Fig Pudding

This recipe is from Althea’s book. This week, I decided to deviate from my usual method of trying, more or less, to stick to the recipes in order. I thought I’d try and find something festive. Surprisingly, given that this book is by far the longest of the three, Christmas recipes were few and far between. Fig Pudding is on page 148 (which perhaps gives you some indication of just how long this book is!)

‘Fig Pudding. 1/2lb breadcrumbs. 1/2lb figs. 6oz suet. 6oz moist sugar. 2 eggs and a little grated nutmeg. The figs and suet to be chopped very fine then all to be well mixed together and steamed in a mould for 4 hours and served with wine sauce.

The first thing I discovered is that Fig Pudding has little to do with Christmas. I had assumed it to be some relation to Figgy Pudding (as in ‘Now bring us some figgy pudding etc.’) but, in genealogical terms they are distant relatives at best. Figgy Pudding these days refers to Plum Pudding or Christmas Pudding, which is far richer and contains more ingredients. In fact, it turns out that a Fig Pudding such as this one is more likely to have connections to Easter. The Catholic Culture website, alongside their similar recipe for Fig Pudding, explains:

‘In various parts of England Palm Sunday is sometimes called Fig Sunday. Rich and poor eat figs on this day, and the markets of years ago were filled with this fruit on the eve of the feast…Why the custom of eating figs on this day came into being no one knows for certain, but some authorities suggest it may be from the tradition that Christ ate figs after His entry into Jerusalem. This is connected with the withering of the barren fig tree, related shortly after the account of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem in Saint Matthew’s Gospel.’

So, this will teach me to skip about in the recipe books! I stuck to the recipe to the letter (apart from halving all quantities) and was pleased with the result. If, like me, you’re a fan of the biscuits called Fig Rolls, then you will like this stodgy, figgy pud. If the pips of figs annoy you and get stuck in your teeth, it’s probably one to avoid.

In my last post about Althea, I wrote about the start of her parents’ love affair, when they met in Dublin. I have continued to transcribe Charles’s love letters to Charlotte and, in particular, came across what must have been one of Charles’s first notes. Addressed to Charlotte, her sister Marianna and cousin Sally or Margaret Orr, it is formal indeed.

To: Miss McNaghten; Miss M A McNaghten; Miss Orr (written on the envelope). Much esteemed young friends, May I venture to ask you a request. If the memory of our social hours be attended with any pleasing associations, do not refuse to keep these simple testimonials of the pleasure I have felt in them. Yr sincere [?) friend. C Maberly

The note must have done the trick, as the letters increased in passion after this one! Professionally too, things were on the up for Charles. He was ordained as a deacon in December 1824 and became a curate at Ropley in Hampshire. The following February, he married Charlotte in Dublin and in December they had their first daughter, Mary. By 1826, he is curate at Owslebury Chapel, which was part of the Twyford parish, near Winchester. Charles appeared to be an exemplary clergyman and all-round good egg. In 1831, he was proposed as a candidate to be the chaplain of the County Gaol and Bridewell in Hampshire. Although he did not get the job, the nominations that he received were glowing. In particular, a Mr. Duthy described him thus:

‘It was for some considerable time my good fortune to have Mr Maberly not only for my neighbour, but also as the officiating minister of the parish in which I reside. I had the opportunity of witnessing the blameless integrity of his moral conduct, his devotedness to the duties of his sacred profession, his mildness and forbearance under trying circumstances, his unwearied and benevolent attention to the poor... Gentlemen, it is not I alone who can bear witness to this; the whole parish evinced the sense they entertained of his worth and excellence, universally signing a strong testimonial in his favour.’

A year later, in 1832, Mrs. Alice Long of nearby Marwell Hall made an endowment so that Owslebury became its own parish. Charles became its ‘Perpetual Curate’, a term that existed mainly in the first half of the nineteenth century when many such new parishes were created. This sounds like another glowing endorsement for Charles indeed but it is interesting to note that, in comparison to rectors and vicars of parishes that had existed for a long time, perpetual curates tended to be underpaid.

St Andrew’s Church, Owslebury, where Charles became Perpetual Curate. 2021.
The pretty interior of the church, 2021.

In 1834, Charles and family – by now the couple had four daughters and a son – moved into a new, purpose-built vicarage. The local newspaper reported it: ‘Last week, the Rev. C. Maberly, first exclusive incumbent of the parish of Owslebury, took possession of the glebe house recently erected there. The arrival of the Rev. Gent. and his family were welcomed by the ringing of bells, and other demonstrations of joy by the inhabitants.’

The Vicarage, 2021, as viewed from the churchyard.

Over the next eleven years, another two sons and five daughters were born. By now, there were twelve children, all of whom thrived and survived to adulthood. The vicarage certainly looks big enough to accommodate them all and, indeed, in 1841 there were also two servants. But children are expensive things, especially ones that go to Marlborough College such as eldest son Charles Robert. By March 1848, it appears that the wages of a Perpetual Curate (seemingly about £170 a year), even with some tutoring money he was earning on the side, were not enough to cover the family’s costs and Charles became insolvent:

The Sun newspaper, 6 March 1848

With such notices published far and wide in local and national newspapers, the shame for Charles must have been acute. At this point in time, you could also be sent to prison for non-payment of debts. Imprisonment could be avoided by declaring bankruptcy – but only if you were a merchant or trader. Otherwise, you needed to find the money owed one way or another; perhaps from family or friends or, in Charles’s case, to sell pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down:

Notice in The London Gazette, 1848.

It is not easy to read – in any sense of the word – but the notice laid bare Charles’s shame: a sale was to be held to pay off his creditors. Items included ‘a copyhold cottage and about two acres of land, situate at Owslebury aforesaid…the household furniture, plate, linen, china, books, a cow, and other effects…

It appears that Charles did manage to avoid prison and kept his job at Owslebury. But the full extent of his financial problems were only starting to catch up with him. In 1850, Charles was all over the newspapers again, this time as the victim of ‘A Strange Money-Lending Case’, as one headline christened it.

Bell’s New Weekly Messenger. 10 November 1850.

Charles had, no doubt in desperation, answered such an advertisement in a newspaper in 1849 and, following some correspondence, had sent a promissory note for £150 (essentially hoping to buy himself some time until the date at which the note had to be repaid). The modus operandi of the fraudster appeared to be that he would say he was obtaining a loan on the basis of the note, part of which he would retain for his own use, as ‘payment’ for providing the service to men such as Charles. He would say that he had obtained his part of the loan, which he had since spent, but that the mystery loan-provider (in reality, an accomplice) had now got cold feet and demanded it back. Because it was Charles’s name on the promissory note, he would be sued for it.

Another unsuspecting clergyman, who had also fallen for the scam, decided to challenge it in court and the full deception of the ‘knot of swindlers’ was revealed: Charles was one of nine men, seven of them fellow clergymen, who had fallen for it. The unusual and ingenious nature of the fraud made headlines throughout November 1850 and the gullibility of its victims was heavily emphasised: ‘imposing upon the credulity of clergymen and others’…’ [the scheme] might easily deceive an inexperienced person – we say an inexperienced person, for anyone possessed of ordinary knowledge of the world must have known that such offers are seldom, if ever, volunteered…’

There is no suggestion that Charles’s debts were anything but the effects of a country parson trying to support himself and his family on meagre means but, still, the exposure of his financial situation and gullible attempts to rectify it must have been extremely humiliating and stressful for poor Charles. He continued to preach at Owslebury and, on 7 March 1852, is recorded as officiating at the funeral of villager John Williams. A month later, he contracted pneumonia and, just a week after that, on 15 April, he died. He was just 55 years old.

A few weeks ago, I called in at Owslebury on the way to visit my in-laws nearby. Being almost two hundred years ago, I didn’t think there would be much chance of finding Charles’s headstone and, indeed, the oldest memorials were weathered and impossible to read. But, against the odds, I found it, close to the side of the church and in danger of being toppled by its neighbour.

The gravestone (the cross) of Rev. Charles Hensley Maberly, my great-great-great grandfather.

Much of the inscription is impossible to read but his name along the top is clearly visible. There is some reference to his being the curate ‘for 26 years’ and, towards the right, mention of his ’12 children.’ It’s a sad ending for a man whose diaries and letters burn with passion and intellect and who had, by many accounts, been a good and kind clergyman. The fact that his love letters were kept also point to the fact that he was a much-loved husband and father too.

For Charlotte, as if the loss of Charles were not devastating enough, she also lost his salary and the family house that had come with the job. At the age of 50, she was left alone and without an income, with six children under the age of 16 to support.

3 thoughts on “Fig Pudding

  1. I went back and re-read the excerpts from Charles’s letters to Charlotte before their marriage (in the post “Simple Rissoles”). Considering that they went on to have twelve children, the ardent love they felt during their courtship must have been a lasting one. It’s sad to think that Althea lost her father when she was only seven years old. On the other hand, her older siblings may have felt the loss even more strongly.

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  2. Pingback: Corn Flour Cake | Eating With The Ancestors

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