurry of activity as several of the stronger men present rushed forward and manhandled the stunned pig onto the 'table' with it's head dangling slightly over the side. The pig's throat was then slit and as the blood gushed out it was collected in either metal buckets or a tin bath to be used later. Very little of the pig was discarded. To ensure that all the blood was extracted from the pig, one person would work on the arms and legs so that all the blood was pumped out. Eventually the poor animal died.
There is little point in describing this ritual further, other than to say that boiling water was then poured over the dead pig's skin and it was scraped to remove the bristles. The internal organs were all removed but later utilised. Even the pig's bladder was blown up and used by the children as a football!.
The scraped pig was hung on hooks from beams in the front room with a stick holding its back legs apart. The carcass was cut up into sections, salted, placed in muslin skins and then hung up around the house to await later share out amongst the family.
Meanwhile, my grandmother and family - with table scrubbed, knives sharpened, a good fire going to heat the oven - was ready to "side the pig".
The blood, fresh from the pig, in white enamel bowls, sometimes pewter bowls, was taken inside the house and being continuously stirred, so it didn't congeal. Diced fat, herbs and oatmeal were added to make black puddings.
Grandmother made delicious pork scratchings, pork pies, sausages and brawn. Later the family feasted on them and roast pork, pig chap, liver and onions, chitterlings (and tripe, I think). Nothing was wasted.
Friends and neighbours who had helped were given a "fry". This was a collection of offal and little pieces of pork. To be given a "fry" was a real treat.
The butcher was involved. He cut up the pig. The hams and sides were "salted down" on the kitchen table, covered in crushed salt and saltpetre and frequently turned. Sometimes I think the butcher might have taken the carcass away to salt down.
If I remember correctly, it was six weeks before the hams and sides were cured and hung on the hooks, hanging from the ceiling in the front room. They were covered in a layer of muslin material to keep the flies away. Slices of bacon and ham were cut as needed. In those days the fatter the bacon the better - lashings of fat, to fry eggs and dip chunks of bread, poured from it. Cholesterol and fat-free dieting were not known to us. How did we survive?
I believe some neighbours cooked jars of diced pork in the oven, sealed them with suet like bottled fruit, stored them in the cold pantries, which were below ground level and used as needed. I cannot recall anyone suffering ill effects.
However, it was wartime, 1939 to 1945 and this ritual changed. Subsequently such events became rare in the village as people had their village pigs taken away to a slaughter yard and were sold to a bacon factory. They were no longer slaughtered at home. The hooks in our front room remained for some time, between the window and back door, I can picture them now!
Many families including mine also kept poultry in sheds at the rear of their homes for their egg produce. When they had stopped laying they were killed for the table. Their necks rung and feathers plucked.
Young cockerels were often fattened up for Christmas too. All the poultry was purchased from the market as 'day old unsexed chicks' for one penny each (old money) and hand reared in the house until they were old enough to go outside.
I can remember these days old chicks running around our living room floor on papers we had put down over the rugs. We had home made hand pegged rugs over the linoleum. Carpets, not likely, we were too poor and so were all our neighbours! The baby chicks were kept in cardboard boxes with an old woollen jumper at the bottom.
As a young boy I spent many evenings plucking poultry ready for the table, especially at Christmas time. I cannot recall there being any turkeys in my childhood but rabbits were common fare. The latter were either 'poached' from the fields or bred in captivity for the table.
Nowadays, such practices have disappeared in the village and the local supermarket is where plucked chickens and skinned rabbits are encountered. Another change from the village life of yesteryear.
Created 2 December 2001
Last updated: 4 March 2007