That’s right, this article is about the grave of a pig. Nowadays Polly’s story is tied up within local history and folklore in Worsley, which is located in the Borough of Salford, some eight miles from Manchester. However, during her lifetime and shortly after her death Polly’s life was a national news story. Here’s how Polly ended up a celebrity.

Polly’s gravestone, Worsley, 2020 (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2020)

Who was Polly’s owner?

Before we look at what made Polly famous, we first have to delve into the life of her owner, Mrs Alice Taylor. Alice was born in Culcheth in 1843, the third daughter of Joseph Blackburn and Eliza Valentine. Joseph was an innkeeper at the Chat Moss Tavern.

Unfortunately, when Alice was two years old her mother died aged 31. Then, four years later, Joseph Blackburn died. Alice, an orphan at six years old, was sent with her sister Ellen to live with their maternal uncle, Isaac Valentine at his farm named Light Oaks Hall. Also living at Light Oaks was Alice’s grandmother, Ann Valentine. Ann had lived and farmed at Light Oaks for decades. By 1861 her sons appear to have swapped roles. Ann Valentine remained in-situ at Light Oaks Hall but Isaac was no longer farming and instead he moved with his family, and Alice, to an inn further down the road. His brother, George Valentine took over the farm and lived there with his children and his mother. The farm was some 250 acres in size and it required the assistance of five male farm servants and two female house servants to run effectively. Alice herself was recorded as a house servant in the 1861 census. She was working as a servant at her uncle’s inn. This would all prove useful experience for her future.

In April 1866 at St. Thomas’s Church in Bedford, Leigh, Alice married her cousin Joseph Valentine, who had also spent a period of his childhood at Light Oaks Hall. However, the young married couple did not stay long in the Leigh-area and in late 1867 they moved to Worsley, around six miles away.

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Light Oaks Hall, home of the Valentine family. The seventeenth-century building was at one time in the boundary of Leigh but it is now in Glazebury. (Source: Thomas McGrath, 2016)

The Cock Inn, Worsley

Alice and Joseph took over the running of the Cock Inn, as the previous landlord, James Grundy had died in June that year. Worsley was part of an Estate originally created by William I, the Worsley family held land at Worsley and also part of the nearby Hulton Estate until it passed to the Massey family (of Tatton) in the fourteenth century and later to the Brereton family of Cheshire. In 1572 Richard Brereton married Dorothy Egerton and upon Richard’s death in 1598, the Estate passed into the Egerton family.

The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton (1736 – 1803) inherited the Estates from his father and in 1761 he commenced with his inland waterway project; the Bridgewater Canal, the first canal in Britain. Later, in the nineteenth century the Earl of Ellesmere described Worsley as “a God-forsaken place, full of drunken, rude people with deplorable morals.” Nonetheless he commenced building a new family seat there, Worsley New Hall (completed in 1846), as well as St Mark’s Church (completed by Gilbert Scott in 1846) and schools and other buildings.

The Cock Inn itself was located adjacent to the lands of Worsley Old Hall. An inn on that site dates back to at least 1828, when it was ran by Thomas Crippin and later in the 1830s it was occupied by William Crippin. Apparently the name of the inn arose from a former landlord, who kept dead game on the bar. The building itself was much older, apparently dating back to the 1650s when it was a farm known as Meanleys. It should be noted here that the Cock Inn operated as a farmhouse/inn throughout the nineteenth century, as well as being the location of inquests.

Life at Worsley

Alice and Joseph had the following children: Robert (b.1867), Alfred (b.1868), Martha (b.1871), Ann (b.1873), George (b.1874), John (b.1877) and Alice (b.1878). Alfred, Ann and Alice all died young. Joseph Valentine never even met his youngest daughter, as he died in April 1878, a few months before she was born.

Alice took over the running of the inn, which continued to be successful as it was located on the road towards Walkden (in the latter decades of the nineteenth century this was known as Shaving Lane, it is now Walkden Road). In the 1881 census, Alice’s eldest son, Robert was aged 14 and working as a bookkeeper, her other children were too young to help with the running of the inn, so Alice employed two servants; Ann Crompton who worked as a general maid and James Taylor, who worked as barman.

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The original Cock Inn, as Alice Taylor (and Polly) would have known it. The garden which contained Polly’s grave was located behind the far left corner of the building. (Source: Posted in ‘Growing up in Walkden and Worsley 2’ by M. Shaw, 11 April 2016)

Both Ann Crompton and James Taylor lived and worked with the Valentines. Therefore, it is perhaps of little surprise that in October 1881 Alice Valentine and James Taylor married at St. John’s Church in Bolton. James was 13 years younger than his wife and they only had one child together; Thomas Valentine Taylor (b.1882). Thomas was born five months after the wedding, so that sheds a bit more light on the marriage. In June 1892, the license for the inn was transferred from James’s name to Alice’s. It is likely he took formal, legal control of the business after their marriage, as the Married Women’s Property Act was only passed in the same year they married.

After this James seems to disappear from the records. In the 1901 census for The Cock Inn, Alice was recorded as the head of the household and as the publican and she still listed herself as married but James was not in the household. By the time of the 1911 census when Alice had left Worsley and was living on Folly’s Lane in Swinton with her daughter Martha, she was still listed as married but again James was not recorded within her household.

Enter: Polly

In 1890 Alice purchased a sow from the Old Hall Farm to add to her livestock at The Cock. At first nothing remarkable was noticed about the pig until she started to produce frequent, large litters. The smallest litter was four piglets, but over her lifetime she also had one litter of 13, one litter of 14, two litters of 12 and two litters of 16. In one year alone, there were three separate litters.

Polly drinking a jug of ale, c.1900 The boy could be one of Alice Taylor’s sons. (Source: Private Collection)

The pig was given the name ‘Polly’ and she eventually became a favoured pet of Alice Taylor and her children. It was noted that Polly would answer to her name, just as a dog or horse would. Polly was also fond of a tipple, which delighted reporters and visiting patrons:

“She [Polly] is fond of John Barleycorn, too, and will toss off a pint of beer with as much readiness as a navvy after a hard day’s work. Moreover, she will not spill a drop whilst quaffing it, and if she observes anyone connected with the farm with a jug in his or her hand, she will follow at their heels like a dog or cat.”

Polly first made it into the press in 1899 and by this time she had produced 164 piglets. She next appeared in the Derbyshire Daily Telegraph in 1903, after she had just given birth to a litter of five, taking her total to 197. This outstanding feat was also reported in local newspapers in Hull, Hampshire and Reading.

Sadly, Polly was put down on 23 December 1904 due to old age and infirmities. By the time of her death she had given birth to 200 piglets and with the exception of four, she had reared them all. Alice Taylor had such a fondness for Polly that she buried her in the garden and by March 1905 she had erected a gravestone, which underneath a carved tassel motif read:

AGED 15 1/2 YEARS”

Of course, the gravestone caused a further media sensation. Graves for treasured family pets had at one time been the reserve of the aristocracy before becoming popular with the middle classes in the nineteenth century. By the 1880s, a pet cemetery had even opened in London. However, the gravestone for a pig was so unusual that it was reported in The Daily Mirror and The Penny Illustrated Paper, which both had a national readership. It must be remembered that at this time gravestones were an expensive commodity, to the extent many poorer people could not afford one for their family members, let alone pets.

Polly’s gravestone when it was new, 1905. (Source: Penny Illustrated News, 18 March 1905)


Polly’s Legacy

Within a year of Polly’s death, Alice Taylor moved from The Cock Hotel (as it was known at this time), where she had spent almost 40 years of her life. She died in 1915 and was buried at St. Mark’s Church in Worsley. The hotel was subsequently taken over by George and Emily Wightman, who lived and worked there with their children; Doris (b.1895), George (b.1896), John (b.1898), Kathleen (b.1901), Constance (b.1904), Frank (b.1907) and Richard (b.1909). They also had two servants; Helena Griffin and Phoebe Birchall.

The Wightmans were there until around 1915 and even though they had no connection to Polly, they did not disturb her grave or the stone. Nor did Ada and John Barlow, who ran The Cock throughout the 1920s.

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The old Cock Hotel on the left and the new one on the right, c.1930s (Source: Frank Mullineux Photo Archive: Posted on ‘Growing up in Walkden and Worsley 2’ by B. Wharmby 18 Dec 2018)

In 1930, a new Cock Hotel was built adjacent to the site of the original inn and the two stood side by side for a brief time until the older building was demolished. The new public house was likely built in the anticipation of a greater number of visitors due to the construction of the A580 East Lancashire Road which connects Manchester and Liverpool. The road was started in 1929 and officially opened by King George V in July 1934. The Cock Hotel is located just off the junction with Walkden.

In 1931 Avery and Annie Hornsby ran The Cock, followed by Tom and Emma Martin in 1939. There have been countless others since, but all have left Polly to rest in her secluded spot, tucked out of sight. Polly has become a local landmark and flowers have even been left on her grave. The Cock Hotel is currently earmarked for demolition with a new care home expected to be built on the site. Hopefully they will continue to respect Polly’s grave, which stands not only as a tribute to a remarkable pig but as a testament to the fondness between Alice and her pet, and also as the only surviving legacy of The Cock Hotel, a little piece of Worsley’s history.

Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath


UPDATE: August 2020 –  At the start of the month, Polly was once again a national news story! Dr Sam George of the University of Hertfordshire, who grew up in Worsley, started a campaign online to save Polly’s grave, which prompted a response from New Care to say that the grave will be incorporated into the new site. The story was then picked up by different newspapers; the Manchester Evening News, The Times, The Mirror and the Daily Mail and I’m pleased to say that my research here was used to tell Polly and Alice’s story. As of the writing of this update (31st August), The Cock has been demolished.