Bristol Civic Pageant
- ‘Western Gateway’
Additional Information drawn from 'Survey of Historical Pageants' undertaken by Mick Wallis; with thanks to Mrs J. Bradley of Bristol Central Library.
Place: Victoria Rooms (Bristol) (Bristol, Gloucestershire, England)
Number of performances: 12
23–28 September 1946
23 September at 2.30pm and 6.15pm, 24 September at 2.30pm and 6.30pm, 25 September at 2.30pm and 6.30pm, 26 September at 2.30pm and 6.30pm, 27 September at 2.30pm and 6.30pm, and 28 September at 2.30pm and 6.30pm.
Matinee performances were for schoolchildren.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Mistress [Pageant Master]: Davies, Margaret H.
- Organiser: Norma F. MacDonald-Stewart
- General Secretary: Gwendoline Whitfield
- Consultative Secretary: Harold G. Brown
- Treasurer: E.M. Tapson
- Mistress of the Robes: Dorothy M.F. Spashett
- Property Master: Albert Chilcott
- Stage Manager: Rev. T.A. Lennon
- Chief Marshal: Cora Selwood
- Director of Music: Albert E. Scillitoe
- Publications Officer: Norman T. Gabb
- Director of Bookings: Mrs W.H. Finch
- Assistant Director of Bookings: Mrs F.A. Salter
- Director of Programmes and Stewards: H.A. Pelley
- Assistant Stage Manager: E.F. Colley
- Publicity Manager: W.J. Owen
- Consultative Artist: Donald E. Milner
- Steward: Reginald C. MacDonnell
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Patron: The Right Honourable The Lord Mayor of Bristol, Alderman James Owen, JP
- Chairman: Norma F. MacDonald-Stewart
- Hon. Secretaries: Gwendoline Whitfield and Harold G. Brown
- Hon. Treasurer: The City Treasurer Mr E.M. Tapson
- A. Barter
- A Chilcott
- E.F. Colley
- Miss M.H. Davies
- J.T. English
- N.T. Gabb
- Miss E. Glide
- A. Gordon
- Rev. T. A. Lennon
- Miss L. Mills
- D.E. Milner
- W.J. Owen
- Miss A. Parsons
- A.E. Scillitoe
- Miss C. Selwood
- R.G.B. Sissons
- Miss D.M.F. Spashett
- Dr F.S. Wallis
- Chairman: W.J. Owen
Bristol Association of History Teachers:
- Chairman: N.T. Gabb
- V-Chairman: H.G. Brown
- Secretary and Treasurer: Miss M.H. Davies
- Chairman: H.G. Brown
- Chairman: Miss M.H. Davies
- Chairman: H.G. Brown
- Chairman: Miss D.M.F. Spashett
- F. Beecroft
- Miss L.M. Mills
- A.E. Scillitoe
- L.W. Fluck
Committee of Marshals:
- Chief Marshal: Miss C.E. Selwood
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Davies, Margaret H.
- Addison, Miss E.L.
- Mills, Miss L.M.
- Brown, Harold G.
- Lennon, Rev. T.A.
- Whitfield, Gwendoline M.
- Sharratt-Horne, E. Julia
- Harston, Kathleen
- Wilmott, Ethel A.
- Abbott, Irene
Written and produced by the Bristol Association of History Teachers. The chairman of the writing committee was Harold G. Brown.
The specific writing responsibilities were divided up as follows:
- Margaret H. Davies: Scenes I and IIIb.
- Miss E.L. Addison: Scene II.
- Miss L.M. Mills: Scene IIIa.
- Harold G. Brown: Scenes IV, Va, Vb.
- Rev. T.A. Lennon: Scene VI.
- Gwendoline M. Whitfield: Scene VII.
- E. Julia Sharratt-Horne: Scene VIII.
- Kathleen Harston: Scene IX.
- Ethel A. Wilmot: Scene X.
- Irene Abbott: Scene XI.
Names of composers
- Henry VIII
- Purcell, Henry
- Glide, E.M.
- Macdonald-Stewart, Norma F.
Numbers of performers760
Hire of Halls: £125. 14s. 0d.
Printing Programmes: £239. 9s. 4d.
Hire of Costumes: £149. 4s. 1d.
Greasepaints: £38. 18s. 5d.
Costume Materials: £36. 8s. 1d.
Scenery: £34. 15s. 1d.
Electrical Hire: £53. 7s. 8d.
Hauling: £40. 9s. 7d.
Insurance: £12. 1s. 8d.
Total: £730. 7s. 11d.
Admission: £659. 10s. 6d.
Sale of Programmes: £132. 16s. 6d.
Donations, etc.: £10. 13s. 0d.
Balance: £72. 12s. 1d.
Object of any funds raised
‘Profits from the Pageant performances will be devoted to the needs of distressed children in Europe.’1
There are extensive notes and correspondence relating to the charities to which the proceeds were given (Bristol Records Office. 38017/30). Cheques were sent to Friends Relief Service and the Centre de AVF, Falaise, Normandy.
Linked occasionFirst anniversary of VJ Day
Bristol Civic Week
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 10800
Some 5400 of the audience were children.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Civic service at Bristol Cathedral (22 September 1946, 3.30pm).
Scene I. The Sailing of John Cabot, 1497
Performed by Merrywood Boys’ and Merrywood Girls’ Grammar Schools with boys from St Brendan’s College and St Bonadventure’s Roman Catholic School.
Scene II. Haykluyt Hears Travellers’ Tales
Performed by girls from Colston’s Girls’ School.
Hakluyt is seen at the task of gathering his information and arguing a point of difficulty with one of his merchant friends.
Scene IIIa. St James’ Farm, 1587
Fairfield Grammar School with St Anne’s Primary Junior Mixed. Morris dancers from Connaught Road Secondary Boys’ School.
Scene IIIb. The Armada Comes
A watchman with a lantern crosses the stage and sees a red glow in the direction of Clifton Down, growing brighter. Citizens come out to watch the sky and a poem is heard: ‘Night sank upon the dusky beach and on the purple sea’ [anonymous poem in The Mirror of Literature (London, 1832)].
Scene IV. Martin Pring in Virginia
Cotham Grammar School.
The scene shows us an Indian village with Indians about their usual tasks, and we see Pring and his men as they make their first acquaintance with the natives. The discovery of sassafras and its medicinal properties suggests to Pring that a profitable cargo is at hand.
Scene Va. The Adventures of Captain Thomas James
Alexandra Park Secondary School.
The Court of Charles I in the year 1630, when Captain James meets Sir Thomas Roe who presents him to the King. James presents his petition and finds the King is greatly interested in the project to discover the North-West Passage.
Scene Vb. Adventure in the Far North
Alexandra Park Secondary School.
A scene on Charlton Island in James Bay. A high wind is blowing and men emerge from huts to gaze at the Henrietta Maria, riding at anchor. James and his men meet with their final misfortune— a bush fire—from which they escape and make their way to the shop.
Scene VI. Admiral Penn Before the Council
St Brendan’s College.
Penn appears before Cromwell to explain his action in returning to England without permission.
Scene VII. The Marriage of William Penn, 1696
Shirehampton Primary School and Portway Secondary Girls’ and Boys’ Schools.
A room in Quaker Friars Meeting House. Friends are gathered to witness the marriage between William Penn and Hannah Callowhill.
Scene VIII. Judge Jeffreys at Bristol, 1685
Marksbury Road Secondary Boys’ School.
The Assize Court at Bristol. Jeffreys, the hard and cruel man, is shocked to hear that Bristol magistrates have been transporting convicts into slavery on their own plantations and rebukes them strongly.
Scene IX. Captain Woodes-Rogers, 1709
Baptist Street Secondary School.
On board the Duke in the Winter of 1709 as she lies off the west coast of South America waiting to attack a Spanish treasure ship.
Scene X. Francis Asbury Volunteers to Preach in America, August 1771
Bristol Secondary Commercial School.
The small, bare committee room at the New Room, Broadmead.
Scene XI. Thomas Clarkson and the Slave Trade, July 1787
Thomas Clarkson is heckled by Bristol hooligans.
a) The Sailing of the Great Western, 1838
A crowd gathers to watch the ship depart.
b) The Cabot Tower Guns, 1857
Two Russian guns captured in the Crimean War are pulled up the hill to the tower witnessed by a great crowd.
c) The Arrival of the First Banana Boat, 1901
The scene shows the arrival of the first boat from Jamaica and the West Indies with bananas.
d) 24 November 1940 [the Bristol Blitz]
Members of the Civil Defence Services working to extinguish fires and save the city.
e) ‘V.J. Night’, August 1945
A bonfire is prepared as the last ‘all-clear’ siren finishes, with a dancing crowd. Wesley, Penn Clarkson, Woodes-Rogers, James and Pring come to watch them. John Cabot climbs off the Matthew. The dancing ends and the dancers take their places and are addressed by Cabot.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Cabot, John [Zuan Caboto] (c.1451–1498) navigator
- Cabot, Sebastian (c.1481/2–1557) explorer and cartographer
- Hakluyt, Richard (1552?–1616) geographer
- Pring, Martin (bap. 1580, d. 1626) naval officer and explorer
- James, Thomas (1592/3–1635) explorer and writer
- Roe, Sir Thomas (1581–1644) diplomat
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
- Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Fleetwood, Charles, appointed Lord Fleetwood under the protectorate (c.1618–1692) army officer
- Disbrowe [Desborough], John (bap. 1608, d. 1680) parliamentarian army officer and politician [also known as Desbrowe, John]
- Penn, William (1644–1718) Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania
- Everard, John (1584?–1640/41) preacher and religious controversialist
- Jeffreys, George, first Baron Jeffreys (1645–1689) judge
- Selkirk, Alexander (1676–1721) mariner, castaway, and probable source of inspiration for the character Robinson Crusoe
- Clarkson, Thomas (1760–1846) slavery abolitionist
- Choirs from Bristol Schools each of 120 voices (there were three which rotated) under the direction of Albert E. Scillitoe.
- Choir A under Scillitoe, accompanist Leonard W. Fluck.
- Choir B under G. Fred Lewis, accompanist Stanley Parker.
- Choir C under Frederick H.L. Philpot, accompanist Kathleen Greenslade.
- Records used provided by Messors Merriott Ltd.
- Henry VIII. ‘Pastime with Good Company’ (Scene IIIb).
- Trad. ‘Cold’s the Wind’ (Scene IIIb).
- Trad. ‘Summer is a’ Comin’ in’ (Scene IIIb).
- Purcell. ‘Lillibullero’ (Scene VIII).
- Trad. ‘John Dory’ (Scene VIII).
- ‘The Saucy Arethusa’ (Scene VIII).
- Miss E.M. Glide. ‘V.J. Night’ Ballet.
- Norma F. Macdonald-Stewart. Pageant Hymn.
Newspaper coverage of pageantBristol Evening World
Bristol Evening Post
Western Daily Press
Book of words
Price 1s. and 2d.
Other primary published materials
- Bristol Civic Pageant, ‘Western Gateway’, Souvenir Programme. Bristol, 1946.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Bristol Record Office: Western Gateway Souvenir Programme, correspondence, cuttings and notes. 38017/30.
- Bristol Central Library: Copy of the Souvenir Programme. B18346.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
This pageant was first mooted in February 1946 as part of the town’s celebrations of the first anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day in July. It was also a key part of Bristol’s first post-war Civic Week. Alderman Williams, who was heavily involved throughout, described the prospective pageant as ‘a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our historical city. It would do the city a tremendous amount of good, and at this period of reconstruction would make a great contribution towards bringing about the prosperity of the city.’2 The pageant was actually staged at the instigation of the Mayor, E.W. Lennard, and his successor, James Owen, was to be Patron of the Pageant.3 From its inception it was decided that this was to be a pageant for school children and was to be written by the Bristol History Teachers’ Association. The Chairman of the Writing Committee, Harold Brown, who wrote Scenes IV and V, later published a historical guide to the town.4 The prologue to the Souvenir Programme was unambiguous in its wish to restore Bristol to its glory after six hard years of war in which the town had faced substantial bombing:
I believe it will be accounted worthy of our great City and the big part it played in the building of the British Empire. I am convinced that, under God’s guidance, the British Commonwealth of Free Nations, known as the British Empire, can yet make its greatest contribution to the peace of the world by upholding and propagating the fundamental principles of human freedom, justice and brotherhood, for which our forebears strove and laboured to establish, and by the recognition of God’s sovereignty in the affairs of men throughout the world.5
The pageant did just this, emphasising Bristol’s international prominence as the centre of British maritime exploration and colonial venture. It featured many of Britain’s greatest explorers including Cabot, Hakluyt, Captain Thomas James, and William Penn. Few scenes were wholly concerned with the city, unlike the 1924 Bristol Civic Pageant which was almost exclusively focused on the city’s history (perhaps explaining its spectacular failure when the pageant was relocated to Wembley). In the Western Gateway, Bristol is positioned at the forefront of exploration, empire and trade, evidenced by Martin Pring’s discovery of sassafras roots and the arrival of the first banana boat in Bristol from the Caribbean in 1901. Thus, whilst larger, more industrial-scale ports such as Southampton and Liverpool overtook Bristol in the nineteenth century, its western location—and rail links to London and Birmingham—made it ideal for more expensive perishable cargoes such as bananas.6
The pageant was surprisingly critical of the city’s relation to the slave trade. In one instance, the infamous Judge Jeffreys (not a man who has gone down in history for his moral conscience and compassion) rebukes the rich townspeople who had been transporting criminals to their plantations for their own profit. In a subsequent episode, the famous abolitionist Thomas Clarkson is jeered at whilst preaching against the slave trade. The latter scenes of the pageant were highly personal to the city, and representations of the Bristol Blitz on November 1940 and ‘VJ Night’ in the previous year were still very recent memories, heightening the emotional value of the pageant and reinforcing the message that Bristol’s place as a ‘Gateway to Empire’ meant that it remained on the front line of hostilities—as was also the case with other port cities with their own pageant traditions such as Southampton and Plymouth.
The build-up to the pageant stirred a great deal of emotion and local pride in the city. The atmosphere presented a continuation of pre-war pageant traditions, yet it was also infused with a new spirit of civic co-operation. A reporter for the Evening Post, writing a fortnight before the pageant, praised the outline for its ‘triumph of research’, remarking that:
Pageants are as much a part of the English scene as a May morning, the Pytchley [Hunt] in full cry, the flag of St George on a village church, the hawthorn blossom in a Hertfordshire garden. They stir the most saturnine among us, because they are apt to hold the drabness of the present up to the picked moments of the past—moments that have stirred the blood and quickened the senses.7
Winston Churchill, ‘the supreme architect of our victory’, gave the pageant his support and encouragement, though he was unable to attend.8 The Evening Post’s regular columnist ‘Charles’ recalled his experience of the 1924 Pageant at Ashton Court, attesting to its popularity even before it had begun: ‘I am looking forward immensely to Civic Pageant of Empire at the Victoria Rooms the week after next. I am sure of my seat, but I am afraid there will be many disappointments, for hot cakes are mere cold dough-boys compared with the way the tickets are going.’9
Such talk of food sat poorly with the less-than-enthusiastic father of one child who complained about the exploitative conditions children experienced during the pageant and rehearsal, where the children spent around ten hours each day in cramped dressing rooms or on stage with few breaks: ‘They receive no hot drinks, they have to supply their own meagre rations thereby missing their usual hot mid-day meal—and they are dead tired when they arrive home.’10 The disgruntled parent complained that ‘All the children I have asked do not know what it is in aid of. They, as far as they are aware, do not get any recompense whatever. Their usual lessons are neglected, and they are kept in a poorly ventilated room for approximately two hours’. He went on to ‘protest to the Health and Education departments for allowing this exploitation of children to take place.’11 The dissatisfied man may well have had a point. Fitting some seven hundred and sixty children into the Victoria Rooms was a feat which hopelessly outstripped the dressing room facilities—and these insalubrious conditions were freely acknowledged by the Evening World.12 The newspaper ran the letter with a rejoinder from the pageant organiser Norma F. MacDonald-Stewart, who asked: ‘What about the lessons they miss at school?—They learn more about the history of Bristol at the pageant than they would ever learn from a history book at school.’13 The Evening World was clear as to its own judgement, stating that the pageant ‘can only be described as magnificent...The audience grew more enthusiastic and impressed as the show went on. There were no delays. No production snags…Every word was clearly heard in all parts of the hall.’14
The pageant was a sell-out and an evident success, however much it may have been borne on the backs of small children. At the closing of the pageant, Alderman Williams summed up the achievement: ‘It has been a marvellous week, and I am profoundly indebted to our teachers who have worked so tremendously hard’. As to those who took part, he thought that ‘Bristol’s history would be more indelibly written on their minds and that they would be fired by Bristol’s not inglorious past.’15 The pageant made a creditable (though hardly record-breaking) £72 which was carefully divided amongst a number of charities in aid of war-torn Europe. Norma MacDonald-Stewart, who had previously helped to organise the 1943 Pilgrims to the Sunrise Pageant in Bristol, had evidently developed considerable enthusiasm for staging pageants, putting on several more religiously-themed historical pageants in Bristol in 1949 and 1958.
- Bristol Civic Pageant, ‘Western Gateway’, Souvenir Programme (Bristol, 1946), 1.
- Western Daily Press, 8 February 1946, 2.
- Alderman F.C. Williams, ‘Foreword’, in Bristol Civic Pageant, ‘Western Gateway’, Souvenir Programme (Bristol, 1946), 6.
- Harold G. Brown, Bristol, England (Bristol, 1950).
- Bristol Civic Pageant, ‘Western Gateway’, Souvenir Programme (Bristol, 1946), 6.
- ‘Peeling Back Memories of a Once Lucrative Banana Trade’, Bristol Post, 3 January 2011, accessed 6 January 2016, http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Peeling-memories-lucrative-banana-trade/story-11292102-detail/story.html#ixzz3wT7utWps.
- Bristol Evening Post, 31 August 1946, 2.
- Bristol Evening Post, 14 September 1946, np. These are cuttings from File 38017/30 at the Bristol Record Office and do not include page numbers.
- Bristol Evening World, 25 September 1946, np.
- Evening World, 19 September 1946, np.
- Bristol Evening World, 25 September 1946, np.
- Western Daily Press, 30 September 1946, 4.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Bristol Civic Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1012/