TEESDALE cheesemongers once creamed off much of the dairy trade in London and to this day, a firm that bears the name of a Teesdale cheeseman still provides the royal family with cheese – yes, 200 years after William Whitfield opened his cheese shop in Old Bond Street, he is still a big cheese in the city.

These fascinating revelations come from the Teesdale Record Society Journal for 2023 which has compiled papers presented to the society in recent years.

The Northern Echo: The new collection of papers from the Teesdale Record Society includes one that tells of the dale\'s remarkably cheesy links to LondonThe new collection of papers from the Teesdale Record Society includes one that tells of the dale's remarkably cheesy links to London

In one, Catherine Ryan tells how more than 30 families from the dale had young members working in London as cheesemongers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in what was the golden age of cheesemongery. In the census of 1851, she found 355 people born in Teesdale living in Middlesex and Surrey 43 of whom worked in the cheese trade, usually in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.


The Northern Echo: Barningham, seen here in the 1960s, had more families whose members became London cheesemongers than any other part of Teesdale, according to Catherine Ryan\'s researchBarningham, seen here in the 1960s, had more families whose members became London cheesemongers than any other part of Teesdale, according to Catherine Ryan's research

For instance, John Todd was baptised in Barningham – a big cheese village – in 1755 but by 1779 had a cheese shop in St Paul’s Churchyard.

In 1793, William Juggins was found guilty of stealing a 202lb barrel of butter from outside John’s shop and was transported for seven years. In 1818, Elizabeth Crane was prosecuted for fraudulently obtaining two pounds of butter and six eggs from John’s shop, although John had not wanted her prosecuted as she was of previous good character but had fallen on hard times.

His cousin, another John Todd, was baptised at Brignall in 1766, and moved to Islington to deal in cheese in 1797. He was in partnership with his brother-in-law, Anthony Benson, who owned Boldron House in Boldron, which is now beside the A66.

John did so well out of cheese that in later life he returned to Barningham and invested £1,600 to benefit local Methodists, even though he wasn’t a Methodist himself, and another £300 to provide revenue to pay for the education of eight poor girls in the village.

The Northern Echo: The County Bridge in May 1959. It was severely tested when three tanks at a time rumbled across it during the warBridge End, Startforth, seen from the Barnard Castle side of the river in May 1959. It was here that three London cheesemongers grew up

But it is William Whitfield who is the grand fromage. He was one of three sons of a slater who lived at Startforth Bridge End who all moved to London to follow the cheese trade.

The Northern Echo: Paxton & Whitwell still provide cheese to the king

During the 1820s, William worked in partnership with his brother, John, “a cheesemonger, butterman and porkman”, in Lamb’s Conduit Street in Holborn before joining another cheeseman, Harry Paxton, in business. Paxton & Whitfield moved from Old Bond Street to Jermyn Street, one of the most fashionable shopping streets in Westminster, and in 1850 received a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria as Her Majesty’s official cheese supplier.


There was obviously money to be made from cheese: William’s fortune when he died in 1859 was £25,000 (£2.6m in today’s values, according to the Bank of England Inflation Calculator) and when his son, Charles, died in 1882 having succeeded him in the business, he left £163,445 – £16.2m today.

The Northern Echo: Paxton and Whitfield at 93, Jermyn Street in London

Paxton & Whitfield, who still have a shop in Jermyn Street (above), have had Royal Warrants for supplying cheese to every monarch since Victoria, and Winston Churchill said: “A gentleman buys his hats at Locks, his shoes at Lobbs, his shirts at Harvie and Hudson, his suits at Huntsman and his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield.”

It was the growth of the population of London that allowed the Teesdale cheesemakers to make their fortunes supplying a dietary staple to the new working class, but in the middle of the 19th Century, industrialisation came back to bite them.

In the 1840s, as Britain removed tariffs which had protected home cheesemakers and their traditional, hard English farmhouse cheese, exotic foreign cheeses became the fashionable taste.

Then railways allowed milk to move faster around the country. No longer did it stand in churns waiting to be turned into cheese and butter. Instead, steam engines whizzed it into the cities to be drunk – one of the earliest dairies was called Express Dairies.

In 1869, the first cheese factory opened in Derby, and soon farmers were selling their milk direct to the industrial producers. Artisan producers disappeared and customers complained that the taste of the old days had been lost, although quality from the factories was more consistent.

The need, then, for specialist cheesemongers also began to change. Some became more generalised as grocers, while others gave up and returned to Teesdale to find another way of earning a living.

The Northern Echo: Paxton & Whitfield

  •  The Teesdale Record Society 2023 Journal is available for £10 from the Teesdale Mercury in Barnard Castle. It also includes papers on Richard III, lead mining, war memorials and Bentley Beetham, the Everest adventurer.