The Christ­mas Pud­ding King

Derbyshire Life - - Society -

Peter Seddon turns de­tec­tive in

search of Matthew Walker

It’s that time again when the sta­ples of the Christ­mas ta­ble tempt us once more. Di­ets go out of the win­dow. Tra­di­tion de­mands it – and we need those ex­tra re­serves to counter the win­ter chill. Of all the sea­sonal fare the Christ­mas pud­ding re­mains as pop­u­lar as ever. Along­side ‘turkey and all the trim­mings’ the clas­sic ‘pud’ em­bod­ies that old-fash­ioned Christ­mas spirit that we con­tinue to savour.

Der­byshire has a spe­cial stake in this time-hon­oured rit­ual.

It is said that 40 per cent of all Christ­mas pud­dings con­sumed world­wide, and two-thirds eaten in Bri­tain, will be made by Heanor-based firm Matthew Walker – the old­est Christ­mas pud­ding maker in the world. Each year they sell around 25 mil­lion in an imag­i­na­tive range cater­ing to all tastes – but every one based on the clas­sic orig­i­nal recipe used by founder Matthew Walker over a cen­tury ago. The ma­jor­ity are eaten on a sin­gle day – Christ­mas Day.

The com­pany’s story has been told many times – but few de­tails of Matthew Walker him­self have ever emerged. The stan­dard pen-pic­ture la­bels him ‘a hum­ble Der­byshire farmer’s son’ who started the com­pany in 1899 ‘mak­ing plum pud­dings to his mother’s recipe’. But there it ends. Time for a vin­tage Christ­mas spe­cial – ‘Matthew Walker – This Is Your Life.’

Since this is a ‘Mon­u­men­tal Mus­ings’ fea­ture we start our search in the tran­quil church­yard of St He­len’s in Dar­ley Dale, tucked qui­etly be­low the busy A6 close to Mat­lock. In the shade of an an­cient yew tree (it­self a dis­tin­guished mon­u­ment – more of which an­other time) are seven stone tablets each carved with the name of an al­lied ac­tion in the Sec­ond World War. The largest reads: ‘The Bat­tle of Bri­tain – Sep­tem­ber 1940’.

Since dubbed ‘Mile­stones to Vic­tory’ these mod­est but hugely redo­lent mon­u­ments were the gift of Dar­ley Dale par­ish­ioner Matthew Walker – the very same ‘pud­ding king’ – who from 1926 un­til his death in 1944 lived at hand­some Abbey House near St He­len’s Church where he wor­shipped and was buried.

They en­cap­su­late Walker’s for­ward-think­ing char­ac­ter – for he erected the ‘Vic­tory Stones’ prior to the war’s end. In­deed he died be­fore the fi­nal Al­lied Vic­tory. But his pa­tri­otic heart had willed the out­come – and he was right.

Per­haps that un­shaken be­lief that ‘right would pre­vail’ stood him in good stead as a busi­ness­man. What­ever his cre­den­tials the ‘farmer’s son’ cer­tainly did well – when he died at Abbey House aged 74 in 1944 he left the then con­sid­er­able for­tune of al­most £40,000.

‘His mother Sarah He­witt, a na­tive of Thur­vas­ton, was said to be the orig­i­na­tor

of Matthew’s recipes’

Matthew Wal­wyn Walker was born in 1869 at Stock­ley Park Farm in Anslow, Stafford­shire, near Tut­bury. He was the third of six chil­dren of ten­ant farmer Matthew Walker se­nior, born at El­la­s­tone near Ash­bourne, and his wife Sarah He­witt, a na­tive of Thur­vas­ton, said to be the orig­i­na­tor of Matthew’s recipes.

Walker se­nior was rather more than the ‘hum­ble farmer’ of es­tab­lished wis­dom. His dairy and sheep farm at Anslow was a sub­stan­tial con­cern, and Walker a prom­i­nent fig­ure in farm­ing cir­cles who won count­less prizes for his live­stock and pro­duce coun­try­wide. His cheeses were said to be par­tic­u­larly fine – and he was an em­i­nent pig-breeder of na­tional renown.

That surely had a bear­ing on his son’s out­look, for it sug­gests that

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