Wandering Pigs in Tywyn

Etching of a pig with spotted markings. Source: British Museum (Museum number 1871,0812.2907)

As the title indicates, the emphasis in this post is on Tywyn.  There are also some fascinating references to the insalubrious dominance of pigs in Aberdovey, which I really must investigate further.   The ongoing thread of pig-based conflict in Tywyn, lasting several decades, amused me at first.   But the more I read about it, the more I realized that this was a very serious problem, a conflict between individual household needs and the demands of larger scale economic progress.  Householders with a single pig were trying to supplement income and provide themselves with additional security.  Smallholders with more livestock were trying to make a living.  Both were keeping down overheads by using pigs as a low-cost but highly productive solution to impoverished circumstances.  At the the same time, at the other end of the economic scale the town’s authorities were attempting to attract visitors to Tywyn, to improve the well-being of the town as a whole, to improve standards of living for everyone.  These goals, both of which were legitimate and intelligent, were in long-term conflict.

In volume 2 of Lewis Lloyd’s 1996 A Real Little Seaport, Appendix VIII (full reference below) the author reproduces miscellaneous newspaper and other reports relating to Aberdovey and Tywyn.  I was looking for ship-related topics, but noticed that the subject of unruly pigs popped up repeatedly.  This post reproduces those reports and letters, and adds several others found on the National Library of Wales website.  The reports tell their own story.  Another world, and I do wish I could have seen it!  But perhaps I should be thankful that I did not have to inhale it :-).

The first story that I have found dates to 1854, and provides the title for this post.

Wandering Pigs in Tywyn
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, April 8 1854

TOWYN – The Pig Nuisance.  The local board of health have at last resolved that a stop shall be put to the nuisance of pigs strolling about the streets.  Every one found after April 5th will be placed in a pinfold, and a fine levied on the parties owning the same.

Lloyd comments (p.266): “Tywyn was by no means alone in this regard.  Foraging appears appear to have offended visitors rather than residents.  The remedy was quite effective when strictly enforced.”

The establishment of a fair in Tywyn may have exacerbated the problem of locally raised pigs

The Aberystwyth Times Cardiganshire Chronicle and Merionethshire News, 23rd April 1870

The pig situation certainly continued to deteriorate, as this animated and somewhat adversarial piece from 1870 demonstrates. The Chairman and the Surveyor seem to be anything but close friends 🙂

Practice of Killing Pigs on the Highway – Towyn and Aberdovey Local Board
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 10th December 1870

Practice of Killing Pigs on the Highway.—The Chairman:  I have had complaints made to me about people killing pigs on the highway. —The Surveyor:  They do kill them on the streets.  The Chairman I know they do, and I was going to ask you. as surveyor, why you allow them?—The Surveyor: I don’t see them.—Mr Daniels, jun., said that the Board need not interfere, if harm was done to no one. — The Chairman said that the practice was one the Local Board had tried to stop at Aberdovey. Some time ago the Board would not allow pigs to be kept in Aberdovey. One member stated that he knew a man at Aberdovey who had turned the privy belonging to the house he occupied into a pigsty, and kept two pigs there. —The Surveyor:  I didn’t know of it. —The Chairman:  As surveyor, you are supposed to know by going round the place. Complaints are made to me repeatedly. —The Surveyor: Am I to go to every spot and corner in the place ? – The Chairman Of course; it is your duty. Pigs are springing up everywhere in Aberdovey, and they are kept in a most disgusting state. Some few years ago we would not allow pigs to be kept within some yards of a dwelling-house.— The Surveyor:  Pigs have been very high lately. (Laughter.)  Everybody that could would keep, one. – In the course of further discussion, the Chairman said he was in favour of building a public slaughter-house, to do away with the nuisance.—An allusion was then made to pigs having been killed on the highway by a member of the Board. – The Chairman said there had been complaints about it.—One member stated that the police knew of it, and blamed Mr Wm. Lloyd for killing his pigs in the street.—Mr Lloyd said he killed them upon his own premises in a passage.—The Chairman said the greater nuisance was caused by dressing the pigs in the street. -The Surveyor:  They did it regularly before the Board was formed. (Laughter.)—The Chairman I should like to deal with this nuisance, but it is useless to talk about it.- Mr Daniel: Don’t break your heart, Mr Chairman.— The Chairman Oh no. But I really think that instead of getting better we shall get worse, as a Board of Health. —The subject then dropped.

The following two pieces from the same edition of the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard suggests that Aberdovey had become an even more chaotic local centre for pig-raising, possibly following the establishment of the market in Tywyn, and officials in Tywyn were seriously concerned that Tywyn could go the same way, and were urging that pigs should be kept to a minimum:

Suppressed Report – Filth in Aberdovey
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 17th May 1872

The prosperity of towns on the Welsh Coast depends on their attractiveness and freedom from unpleasant sights and smells, and therefore no more suicidal policy can be adopted than to save the rates by neglecting drainage and the removal of nuisances. Aberdovey is one of the poorest places on the Coast, and the Chairman of the Towyn Local Board said, at the last meeting, that Aberdovey was quite a pig-breeding establishment, in fact they ‘possessed as many pigs as inhabitants’. Everybody knows, of course, that where pigs abound visitors are scarce, and if Aberdovey refuses to get rid of its notoriety for pigs, and consequently for filth, it must be content to see Towyn, Barmouth, Borth, and Aberystwyth eclipse it in prosperity. This unfortunate apathy at Aberdovey is all the more to be regretted, as Aberdovey, on account of its natural advantages, might easily be made a favourite resort for invalids who need a mild and equable temperature. We are pleased to see that Towyn by prompt action and wise expenditure of public money may still retain its position as a healthy and pleasant watering place

Pigs taking possession of the back streets of Aberdovey
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 17th May 1872

The Chairman on Pigs – Application was made on behalf of Mr Pugh, ironmonger, Towyn, to make a pig-stye at the back of bis garden in High-street.—The Chairman I hope you will not get into the same condition at Towyn as Aberdovey is with regard to pigs. We have quite a pig- breeding establishment there In fact we have quite as many pigs as we have inhabitants. They (the pigs) have taken possession of the back streets, and perhaps they will have possession of the front streets shortly. They are constantly parading the back streets. (Laughter.) It is not the keeping of pigs that becomes a nuisance; it is on account of the disgracefully dirty state people allow them to remain in.-It was decided that, on account of the position of the proposed pig-stye, permission be not given for its erection.

 

Pigs and Other Nuisances
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 18th May 1883

Pigs and other Nuisances – The Clerk read a letter from the Local Government Board calling attention to paragraphs in the Medical Officer’s report on nuisances caused by the keeping of pigs and the accumulation of manure as in the vicinity of Red Lion-street.—Mr Kirkby thought that pigs should not be kept in a town, and proposed that no pig should be kept within 100 feet of a dwelling house. —The Clerk stated that sixty feet had been adopted at Dolgelley, and it had had the effect of driving nearly all the pigs out of the town. —The Chairman and other members thought that 100 feet was too far, and on the motion of Mr John Williams, seconded by Mr William Lloyd, sixty feet was agreed upon.

 

By the late 1880s, the pigs, now no longer roaming the streets and now unable to be kept less than 60ft from a dwelling, were a thriving business, but their owners weren’t happy at some of the changes to Tywyn’s sanitation measures.

Pigs in Tywyn
Cambrian News July 19th 1889

TOWYN. PUBLIC SPIRIT – The remarkable success of the movement in favour of pig keeping has infused much additional courage into the hearts of the demonstrators, who now demand full restitution of all ancient privileges, one of which is the right of taking water from the sewers.  The means of access to the sewers for this purpose were closed some years ago . . . and on Tuesday evening, the 16th of July, one of the the leaders in the recent demonstration took the law into his own hands and broke into the sewers at the place where water used to be drawn when the rill running along the street was not covered.”

 

Another two years passed, apparently without incident, and then another article was featured in Cambrian News, complaining once again about the prevalence of pigs, an echo of the grumbles of 1854.

Visitors, Pigs and Tywyn’s Limitations as a Seaside Resort
Cambrian News.  May 22nd, 1891

Jesus exorcising the Gerasene demoniac, from the Hitda Codex manuscript.  Source:  Wikipedia

TOWYN. REGULAR VISITORS – Many of those who come yearly arrived with Whitsuntide on Saturday and Monday last.  Some expressed their surprise on the little change that has taken place since this time last year.  There is the broad esplanade, handsome in its loneliness, not a single additional house overlooking it.  The remnant of the old pier stand still to remind people of the transient and illusory start which Towyn made some years ago.  But the pigs remain and their unwholesome stench greets the nostrils of the visitors at all the entrances to and at many places in the town.  It may be that beings which long ago rushed the swine to the lake of Gennesaret will oblige Towyn in the same way.  It does not appear that this nuisance will be got rid of by the action of earthy authorities now in existence, therefore let us pray for assistance from another region.

You just have to love the Biblical reference and its accompanying optimism.  It’s actually a rather sad story for pig enthusiasts. The Miracle of the Swine was, according to the New Testament, a miracle performed by Jesus.  Jesus exorcised demons from a man, which were then transferred into a herd of swine.  All of the animals in the herd launched themselves into the lake to drown themselves, thereby eliminating the demons. I am not entirely convinced that the artist who painted the scene in the Hitda Codex, above, had ever actually seen a pig.

Only a few days later, more was to follow (which is to say pig complaints, not exorcisms).


Nuisances at Tywyn:  Chimney Firing and Pigs

Cambrian News,  May 29th 1891.

TOWYN.  NUISANCES – The police, with commendable zeal are dealing successfully and most impartially with the nuisance of chimney firing and there is a fair prospect that this remnant of Welsh savagery . . . will be stamped out in the near future.  Is it not possible to have other nuisances as objectionable and dangerous dealt with in the same drastic manner?  There is something hideous in the very though of the winds wafting the odours of foul piggeries even to the site of a town that is to be distinguished for cleanliness and sweetness.  Some strong firm hand is required to deal in a prompt and determined manner with these pet nuisances.

Lewis Lloyd speculates that the complainant must be a newcomer, because any local would have been accustomed to the idea that “the family pig remained an essential part of the domestic economy of the domestic economy of the people at large,” and that “vagrant odours” were part of local life (p.364).

1891 continued to be a big year for pig debates, as the following lengthy heartfelt and anxious piece demonstrates so clearly:

Towyn Pigs
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 3rd July 1891

The removal of pigs is one of the consequences of the growth and progress of a watering place. For years the pig question agitated Aberystwyth, and all sorts of reasons were advanced why pigs should be allowed to thrive in that town. They are not yet quite extinct, but the distance regulation makes it difficult to keep them, and with the exception of a few privileged per- sons nobody now keeps pigs in the town of Aberystwyth. Barmouth, again, has tried to reconcile pigs and visitors, but the attempt has failed, and the Barmouth pig is doomed, although after the manner of his kind he may die slowly and amid much noise. At the last meeting of the Towyn Local Board the pig-keepers of that town presented a. memorial in favour of erecting a piggery somewhere in the district where pigs °°could be kept without being a nuisance to visitors and without detracting from the sanitary condition of the town. The Towyn memorialists were very moderate in their representations, but we appeal to them whether it is not a fact that more than half the value of a pig depends on power to keep it quite close to the dwe ling so that, so to speak, it is almost one of the family. A pig kept at a piggery away from the town would cost more in time and labour than it would be worth. We fear the Towyn pig-keepers, who sent their modestly-worded memorial to the Local Board, are ingenious individuals who only seek to gain time and have no real intention of getting rid of their pigs until they are fat, and will then start young ones on whose behalf the same plea for time will be put in. Look at the Penyparke pig. He is still to the fore. He has survived all sorts of attacks and still grunts contentedly within a few feet of his owner’s front door. What could be more satisfactory than the following extract from the Towyn pig-keeper’s memorial.   “We are all wishful that all nuisances should be abated and that our rising little town should be made as sanitary as any in the Kingdom.”  This is a beautiful sentiment, but how can practical effect be given to it if all the Towyn pigs are to be allowed to live until they grow fat?  The people of Towyn must choose between pigs and visitors. Visitors come from towns where pigs are not kept and where nuisances are removed, not abated. What a long and weary struggle has had to be waged against pigs, cesspools, rubbish heaps, and t5 other nuisances, and the struggle is not yet over. There are always memorialists who honestly believe that pigs are not a nuisance, just as there are always people who see no harm in dirty water, defective drains, accumulated filth, and other health destroyers. The time has gone by when advocates of municipal cleanliness can be hooted through the town, but there are scores of people who would not abstain from keeping a pig, which costs them half-a-crown a pound, to en- sure the permanent success of their town as a summer resort. We trust the members of the Towyn Local Board will be strong. However long the removal of pigs is delayed somebody will always plead for a little more delay. Let the law take its course, and Towyn will never have cause to regret its firmness. Not only must pigs be got rid of, but the inhabitants of watering places in this district must pay attention to order and beauty. Visitors like to see prettiness and order, and both public bodies and private residents should I aim steadily at getting rid of that raggedness and disorder which are so characteristic of some towns of considerable pretensions.


The Pig War

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 26th June 1891

TOWYN. THE PIG WAR—The notices served on the Local Board of Health to have some obnoxious pigstyes removed have created intense excitement among the pig- keeping fraternity. Some men of no mean intellectual attainments, defend the practice of keeping pigs near dwelling-houses in a manner which savours of a hundred years ago. This does not augur well for Towyn-on-Sea.


The Pig Warfare

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 18th November 1891

THE PIG WARFARE.  The recent decision of the Local Board to prohibit the keeping of pigs within certain distances of dwelling houses at Towyn has caused quite a furor among a section of the inhabitants, but as the resolution was passed unanimously, with one exception, at a meeting at which all the members were present, it is probable that no more wavering and laxity will be shown.

 

I was seriously amused by the following insight into a measure of how times had changed in Tywyn.  At the beginning of this post I started with a story about pigs roaming the streets.  This paragraph in the of December 1991 refers to a time which such things were indications of a distant past.

Since the days pigs dwelt unmolested on the Streets
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 11th December 1891

THE WEATHER.—Such weather, such continuous rains, such consequent mud on streets and roads, such complaints of cold and rheumatism, such general inertia and grumbling, and that so near Christmas have not existed, it is believed, since the days pigs, cattle and ducks dwelt unmolested on the streets of Towyn

 

This is a lovely report of a hearing at the Petty Sessions in November 1898, abbreviated with several references to laughter from the assembled company.  It is an absolute treat:

Pigstyes and Prayers
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and North and South Wales Independent, 11th November 1898

PIGSTYES AND PRAYERS. — At the petty sessions on Friday, Robert Edwards1, of Vanegryn, was summoned in respect of a nuance caused! by a pig stye.  The Clerk:  Have you received the notice to abate the nuisance ? — The Defendant: Possibly (laughter).—The Inspector and Medical Officer said the stench was exceedingly annoying to the members of the chapel over the way.—The defendant said he had led the singing for 25 years and never realised any unpleasant odour from the stye, which, to his mind, was superior to many houses, in Dolgelley, the county town.—He cleaned the stye every morning, in fact. as often as he said’ his prayers (laughter).—A member of the Bench suggested that he did not say his prayers often (laughter).—An order to abate the nuisance was made, with costs amounting to 12s, against the defendant.

 

It is a truly interesting insight into the area’s past that pigs were such a fundamental part of the local economy, and that they were deemed to be counter to the interests of the development of the tourist industry in both Tywyn and Aberdovey.  Whether people were for them or against them, they were important to individuals and smallholders as supplements to their incomes, an extension of the concept of the cottage industry.  It is easy to understand why pigs were favoured over any other livestock, in spite of the fact that they do not produce milk for human consumption.  For one thing, they gave birth to large litters, meaning that they were less expensive to purchase and could be used for breeding.  Most importantly, they converted just about anything edible into meat, and were the mobile dustbins of many communities well back into prehistory. This made them almost cost-free to feed and raise.  Pig manure could be used as an excellent source of nutrients for soil, if composted first.  A pig could be sold for meat or slaughtered by its owner for consumption.  In either case, it was an excellent source not only of fresh meat and fat, but of cured or smoked products that would last for a considerable time and could be eked out in times of hardship.   Unfortunately, pig-keeping was in direct conflict with other economic demands.  If Tywyn was to establish itself as a desirable destination and develop as a tourist resort, pig-keeping had to be moved out of the town itself, and confined to a respectable distance.  This was not always easy to implement, but the necessary steps were taken, and the town did develop a successful tourist industry.

I will leave the last word with a Tywyn correspondent who expressed himself in a rather embittered piece entitled Towyn Characteristics (The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 13th June 1890):

As it was in the beginning it is now, and ever will be, pigs, smoke and talk.

Sleeping Pig by James Ward, 1769–1859. Yale Center for British Art, B1986.29.266.

 

References:

The National Library of Wales website (a fabulous resource):
https://newspapers.library.wales

Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496 (Appendix VIII- Miscellaneous newspaper and other reports relating to the Harbour, town and Townspeople of Aberdyfi, to the Town and Parish of Tywyn generally, and to other relevant matters, 1823-1920)

 

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