Gildersome Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Gildersome (Leeds) (Leeds, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)

Year: 1934

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


8 August 7pm, 9 August 7pm, 11 August 2.30pm and 7pm 1934

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Radcliffe, J.W.
  • Assistant Pageant Master: Jowett, A.
  • Hon. Secretary: J. Hepworth
  • Hon. Treasurer: W.O. Wood
  • Director of Music: F. Coope and W.C. Oakes
  • Master of Horse: E.W. Towler
  • Designer of Background: H. Oldroyd
  • Designer of Scenery: C.E.S. Cross


Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee

Chairman: Councillor J. Whitehead, JP
Vice-Chairman: J.W. Radcliffe
Councillors Alfred Booth, Rev. F. Archer, T. Thornhill, A. Jowett, E.W. Towler, E. Dixon, S. Barron, Dr. D. Merrington, Rev. G.F. Kaye, H. Woffindin, J.S. Ineson, H. Brooksbank, H. Wilson, N. Ward, Rev. D. Gray, L. Denning, D. Walsh, J. Wilby, L. Scargill, C. Whitaker, G.T. Hornsey, H. Alden, G. Seed, W.A. Frankllin, Mrs Leathley, Mrs. L. Dickson, Mrs H. Waterhouse, Mrs K. Brooke, Mrs Kellet, Mrs V. Buttrey, Mrs J. Barrass, Mrs E. Dixon

Historical and Special Scenes Committee

Chairman: J.W. Radcliffe

Entertainment Committee

Chairman: Mr. G.T. Hornsey

Publicity Committee

Chairman: N. Ward

Properties Sub-Committee

Chairman: L. Scargill

Ladies Committee

Chairman: Mrs J.C. Towner

Scenery Committee

Chairman: C.E.S. Cross, AMC


Chairman: D. Holdsworth

Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

Radcliffe, J.W.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

The pageant cost around £200 (though this fell after many people worked for free), and made a profit of around £300. In total, Gildersome raised £1150 for the hospital.1

Object of any funds raised

In aid of the Leeds Infirmary Appeal.

Linked occasion

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 5000


There were 1100 spectators at the first performance. The total audience across all four performances was between 3500 and 5000.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode 1

The Spirit of the Pageant addresses the audience. The action opens with young maidens in various occupations, children playing. Men appear from the hunt and all gather round. The chieftain is greeted by a maiden who he has chosen for a bride. There is dancing around the couple. When a centurion with Romans appears, the chief bids his men not to be hostile. The Romans demand food, the centurion notices the chieftain’s lover and wants her. Predictably, this does not go down well. The chief continues to mollify them but the Britons are taken prisoner. Dilantius, a higher-up Roman, arrives and believes the Britons: ‘The Eagle no longer wars with the Doves. Get thee back to Eboracum, Sellanius, and I will reckon with thee later.’2 The Britons are freed and Dilantus advises them to move westwards into the hills for shelter.

Episode 2

Scene 1

A feast is in progress in a Saxon settlement. The Saxons praise the Norse gods. Gildus, the chief, warns of the arrival of Bishop Paulinus. Eadfrith arrives and tells them of the coming of Christ to these parts and Paulinus’s baptism of 5000 on the banks of the Calder. Eadfrith tells them that ‘the life of man, compared with that unknown life beyond, is like a sparrow’s flight through the hall, when ye sit in winter’s time at meat …The sparrow flieth through one door, and for a while is safe in the warmth, but then he flieth out through another door, into the dark winter from whence he came. So is the life of man for a short space.’3 Many who hear these words are convinced and Coifi, the chief throws his spear at the pagan altar. Missionaries approach and raise a cross on the site.

Scene 2

Monks and priests at the church are warned by a rider that Penda, King of Mercia, is coming to attack. They refuse to flee. Warriors break the cross, take the monks prisoner and create general havoc.

Episode 3

Scene I. 1070s

A group of Saxon theigns led by Aethelwald ride sullenly into the village. They stop as they see Ilbert de Lacy with barons, knights and men at arms. The clerk announces that de Lacy has been granted the manor and asks if anyone disputes this. Aethelwald submits to him and William.

Scene II. 13th century

Villagers move about. A steward of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, collects tithes and other dues, though many fleeces owed are counted as missing. There is a search for these and Alice Sampson is discovered in a barn with them. She is examined and found guilty then escorted away.

Scene III. Robin Hood and the Pinder

The Pinder moves towards a gateway with the staff and meets Robin Hood, Little John and Will Scarlett. The Pinder addresses them harshly and raises his staff. Robin tries to be courteous but gets a blow for his trouble. Robin reveals his identity and asks the Pinder to join him. He says he will, when he is released from his master’s service in Michaelmas.

Episode 4. Early 14th Century

Scene I

Women are spinning. A waggoner appears with fleeces in a roughly made cart. He is distressed. The Abbot approaches him and they talk about the troubled times. Without warning, a band of Scots attack the village and lay waste to much of it.

Scene II

This scene celebrates the beneficent rule of Edward III. It opens with children dancing and singing upon the green. Young women again are engaged in weaving. Young men appear with fleeces and judge the quality. An emissary from the Earl of Lancaster appears with the herald and blows a horn. Men and women emerge. The emissary reads a proclamation that no wool be exported to France or Flanders under penalty of death, but only cloth may be exported. Ryther, a prominent villager, explains this will be beneficial to them and they comment on the virtuous qualities of Yorkshire cloth. The villagers celebrate.

Episode 5

Scene I. The Battle of Adwalton Moor, 1643

Villagers in workaday attire on the green are making makeshift weapons, prepared to repel the King. Samuel Dawson announces that ‘We, here, stand for the people’s cause, and must be ready to defend our homes and possessions against the forces of Anti-Christ, so, neighbours, be prepared.’4 They engage in silent prayer. There is rumour that nearby Howley Hall is being besieged, which a messenger arrives to confirm this. The villagers march out to repel the Royalists.

Scene II. The Farnley Wood Plot, 1663

Puritans approach the scene furtively. Captain Oates and Crowther are afraid of being detected by the King’s troops and that there are informers among their party. A group of soldiers arrive, led by Greathead. Some children warn the party and Oates escapes, but the others are captured. Crowther is ready to die, and declares that ‘English will yet turn out the Stuart’.5 The party exits to York, having failed to capture the leader, Oates.

Episode 6

Scene I, 1678

The landlord of the inn is inspecting his shutters to make sure they are secure. A lone horseman appears, riding past the gibbet. A coach appears, the highwayman rides up to it pointing his pistol and holds the coach up in traditional manner. Nevison chats to a young lady, who is very unphased by the situation. Nevison robs all, but decides to escort the party, and the daughter of the Sheriff to an inn. The landlord brings his best stuff and Nevison toasts all. At this point Bow Street Runners emerge and Nevison leaves, but not before addressing the lady.

Scene II, 1812

The scene is a mill. Nippy and Jacky meet and talk about the trouble and agitation within the community. Their dialogue is all but imperceptible. Boys come and gather menacingly, complaining of their idleness and the problem of the machinery. The owner of the mill makes a run for it but is dragged back. The gates are opened and the party rushes in to smash the machinery. The constable hurries to the scene but is attacked by the Luddites, gagged and bound.

Scene III. An Election, About 1830

Outside the mill gates with an inn. There is a boisterous hustings and polling booths [erroneously]. Supporters of Webster, of the reform party are booed, whilst those of Reyner, of the landlord’s party are cheered (the crowd has been heavily bribed). Millhands join the crowd and cause trouble. Ike decides to vote for Webster and is told that he will face consequences and be driven from his farm. A fight develops. The returning officer appears and declares that Reyner has 126 votes (hushed silence), but Webster 127. There are cheers and the reformist party has won. Ike is escorted to the Inn to cheering, his vote having decided the election.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Hood, Robin (supp. fl. late 12th–13th cent.) legendary outlaw hero
  • Nevison [Nevinson], John [William] (d. 1684) highwayman

Musical production

  • ‘Jerusalem’: Edward Elgar, arranged by Hubert Parry
  • O God Our Help in Ages Past
  • God Save the King

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer

Yorkshire Evening Post

Book of words


Other primary published materials

Gildersome Pageant, Souvenir Handbook. N.P., 1934. [Price 6d.]

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of programme in West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield, D26/3/35.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Bede


The Gildersome Pageant is an example of an interwar village pageant. As evident from its organisational structure (seven separate committees), it was rather grander in scale and ambition than many such pageants. Staged across four days, and covering the history of the locality from Roman times to the nineteenth century, it attracted influential local support: particularly the local newspapers, the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, whose correspondents covered the event rapturously. It included 300 performers, 30 costume makers and scores of others, out of a village of only 3000.6 The Pageant was part of a four-month-long drive to raise £700 in aid of the Leeds Infirmary. In fact, this target would be raised to £1000, which was exceeded, an impressive eight shillings per inhabitant.7 There were some initial doubts reported about holding a pageant as there had previously been a charity carnival which had lost interest and closed several years earlier, and ‘the residents wondered if a similar fate awaited a pageant.’8 Nevertheless, the locals quickly became enthused at the prospect, the Yorkshire Evening Post noting that ‘[v]ery few failed to respond to the appeal’, with forty women making over three hundred costumes and most of the work on the pageant being done for free: indeed, a significant number of performers insisted on paying for their own costumes to increase the amount raised for the hospital.9 As the Yorkshire Post remarked, ‘there are not many families in the township who have not had a hand in the pageant.’10

The foreword to the pageant programme is interesting not least for its evocation of some of the anxiety of the turbulent and protracted world crisis of the 1930s. Indeed, suggesting that history (of West Yorkshire or otherwise) was not a happy narrative of kings, daring rescues and a progress towards a better society, it struck a distinctly pessimistic note:

In presenting our Pageant for your enjoyment and pleasure, we ask you not to forget the cause for which we work. As scene follows scene, remember the pain and suffering of those who died without the aid of modern surgery, and, in remembering, help to do what little you can to support and sustain the Institution for which it is our privilege to fulfil our task to-day. Through ages of internal strife, invasion, pestilence, and wars, political upheavals and industrial revolutions, we attempt to portray the survival of our race. Think well upon the story we unfold andd as you go about your several tasks, remember that the freedom now enjoyed, has come through sacrifice and pain, and often death of those who pioneered our present privileges.11

Indeed, the pageant’s final scenes focused on the increasingly unsettled nature of Yorkshire, including the English Civil War and the Battle of Adwalton Moor and subsequent republican plot, as well as highwaymen, the Luddite rising, and the unsettled election of 1830. Choosing to represent the Luddite rising was brave: in the 1931 Bradford Pageant a Luddite episode had been pulled at the last minute after a strike by local woolworkers, provoked by a sudden decrease in wages the week before the pageant, had led organisers to fear that machine-breakers in pageants might inspire their modern counterparts. Furthermore, as the Yorkshire Post noted, Gildersome’s location on put it in the centre of many undesirable historical events which shaped it:

Gildersome is a retiring village. It stands on the main Leeds to Manchester Road, and hundreds who pass through it every day remember it chiefly for those automatic traffic signals which warn motorists of some extremely dangerous cross-roads. No one would suspect that it has a history, whereas the village has played a small but decided part in the growth of the industrial West Riding.12

J.W. Radcliffe, the Pageant Master, ominously declared that ‘We are anxious to get hold of some stocks and a gibbet.’13 Bradford Corporation subsequently provided the coach that was robbed by Nevison, Yorkshire’s most daring highwayman. The Yorkshire Evening Post complained that Nevison had been unfairly eclipsed by Dick Turpin who, despite being put to death in York, was, unlike Nevison, a southerner.14

The pageant was an unmitigated success. The first performance was attended by 1100 spectators, causing the organisers to increase their fundraising target from £700 to £1000, or around 6s.8d. per head.15 The Yorkshire Post was glowing in its praise, revelling in the enthusiasm of everyone taking part’, and declaring the pageant ‘extremely creditable to a place of the size of Gildersome’.16 The paper praised the final episode, ‘the liveliest part of the pageant’, as ‘the most realistic because the characters speak in the dialect which is still well understood of the West Riding, instead of in the language which may best be described as cloak-and-sword variety’.17 Despite some odd breezes, the good weather held throughout and ‘the performances passed off without a hitch’, although ‘Gildersome people are not accustomed to so much limelight’. The greatest upset was caused by two goats in the first episode ‘who refused to behave themselves’, refusing to leave the arena after their scene until they were enticed by carrots.18

Eventually, the pageant raised a total of £1150 for the Leeds Infirmary.19 The Yorkshire Post, which did much to raise the profile of the pageant, praised the village: ‘Gildersome has spoken for itself –has not exactly put itself on the map, for it was there already, but has picked out its name in bright heraldic colours.’20 The newspaper, waxing lyrical, suggested that ‘Gildersome’s success is likely to inspire still more pageants, for each place has the ingredients; and it will not be a bad thing if they remain as local and unpretentious in character – or as sincere in purpose.’21 In fact, there were not many more pageants in West Yorkshire before the onslaught of the Second World War. Although the tradition was revived in the immediate post-war years, the huge losses incurred during the Bradford Centenary Pageant (1947) led to the extinguishment of the tradition in Yorkshire.

Gildersome’s pageant was essentially a one-off event borne of the public spirit which provided some form of healthcare to hundreds of thousands in the years before the National Health Service. It showed that all places, however small, could demonstrate and be proud of their history. When social critics and travel writers such as J.B. Priestley, H.V. Morton and George Orwell explored England in the 1930s, they invariably differentiated between a rural southern ‘deep’ England of rustic villages which, though threatened by roads, had largely escaped industrialism, a second industrial England of chimneys and smoke-blackened back-to-backs, and a third, modern England, of motor cars and suburbs.22 Though Priestley, a Bradford native, should have known better, this taxonomy inevitably reinforced a north-south cultural divide which ignored the countless pretty villages to which the northern middle classes had moved to escape the Dark Satanic Mills. As Gildersome demonstrated, these places were likewise amply able to stage their own history. The Yorkshire Post, in summing up the effect that the Gildersome Pageant had on the beguiled reporter, summed up the attraction of pageants, and their reflection of a vanishing past which, though troubled, brought people together:

Pageants have become something of a fashion, and at times have been greeted with kindly smiles from outsiders. We have smiled at the earnest pride of the players, at togas worn over pin-stripe trousers and spectacles under Roundhead helmets … But the players and their audience have the last smile. Fashions do not often come without a cause, and pageants are filling a need of the time in revealing past traditions and past achievements. We may read into them a hankering after unity of purpose, such as tradition gives; and a sense of fellowship, such as comes from the memory of deeds done together.

A village or a town takes on a new significance for the people when its story is known and ably presented. It would be a mistake to seek causes too deeply or conclusively; but this much may be said – that they would not succeed if there were not a general will to be proud of one’s place of birth, and to show that it is as good as the next place. Such pride is always there: pageants can be the means of giving it foundation and coherence.23 

One final point worth makingthis suggested by Andrew Whiteheadis that the pageant in retrospect appears to have been something of a statement of local independence at a time when that independence may have seemed under threat. Any such fears were well founded, since Gildersome was absorbed into the municipal borough of Morley in 1937.  


  1. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 14 August 1934, 8.
  2. ^ Gildersome Pageant, Souvenir Handbook (Np, 1934), 10
  3. ^ Gildersome Pageant, Souvenir Handbook (Np, 1934), 13. The text is adapted from Bede
  4. ^ Gildersome Pageant, Souvenir Handbook (n.p., 1934), 29.
  5. ^ Gildersome Pageant, 32.
  6. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 13 April 1934, 5.
  7. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 9 August 1934, 4.
  8. ^ Yorkshire Evening Post, 13 August 1934, 9.
  9. ^ Yorkshire Evening Post, 13 August 1934, 9.
  10. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 9 August 1934, 4.
  11. ^ ‘Foreword’, Gildersome Pageant, 2.
  12. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 13 April 1934, 5.
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ Yorkshire Evening Post, 4 July 1934, 11.
  15. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 9 August 1934, 4.
  16. ^ Ibid.
  17. ^ Ibid.
  18. ^ Yorkshire Evening Post, 13 August 1934, 9. There were also some problems with the performance using microphones, as the performers were unused to them.
  19. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 14 August 1934, 8.
  20. ^ Ibid.
  21. ^ Ibid.
  22. ^ J.B. Priestley, An English Journey (London, 1934); Stefan Collini, ‘From the Motorcoach’, London Review of Books, 19 November 2009, 18-20; John Baxendale, Priestley’s England: J.B. Priestley and English Culture (Manchester, 2007); Chris Waters, ‘J.B. Priestley (1894-1984): Englishness and the Politics of Nostalgia’, in After the Victorians: Private Conscience and Public Duty in Modern Britain, ed. Susan Pedersen and Peter Mandler, (London, 1994), 211-30
  23. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 14 August 1934, 8.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Gildersome Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,