Look how they’ve grown! As Pirton prepares for its annual pumpkin show, a look back at 51 years of gigantic gourds

Bert 'Blackie' Dawson, King Pumpkin at the inaugural Pirton Pumpkin Show in 1965

Bert 'Blackie' Dawson, King Pumpkin at the inaugural Pirton Pumpkin Show in 1965 - Credit: Archant

Growers of gigantic gourds, monstrous marrows and prodigious pumpkins are getting set for their annual outing – it’s the Pirton Pumpkin Show this weekend.

Heather Dawkins, 2013 and 2014 Queen Pumpkin, with past King Pumpkins: Fred West (left), Derek Cook

Heather Dawkins, 2013 and 2014 Queen Pumpkin, with past King Pumpkins: Fred West (left), Derek Cook (centre) and Bill Saunders (right). Cook and Saunders were founding members of the club in 1965. - Credit: Archant

Challengers when the pumpkin crown is chased for the 51st time will be relieved to learn that Heather Dawkins from Shillington, winner of the last two contests, will not be entering this year.

Heather’s magnificent 2014 champion tipped the scales at a whopping 487 lbs – almost 35 stone – and makes the inaugural winner of half a century ago look like something of a tiddler.

Back in 1965 the winning weight was ‘only’ 46lb 2oz – just over three stone.

No wonder the Pirton Pumpkin Club has had to invest in new scales as 21st-century entries are so huge.

Contestents in Pirton Pumpkin Club's 1967 pram race through the village

Contestents in Pirton Pumpkin Club's 1967 pram race through the village - Credit: Archant


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The pumpkin show now also includes categories for a mix of other vegetables, as well as cooking and photography.

But a bit of variety is nothing new – the 1965 event included prizes for the smallest and the ugliest pumpkin, while ‘the ladies’ were invited to enter a pumpkin pie.

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The club was created in 1964 after grumbling in Hexton’s Live And Let Live pub over the standard of judging at the Pirton Flower Show.

The consensus was to do away with the need for subjective opinion in the judging process and create a contest with very simple rules – grow as big a pumpkin as you can, and the heaviest wins the King Pumpkin crown.

Heather Dawkins, with one of her pumpkins

Heather Dawkins, with one of her pumpkins - Credit: Archant

The first show was held at The Fox in the centre of Pirton in 1965, and filmed by the BBC’s Town and Around programme.

Bert ‘Blackie’ Dawson, the first King Pumpkin, was presented with a crown, a sceptre topped with a pumpkin, a wheelbarrow – and a cart of muck delivered to his door.

Broadcaster Richard Whitmore, who grew up in Hitchin but lived in Pirton at the time, was a club member and as ‘chief roller’ steered the pumpkins onto the scales.

But as the entries have grown, the office of chief roller has become obsolete.

Last year’s winner was carried to the venue by digger, and heaved into position by four men.

Over the years the club has diversified into other fun events, such as pram races through the village, floats in the Hitchin carnival and football matches – but through it all the Pumpkin Show has remained at the core of its activities.

Last year’s golden jubilee competition was graced by the appearance of two of the club’s founding members – Bill Saunders, King Pumpkin in 1968, and Derek Cook, who won in 1969 and 1970.

Fred West, who has been crowned King Pumpkin a remarkable 24 times, was also there.

Although he was unable to win his pumpkin crown back, he did still win the prizes for the heaviest potato, heaviest apple, longest green bean and longest carrot.

Fred will be attempting to regain his pumpkin title this year.

The club is run by a committee of volunteers who organise a number of events throughout the year, including a pensioners’ party each February, a fundraising supper each June, and the village’s May Day celebration.

Committee member Vanessa Cole said: “All funds raised from these events are ploughed back into the village in different projects.

“In the last couple of years we have given funds towards refurbishment of the church gates, the village hall cinema project, the craft group village bench, and the village Christmas lights to name but a few.

“The project we are looking into at the moment is to provide a community portable defibrillator.

“The club helps add to the richness of Pirton, which is a lovely vibrant village which we all enjoy.”

Saturday’s show opens for entries at 10am at the village hall. Entries cost 50p for club members and £1 for non-members.

The doors open to the public from 3pm, with the main weigh-in at 4pm. If you’re not competing, admission is £1 for adults and 50p for children.

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