Grace’s Guide to Christmas Puddings

Christmas Pudding

Did you know more than two thirds of Christmas puddings sold in the UK come from one Derbyshire firm?

So when you sit down to your festive pud this season it’ll probably be one of the 26 million produced each year by Matthew Walker , the world’s oldest Christmas pudding maker.

Matthew Walker, a farmer’s son, started making preserves and Christmas puddings, from family recipes. After the Victorians adopted the pudding as a festive favourite for the family Christmas menu, Walker made enough sales to open a small factory in Derby’s Exeter Street in 1899. It was here where the firm began its extraordinary success story producing festive puds for the majority of the British market.

In 1967 Matthew Walker opened the factory in Heanor, where they still remain.
From here they use 1.3 million litres of alcohol and 300,000 tons of raisins to churn out around 7,500 tons of Christmas pudding each year. They sell to every supermarket, produce 280 varieties of pudding, and export as far as Australia.

Visit the official Matthew Walker website.

The first Christmas pudding recipes date back to the Middles Ages when rabbits, pheasants and partridge made up the bulk of pudding portions. The Plantagenets continued the savoury trends and introduced beef and mutton to the mix during the 14th century. It was a highly effective method of preserving meat to last the winter months. Livestock was slaughtered in autumn, and the meat was mixed with dried fruit, sugar and spices to act as preservatives when the mixture was stored in its pastry casing. “Plum pottage” was a name for this mix of meat, fruit and spices and it became a favourite dish served before meals in the 1500s.

A Christmas CarolThis seasonal treat was only enjoyed for a few decades before it was banned by the Puritans in 1664. But King George I (also known as The Pudding King) lifted this ban in the early 18th century. As meat preserving techniques bettered, the meaty ingredients were used less and less, and eventually they were replaced by breadcrumbs, fruit and spirits.

It wasn’t until the 1830’s that the fruity pudding we know, complete with holly sprig atop, came into fashion. They became a classic symbol of the Victorian Christmas menu encouraged more by Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’ and newly found ideas of a traditional family Christmas.

Sources of information: and From Her Majesty to HMP: The Christmas pudding factory that feeds the nation
By Daily Mail Reporter: 02:07, 23 December 2008

Wartime woes captured in fascinating letters from December 1941

A company director pours his heart out about war time struggles in a dramatically touching letter we were lucky enough to receive from a reader of Grace’s Guide.

Sir Alan George Clark was born the son of a businessman in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1898. By the time of his death in 1962, he had helped and watched Plessey grow from a struggling company employing a handful if people, to a multi-million pound global organisation.

He wrote to a Mr C. J. Stewart of the Ministry of Aircraft Production in December 1941 in a dramatic state of despair:

Letter from A G Clarke

Mr Stewart’s reply:



Plessey contributed greatly for the war effort, producing many varieties of components and equipment from shell cases to radio receivers. Despite the bombing of its Ilford site, Plessey built a new factory at Swindon and opened several other shadow factories around the U.K. They even converted a tunnel, built as an extension of the London Underground Central Line, into a munitions factory, and their wartime workforce was doubled from 5,000 in 1939 to over 10,000 in the early 1940s.

These personal letters don’t only give us a rare and incredible insight into the terrible economical impacts companies faced in wartime Britain; they take you back to Christmas 1941 and one man’s desperate struggle for himself and his company’s future.

Visit Grace’s Guide to find more historical treasures from Britain’s industrial past.

Another “Pie and Pea Supper” with The Friends of Pudsey Roller

Please note: This image is taken from The Friend’s of Pudsey Roller’s website;

In it’s heyday, the ‘Pudsey Roller’ would’ve been a magnificent steam roller, built at the Steam Plough Works, of Hunslet in Leeds, by John Fowler and Co Ltd in 1921.

It was to become the pleasure of generations of  local children, when it was placed in the playground of Pudsey Park in 1959, remaining a popular attraction until 1990 when it was removed for safety reasons, inevitably left to stand many years of neglect.

 The Friend’s of Pudsey Roller are a dedicated group, working to raise money for the affectionately named steam roller, and they are united in the passion to see it restored back to working condition again.

The organisation meets twice a year to continue the successful fundraising  ‘Pie and Pea Suppers’ for the project to a “Transport and Steam” theme.  Money raised from ticket sales will go towards the cost of food, and the rest to the Pudsey Roller. This autumn the Friends will be meeting on Thursday 12th November 2015 and all interested are welcome.

See below for details.

To find out more about the project and how you can get involved check out the Friend’s of Pudsey Roller website.

Friends of Pudsey





Nearly 30,000 British Engineers on Grace’s Guide – It’s Time to Find out Who’s Who.

Who's Who Spotlight

We’re approaching 30,000 biography pages on Grace’s Guide… 

Which means there are even more engineer’s records you can freely access on the site, whether for historical and reference studies, or family history research.

Since digitizing our publications of Who’s Who in Engineering (1921-22) and The Engineer’s Who’s Who (1939), we’re busy uploading up to one hundred more engineers a day, so it’s worth checking back now and then to follow our progress.

View The Engineer’s Who’s Who (1939) or  Who’s Who in Engineering (1921-22) now to find out names you may recognise.

Can you help?

If you have any family records, memories, old photographs or accounts of any of our engineers or companies, we want to hear from you. Please get in touch with anything you’d like to contribute via our contact form here.

Explore our IMechE Records…

IMechE copy

We’ve updated our records on The Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

You can now access over 130 years of material on the Institution of Mechanical Engineers with no charge or restrictions on Grace’s Guide.

To date, we’ve collected and digitised proceedings of the IMechE from 1847 to the early 1970s detailing everything from new members and council members to visits of company works write-ups. Our digital archive also includes approximately 5,600 obituaries on past members of the institution, all of which we have created landing pages for.

Go to The Institution of Mechanical Engineers Archive Page.


A Tribute to Bruce Ward

The great Bruce Ward died on the 10th August 2015. He was renowned for his knowledge of the history of engineering and in particular to do with Cranes. From the early days he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Grace’s Guide project and his words of encouragement, introductions to others of a like mind and the publicity he gave us were greatly appreciated. Although some of his opinions in his writing could be controversial, his ability with words always made for interesting reading. He told me once that right from an early age he had an ambition to write and his talent for this always came through.

I had the great pleasure to meet with him earlier this year in his home town of Muroya, NSW, and although clearly not a well man, he was fascinating to talk with and I felt it would be easy to spend many hours in his company discussing engineering without any fear of tiring of him or the subject. As we were leaving he pulled up in his pick-up (Ute) which was stacked high with engineering books he was gifting to our project. There will never be another Bruce Ward. (Andrew Tweedie)

London’s Famous Bridges Under Construction

Tope Image: The Tower Bridge 1894| Bottom Image: Copyright © 2005 David Monniaux with permission to reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license –

London’s beautiful skyline has changed dramatically over centuries of development and growth. The Great Tower of London, once the most imposing structure on London’s, skyline, now gives way to the height of The Shard and the striking wheel of the world famous London Eye, outshines it’s much forgotten predecessor – The Great Wheel.

But like The Tower of London, (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), there are many precious landmarks throughout London that have survived the sands of time. From St Paul’s Cathedral to Westminster Abbey, London’s architectural wonders make outstanding visitor attractions,  as well as enriching examples of our British heritage.

Although lacking the lasting imprint of the St Paul’s and grandeur of  Buckingham Palace, London’s bridges are steeped in history and should be credited for the spectacular feats of civil engineering they represent. The River Thames has, in total, 34 bridges crossing it and many were built and opened during the 1800s, in the height of the industrial revolution.

Below is a quick look at how the magnificent structures of London’s most famous bridges were constructed, and how they look today.

London Bridge: (AD 70, 10th century, 1209, 1831, 1972)

Remarkably there has been a bridge at this site for almost 2000 years. The Romans first crossed the Thames here, and timber bridges were built then and through to the medieval ages until Henry VIII commissioned a stone structure in place of the old. The present London Bridge was constructed during the late 60’s and opened in 1973.

Read more about the London Bridge

Waterloo Bridge: (1817, 1942)

The new Waterloo Bridge we see today is nicknamed the “Ladies Bridge”, because during the Second World War the structure was mainly constructed by women. The original bridge was designed by John Rennie and opened in 1817 as a toll bridge, although reinforcements and repairs led to it being demolished in place for the current structure opened in 1945.

Read more about the Waterloo Bridge

Albert Bridge: (1873, 1884, 1973)

Built as a toll bridge, the two toll booths still stand at each end of the Albert Bridge designed by Rowland Mason Ordish in 1873. Sir Joseph Bazalgette incorporated elements of a suspension bridge in the late 1880s when the bridge became structurally unsound, and in 1973 two concrete piers were added.

 Read more about the Albert Bridge

Tower Bridge: (1894)

Stretching 800ft long, and soaring 213ft high, the Tower Bridge is crossed by 40,000 people a day. It’s prominent towers support two lanes of road traffic and two low level pedestrian walkways. The entire hydraulic system along with the gas lighting system of the bridge was installed by William Sugg & Co.

Read more about The Tower Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge: (1769, 1869)

“In 1865 the old Blackfriars Bridge across the Thames, a fine Portland stone structure began in 1760 and completed ten years later, was being demolished and a new bridge, the ornamented wrought iron, cast iron, granite, Portland stone “Venetian Gothic” structure, designed by Mr Joseph Cubitt, which we have with us today, was being erected.” From The Engineer 1925/02/27

The original bridge was completed in 1770, but the foundations were not substantial enough and the bridge we see today constructed by P. A. Thom and Co was completed in 1869.

Read More about Blackfriars Bridge

Have you taken a photograph we could share?  We’re always grateful for photographs of historic engineering to add to our growing project. 
Please get in touch if you’d like to contribute to one of our webpages.

Today Walter Brookins Stands Out A Mile

Walter Brookins
“I never think of the danger. I get so interested in what I am doing that I forget my own safety. You would too if you were up there with me, for it is a wonderful sensation.”

We’ve all heard of the Wright Brothers – the Americans from Ohio credited for designing and building the first aircraft. They made the first heavier-than-air human flight in December 1903 and together paved the way for the development of modern aeroplanes. This day back in 1910, however, belongs to the young boy who lived next door to Orville and Wilbur Wright; who’d known the brothers since he was four and who grew up dreaming of the  day Orville Wright would build him his very own aircraft to fly…

Walter Brookins was fascinated by the Wright Brothers. As a boy, he would venture next door to watch them work away on whirring motors and spluttering propellers. His fearless attitude and fierce curiosity at such a young age won the brothers over and it wasn’t long before Orville decided Walter would be the first person he’d train to fly in one of his machines.

Walter or “Brookie” as the Wright family called him, learned to fly in 1909 at the Wright Flying School when he was 20 years old. After only two and a half hours of instruction, he achieved his first solo flight. He used his natural aviation talents teaching others to fly when Orville wasn’t around, and eventually he became an aviation pioneer in his own right. In fact Brookins became the most daring member of the Wright Flyers team in several exhibition flights and meets.

"The Wright flyers put on three thrillers. Walter Brookins, whose name is now written in aviation history, added to his fame by making one of the most sensational short turns ever successfully accomplished. In a short turn exhibition he brought his machine up to such an angle that from the stands it looked like it was standing in end and he would be pitched to the ground one hundred feet below. The game youngster righted his craft with all ease, however and established a record for short turns that it is believed will stand for many a day. It is not believed by Brookins himself that he could ever tilt a biplane to such an angle again and get away with it. The trick made hearts stand still, and even the Wrights were amazed at the young fellow's daring." From The Indianaopolis News June 17th 1910.

On 14th June 1910 he made a world record flight, flying 1,335m high (4,380ft), and later set world records for both altitude and endurance. He smashed his own world record for flying at the highest altitude on July 10th 1910 in New Jersey, when he broke through the clouds 1,882m (6,175ft) high in his Wright biplane.

One hundred and five years ago today, he became the first person in history to fly at an altitude of one mile.

Read more about Walter Brookins and The Wright Brothers on Grace’s Guide.

Amy Johnson: One of the Greatest British Female Pilots

Did you know on this day back in 1903, one of Britain’s greatest female pilots was born?

Amy Johnson (1 July 1903 – 5 January 1941)  was a pioneering English aviatrix that set numerous long-distance records  and became a leading role model for women around the world.

"Believe nothing to be impossible"
“Believe nothing to be impossible”

Born in Hull, to a wealthy fish merchant, she was educated at Hull’s Boulevard Municipal Secondary School and graduated in 1925 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Sheffield University.

She was introduced to flying as a hobby, gaining a pilot’s A Licence No. 1979 on 6 July 1929 at the London Aeroplane Club under the tutelage of Captain Valentine Baker. In that same year, she became the first British woman to obtain a ground engineer’s ‘C’ licence.

Her father was one of her strongest supporters. With funds from her father and Lord Wakefield she purchased a second-hand de Havilland Gipsy Moth she named “Jason”, and with Jason she achieved global recognition when in 1930 she became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, covering some 11,000 miles.

Only a year later in July 1931, she flew with co-pilot Jack Humphreys from London to Moscow within one day. This was a journey, never achieved before. They continued to Siberia and on to Tokyo, smashing another record time for flying to Japan from England in a de Havilland Puss Moth.

Amy set a solo record from London to Cape Town in 1932, and further record duo flight with her husband Jim Mollison  in 1934 as part of the Britain to Australia MacRobertson Air Race. Her last-record breaking flight was made in May 1936 flying again from London to South Africa.

Amy Johnson tragically lost her life on 5th January 1941 when the Airspeed Oxford aircraft she was flying from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington went off course and crashed into the Thames Estuary.  She was flying in very poor weather conditions and was way off course. Her body was never recovered. Even today there still remains much controversy over the cause of the crash, although in 1999 it was reported she was shot down after failing to give the correct identification code during her flight.

She was a remarkable role-model in the engineering and aviation world inspiring people across the globe.

“I am an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. The first to qualify as a ground engineer. The first to fly to Australia single-handed. A million people lined the streets of London when I came home. I waved to them from an open-topped car like the queen, the queen of the air.” Amy Johnson

A collection of souvenirs of her was donated by her father at Sewerby Park, Bridlington and The Science Museum, London also has an archive.

Continue to read about Amy Johnson


To celebrate the life and achievements of Amy Johnson, look out for the Amy Johnson Memorial Air Show at Herne Bay this year on Saturday August 15th. The show will feature the world famous Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Team amongst other must-see attractions.





Women in Engineering

A generation of men fighting for their country, left a large gap in the British workforce and economy. Over a million British women stepped up to the challenge and took the chance to support their country by signing up for work in munitions factories, TNT manufacturing, or a civil service post.

Hunslet Engine Co , Stuart Turner and Co  and William Beardmore and Co were a few out of hundreds of companies  listed on Grace’s Guide, that took on women workers during the Great War, to relieve manufacturing and production demands.

Below is a gallery of photographs showing ‘Girl Workers in a William Beardmore and Co Munitions Factory’  from The Engineer journal September 3rd 1915. Read more in the editorial titled “The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops” – September 03rd 1915, p 228.

"...Sir William Beardmore has looked far ahead and has treated the subject in a broad and statesmanlike manner. He has, in conjunction with his able staff, provided not only for the splendid output which the women workers are producing, but also for the creature comforts of his women workers, grasping the fact that enthusiasm, happiness and health are essential as a combination. These three together, made possible by the generous attitude of the firm, have largely helped toward the excellent results, of which Messrs. Beardmore may well be proud"

"The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops" - September 03rd 1915, Editorial Article, p 228. 

Open the PDF

The sudden change in the woman’s role from a gentle domestic post in the home to occupations in the  loud, dirty and often dangerous factories and workplaces, stirred a mixture of worry and sense of caution with some , but with others, high spirits and positivity with a focus on winning the war. The founding of The Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 is just one example of an outcome founded from the effects of war and perhaps started to demonstrate the relaxing attitudes towards women’s capabilities in a male dominant industry.

“…It needs but the proper organisation to make the employment of women in engineering workshops during the stress of war demands a complete success, and it means the solution of the problem that faces us. In ordinary times such a change would not be contemplated, but these are not ordinary times, and, to put it bluntly, in order to end the war speedily women must be employed.”

“The Employment of Women in Engineering Workshops” - August 20th 1915, Editorial Article, p 181.

Open the PDF

“The Employment of Women on Munitions of War”, p 123

…it must be admitted on every side that taking it all round the dilution of skilled labour by women workers has been an unqualified success. The women have proved themselves wonderfully apt pupils, and though there are naturally variations in their mental as well as their physical capacities, yet the outputs which have been attained have been, on the average astonishingly good – much better, in fact, than even the staunchest supporters if the employment of women had ventured to predict.

“Women in Workshops”, p 133.

…”The dilution of labour in a very real sense is winning the war, and the more fully this fact is appreciated the greater will be our output and the sooner the end will come. Even now there are many employers who look askance at women workers. They cannot break away from old feelings and old traditions. They think women must be a nuisance in the shop and that their output will be low and the number of “wasters” high. That view must be broken down…”

Abstracts from Editorials in The Engineer Journal February 11th 1916.

Open the PDF

“The manner in which women have adopted themselves to the needs of the nation will never be forgotten. In the lighter shell shops, and even in those turning out quite heavy projectiles, they have worked, and are continuing to do so, as if it were their natural occupation.”

“Women Workers” – January 5th, 1917, Editorial Article, p 4.

Open the PDF