Gourd heavens – Purbeck pumpkin festival proves massive success

A pumpkin festival tradition dating back 30 years got a reboot at one of Purbeck’s most popular pubs, attracting more than a thousand people over a gloriously sunny weekend.

Crowds at the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers grew so large on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th October 2023 that the village car park was overflowing and the queueing for beer took more than half an hour, snaking out of the pub and down its garden path.

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Pumpkins, scarecrows and beer – it can only mean that the Square and Compass festival is back!

The view from the queue – half an hour wait to get a beer, but with music and sunshine, who cared?

Purbeck folk group Kelp sang sea shanties to keep everyone entertained

Serving pumpkin soup, pie and curry

An additional temporary bar set up outside to cope with extra demand had similar queues – but in the warm sunshine, with live music playing, no one had any complaints.

The annual pumpkin and beer festival, first held in 1993, was back at full strength after an extended Covid break with visitors from Swanage, Wareham and well beyond the boundaries of Purbeck determined to celebrate.

Staff in the kitchens were kept busy making pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and pumpkin curry, while landlord Charlie Newman knocked up a monster cassolet to feed everyone.

Purbeck band Kelp sang sea shanties to entertain the crowds during the afternoon, while calypso and reggae band Baraka provided an exciting mix of dance rhythms and soaring melodies in the evening.

Locals in Worth Matravers had been asked to grow pumpkins throughout the year and also to create inventive scarecrows and make some seriously scary vegetable monsters – and they didn’t disappoint!

A melon and mushroom monster with avocado friend, made by Iona

There was a lot of love for this marrow monster at the festival

Every corner of the Square and Compass pub was decorated

Kids made vegetable monsters

Square and Compass landlord Charlie Newman said:

“We have been running a pumpkin festival as part of a harvest home weekend here since 1993, but it was interrupted by Covid and last year we only had a small event which we didn’t promote.

“We used to run a competition to grow the heaviest pumpkin and some entrants took it very seriously and started entering monsters which were up to 1200lb, which blew everyone out of the water and enthusiasm waned, so we decided to keep things friendlier this year.

“This is a full reboot of the event and we were delighted by the response we had. The vegetable monsters that the kids made were so funny and we had some scarecrows dotted around the pub too.

“We did have some chocolates and sweets to give out, but we made sure that everyone enjoyed taking part and that it was a bit of fun.”

Pumpkin festival at the Square and Compass 2023
Timothy Crabb

It’s a monster – but not quite the 1200lb pumpkins of the past

Pumpkin festival at the Square and Compass 2023
Timothy Crabb

Even four legged visitors to the festival joined in with the fun

“We were blessed with the weather”

Charlie added:

“I’m not quite sure how many people turned up, but let’s just say it was sufficient! The pub isn’t really designed for such volumes of people, but we do our best and open up an extra bar to meet the demand – it’s not easy, but it works.

“If you have some music to listen to, then standing in a queue waiting to get drinks is not the end of the world, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

“We were blessed with the weather at the weekend and it really made the festival a success. We had seeds for people to sow and grow their pumpkins back in Feburary – sowing the seeds of the new festival, as it were.

“We know you can buy monster pumpkin seeds online, but they are very expensive and do tend to produce massive fruit, while we just wanted to keep the festival on a friendlier level.

“I’ve never grown anything huge – the biggest I’ve managed was about 200lb, but although I had good intentions I was really busy in spring and never got round to even planting any this year.”

Plenty had to stand during the music sessions at the Square and Compass

Walls and tables were decorated with pumpkins and scarecrows

Inside the Square and Compass during the Pumpkin Festival 2023
Timothy Crabb

Inside the pub, for those who finally got inside, there was an autumnal feel

Pub run by four generations since 1907

The Square and Compass has been run by four generations of the same family since Edwardian times – Charlie’s great grandfather, who was also a Charlie, took on the pub in 1907 and ran it until 1953.

Charlie’s great aunt Eileen ran the pub from 1953 until 1973, when his father Ray became landlord, passing the business on to Charlie, who bought the freehold two decades later, in 1994.

The Grade II listed building dates from the 18th century and was originally a pair of cottages before being merged to become an alehouse called The Sloop in 1776.

Dressed for the occasion – scarecrows at the Square and Compass

The 250 year old pub has a number of interesting residents

Charlie Newman pub landlord of the Square and Compass pub in Worth Matravers

Charlie Newman, the fourth generation of his family to run the Square and Compass

One of the UK’s Famous Five

It was renamed the Square and Compass in 1830 from a landlord who had been a stonemason and was very familiar with the tools used by carpenters and masons.

Many features set it aside from normal pubs – it has no bar, with orders served through hatches in the wall, and there’s a fossil museum with most of the artefacts collected over the years from the Jurassic Coast by Charlie and his father.

The Square and Compass is one of CAMRA’s Famous Five – five pubs from across the country which have been featured in every edition of The Good Beer Guide since 1974.

Zombie pumpkins (front and centre) take their place among other decorative gourds

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