Little information has come to light about a fishermen’s beer house called the Pig & Whistle, located in the High Street over a century ago. The earliest known date is 1870 when Alfred Bourn was the licensee. However, as a beer house, we can be fairly certain it was in existence well before then and possibly dated back to the Beer Act of 1830.
Pig and Whistle is a stereotypical name for the traditional English pub, but oddly enough there are or were few actual genuine pubs with this name in the country. I quote the Dictionary of Pub Names by Dunkling and Wright. “When Lillywhite examined 17,000 London pub signs in the 19th century, he was unable to find a single example of Pig and Whistle. We estimate that in the 1980s about 10 British pubs were so called.” Thus it would seem that the Pig and Whistle, Rye had an unusual name – what was its meaning?
The Oxford English Dictionary gives several examples of the use of the phrase “pigs and whistles” dating from 1681. To go to “pigs and whistles” at one time meant “to go to rack and ruin”. If going to pigs and whistles was going to ruin, and constantly going to the pub was also going to ruin, then pigs and whistles would be associated sooner or later with the pub. From there it would be a short step to naming a pub the Pig and Whistle, first as a nick-name, then as an official name.
We can also speculate on a second theory, that the origin of the name might well have been a local one: the Sussex Pigs of Rye Pottery. It is known that the famous Rye Pottery Sussex Pig was in use as a drinking vessel for more than 200 years. The pig was hollow and came apart. The head could be removed and would stand alone on its snout and ears, as a cup or mug. The body of the pig set upright could be used as a jug. According to the Sussex County Magazine it was a Rye tradition at weddings for guests to drink a whole “hogs head” of beer in one, when toasting the bride and bridegroom. This tradition is dated to the mid-19the century when the Pig and Whistle in the High Street was probably a thriving beer house.
Yet another origin of the name, one favoured by bar room etymologists, is found in religious mythology. “Pige-Washael” was once upon a time believed to be the angel’s salutation to the Virgin Mary, which, in the language of the Danes meant ‘Virgin Hail’ or ‘Health to the Maiden’. The original licensed premises is now the Purdie Gallery, High Street.
* The pubs of Rye, 1750-1950 by David Russell is available in Rye from the Heritage Centre, Strand Quay; Adams, 9 High Street, The Queen Adelaide, 23 Ferry Road, or online. Other books by David Russell are The Pubs of Hastings & St Leonards, The Swan, Hastings and Register of Licensees for Hastings & St Leonard