Tales of Old Cornwall – The Tale Of The Boscastle Pigs by Stewart Murphy

There is one name that appears more often than any other when tales of old Cornwall are told. That is the famous Vicar of Morwenstow, the Reverend Hawker. Stories abound with reference to his kindness, his wit, his poetic abilities, his utter hatred of any “dissenters” as he was wont to call people like Baptists or Methodists. The best stories about Hawker, however, are those that illustrate his sense of humour and his really elaborate practical jokes. When Hawker was a young university undergraduate, he had a particular friend called Jeune. This young man, who was later to become the Bishop of Peterborough and Dean of Magdalen Hall, had the same sort of sense of humour as Hawker. When they were together, almost anything could happen, and it did in Boscastle. Hawker and Jeune went there for a short holiday and stayed in the Ship Inn, a small establishment run by one Joan Treworgy.

The good lady was somewhat surprised when the two young gentlemen asked for separate rooms. Most of her gentlemen visitors, who were generally travelling salesmen, used to sleep two to a bed in order to save on expenses. So, Hawker and Jeune had to pay the full price of sixpence each.

Joan provided them with an evening meal, which she described as “mait and tatties”. When asked what sort of meat it was, she answered “mait and tatties”, and continued with that answer until they tired of asking. The meat seemed to have no bone, and no particular shape either. Jeune got more and more worried about the meat and, when he asked Hawker what he thought it was, the answer of: “A Boscastle baby probably” sent him scurrying to the kitchen to ask Joan Treworgy again. “Tis mait and tatties” she replied once again.

It was some many years later that the mystery was solved when Hawker found a reference to Boscastle in an ancient history of Cornwall. He read: “The sillie people of Boscastle and Boussiney do catch in the summer seas divers young soyles (seals) which, doubtful if they be fish or flesh, conynge housewives will nevertheless roast, and do make thereof savoury meat.”

That night the two young men hatched a plot to make the people of Boscastle sit up and take notice.

In those days, almost every cottager had a pig in a sty behind his cottage. (Many of these still exist today.) Jeune and Hawker got up just before first light the next morning and crept silently out of the inn.

They went to every pig sty in the village and released its occupants, then they crept back into the inn, back to their own room and into their beds, where they pretended to be fast asleep.

It was not very long before they heard a tumult start up in the village. Everyone seemed to be running about and shouting. Eventually this reached the ears of their hostess, and they heard her panting up the stairs, calling desperately for her husband.

The two pranksters waited for a while, then Hawker called out to ask what all the excitement was about. The good Joan replied: “All the pegs up town ‘aye a-rebelled, and they’ve a-be and let one the wother out, and they be all a-gwain to sea, hug-a-mug bang! They’m all mazed Maister.”

Years later, Hawker went up to receive his M.A. degree. By this time Jeune had become Dean of Magdalen Hall and was playing a major role in this very dignified and solemn ceremony. He was leading a gentleman commoner of the same college to present him for his degree with a Latin speech. The gentleman commoner was very fat, and the dean was having some difficulty in leading him through the dense crowd. Hawker, who was awaiting his turn, leaned close to the dean’s ear as he passed, and whispered: “Why your peg’s surely mazed Maister.” By the time the dean reached the vice-chancellor’s chair, he was having an uncontrollable fit of the giggles, and could not stop for more than a few seconds for the rest of the ceremony.