WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Pig Running

In case the post-holiday and winter doldrums have taken root in your soul, here’s a bit of summertime entertainment to banish the blahs. But first, how did I pick this week’s word?

Glad you asked.

In true stream of consciousness form, this phrase came to me. I always watch and read Pride and Prejudice over the Christmas holiday. I have a lovely leather-bound copy to read, and I watch all the versions I have access to – the 1940 film (purely for Laurence Olivier, Greer Garson, and Edna Mae Oliver), the 1980 and 1995 miniseries, and the 2005 film. There’s a scene in the latter that is not taken from the book but completely fits the character and the action. That led me to wondering if it was an anachronistic inclusion or if such practices really occurred, which led me to research.

That’s how I roll.

Pig Running

A piece of game frequently practised at fairs, wakes, &c. A large pig, whose tail is cut short, and both soaped and greased, being turned out, is hunted by the young men and boys, and becomes the property of him who can catch and hold him by the tail, above the height of his head.

Actress Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, 2005, Focus Features.

Actress Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, 2005, Focus Features.

And yes, Virginia, they really chased pigs at fairs back in the day (and still do every summer at fairs all over the United States). The largest of these exhibitions was the one held in London – the Bartholomew Fair. It began by charter of King Henry I when he allowed the Prior of Smithfield to hold a market in September near St. Bartholomew hospital. It grew in popularity each year, eventually lengthening to fourteen days, and was the event to see exotic animals, wrestlers and strong men, acrobats, puppetry, musicians and dancers, and to buy all manner of food, drink, and textiles.

By the early 1800s, the fair had shortened to just four days in length, and authorities railed against the lewd behavior, bawdy entertainments, drunkenness, and general atmosphere of exhibitionism that accompanied the fair. Regency visitors would have witnessed all manner of shocking spectacles, including a full-blown pig running. But it was the theatrical performances that especially vexed the strait-laced; they were prohibited from the Fair in the early 1840s. By 1852, no shows were enacted and in 1855, the charter expired.

Bartholomew Fair by Thomas Rowlandson, published in Rudolph Ackermann's Microcosm of London, 1808-10, British Library.

Bartholomew Fair by Thomas Rowlandson, published in Rudolph Ackermann’s Microcosm of London, 1808-10, British Library.

I’ve blogged about the fair before here, and author Susana Ellis offers up a fine examination of it in her Romance of London Series: Bartholomew Fair. But I did find something new in my pokings and proddings of the internet. London Metropolitan Archives Artist in Residence Nick Field discusses the famous print of the fair as part of the LMA’s Streetlife London series. It’s broken into two parts, each less than five minutes. It’s a fascinating analysis of both the artwork and its subject.



3 thoughts on “WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Pig Running

  1. Pingback: All Things History – Monthly Roundup for January 2017 – All Things Georgian

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