In a quiet village by the river between Huddersfield and Barnsley an incredible history of pie making is quietly and proudly celebrated. This idyllic spot was once a thriving industrial area. During that period of prosperity, a tradition was born that has led to the town going down in history for its giant pies. Every generation or so a gigantic pie is baked and the town loses its anonymity for a brief period of celebration. Some pies however were much more successful than others.
The first pie is documented to have been baked in 1788 to celebrate King George III’s return to sanity. Dubbed “Farmer George” he was loved by the common man, who wasn’t to know that his sanity would not last long. A large game pie was cooked and distributed to the villagers. A tradition was born that has spanned over 200 years with the baking of 10 giant pies.
Pie 2 was not baked until 1815 to celebrate victory at the battle of Waterloo. This pie was said to contain twenty fowls, two sheep and half a peck of flour for the crust. Today we only really use the word peck in the common Peter piper tongue twister but it was a measurement that would equate to around 9 dry litres today.
Pie 3 was baked in celebration of the controversial Corn Laws. The repeal was hoped to bring down prices of bread. Disaster struck however as while 15,000 people listened to the speeches, the stage collapsed and the crowd waded in to grab a piece of the pie in chaos.
Pie 4 celebrated Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. A dish large enough was specially made and a pie company from Halifax was hired in for the baking. This pie was so large that the filling had to be added over time. The adding of hot filling to that which had now gone cold in the pie led to the filling going rotten. When the crowds lurched forward this time to grab a piece of the pie they quickly fell back due to the incredible stench as the crust opened. The disastrous pie was buried in a pit with quick lime.
Pie 5 in 1887 was named the Resurrection Pie, baked by the ladies in the village with less publicity to restore village pride.
Pie 6 celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Corn Laws in 1896 and it was seen as the most successful pie ever.
Pie 7 raised money for the Huddersfield Infirmary in 1928. A new oven had to be built for the biggest pie yet and the baking process took 30hrs. This pie however got stuck in the oven and the procession was severely delayed. In the end however 20,000 hungry souls finally got their piece of the pie.
Pie 8 celebrated four royal births in 1964 but ‘Pie Day’ almost didn’t go ahead following the death of four of the organisers in a road crash. The families of the deceased insisted that the show must go on and the day was a great success, raising money to build a community hall.
The Bicentenary Pie in 1988 went into the Guinness book of records as the biggest meat and potato pie in the world and the BBC Radio One Road Show hosted live from the field.
The final pie to date was the Millennium Pie on September 2nd, 2000 and was the biggest ever at 40ft long by 9ft wide by 3ft deep and weighed in at 12 tonnes. The first slice was cut by Umpire Dickie Bird.
Denby Dale Pies are still produced in the village today by Country Style Foods Ltd. and we can only wait for the next big occasion when giant Denby Dale Pie No. 11 will be baked.
Contributed by Michele Thompson – Blue Badge Guide