Denby Dale is a village in England that makes a big deal out of pies. Or rather a big deal out of big pies. Pies the size of tables…and bigger.
1788. The village decided to celebrate King George III’s official recovery from his many mental health problems. (Or his officially announced recovery—an episode lasting several months ended in 1788, but he was besieged by episodes for the rest of his life.) But how to do that, while also draw attention to the small village in West Yorkshire? A giant meat and potato pie.
1815. The tradition was revived to commemorate a major British victory. In June 1815, British troops under the control of the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon’s army in the Battle of Waterloo. This pie was even larger, containing 20 birds and two sheep.
1846. From 1815 to 1846, the “Corn Laws” were in effect in the United Kingdom, which kept grain prices high by imposing huge tariffs on imported grain. They were repealed in 1846, which dropped food prices almost overnight. Denby Dale celebrated by making a very big (and consequently much more affordable) giant pie. However, 15,000 people from around England showed up for the festivities and crowded onto the stage. The stage collapsed, and the pie fell to the ground and a riot ensued as those in attendance grabbed for handfuls of ground-pie.
August 1887: This year marked a year-long celebration across the British empire of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, or 50 years on the throne. Once again, a large crowd mobbed the finished pie…which was so big that it couldn’t be properly cooked. The huge steel and iron cooking dish was too large for an oven, so finished bits of pie were poured into it as they were cooked. It quickly spoiled as it stood in the hot August sun all day. When town leaders finally got those in attendance to stop scavenging, they buried it in quick lime.
September 1887: A smaller replacement pie was baked and presented by the local women’s guild to 2,000 invited guests. The unveiling and eating of “The Resurrection Pie” went off without a hitch.
1896: The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 was so monumental that its 50th anniversary was celebrated, including another giant Denby Dale pie. Once again, exactly 2,000 portions were served…by volunteers behind wooden barricades.
1928: Before England had nationalized health care, hospitals were funded by donations. Denby Dale did its part in 1928 with the Huddersfield Infirmary Pie. More than 200 volunteers baked and served pie to 40,000 people to raise £2,000 which helped endow a bed at the nearby Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
1964: An unprecedented four babies were born into England’s royal family in 1964, including Queen Elizabeth II’s fourth child, Prince Edward. Before the big pie unveiling day, however, four of Denby Dale pie building committee members were killed in a car crash after returning from London to appear on a TV show about Denby Dale giant pies. The pie baking commenced in their honor, and proceeds from the sale of pie servings, 2,000 souvenir plates, and a benefit concert by the Swinging Blue Jeans to build the Denby Dale Pie Hall.
1988: Guinness certified this year’s Denby Dale pie as the biggest meat and potato pie in the world. It served 90,000 people (who paid £1 a slice). The occasion? The 200th anniversary of the first Denby Dale pie.
2000: The most recent pie is the biggest in Denby Dale history. The Millennium Pie was 40 feet long, nine feet wide, and weighed 13 tons.