Friday, 29 December 2017

Celebrating the coming of the railway – the “Paignton Pudding Riot”

It is difficult for us to imagine the excitement caused by the building of railway lines in the Nineteenth Century. For example, the arrival of the extension of the line from Torquay to Paignton in 1859 saw a celebration that ended in a wild and notorious disturbance.

Paignton had a tradition that, every fifty years or so, a large pudding was made and shared between members of the local parishes who gathered on Paignton Green for the celebration (the green is seen in the aerial view above, taken from the website). Prior to the arrival of the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway, the previous festival was held on 1st June 1819, with a pudding weighing 900 lbs. (pounds) and contained four hundredweight of flour, 120 lbs. of suet, 120 lbs. of raisins and a “large number” of eggs [1]. White describes the disaster that followed:

[The pudding] was boiled in a large brewing copper at the Crown and Anchor Inn; it was contained in a huge bag, which was held in a net suspended to a beam, from which it was lowered by a tackle into the boiler, and kept just three inches off the bottom. After boiling for three days it was hoisted out, placed on a waggon, and drawn to the Green by three horses. But those who had assembled to eat the pudding were doomed to disappointment; the outside, from the constant boiling, had been reduced to the consistence of paste, and the inner part was not even warm.

The organisers were aware of the problems of 1819 when planning the celebration for the arrival of the railway on 1st August 1859. It was to be held once again on the Green and the pudding was even larger. White [1] continues:

In order to secure success on the present occasion, it was arranged that the pudding should be baked in sections, eight sections forming one layer, the whole being afterwards built together. The pudding consisted of 573 lbs. of flour, 191 lbs. of bread, 382 lbs. raisins, 191 lbs. currants, 382 lbs. suet, 320 lemons, 144 nutmegs, 95 lbs. of sugar, a quantity of eggs, and 860 quarts of milk; the cost was £45. When completed the weight of it was one ton and a-half; it was thirteen feet six inches in circumference at the base, and five feet at the top. Besides this remarkable pudding, there were provided 1,900 lbs. of meat, 1,900 lbs. of bread, and an unlimited supply of the staple product of the Paignton orchards, - cider.

Perhaps it was the latter that fueled subsequent events. The waggon containing the pudding arrived and five policemen guarded both the pudding and dignitaries who had assembled for speeches etc. but they were overwhelmed by members of the public who left their tables and swarmed around trying to get a slice from the pudding. They were joined by navvies who had built the railway and who were also part of the celebrations, and White writes:

A disgraceful scene followed in which men, women, and boys, struggled and fought for the possession of the pieces thrown out from the waggon; and this continued until not a morsel was left.. ..For weeks afterwards the Post Office was inundated with greasy packets, containing morsels of the pudding, sent off as so many souvenirs to distant friends.

As members of my family lived in Paignton in the Nineteenth Century, they are likely to have been present at the “pudding riot”, but it is not part of family folklore. 

One can’t imagine such a scene today, or could one?  

[1] J.T.White (1878) The History of Torquay. Torquay, The “Directory” Office.

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