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Taxes are never popular and a rural population under pressure to give up part of its hard-won produce to the parish priest in the form of a tithe must have been revelled in something that neatly turned the tables on the clergy.

The popularity of the story of the tithe pig was such that it has been handed down to us today in any number of forms – in prints, on tiles, in pottery groups, on jugs, on mugs.

Such was the currency of the tale of the farmer’s wife who punctures the smug condescension of the vicar by offering him his illegitimate child in place of a pig, that in many forms the original satirical intention has been all but lost.

In the pearlware group illustrated above, for instance, the drama of the situation has been reduced to a calm tableau reminiscent of a Madonna and Child with donors.

The potter has turned the tithe pigs into little brown lapdogs and only the basket of eggs and the sheaves of corn remain as clues that the hand-wringing parson is squirming under the choice between the fruits of the earth and fruit of his loins.

For a 21st century audience, therefore, it comes as some relief to find the story much more bluntly spelled out, as on the creamware mug, also above. This is a scene much closer to the anti-clerical engraving which was its source and is complete with the verse which left its 18th century audience in no doubt as to who was the butt of the joke.

We reprint the verse in full as it appeared on a late 18th century mezzotint of the same subject where the parson’s pride is signlled by the addition of a peacock on the fence behind him.

In Country Village lives a Vicar,
Fond as all are of Tythes and Liquor.
For Mirth his Ears are seldom Shut,
He’ll Crack a jest, & laugh at Smut.
But when his Tythes he gathers in,
True Parson then – no Corn, no Grin:
On Corn, on Hay, on Bird, on Beast,
Alike lays hold the Churlish Priest.
Hob’s Wife and Sow as Gossips tell,
Both at a time in Pieces fell;
The Parson comes, the Pig he Claims,
And the good Wife with Taunts inflames,
But she quite arch bow’d low & Smil’d,
Kept back the Pig and held the Child
The Priest look’s warm, the Wife look’d big,
Zounds Sir! quoth She, no Child, no Pig.