"Don't forget the turnip this Halloween" says English Heritage

Amid fears of a pumpkin shortage this Halloween, English Heritage is calling on people to rediscover the original carved decoration, the humble turnip, and the original ‘roots’ of Halloween. By way of inspiration, English Heritage has installed a number of ghoulishly carved turnips at Dover Castle as part of its week of half-term Halloween events taking place across the country this October.

A selection of carved turnips at Dover Castle
A selection of carved turnips on display at Dover Castle

Long before the pumpkin became the Halloween decoration of choice, people across the British Isles carved scary faces into turnips and placed them near doorways to frighten away evils spirits. The practice originated from a folk tale about a man named Jack who after trying to trick the devil, was cursed to roam the earth with only a burning coal – inside a hollowed-out turnip – to light the way: the original Jack-o’-lantern.

During the 19th century, immigrants to the USA took this tradition with them and quickly discovered that pumpkins, a native American fruit, were far easier to carve. In recent times, carving pumpkins at Halloween has established itself as a tradition on this side of the Atlantic.

Dr Michael Carter, an English Heritage historian, said; “From carved pumpkins to trick or treating, many of the traditions associated with Halloween today come from early European folklore, rather than simply being American inventions.

“This year English Heritage is having fun with some of the original Halloween traditions including our array of carved turnips at Dover Castle and ghost tours at our castles across the country.

“I don’t think turnips are going to replace pumpkins, they are more difficult to carve, but hopefully people will remember the turnip and all our other rich traditions this Halloween.”

A full list of English Heritage Halloween events can be found at

A Halloween turnip carver
An English Heritage turnip carver