World's oldest Christmas pud on display in naval museum

Want to see (if not taste) the oldest Christmas pud in the world – 120 years old this festive season?

It can be seen at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, the last survivor of a batch of 1,000 desserts shipped to sailors and Royal Marines fighting the Boers in South Africa at the turn of the 20th Century.

The puddings were commissioned by Dame Aggie Weston – campaigner, philanthropist and long-time friend and supporter of the Royal Navy.

She famously set up ‘rest homes’ for sailors to stay in when in port – and avoid the temptations of drink and sex – and campaigned tirelessly against the evils of alcohol such that one in six matelots apparently abstained from beer and even the daily rum ration.

This sole survivor either never made it to South Africa, or was brought back by its recipient. It was found at the back of a cupboard in a home in Poole in 2011 and loaned to the museum in Portsmouth’s historic dockyard.

Naval brigades fought with distinction in the Boer War – they deeds hauling ship’s guns over the battlefield were immortalised by the field gun run which was a mainstay of the Royal Tournament for more than 90 years until its demise in 1999.

As a morale booster for sailors and marines on the front line in December 1899, Dame Aggie ordered 1,000 ‘teetotal’ plum puddings from London confectioner Peek, Frean and Co.

This sole survivor either never made it to South Africa, or was brought back by its recipient. It was found at the back of a cupboard in a home in Poole in 2011 and loaned to the museum in Portsmouth’s historic dockyard; its curators believe it’s the oldest Christmas pudding in the world.

Although it is highly unlikely the dessert would still be edible after 120 years – despite “high-class ingredients only” inside – the tin still features instructions for preparation, as well as a message which reads: “For the Naval Brigade, In the Front, With Miss Weston's Best Christmas & New Year, 1900, Wishes.”