Ralph Sloiop investigates the origin's of one of the North East's favourite sandwich fillers, and how it its history is inextricably linked with the region and its railways.
Darlington is known for its railway and Quaker history, with local Quaker Edward Pease one of the leading figures in the creation of the world-famous Stockton & Darlington Railway which was opened on September 27th 1825 by Locomotion No 1. What is not as well known is the connections with Darlington, Pease and the railways with the well-known North Eastern dish of Pease pudding.
Pease pudding is claimed to originate from the medieval era and the name a connotation of the yellow split-peas from which it is made, however its resurgence from the 1820’s linked to the growth of the Stockton & Darlington Railway and industry such as coal mining associated with the railway has led to another suggestion of where the exact wording of todays ‘Pease Pudding’ originates from.
The simply, nutritious yet relatively bland taste of the dish suited the Quaker lifestyle well and was popular with Quaker families in the Darlington area despite being out of fashion elsewhere by the beginning of the 19th Century. The altruistic nature of the Quakers and a genuine care for the wellbeing of the lower classes similarly worked in the favour of this cheaply produced yet filling food, with a growing workforce at Quaker-owned collieries in West Durham who needed feeding. Land was turned over to the growing of split peas and the harvest given to workers employed by Quakers as part of their payment to be made at home. Whereas today it is something we tend to associate with sweeter foods, it was called a ‘pudding’ at the time. The real spread of the pudding over the metaphorical stottie of North East of England was caused by the opening of the Quaker-run Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825 where locomotives pulled chaldrons of coal from West Durham via Darlington to the docks at Stockton.
Horses were widely used on the Stockton & Darlington Railway alongside locomotives for hauling coal wagons, and until 1833 all passenger traffic on the railway other than the opening day was by horse-hauled carriage. Attempts to give Pease pudding to horses as a cheap alternative to oats were not successful and made them lethargic. To try and alleviate this, George Stephenson invented the ‘Dandy Cart’ which were small wagons placed at the rear of horse-hauled trains of coal wagons so where the line had a downhill gradient and the wagons could run free, the horse would climb into the ‘Dandy Cart’ and relax until the gradient required it to work again. Eventually they just fed them oats, but the idea of the Dandy Cart stuck and increased productive for horse-hauled trains.
Enginemen working long days on the Stockton & Darlington Railway were encouraged to purchase home-made stottie bread cake sandwiches containing the pudding which were sold cheaply (as part of the contract to live in a railway house) by the wives of railway workers who were housed along the line. Stotties, for those not familiar, are again a very distinctively North Eastern foodstuff. A flat, round loaf around a foot in diameter, their heavy, sturdy texture with a thicker outer edge is also said to have been the inspiration for Timothy Hackworth’s two-piece ‘plug’ wheel fitted to locomotives with great success. It is claimed that the strong association of the split-peas ‘pudding’ with the Stockton & Darlington Railway led to it being nicknamed ‘Pease pudding’ after the founder of the railway Edward Pease, his family and their altruistic nature towards those in their employ. Not only did the nutritional value help prevent fatigue from working on the railroad all the live-long day it helped soak up and balance out the quantities of beer being drank. Beer – of a much lower alcoholic content than we would today associate with it – was safer than water, but being drunk in vast quantities by manual workers, drunkenness proved an issue on the railway.
Early steam locomotives built with wrought iron plates riveted together tended to leak and lose steam, which could prove disastrous. There is at least one occasion recorded – from 1834 – of Pease pudding used in an emergency purchased by driver Greggs from the house of a family called Dicksons on the line near Yarm to seal a leaky hole around a rivet, the heat drying the mushy foodstuff rapidly and proving a temporary fix that lasted some days. Its growing distribution caused by the railway and the expanding industrial interests of Quakers across the North East brought Pease pudding to a wider audience with whom it unsurprisingly proved popular, especially as an accompaniment to meat, and it has become strongly associated with the North East ever since with the recipe handed down for generations.
Ralph Sloiop is a professor at the University of East Boldon, specialising in the application of regional foodstuffs in 19th century Britain. He has previously written such papers as 'Pork Pies: How the rubber industry made use of gelatin and pastry' and 'How Parmos revolutionised internal combustion'.