Pig’s Face Day is held in mid-September in Avening, Gloucestershire, England. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Pig’s Face Sunday’, or, more genteelly yet, “The Avening Feast”.
Avening is a village of around 1,000 people in between Nailsworth and Tetbury. The name of the village comes from the Avene brook that runs through the village. Kaye, Pat. Accent on Avening. Gloucestershire Life And Countryside Magazine. November 1974. Page 48.
See also: Pork Brawn, Guanciale, Hog Jowl, Roast Suckling Pig Day
When is Pig Face Day
Typically, Pig Face Day takes place on the Sunday nearest the 14th of September; but in 2018, was observed on Saturday, 15th September as the 14th just past had been a Friday.
The festivities are held roughly every two years:
“Every two years the villagers of Avening meet and re-enact the feast, which over the years has become formally known as the Avening Feast and Queen Matilda’s Pageant, and informally known by locals as Pig Face Day.” Shepherd, Charlotte. Medieval fun in Avening at Pig Face Day. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Wilts and Gloucester Standard. 26 September 2018. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/16903497.medieval-fun-avening-pig-face-day/
In some years in the past, the event seems to have carried over into a Monday. The reason appears to be that so many out-of-towners filled the pubs on the Sunday, crowding the regulars out, that Monday nights became the night for the actual locals to have their pig face sandwiches in peace at the pubs:
“Not to be undone by Sunday’s melee, regulars at the various pubs were treated to their night on the Monday following” — Vincent, Riley. Boyhood Memories of Avening Feast. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2018. Pp 22-23.
A church service is held in the early evening in the village church, called The Church of the Holy Cross. Some people dress up in medieval garb and a pig’s head is paraded into the church. The vicars of the church are typically actively involved in the day’s planning.
After the service, everyone, including the pig’s head, parades out of the church, down the hill and into the parish hall for a feast of roast pig. There may also be some street vendors selling other food such as ice cream, etc.
Reason for the day
Two reasons have been historically given for the day.
The first has been that it commemorates the slaying of a particularly nasty boar that was terrorizing the village.
The second, which is the reason now currently put forward, is that it commemorates the consecration day of the church in 1080 by Queen Matilda, who then afterwards treated the builders to a feast of pig face. This is put forward as though letting them dine on the pig’s face was an act of incredible generosity on her part, but note that the legend doesn’t say who got to eat the more desirable parts of the pig.
The church gives these details of the event:
“The Domesday book tells of a hawk-mews at Avening Court, which belonged, before the Conquest, to Brittric. This young man, Lord of Gloucester who held many lands between Tewkesbury and Winchester, was sent by Edward the Confessor on an embassy to Baldwin, Count of Flanders, where he met the count’s daughter, Matilda. Matilda fell in love with him, but to her great disappointment he rejected her approaches and it was William, Duke of Normandy, later to become William the Conqueror, who eventually won her hand and who crowned her Queen of England.
Shortly after their accession she revengefully caused the King to dispossess Brittric of his estates including the manor of Avening and throw him into prison in Worcester, where he died. It is said that in her remorse for the persecution of Brittric she entirely rebuilt Avening Church, that Masses might be said for his soul. While in residence at Avening Court the king and queen superintended the building operations. At the consecration on Holy Cross Day, September 14th 1080 (some say it was as early as 1070), the queen gave a feast to the builders, of boar’s head, shot in the forest, and the Avening Feast is still celebrated on “Pig Face Day.”” — Historical Information. The Church of the Holy Cross. Accessed August 2021 at http://www.aveningchurch.info/history/
Somewhere along the way, possibly by the end of the 1800s, but at least from the start of the 20th century, it became the practice for the pubs in Avening to provide free pork sandwiches to their patrons.
“It was traditional in Avening, at least from the start of the 20th century, for all the public houses (the Cross, the Bell, the New Inn, the Rising Sun and the Nag’s Head) to provide free sandwiches on Pig’s Face Day, the Sunday after 14th September. People came from around the area to enjoy free food and the music provided by Avening Silver Band.”  Rymer, Beverley. Avening Inns and Pubs. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. March 2021. Page 17.
So, the event partly transformed into a pub crawl for free food. The pork on offer was slices of brawn made from the pig’s head.
“In my youth the Feast was not a ‘sit-down’ affair but was a general ‘free for all’, with all the inns of Avening taking part. Any man who presented himself at an inn in the area on Feast Day could demand a sandwich and a pint of beer. Hence the sandwiches were known as ‘Pigs Face’ sandwiches, no charge was made, except for extra drinks, so ‘toing and froing’ between pubs was commonplace. Bread and cheese were supplied for those who disliked the brawn sandwiches. With the Avening Band playing at the venues and crowds from nearby villages and towns thronging the streets, to get extra food was easy.” — Vincent, Riley. Boyhood Memories of Avening Feast. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2018. Pp 22-23.
By the early 1950s, the event had been transformed into a sit-down meal in the village hall. But it appears that the food was still pork sandwiches (though it’s uncertain if the pork still meant brawn, or not.)
“Up until the late 1970’s pork sandwiches were served…” Mitchell, Click. The Hog Roast Champion of Avening. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. August 2018. Page 2.
In the late 1970s, the fare on offer switched to a whole roasted hog. The person who orchestrated the switch to roasted hog was a Sid Morley:
“The Hog Roast came along with Sid Morley, now living in Nailsworth, [who] was born 93 years ago in 1, High Street (the house on the major corner opposite the Queen Matilda Pub) …
30 years ago, he expressed an interest in the Hog Roast, which was being put on in Glastonbury by the boss of his son, Vere. It is Vere, who will be doing the Hog Roast at the QUEEN MATILDA FEAST on SEPTEMBER 15th. While watching it, he was horrified to see it cooking on black iron from Australia, which was altered by the heat. He returned home and together with the steel firm T.R. King, made the first ever hog roast frame in stainless steel. Later he organised the manufacture by Bensons of the longest frame, which meant that there was no need to have two machines to cook two lambs. He says that it is of extreme importance where you put the heat, as too far out blackens the machine and too far in burns the pig.
Sid and his family have done many Hog Roasts in Avening and especially at the PIG FACE DAY, which has been celebrated since 1080. Up until the late 1970’s pork sandwiches were served, and then the Hog Roast came along with Sid!
Avening is the only village in the United Kingdom to have a church built by a Queen of England and the consecration is celebrated on the weekend nearest to September 14th, Holy Cross Day. It is for this reason that our Church is named ‘The Church of the Holy Cross’… [Queen Matilda] came to Avening and took down the ailing wooden Anglo-Saxon church and built the Church as we know it today in an act of repentance. She celebrated with the village by letting them eat of the pig face with hogs from Gatcombe woods.
BRING THE FAMILY AND YOURSELVES TO CELEBRATE THIS GREAT UNIQUE TRADITION IN AVENING ON SEPTEMBER 15TH.” — Mitchell, Click. The Hog Roast Champion of Avening. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. August 2018. Page 2.
For the 2018 event, there was a ceremonial procession with a pig’s head from the church to the parish hall, where the roasted hog was served, along with salads and mead contributed by community participants:
“Revd. Gerald gave a lovely Pig’s Face Feast service to a rather splendid King William the Conqueror, his lovely wife Queen Matilda and the congregation of motley, but fabulously dressed Normans. He clearly explained how the ancient tradition of the Pigs Face Feast came about (a feast for the builders on the consecration of the building), this being illustrated by delightful renditions from the younger members of the congregation giving snapshots of dialogue through the ages.
… as the service ended  we were handed a flaming torch and were the first ones ushered out the Church door… We were followed by Kim and Piers also with torches and the King and Queen, with ‘Sister’ Click in nun’s garb carrying an all-too-real pig’s face on a platter… down the Church path, along Church Lane and to the entrance of village hall. We got a few odd looks from the bunch sitting outside the Bell having a drink, then settled ourselves into the wonderfully decorated hall, being served up hog roast, salads and appropriate mead to accompany. I later spoke to Sid, aged 93, head chef of the Hog Roasters, ex-long-term resident of Avening (he went to the village school), who remembers some time back when huge numbers of outsiders arrived in buses to attend the Pig’s Face Feast, must have been quite something!” — Winkfield, Nicholas. Pig’s Face Feast Celebrations. Saturday 15th September. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2018. Page 7.
An advertisement for the 2018 event said:
“There is to be a pork roast plus veggie burgers……..£4 per portion. Bring a salad to share and your own bottle of mead wine (you can leave them in the [Village] Hall on your way).” Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. September 2018. Page 7.
“The first big event after the holidays is the Queen Matilda Feast or Pig Face Day on September 15th from 5pm in the church, and then in the hall for the feast – a pig roast at £4 a head. Bring your own mead, which can be left in the hall beforehand… The Parish Council is supporting the event, and are subsidising costume hire from Cotswold Costumes, but the offer is limited, so book as soon as you can.” — Slater, Tony. Letter From Avening Parish Council Leader. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. September 2018. Page 10.
CooksInfo has not yet found any information as to when the commemorative celebratory feast actually began, or what happened in the hundreds of years after 1080.
The earliest print media mention we have been able to find of it dates from 1870, relating to complaints about a common condition associated with many of Olde England’s festivals: drunkenness.
On Thursday, 29th September 1870, the Court of Petty Sessions in nearby Nailsworth (5 km / 3 miles away) heard several cases. “The business was exceptionally heavy… it will be seen that the chief cause of the business was that standing nuisance, the village feasts.”
One case was a drunken brawl at Wilkins’s pub after the Avening Feast. Another was a man, William Cox, who was swaggering down the street with his jacket off while the Avening Feast church service was still underway, drunk as a lord and threatening to fight anyone. Nailsworth Petty Sessions. Stroud Journal Saturday, 1 October 1870. Page 4, col. 5.
On Thursday, 30 September 1880, the same court heard another case related to the Avening Feast, which took place on Sunday, the 19th of September that year, of young men throwing stones at people’s doors to draw them out and then beat them. Gloucester Journal. Saturday, 2 October 1880. Page 8, col. 4.
In 1935, the Gloucestershire Echo newspaper reported preparations for the day. Note that the origin of the festival is attributed to a marauding wild boar. This would remain the attribution for the next several decades.
“Pig’s Face Sunday: The innkeepers of Avening will be busy to-day preparing for “Pig’s Face Sunday”, an ancient custom which will be observed this week-end. For generations it has been the custom for residents of Avening and surrounding villages to visit the local inns on the evening of the Sunday following the 16th of September. There they consume portions of pig’s face. The custom, which forms part of Avening Feast, is said to have originated with the hanging of a boar from a tree at Chavenage Green, a wooded glade between Avening and Tetbury.” — Town and Country News. Gloucester, England: Gloucestershire Echo. Saturday, 21 September 1935. Page 3, col. 3.
A few days later, The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror newspaper reported afterwards on the event:
“The Lure of ‘Pig’s Face Sunday: Avening Full Up For Feast”
Avening Feast, with which is incorporated the ancient custom of ‘Pig’s Face Sunday’, attracted the largest crowd for many years on Sunday night.
A proportion of the visitors from a distance found themselves in a difficulty late at night, for the usual bus service could not accommodate anything like the number wishing to travel homewards, consequently a number of conveyances had to be obtained from Nailsworth.
Innkeepers, bakers, and bacon factors profited by the observance of the custom of eating ‘pig’s face’.
Each of the three inns had provided piles of the special sandwiches, the meat portion consisting of pressed pig’s head. One innkeeper dealt with nearly 150 customers, sandwiches being provided free for all comers.
During the afternoon and evening the Avening Brass Band played selections of music in the village, and when the time came for them to partake of their portion of the feast there was no room for them in the inn, and they had to be served in an upstairs room.
People flocked from all parts of the West Country, one contingent having travelled from South Wales to satisfy a curiosity as to the meaning of “Pig’s Face Sunday” — a survival of a custom which commemorates the slaying and eating in olden times of a vicious wild boar which wrought havoc in the neighborhood, but whose flesh was found to be of a particularly luscious flavour.” — The Lure of ‘Pig’s Face Sunday. Bristol, England: The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror. Tuesday, 24 September 1935. Page 4, col. 5.
In 1937, The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror reported that the event, a portion of which at least seems to have been held on Monday, 19th September 1937, was, as were other recent ones, “observed with more decorum then in the early days when free fights and rough horse-play were part and parcel of the feasting”:
“Avening’s ‘Pig’s Face Sunday: Origin of Curious Feast”
In the village of Avening was observed last evening the curiously named feast known as “Pig’s Face Sunday”.
In recent years visitors from all parts of Gloucestershire and even from South Wales have joined the villagers in the feast. The catering is largely in the hands of the local innkeepers, who distribute many hundreds of sandwiches, the chief ingredient being a kind of brawn made from the meaty portions of pig’s heads.
The feast has been religiously observed for generations, the origin of the custom, according to village tradition, being as follows:
Back in the days when the country between Avening and Tetbury was more like a forest, wild boars roamed at large. One particularly ferocious ‘tusker’ created so much alarm amongst the cottagers in and around Avening by its raids when it was not above fiercely attacking children as well as domestic animals, that an organized band of hunters went out “for his blood“.
The boar was eventually captured, strung by ropes from the branches of a sturdy oak near Chavanage mansion, and then ‘hung by the neck until it was dead’. The fact that boar’s head was at that time one of the chief dishes on the festive boards of the rich, prompted the hunters to prepare a feast off the slain boar.
Roasted over wood fires made beneath the trees, it was found that the most succulent portions of the flesh were those taken from the face of the pig.
Thereupon the villagers decreed that on the Sunday following September 16 in each year a similar feast should be held and named ‘Pig’s Face Sunday.’ And so it is to this day.
In latter years the custom has been observed with more decorum than in the early days when free fights and rough horse-play were part and parcel of the feasting. The proceedings do not start until after the church and chapel services are over in the evening, a feature of the present time observance being that in these days of easy transport many former parishioners take the opportunity of revisiting old scenes and simultaneously taking an evening snack of ‘pig’s face’.” — Avening’s ‘Pig’s Face Sunday. Bristol, England: The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror. Tuesday, 20 September 1937. Page 7, col. 3.
In 1939, geographer and historian Robert Percy Beckinsale explained that at that period in time at least, the pig’s head was made into brawn, with slices of that being put into sandwiches:
“One praiseworthy custom in Avening parish should not pass unmentioned. Years ago, exactly when or how no one knows, a terrible wild boar was killed between here and Tetbury. The village inns still remember his death by serving pig’s face on ‘Pig’s Face Sunday’ in mid-September and on the Monday following. The cheek is cooked and pressed into brawn and then tenderly put into sandwiches. I am told that many an Avening man for a week after a ’round’ meal at the ‘Nag’s Head’ or ‘New Inn’ cannot look a pig in the face without wanting to clap a cottage loaf round it.” — Beckinsale, R.P. Companion into Gloucestershire. London, England: Methuen & Co. Ltd. 1939.
With the advent of World War Two on the 1st of September 1939, Pig’s Face Day seems to have been put on hold for that September. In fact, there is no record of one behind held during the entire wartime period, perhaps because if nothing else, meat was rationed, and even privately-owned pigs had to be registered, with half the meat surrendered to the government at time of slaughter (See: British Wartime Food).
It appears that an unsuccessful attempt was made in 1946, stymied by the introduction of bread rationing. (Remember, the festival custom at the time had the pork served in sandwiches.) The British government introduced bread rationing in 1946, although the war had ended, in an ultimately successful effort to convince the United States that it was needy. (See: Bread Rationing Ends in The United Kingdom)
“Bread rationing will be a factor in preventing the revival next week-end at Avening of an ancient form of feasting, observed for centuries on ‘Pig’s Face Sunday.’
In the days when wild boars roamed the Cotswolds, one of the tribe did such execution among cattle in the Avening district that an organised hunt was necessary to lay the enemy low. When trapped and slaughtered, the people feasted off its roasted carcass, and it was discovered that a certain part of its face was particularly delicious.
There sprang from the incident a custom whereby, on a Sunday early in September, innkeepers in the village provided sandwiches for all and sundry, the meat between the slices of bread consisting of flesh from the heads of pigs.
There had been hopes that by some improvisation, consistent with the meat rationing regulations, it would have been possible to revive the custom this year. But with bread rationing in force, Avening will have to wait yet another year or two before it indulges once more on ‘Pig’s Face Sunday’. — Gloucester Day by Day. Gloucester Citizen. Wednesday, 4 September 1946. Page 4, col. 5.
In 1949, a piece carried in the Daily Mirror gave clues about when an attempted revival of the festivities was tried, and the difficulties. The Daily Mirror is admittedly not typically the choicest of sources for researchers, but note these items from the following piece:
- It refers to the event having been held on Mondays, as has been alluded to before, but throws confusion into the mix by inferring that it was a Monday at the end of the year, which goes against all the other records.
- It also purports to tell what the landladies of the pubs actually thought about participating in the festivities. Bear in mind, however, that in 1949 England has just undergone nearly ten years of rationing, and that meat rationing would continue till six years past 1949, so not many would be in a very generous mind set.
- The reason for the festival, attributed to a marauding hog in the print media we have seen to this point, gets attributed instead to a story involving Queen Matilda.
“The noonday sun glinted on seven-year-old Desmond Nurding’s cornet as he, the youngest member of Avening (Glos) [Ed: Gloucestershire] silver prize band yesterday puffed out the ‘Cuckoo Waltz’ slowly and erratically in rehearsal for Pig Face Sunday.
Pig Face Sunday, as every local knows, used to be a ceremony held on a Monday at the end of the year. The band would gather outside the three village pubs and lead locals and visitors from bar to bar, where they got a free meal of pig’s face on plain bread, and cold apple dumplings.
The war stopped that, but now the new rector, the Rev. Clarence Cooper, has started it all again. He and the more learned inhabitants have traced the ceremony back to Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror.
But for the locals, licking their lips at the thought of another free meal after years of war and pig’s face on ration, the ceremony dates back to a ‘terrible fight in them girt forests with turrible girt boar and they killed ‘un.”
But a snag has come into this new-found festivity.
The ‘snags’ are Mrs Fred Howley, of the New Inn, dating back to 1600, Mrs Latham, of the Cross Inn, and Mrs Ashton at the Bell.
So far they fail to see why they should, free and without any restriction, feed hungry villages on pig’s face and apple dumplings just because of a ‘silly old ceremony’.
Dark-haired Mrs Latham in the bar parlour of the Cross put her arms akimbo and said: ‘Dirty old things. Fancy wanting to eat all that fatty grease on a piece of dry bread and some cold apple dumplings. It’s just like some people round here. Anything for nothing, that’s all they want. Well, they’re not going to get it from me.”
At the other end of the village in the New Inn, Mrs Howley was more lenient. ‘I can remember the day when every Monday we used to feed all the locals on pig’s face,’ she said. ‘If I can get a pig’s face this year I’ll have it on the bar just for a laugh.’
Said Mrs Ashton at the Bell: ‘If those people had a pig’s face they’d eat it themselves. They wouldn’t give it away. Should I?’ — “Pig Face Sunday is getting the horse laugh in the pubs”. London, England: The Daily Mirror. Monday, 13 June 1949. Page 1, col. 3.
It’s not clear if the one in 1949 did go ahead after all, but one was held in 1950. Note that instead of a pub crawl, it was transformed into a sit-down meal in the parish hall for 180 people, though it appears at least one pub, the Bells’ Inn, still gave out the sandwiches:
“When a ‘citizen’ representative visited the Bell Inn, Avening, yesterday, he found preparations in full swing for the more secular observance of Avening Feast.
Some dozen pig faces were being prepared so that the hundreds of visitors expected tonight – when the Bell will be open until 11 PM – on Sunday and on Monday, can be presented with the traditional pigs face sandwich.
On the day before our visit the patronal festival, Holy Cross Day, had been appropriately celebrated.
Divine services at Holy Cross Church — dedicated 870 years previously — was conducted by the Rector, the Reverend Cuthbart Cooper…
Subsequently there was an adjournment to the memorial hall where Queen Mathilda, the traditional founder of the church, (impersonated by Miss Ada Fletcher) with her ladies (Mrs. Skinner and Miss G. Edmonds) attended the patronal feast.. the colourful gathering in the candle-illuminated hall…
The pig’s head was presented to the queen by Mr. B. Best, and ‘Her Majesty’ welcomed the gathering and about 180 sat down to the feast, and the Rector thanked her and all who had assisted in the arrangement of the event.
The Choir School members gave an enjoyable program and refreshments were served by members of the Parochial Church Council and helpers.” — Avening Prepares the Pig Faces. Gloucester Citizen. Saturday, 16 September 1950. Page 4, col. 4.
In 1951, a newspaper in Wisconsin, U.S.A reported that the event had taken place [note the November date of the article may just indicate the date that the newspaper reported on it, rather than the month in which it occurred:
“Pig’s Face Sunday: Villagers of Avening, England, have just completed their annual celebration of Pig’s Face Sunday. It is a quaint custom which originated many years ago when Avening was being harassed by the raids of a vicious wild boar, the terror of the district. As in India today, where wild boars are very bold and fierce animals which will attack even a tiger, the boars of early England often terrorized the countryside, the villagers will tell you. Travelers could not go peacefully on their way nor peasants till their fields. So when a brave hunter went out and killed the Avening boar he became a hero and every since, on a particular Sunday, the inhabitants celebrate their deliverance. All the inns in the parish serve pig’s face sandwiches as part of the fete.” — Pig’s Face Sunday. La Crosse, Wisconsin: The La Crosse Tribune. Wednesday, 28 November 1951. Page 9, col. 3.
In 2006, Pig’s Face Day was held on the 17th of September:
“The plans are formulated to celebrate HM the Queen’s 80th birthday on our traditional day of celebration, Holy Cross Day. Don’t miss this!!
There will be….
– barrel races along the Avening Brook
– a tug-of-war and other games
– tea in the school garden for the over sixties and under fives with entertainment
And later ….
– a medieval church service
– a torch procession from the church to the Pig Face (Hog Roast) party, with music and further revels for all ages!
This event is being organised by the agencies in the village and details will be on flyers and advertised elsewhere later in the month.” ”Rev Celia and Jon Green. PIG FACE DAY ~ SEPTEMBER 17th”. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. August 2006. Page 8.
In 2008, Pig’s Face Day was held on Sunday, the 14th of September. Services in Avening and Cherington. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. September 2008. Page 6. Pig Face Celebrations, Holy Cross Festival, Avening 2008. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2008. Page 11.
In 2010, Pig’s Face Day was held on Sunday, the 12th of September, with festivities starting at 6 PM. Rev. Celia. Queen Matilda’s Weekend. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2010. Page 21. Services in Avening and Cherington. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. September 2010. Page 3.
In 2014, Pig’s Face Day was held on Sunday, the 14th of September, with festivities starting at 11 AM. (They tried an earlier time to see if it would boost turnout.) Children from school years 5 and 6 got involved in the proceedings:
“For pupils in years 5 & 6, local industry is their focus for this term. They were visited by an expert from Stroud Museum at the beginning of September who talked to them about this topic. The class also participated in the village Pig Face Day proceedings last month, taking on some of the key roles and donning medieval attire.” Leading By Example. Saturday 15th September. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2014. Page 13.
In 2018, the event was held on Saturday 15th September starting at 5 PM. 100 people turned out for the event. Shepherd, Charlotte. Medieval fun in Avening at Pig Face Day. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Wilts and Gloucester Standard. 26 September 2018. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/16903497.medieval-fun-avening-pig-face-day/
There were hopes to do it again two years later in 2020:
“Organiser of this year’s event and Avening Parish Councillor Click Mitchell said: “I was pleased so many local residents embraced the event and got involved. Almost 100 villagers of all ages gathered in costume and we had an absolute blast. “It was a lot of fun and we can’t wait to do it all again in 2020”. Shepherd, Charlotte. Medieval fun in Avening at Pig Face day. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Wilts and Gloucester Standard. 26 September 2018. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/16903497.medieval-fun-avening-pig-face-day/ Slater, Tony. Letter From Avening Parish Council Leader. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2018. Page 10.
Of course, however, those plans were waylaid by the Covid-19 pandemic at the time.
A first-hand account
In 2018, a man named Vincent Riley gave a broad historical overview of the day from about the 1930s onward:
“Much has been written of Avening Feast since the inception in the nineteenth century, however one thing is certain, that the Feast was of religious origin. The Holy Cross Church legend tells us that it was built as a penance by Queen Matilda following a turbulent romance with a certain Britric, an emissary to Flanders. His rejection of her ended in her suitor being captured, imprisoned and subsequently put to death and his lands annexed. On completion of the building, a feast was held for the builders of the Church. Legend has it that a large boar terrorising the local population was hunted and slaughtered (on the Chavenage Green), then roasted and became the basis of the Feast, with the boar’s head being presented to Queen Matilda. Henceforth the Pig’s Head held prominence at each and every Feast since.
In my youth the Feast was not a ‘sit-down’ affair but was a general ‘free for all’, with all the inns of Avening taking part. Any man who presented himself at an inn in the area on Feast Day could demand a sandwich and a pint of beer. Hence the sandwiches were known as ‘Pigs Face’ sandwiches, no charge was made, except for extra drinks, so ‘toing and froing’ between pubs was commonplace. Bread and cheese were supplied for those who disliked the brawn sandwiches. With the Avening Band playing at the venues and crowds from nearby villages and towns thronging the streets, to get extra food was easy. Avening was seething with transport to the Feast including charabancs from as far as Swindon. In my research one woman who was lodging in Stroud said she was surprised when her landlord burst in and said he was going to Avening Feast.
His wife told him not to get too drunk and on his return, merry but not drunk, his verdict was that the sandwiches were very good, but due to the crowds of people, the beer supply ran out at certain pubs, so other pubs were sampled. The Feast took on a grand occasion and gave families the chance to visit other family members, which gave rise to the homemade wines coming out from under the stairs. Unlike the beer, the homemade drinks soon proved too much for topers, resulting in many having to be escorted home.
World War 2 saw a decline in the Feast, with the menfolk away. I too was away from the village from September 1st 1939, so cannot describe its decline. It was in 1951 that there was a change of rector in the village. The Rev. Canon Cooper decided to revive the Feast and further Feasts thereafter were much more organised. Following the Holy Cross Day at the Church, the congregation would process to the Memorial Hall for a ‘sit-down’ feast, where celebrities dressed in period costumes were seated at the top table. The Feast began with the Pig’s Head being paraded on a platter by a strong man escorted by torch-bearers through the gathering and took up a prominent position on top table. Grace was said and festivities began.
This did not stop the ritual of previous Feasts and the serving of sandwiches and drinks at the pubs continued, but with the decline of Public Houses and changes of ownership, who knows how long this legend will continue? I would add that through the ages, boys will be boys and we mingled with the crowds that thronged the village in the hope of a free sandwich or two (or a taste of illicit ale).
However I was left wondering who was funding this annual event, the preparation of the various sandwiches and the gallons of ale. The preparation of the filling of the Brawn for the sandwiches apparently started a week previously by volunteers in the village who would “obtain” a pig’s head from the local slaughterhouse (‘Hilliers’ come to mind), or from their butcher. The head was duly boiled until well-cooked, was then skinned and all the meat was stripped off, graded and minced, then placed under compression in a mould until cold. The resulting block of Brawn could then be sliced and used for the filling of the sandwiches. Most breweries in the village would contribute to the supply of ale. Once again the participants appeared to have an enjoyable evening. Not to be undone by Sunday’s melee, regulars at the various pubs were treated to their night on the Monday following.” — Vincent, Riley. Boyhood Memories of Avening Feast. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2018. Pp 22-23.
Hughes, Janet. Inside the two Cotswold churches fit for our Queen. Gloucester, Gloucestershire. Gloucester Live. 23 June 2021. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/celebs-tv/inside-two-cotswold-churches-fit-5544053
Pig Face Day at Avening. Avening Feast and Queen Matilda’s Pageant. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.cotswolds.info/strange-things/pig-face-day-avening.shtml
Shepherd, Charlotte. Medieval fun in Avening at Pig Face day. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Wilts and Gloucester Standard. 26 September 2018. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/16903497.medieval-fun-avening-pig-face-day/
THE LISTENER, Vol. 54, no. 1386, Sept. 22, 1955: Pig’s Face Sunday (Sunday after September 14, Holy Cross Day, at Avening, Gloucestershire), note, pp. 453-4.
The Church of the Holy Cross, Avening, History
|↑1||Kaye, Pat. Accent on Avening. Gloucestershire Life And Countryside Magazine. November 1974. Page 48.|
|↑2||Shepherd, Charlotte. Medieval fun in Avening at Pig Face Day. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Wilts and Gloucester Standard. 26 September 2018. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/16903497.medieval-fun-avening-pig-face-day/|
|↑3||Rymer, Beverley. Avening Inns and Pubs. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. March 2021. Page 17.|
|↑4||Mitchell, Click. The Hog Roast Champion of Avening. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. August 2018. Page 2.|
|↑5||Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. September 2018. Page 7.|
|↑6||Nailsworth Petty Sessions. Stroud Journal Saturday, 1 October 1870. Page 4, col. 5.|
|↑7||Gloucester Journal. Saturday, 2 October 1880. Page 8, col. 4.|
|↑8||”Rev Celia and Jon Green. PIG FACE DAY ~ SEPTEMBER 17th”. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. August 2006. Page 8.|
|↑9||Services in Avening and Cherington. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. September 2008. Page 6.|
|↑10||Pig Face Celebrations, Holy Cross Festival, Avening 2008. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2008. Page 11.|
|↑11||Rev. Celia. Queen Matilda’s Weekend. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2010. Page 21.|
|↑12||Services in Avening and Cherington. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. September 2010. Page 3.|
|↑13||Leading By Example. Saturday 15th September. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2014. Page 13.|
|↑14||Shepherd, Charlotte. Medieval fun in Avening at Pig Face Day. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Wilts and Gloucester Standard. 26 September 2018. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/16903497.medieval-fun-avening-pig-face-day/|
|↑15||Shepherd, Charlotte. Medieval fun in Avening at Pig Face day. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Wilts and Gloucester Standard. 26 September 2018. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk/news/16903497.medieval-fun-avening-pig-face-day/|
|↑16||Slater, Tony. Letter From Avening Parish Council Leader. Avening, Gloucester: The Villager Magazine. October 2018. Page 10.|