A letter to the Editor of the Carlisle Journal has become key to the history of a recently discovered 111 year-old Christmas pudding.
Headed, Christmas Cheer for the Naval Brigade, Miss Agnes Weston asks for support from readers to send food and welfare parcels to the Boer War front lines in time for Christmas 1889.
One of the Christmas puddings, dated 1900 and sent to the Naval Brigade has been given to The National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, after having been left in the back of a food cupboard for years.
Collections Manager, Victoria Ingles explains: “We received a call from a lady wanting to know if we would be interested in a tinned Christmas pudding.
“It had been in her kitchen cupboard since her husband’s death but she knew little else about it other than it had been in his family for many years so this sparked our interest to try and find out more.”
“Stored in a decorative tin, the 111 year old plum pudding is clearly showing signs of age but the message can still be read: “For the Naval Brigade, In the Front, With Miss Weston’s Best Christmas & New Year, 1900, Wishes.”
Who was Agnes Weston ?
Miss Agnes ‘Aggie’ Weston, known as the Mother of the Navy, took up hospital visiting and parish work and subsequently began a correspondence with a sailor who asked her to write to him.
Shortly before her death she was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1918 and was buried with full naval honours.
Miss Weston’s values are carried through in every detail on the front of the pudding label: “Peek, Frean & Co’s Teetotal Plum Pudding – LONDON, High Class Ingredients Only”. The other side of the tin is an illustration in an Oliver Twist style showing children holding out their plates.
The label also carries the following instructions: “This pudding is ready for use but may be boiled for an hour if required hot.”
Further research into Miss Weston’s work has found reference to the puddings in a letter to the editor of the Carlisle Journal, dated December 08, 1899.
[pullquote]It is quite remarkable that the pudding has survived for over 100 years.
Victoria Ingles. Collections Manager[/pullquote]
The letter asks for “Christmas Cheer for the Naval Brigade. At The FRONT” with Miss Weston describing the Sailors’ Battle and how she is anxious to cheer the hearts of the brave boys at Christmas and the New Year – “There are between 600 and 1,000 men at the front, and I want to send each a Christmas pudding…” She then continues to ask for help, gifts and aid in the form of cheques or postal orders.
“As Christmas drew near it occurred to one of us that a Christmas pudding for each man of the Naval Brigade would be a nice little present. Messrs. Peek, Frean & Co. carried out the order, and the puddings went off, each in its tin, “With Miss Weston’s good wishes,” in time to reach the front. They were passed on and were not hung up any-where.”
Having discovered the personal background to the production of the pudding, Victoria Ingles adds: “It is quite remarkable that the pudding has survived for over 100 years. It is the only example we know of issued to the Naval Brigade still in existence and quite possibly the oldest surviving Christmas pudding too!”
The pudding will undergo some conservation work but will be temporarily on display in the museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s Victorian Festival of Christmas (Fri 25th – Sun 27th November, 2011 www.christmasfestival.co.uk), along with some WWI and WWII navy rations including an orange and some chocolate, as well as a more recent Christmas box sent to the Navy on operations in Iraq.