The Christmas Pudding King
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