Black Sewer Swine of Hampstead


How the legend of the Black Swine originated is hard to say. In one sense it was just a classic urban legend – someone had put it about that a sow had somehow got into the sewer, littered some offspring and fed them on the rubbish being washed into it continually. Pollution was a major problem for the rapidly expanding city of London in the 19th century. The Thames was essentially one large open sewer, and cholera was prevalent. It was only after engineer Joseph Bazalgette constructed miles upon miles of underground brick main sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1,100 miles of street sewers, that sewerage stopped flowing freely through the streets and thoroughfares of London.

Until then, rumours of awful things like Black Swine lurking in the bowels of London were horrifyingly plausible. In another sense, the Black Swine may just have been a metaphor for the irrational elements that so terrified Victorian society at the time, and which found its expression in other similar urban legends, such as that of Sweeney Todd, Spring-heeled Jack, the Highgate Vampire and the grotesque Rat King. For whatever reason, Chinese whispers ensued and the legend of the Black Swine grew in the telling, even being mentioned in a Daily Telegraph editorial in 1859. Although to this day the truth or otherwise concerning the Black Swine has never been uncovered, no one has quite been inspired to venture deep below the streets of London to investigate for themselves whether these porcine interlopers actually exist or not…

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