What was ‘pigging’?

Before modern houses were large enough for individual rooms, many poorer families often slept in the same bed.

What was ‘pigging’? © Getty Images

The practice was charmingly called ‘pigging’, and it was common in rural Scotland and Ireland right up until the 20th century.

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With so many snoozers crammed into a small space, a form of etiquette inevitably developed: boys and girls were kept at opposite ends while the smallest kids slept nearest their parents in the centre, creating a sort of gendered Russian doll effect.

The custom possibly inspired the nursery rhyme, “There were ten in the bed, and the little one said: ‘Roll over…’”

Bizarrely, though, it wasn’t just family members who snuggled up under the covers. We’d be horrified if, when checking into a hotel, we found another family asleep in our room, but such renting of the family bed was common in Colonial America in the 1600s, having begun as a Dutch tradition called ‘queesting’.

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Visiting guests, or even paying strangers, sometimes crawled in alongside mother, father and the kids, to share the communal warmth. It’s fair to say that if the practice were revived today many newspaper editors would spontaneously combust from the intensity of their moral outrage!

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner.