Originally, the intention behind baking Denby Dale’s monster pies was to celebrate a national event – although this has not always been the case.
Records of the first pie date back to 1788 while some argue pies, or even puddings, may have been cooked before this time. Local dignitaries, it is documented, devoured the pies whilst lesser mortals gobbled up the puddings.
The 1788 pie celebrated George III’s recovery, albeit temporary, from mental illness. The event was staged in Cliff Stile field, on Denby Dale’s outskirts. Other pies were made in 1815, 1846, 1887, 1896 and 1928.
There was no effort by Denby Dale folk to tie the 1928 pie in with any national occasion, even though some older residents regarded its creation as a delayed celebration of then First World War’s end. That aside, the 1928 pie was baked to raise cash to endow a cot in Huddersfield Infirmary. A sum of about £1,000 was required.
Containing four bullocks, 600 lb of beef, 15 cwts of potatoes, 80 stones of flour, two cwts of lard, and two stone of baking powder, the 1928 pie weighed 45 cwts and was 16 feet long by 5 feet wide and 15 inches deep. A steel pie dish weighing 35 cwts, gave a total weight of around four tons.
The dish was given by G. W. Naylor’s, Brick & Tile Works Denby Dale. The Denby Dale Concrete Manufacturing Company built an oven and the pie was baked at the Corn Mill. Beef was stewed in large boilers in the Ambulance Hall and the pastry made and rolled in the Salvation Army Citadel. Cooking time was 11 and a half days, but it took a week to cook the meat.
Tickets for the event, staged on 4 August 1928, were sold throughout the country and around 50,000 people besieged the village to catch a glimpse of the pie. About 20,000 were lucky enough to enjoy nearly a quarter pound portion.
The 1928 pie successfully raised the amount needed to cover the infirmary donation and the remainder went to a number of other local charities.
Inspiration for the next pie came from widow Nora Kitson, a descendant of a noted Denby Dale family. Around 1963, she strongly criticised Denby Dale folk in the Press and on television for allowing the pie- making tradition to lapse.
In response to the reproach, meticulous preparations for pie-making, combined with the organisation of a massive public event, were started in spring 1963. It was planned to make the pie in the following year. It was to honour four Royal births in one year – an occurrence which had not taken place in 200 years.
Advice was taken from surviving 1928 pie men, although they did not want to be involved, pointing out an unwritten rule ‘one man – one pie.’
Farmers offered land for the occasion as around 40,000 were expected to turn up. Norman Park staged the central event.
Fund-raising activities included a fashion show, children’s party, traction engine rally, four dances, two motor rallies, a bonfire and barbeque besides the sale of pie plates and booklets. Brian Kitson’s firm, Aireworth Engineering Co, made the pie dish, measuring 18 feet by 6 feet by 18 inches deep. Naylor Brothers Ltd built the oven and the Yorkshire Electricity Board provided the heat.
The estimated contents of the pie were three tons of prime English beef, one and a half tons of potatoes, half a ton of gravy and seasoning, half a ton of flour and a quarter ton of lard.
John Netherwood organised the publicity and the Press plagued him for the tiniest details. Requests for pie information even came from Teheran, and Reveille magazine, as a publicity stunt, took pictures of two scantily clad women posing in the pie dish.
The BBC produced a short feature film about the pie, with commentary by Fife Robertson.
On the day of the event, September 5 1964, brass and pipe bands played. After simmering for 48 hours in farmer Hector Buckley’s barn, the great 1964 pie made its appearance at 2pm, butcher Jack Hirst announcing: ‘It’s ready... and it’s champion.’
Escorted by six West Riding policemen on prancing horses, the pie was followed by a train of gaudy floats and cheered on its way by hundreds. It was hidden under a cover with glass observation panels and travelled in state through Denby Dale hauled by Tom Hunt’s veteran traction engine.
At about 2.50pm the pie arrived at the event field; fifteen minutes later it was blessed and the cutting ceremony was held. And how long did it take for the pie to disappear down 30,000 throats? Just over an hour.
Other Denby Dale people took up the pie challenge in 1988 and 2000, but who knows when there will be another one?
Does any reader have any pictures from the 1988 and 2000 pie events? If so please let me know – firstname.lastname@example.org