Decorative Plaque on Gateway - Knocker Pie
On the Triumphal Gateway designed by Peter Parkinson, at the eastern end of London Road, is an image showing door knockers protruding from the pastry of a large pie. This refers to a curious incident that occurred in 1881 and was recorded in reminiscences that an elderly man called Arthur Hailstone wrote for the local newspaper in 1938. The incident appears to have been connected to the Salvation Army Riots of that year (see The Massagainians).
One November morning ‘some gentlemen who had won a certain unpopularity’ awoke to find that their door knockers had been stolen during the night. No culprit was found but the knockers themselves turned up in a most unusual way. Just before Christmas a hamper was left at the police station. It was addressed to the Superintendent on a label reading ‘Season’s Greetings’. In the hamper was a large pie. ‘Doubtless the Superintendent visualised a pork or veal and ham pie for breakfast,’ wrote Arthur Hailstone, ‘but on examination it was found to contain the missing knockers.’ For a long time afterwards it was a popular joke to ask for knocker pie anywhere in Basingstoke where food was being served.
It seems that the perpetrators were not the first people to think of this ingenious prank, and perhaps it was a popular practical joke among soldiers of whom there were many based in Hampshire. In Chapter 26 of Thomas Hardy’s The Trumpet Major, a story set in ‘Wessex’ in 1804 as Britain lay under the threat of invasion by Napoleon, the boorish yeoman Festus Derriman refers to ‘wrenching off door knockers and sending ‘em to the bakehouse in a pie.’ The novel was first published as a serial in a magazine in 1880 and then in book form soon afterwards, so this may well have given the Basingstoke pranksters their idea.