England’s Dreaming #8.5 – Epic Pig on the Wall Fail

Okay, I’m an idiot. I’m an idiot for many reasons, but the latest one was writing about local folklore and forgeting the story from my own home town, which was stupid of me.

See, I’m from the town of Gornal, about 2.5 miles from Dudley. Technically it’s three mini-towns (Lower Gornal, Upper Gornal, Gornal Wood), but no-one knows where the boundaries are, so don’t worry about it. Anyway, Gornal effectively has one major piece of local folklore, a story that locally defined the area for decades. This is the story of the Pig on the Wall.

The legend goes that, in 1875, a parade was held to celebrate Captain Matthew Webb becoming the first man to swim the English Channel. Because Gornal families were said to treat their pets as part of the family, one such family put their pig on the wall to watch the parade go by, and somewhere along the line this got enshrined in Gornal folklore, to the extent that a local pub became known as, you’ve guessed it, the Pig on the Wall (it’s been demolished now, because the world needed another McDonalds).

That’s the story.

However, I learned something terrible tonight.

See, my friend referred me to this story after reading my last post, informing me that, actually…

The Pig on the Wall thing happened in her old town.

Anyone from Gornal might want to look away now, as I feel as though I’m committing an act of treachery, and if I’m found strung up along the Himley Road tomorrow, then at least you’ll know I died for this blog.

See, Captain Webb was from Dawley in Shropshire, and it was that town that held the parade, that town that did the pig thing. A picture taken of the pig became a commemorative postcard, and it was that postcard that got attached to Gornal somehow. It’s all a myth.

I’d say there’s an important point to be made about historic vs folkloric fact, and the malability of local legends, but, frankly, I’m too shocked to make it.

(Although one of the articles I link to suggests that the story only got connected to Gornal around 1970… But I remember my nan telling me the story when I was a kid, so that means the whole thing must have got embedded into Gornal folklore within 15-20 years… Unless I’m reading something wrong.)

But hey, there is a connection for this blog. For Matthew Webb, whose parade caused all this trouble in the first place, tried, and terminally failed, to swim the river beneath Niagara Falls… Which I’ve also visited and blogged about.

Still gutted about the pig though.


2 thoughts on “England’s Dreaming #8.5 – Epic Pig on the Wall Fail

  1. Pingback: Obscura Day 2012 | Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

  2. Pat Menzies

    This reply is a little delayed, I know. But the subject of The Pig on the Wall did not come up in our household until this morning so it’s only within the last few hours I have come across this posting.

    My wife was born in Bilston, where her father was manager of the gas works, now of distant memory. One of her childhood recollections is accompanying her mother to Bilston markets to do the day’s shopping. Betsy Smart’s preferred vegetable supplier was Polly of Gornal, (“where they put a pig” etc….). These recollections date back to the mid-forties, so the idea that this is recent folklore is clearly wrong.

    She has lived here in New Zealand since 1966 which ensures there is no chnace of memories being distorted by intervening events being attached to earlier recollections as she has had no folkloric contacts with the West Midlands in the years since her arrival. That is, of you don’t count (and they definitely don’t count) regular phone calls to and from here older sister Dorothy of Stourbridge. I know these calls don’t relate to folkloric subjects because I hear one end (and often take part in them). As you’d expect, these calls between long distance sisters revolve around spouses, children, grandchildren and, recently at Doprothy’s end, great-grandchildren – not the Bilston market and stallholders there.


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