The day it rained black puddings in Sunderland

Black puddings and sausages filled the air in a Sunderland episode which two Wearside historians have uncovered.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 15th January 2019, 10:00 am
Burleigh Street, scene of the black pudding deluge in 1931.
Burleigh Street, scene of the black pudding deluge in 1931.

Today, Norman Kirtlan and Sharon Vincent re-tell the incident which they discovered from 1931.

Many of us have recited the old rhyme.

The queues at a soup kitchen show the stark conditions in 1930s Sunderland.

‘All of a sudden, a dirty black pudden came flying through the air’ it goes.

But not many folks know that one day back in 1931, the air in old Sunderland really was full of foodstuffs.

Sharon and Norman have uncovered many interesting and amusing facts about the town’s past.

But none have been as strange as their recent discovery, which they have dubbed the little-known Day of the Black Puddings.

A scene from 1930s Sunderland.

Back in the late twenties and early thirties, life in the East End could be especially grim, with over crowded houses as well as reports of homes which were said to be in an unsanitary condition.

“There were few decent toilets and many homes did not even have an indoor tap between five or more families,” said Norman.

“The local authority decided to act and brought about the Sunderland Housing Association to investigate the issues.

“In charge, was a lady called Agnes Jennings and it was her comments after an initial investigation, that really put a cat among the East End pigeons – or housewives to be more precise.

“The slum conditions are so bad,” she said, “that it is a wonder that more people do not frequent the public houses.”

Norman added: “If that caused a few raised eyebrows, she went one better, accusing the women of forever ticking-on, taking on huge debts at exorbitant interest rates.

“She complained that when life insurance payouts were made, the women wasted the money on items of black clothing and funeral niceties.

“East Enders took this on the chin, but her next comments would have housewives spitting feathers.

“They can’t cook – other than with a frying pan and they can’t sew!” she alleged in a round-about and very inflammatory way. That was the last straw.

“Not only did old East End and Hendon school teachers take issue – one cookery teacher saying the women were excellent in the kitchen and another saying that a wedding gift of an embroidered quilt was the most beautiful thing that she owned – but the women and kids decided to make sure that Agnes would regret her words.

“Mrs Jennings would collect the rent every Monday, starting off at seven in the morning by hammering on doors in Burleigh Street. At the crack of dawn next rent day, hundreds of locals thronged the street waiting for Agnes’ arrival.

“When the unsuspecting woman arrived at the junction of High Street East and Burleigh Street her jaw must have dropped to her feet.

“A cacophony of frying pan bashing and verbal insults assailed her ears in a terrifying precursor of the controlled violence to follow.

“The women and kids had not only come equipped with verbal insults but also weapons of mass destruction. Everyone had a black pudding or a sausage and as Agnes reached the centre of the throng the barrage commenced. The sky was black with flying food and Agnes ran for her life, jumping on board a moving tram and disappearing into town – and back to Newcastle where she had come from.

“In later life, Agnes often talked about the day of the black puddings in speeches to her friends, but the folks of the East End just got on with their lives and forgot all about the day that taught “the posh wife” a lesson.

“Their day of action has remained locked in the annals of history – until now.”

We would love to hear from more people who have got items of Sunderland history to share with us.

It could be on any topic of your choosing, from an incident you recall in Sunderland’s past to a favourite former pub, club, restaurant, shop or store that you remember well.

You might want to reflect on a school you attended and perhaps issue an appeal to be re-united with former school classmates

If you would like to get in touch and tell us more, email [email protected]

We would love to hear from you.