#14 “Pig”


Long ago a pregnant sow escaped butchery in Hampstead, fleeing into the sewers below. Nourished on refuse, her hoglets interbred, each generation growing more monstrous and ferocious. Only the constant flow of the subterranean river Fleet prevents their escape.


In Volume Two of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour, and the London Poor, published in 1851, the author recorded a very odd piece of of London Folklore, or Urban Legend:

“There is a strange tale in existence among the shore-workers, of a race of wild hogs inhabiting the sewers in the neighbourhood of Hampstead.  

The story runs, that a sow in young, by some accident got down the sewer through an opening, and wandering away from the spot, littered and reared her offspring in the drain, feeding on the offal and garbage washed into it continually. Here, it is alleged, the breed multiplied exceedingly, and have become almost so ferocious as they are numerous.  

This story, apocryphal as it seems, has nevertheless its believers, and it is ingeniously argued, that the reason why none of the subterranean animals have been able to make their way to the light of day is, that they could only do so by reaching the mouth of the sewer at the river-side, while, in order to arrive at that point, they must necessarily encounter the Fleet ditch, which runs towards the river with great rapidity, and as it is the obstinate nature of a pig to swim against the stream, the wild hogs of the sewers invariably work their way back to their original quarters, and are thus never to be seen.  

What seems strange in the matter is, that the inhabitants of Hampstead never have been known to see any of these animals pass beneath the gratings, nor to have been disturbed by their gruntings. The reader of course can believe as much of the story as he pleases, and it is right to inform him that the sewer-hunters themselves have never yet encountered any of the fabulous monsters of the Hampstead sewers.”

Charles Dickens himself  (briefly) mentioned the monster pigs in a piece published in his own periodical Household Words, in 1852:  

“We have traditions and superstitions about almost everything in life, from the hogs in Hampstead sewers to the ghosts in a shut-up house.”

An article published in the Daily Telegraph, on the 10th of October 1859, also mentioned the legend:

“It has been said that beasts of chase still roam the verdant fastness of Grosvenor Square, that there are undiscovered patches of primeval forest in Hyde Park, and that Hampstead sewers shelter a monstrous breed of black swine, which has propagated and run wild against the slimy feculence, and whose ferocious snouts will one day up-root Highgate archway, while they make Holloway intolerable with their grunting.”

Tales of Hamsptead’s subterranean monster pigs seem to be the English, Victorian predecessor of the American Urban Legends of alligators living and breeding in the sewers beneath various cities. It is worth noting however, that in March 1984 a living Nile crocodile was pulled out of a sewer in Paris (a city famed for its labyrinthine catacombs). The crocodile, named Elenore, currently lives at the Aquarium in Vannes. So, perhaps the swine are still down there somewhere, running wild against the slimy feculence…