Stir-Up Sunday … and Other Stirring Stories

Home History Stir-Up Sunday … and Other Stirring Stories
Stir-Up Sunday … and Other Stirring Stories

With so many turning to home-baking during lockdown, what better way to brighten up a November day?

But we are not going to say anything further today on making festive puddings in this post. Instead, we are going to look back at stirring another type of ‘plum pudding’ in Tottenham.

Back in 2010, Bruce Castle was asked to take part in the Stories of London Festival. Amongst the stories we told was one which became the focus of an event held at Markfield Park and Markfield Beam Engine and Museum – Stir It Up: Recipes for Recycling. With the help of our friends Pat and Barbara Elliott from History On The Move (see the photographs below), we went back to the 1940s to experience a taste of delicious cakes made to World War Two austerity recipes on the ration.

But it was what happened next with the scraps and peelings of vegetables and fruit collected in buckets and tin baths that we were interested in. Looking at the WW2 photograph below we can see a line-up of dustbins serving as a place to deposit ‘waste food for pigs’. Situated outside Hornsey Town Hall and the gas company showrooms in The Broadway, the contents of these ‘swill bins’ were collected regularly and taken to salvage works for processing. The ‘Do Not Waste Food’ campaign as part of the war effort meant every single scrap was not to be wasted.

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum & Archive

It was in the neighbouring Borough of Tottenham that the whole country had looked to during the early years of the War in leading the way to collect food waste for pigs. It started in 1939, when local dustmen in Tottenham began collecting food scraps on the back of their dustcarts.

Pigs began to kept by the council, fed by the food scraps. Mr. H. Gurney, the Superintendent of the Cleansing Department at Tottenham, was the first to suggest having a Pig Club. He said it would be a national service to add to bacon stocks, would cost nothing, and might even make money for members or charities. Tottenham dustmen rallied round to make the experiment work.

On 11 July 1940 Queen Elizabeth – the Queen Consort of King George VI – paid a visit to Tottenham to look at the pigs kept by the council near to the Refuse Disposal and Salvage Works at Down Lane. The photograph below shows her standing with (to her left) the Mayor of Tottenham, Alderman Albert J. Lynch and Bob Morrison, MP for Tottenham.

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum & Archive

The visit was clearly an action by Tottenham Council and the MP to help stir interest to roll out such a programme across the country at a time of national crisis. That same day, following the Queen’s visit, MP Bob Morrison returned to Parliament and made this speech in response to the Government’s suggestion to make food waste collecting compulsory:

“ …without any compulsion at all, we have had 70 per cent. of the householders doing it voluntarily for the past month, and we are now collecting 40 tons a week. The next difficulty we had to contend with was that after we had collected the refuse and treated it at the central depot it became unusable, during the warm weather, before we could get it to the farmers, some of whom are 150 miles away. To deal with that situation we installed a processing machine, and the product will now keep from 12 to 14 days, even in warm weather…We could sell all we produce 20 times over. We are sending it as far as Devonshire. Seeing that there are large cities like Bristol and Exeter so much nearer to Devonshire, why we should be sending kitchen refuse collected from our householders in Tottenham down to Devonshire passes my comprehension.

I have heard farmers and experts on pigs—I am neither—say that pigs cannot be fed properly for any length of time upon what is called “swill.” We have proved that that is not so. We have 100 pigs, and they are as good pigs as can be found anywhere. That has been testified to by pig experts from all over the country, and testified to, also, by Her Majesty the Queen, who came to see them this afternoon and said she had not seen such excellent pigs for many years.

As I have said, an appeal was made by wireless to people to save their kitchen refuse, and many people started to do so, and many local authorities began to collect it, but no Government Department appeared to be sufficiently interested to give a lead to the country beyond sup- porting the general broadcast; and the position we have now arrived at is that many local authorities find in this warm weather that after they have collected the kitchen refuse all they can do with it is to burn it directly they get it to the destructor.

I am now going to tell the Parliamentary Secretary what we propose to do in the Borough of Tottenham, and to say that we shall appreciate the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, but I would add, and I hope that he will not think that I am being rude, that whether we get his help or not we are going to do it.

The next thing we want to do, having kept 100 pigs successfully for eight or nine months, is to keep 1,000 pigs, in one of our public parks. That may seem somewhat of an innovation, but we claim that more people will go into the public parks to see 1,000 pigs than will go to see the tulips and the carnations. We propose to keep 1,000 pigs; what do we want from the Government? We want them to remember that we are living in an emergency. We want the Ministry of Agriculture and other Government Departments to close their eyes to the fact that what we propose will, in fact, be a municipal piggery….. we ask the Ministry of Agriculture to make it possible, in whatever way they like, for us to keep this piggery. If they object to our running it as a municipal piggery, we shall be glad to receive any suggestion from them as to whether we should make it a co-operative piggery or a smallholders’ or small pigkeepers’ piggery. We do not mind, but we are determined to go on and keep 1,000 pigs ourselves, because the people in our district are clamouring for them.

I apologise for speaking for so long. I am sorry to have confined my remarks to one district. I need not remind the Minister that this is not a local question, and if he had been here I would ask him why he does not organise the collection of town refuse on a national scale. It would be better to do that than to make gloomy speeches on the wireless…. If the Minister would organise this matter on a national scale, we should have a much more optimistic outlook than we have at the present time. I hope that he will give sympathetic attention to the points which I have put before the Committee.”

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum & Archive

Bob Morrison’s stirring speech must have galvanised the Government. A few weeks later on 15 August 1940, Tottenham received their second royal visit to the Refuse Disposal and Salvage Works at Down Lane – this time by Queen Mary, the mother of King George VI. Crowds had a grandstand view of the VIP as the group walked past the processed mounds of new pig food. Strolling along the striped carpet, Queen Mary was accompanied by the Mayor and MP of Tottenham.

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum & Archive

In the photograph below, we can see the special visitor and local politicians going on to inspect the crude material that was to form the animal feed, collected in all sorts of receptacles, from buckets to tin baths and even an old water tank.

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum & Archive

The pig feed became known as Tottenham Pudding, and its successful collecting and processing of waste was copied by other local authorities across the nation. Following the War, in 1946 the originality of the idea brought other visitors to Tottenham to see it for themselves – this time from Australia as this local newspaper report relates:

From the collections of Bruce Castle Museum & Archive

From the collections and © Bruce Castle Museum & Archive

Collecting food scraps by the council continued (as above) with more publicity about Tottenham’s prominent role in this country’s history of food recycling. You can read more about the early Tottenham Dustmen’s Pig Club and can even watch this 1950 short news film from the BBC Archive about The Best Pig Feed – Tottenham Pudding.

Many locals can remember Tottenham Pudding. However important it was to recycle food waste, as one local woman put it:

It didn’t half stink. You could smell it all the way down to the High Road!” Others have similar recollections, including those of Peter Smith (on the Tottenham Summerhill Road website).

By: Deborah Hedgecock, Curator