For centuries Paigntonians have been known as "Flat-poles" or "Pudden-eaters". Of the two, the former derives from an widely grown local variety of cabbage for which the town was famous for many years. "Pudden-eaters" were so called because of the Pudding which has been part of its history for seven centuries. In token payment for the granting of the charter in the 13th century, "white-pot was prepared which was seven years making, seven years baking and seven years eating". Westcott (in "A view of Devon in 1630) notes that this was being made annually: "Somewhat I must tell you of the huge and costly white-pot... some term a bag-pudding. In former years it was an annual action". Over the succeeding years the custom changed and the annual preparation lapsed; it was made only every 50 years and, instead of being sent to the King, was distributed to the poor of the parish.

The first detailed account of the "Pudding" concerns the one produced in 1819 to celebrate the Annual Fair. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post referred to it as "an ancient custom neglected of late years but now revived". A local bakery produced an enormous "messy pudding, the ingredients included '400 lbs of flour, 170 lbs of suet, 140 lbs of raisins and 20 dozen eggs'". The boiling of this monster took four days, or 64 hours in the Crown & Anchor Inn's brewing copper. It was afterwards paraded through the town on a wagon drawn by eight oxen to the Green where it was was distributed to the poor of the parish before a crowd of 8,000.

As noted above, the next one to be baked was the one produced in celebration of the opening of the railway in August 1859. It was a mammoth 1½ tons in weight, cost £45 to make and was made by Evans, the baker, in the shape of a pyramid with a base measuring 13ft 6in. and a top layer 5 feet around. John Robinson, a printer of broadsheets and tracts, set up his press on Paignton Green and printed a penny souvenir fully recording both the recipe and the sequence of the day's events. What really happened, however, was very different from those anticipated by Mr. Robinson. His version gives an uneventful account of the affair but the facts, not recorded in the newspapers of the day either, tell a very different story:

The day of the opening dawned and invited to the event were the poor of Paignton, Marldon and Stoke Gabriel together with the navvies and their families who had worked on the extension of the line. Besides the Pudding there was 1,900 lbs each of meat and bread and unlimited quantities of the local product, Devonshire cider. The procession left Primley at noon; prominent were the three wagons each drawn by three horses carrying the food and the great pudding on a wagon drawn by eight horses. After its safe arrival on Paignton Green the invited guests sat down inside the rope barrier while the rest of Paignton and neighbourhood pressed around on the outside. The meal proceeded peacefully until the pudding was drawn into position ready for cutting up; the people on the outside began to clamour for shares and, breaking down the fence, started forward to help themselves. The committee, worried by this turn of events, surrounded their charge and called on the five policemen present to assist them. The invited guests, feeling that they were being deprived of their rights, moved into the fray and in a moment committee, police, pudding and public were in one seething mass on the ground. By the time order was restored not a morsel of that delicious pudding remained... It was said that there were over 18,000 people on the Green that day. The postmaster reported that greasy parcels were being sent off for the next few weeks.

Later revivals have passed off with little riotous behaviour and the size of the Pudding more modest. In 1895 one was made under the direction of Mrs. Fred Palk of Victoria Street. It was sold in portions for charity at a fete held at the Redcliffe Towers (now Redcliffe Hotel) after being paraded through Paignton on a large dray, "the horse being lent by Mr Albert Foster". An attempt to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1819 event failed. The Pudding of 1930 was produced by Messrs. Evans & Sons to the original recipe and was the central feature of the Carnival festivities. The last Pudding to be made was in 1968 when 1,542 portions, in special souvenir basins, were sold for charity (Paignton Hospital League of Friends) at a Charter Fair which took place on the original site (Church Street and Palace Avenue).

© copyright John Pike

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