Halifax Centenary Schools’ Pageant
- No Mean City, A Pageant Presented by Children and Teachers of Halifax Schools in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Incorporation of the Borough of Halifax, 1948
Place: Grand Theatre (Halifax) (Halifax, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)
Number of performances: 5
9–13 March 1948
9 and 10 March 1948, 2pm; 11, 12 and 13 March 1948, 7pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Bracewell, Allan R.
- Stage Director: Monica Black
- Music Arranged by: E.A. Huntley
- Production: M. Brown
- Costumes and Staging: M. Hopkinson
- Business and Publicity: W.A. Williams
- Scenery: Halifax School of Art
- Painted by: R. Broome
- Lighting: Jim Waller
- Physical Training and Dancing Directed by: Mr A. Bilbrough; Miss S. Dudgeon
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: E.A. Huntley
- Secretary: M.G. Elders
- W.J. Allen
- W.A. Davies
- F.R. Holdsworth
- E.C. Nethergate
- W.R. Swale
- S. Stinton
- W.A. Williams
- M.F. Wrin
- J. Hopkinson
- M. Black
- M. Brown
- D. Carter
- D.J. Fawcett
- A.W. Graham
- A. Whiteley
- S. Holroyd
- J. Henley
- Chairman: W.A. Davies
- Chairman: W.A. Davies
- Chairman: M. Brown
- Chairman: W.J. Allen
Business and Publicity Sub-Committee:
- Chairman: W.A. Williams
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Davies, W.A.
Names of composers
- Parry, Hubert
Numbers of performers600
(Estimated income: 1000 seats at an average 2s. for 3 performances: £300)
Receipts: £398. 13s. 0d.
Sales of Programmes: £106. 7s. 11d.
Advertisements: £90. 6s. 9d.
Total: £595. 7s. 8d.
(Estimated expenditure: £775)
Music: £3. 2s. 6d.
Publicity and Advertising: £172. 7s. 3d.
Staging: £97. 3s. 2d.
Theatre Hire: £340. 8s. 5d.
Honoraria to Producer and One Performer: £31. 10s. 0d.
Total: £968. 16s. 0d.
Estimated deficit: £475
Actual deficit: £373. 8s. 4d.1
Object of any funds raised
The Council allocated funds in expectation of a loss, which was smaller than anticipated. There was no expectation of raising any funds.
Linked occasionCentenary of the incorporation of Halifax into a borough.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: Approx. 5000
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Associated eventsNone specified.
Prologue. In a School of the Present Day
Choir of boys of Heath, Crossley and Porter and the Modern Schools under the direction of E.A. Huntley. The children’s choir is singing, crowded onto the stage. There are dancers from the Modern School under the direction of Miss Shelley. Girls are dancing on the stage as the dance teacher is introduced to two men. The dance teacher gives a demonstration which the girls copy, and they then go on to perform various other dance movements. An all-girl choir is singing on stage: ‘She is not any common earth, water or wood or air. But Merlin’s isle of Gramarye where you and I will fare’.2
Richard Halifax, a historian, is at a desk with three older students. Richard Halifax: ‘In its way Halifax is as rich and thrilling a history as most towns. Have you ever heard of John Hodgson of Colep? I have his book here, let me read you a page from it.’ The scene continues with Richard Halifax reading to the three students.
Scene I. John Hodgson Takes the Sword for Parliament and Liberty, Coley Church, December 1642
Presented by Battinson Road School.
The stage is filled with children in historic costume, and there is a man on a pulpit. A messenger enters and relates the news of the outbreak of war. Hodgson addresses the crowd: ‘Here is one who will go, who will go with me? Who is on the Lord’s side and who will go for him?’ Many of those present leave the stage with him.
Scene II: The Royalists Occupy Halifax, July 1643
Presented by the Junior Technical School.
Samuel Faccar brings news of Parliament’s defeat at Adwalton. A man brings the news to the gathered Roundheads. One of their members is apprehended, and a troop of Royalists arrive and ask to see the commanding officer. A man steps forward and surrenders. The Royalists have a toast.
Scene III. A Dissenter’s Conventicle in 1668. Oliver Haywood Preaching
Presented by Northowran School.
The congregation kneels in front of the preacher. Mr Thompson arranges Heywood’s escape, and Mr Heywood is led off. Alderman Foxcroft searches in vain for him.
Scene IV. John Wesley Mobbed at Halifax Cross, 22 August 1748
Presented by Sunnyside School.
The Market Place, Halifax, in front of the Union Cross Inn, 22 August 1948. Woven cloth is on sale. An altercation arises over the quality of the coins, which the purchaser and stall holder complain of. The stall holder refuses to accept debased or clipped coins, whilst the purchaser declares: ‘A fine town this. A nest of clippers and coiners rather. Why don’t you rout out the false moneyers who are making your market’s name to stink in the noses of honest men’.3 A Knight declares Wesley’s arrival, and a crowd forms. Mr John Wesley enters and ascends to a stage. After a short while his speech is interrupted by well-dressed gentlemen, though he continues. The opposition becomes violent, and coins and then missiles are thrown. He descends to mockers and looks his persecutors in the eye, who become ashamed.
Scene V. A Meeting of Luddites at the St Crispin Inn
Presented by Siddal School.
John Baines administers the Luddite oath to a new recruit. The illegal oath is sworn in front of a group of Luddites in a room.
Scene VI. Yorkshire Slavery, 1831
Presented by Haugh Shaw School.
Mrs Briggs sits at the kitchen table with her husband and daughter. The scene switches to show a brief shot of a teacher and three school students, one of whom asks: ‘Is that trembling cry a song? Can it be a song of joy? And so many children poor? It is a land of plenty. And the sun does never shine. And their ways are bleak and bare. And their ways are filled with thorns. It is eternal winter there’. More of the above follows, with the teacher and school students commenting on the kitchen scene.
The child labourers come home. Two boys arrive in the kitchen and join the rest of the family to eat. Briggs tells them: ‘There’s nowt for it, lass, we mun get hun to bed’. One of the boys is put to bed. Mrs Briggs asks her husband, Henry, to look at the marks on one of her boys.
Scene VII. A Lancastrian School of 1831
Presented by Ovenden School.
A Lancastrian school of the time. There is a monitor who does little. The scene is drab, overcrowded and depressing. Children holding blackboards sit in a school classroom. A boy at the front stands on a chair and gives instructions to ‘clean slates’ and ‘draft stations’. The children get up and stand in groups.
Scene VIII. In the Present Day School Again
A physical training lesson presented by Pellon Lane Junior School.
Boys and girls in shorts do various exercises and acrobatics. There is a percussion band from All Saints School under the direction of Miss Turner. Junior school boys and girls stand on the stage and play various instruments.
Scene IX. Last Meeting of the Committee to Obtain a Charter, 1848
Presented by Crossley and Porter School.
Ackroyd, the Chairman, thanks the committee.
Edward Ackroyd addresses the committee. Mr Michael Stocks explains the provisions of the Charter. Another man addresses the meeting. Dr Alexander addresses them: ‘I sometimes have visions of the sort of people we should see if we were to come back in 1948’. Dr Alexander, Michael Stocks and Edward Ackroyd are in deep discussion.
Finale. The Doctor’s Dream
Troops of girl guides and scouts who are carrying Union Jacks march onto and assemble on the stage. They are followed by the Boys’ Brigade, ordinary school students and other notable Halifax people. Richard Halifax addresses them: ‘I charge you therefore, citizens of no mean city, children of no common stock, that you now highly resolve to be worthy of your blood and lineage, to defend and enrich your heritage, to devote yourselves to the upholding of peace, the pursuit of freedom, and the service of all righteousness—what answer will you give’. Children of young Halifax: ‘I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, In England’s green and pleasant land’. The crowd assembled on stage sings ‘Jerusalem’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Hodgson, John (1617/18–1684?) army officer and autobiographer
- Heywood, Oliver (bap. 1630, d. 1702) clergyman and ejected minister
- Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
- Mellor, George (c.1790–1813) machine breaker and assassin
There was a children’s choir, which performed several pieces including Parry's ‘Jerusalem’
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Halifax Centenary Schools’ Pageant; No Mean City, A Pageant Presented by Children and Teachers of Halifax Schools in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Incorporation of the Borough of Halifax, 1948. Halifax, 1948.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Halifax Central Library Local Studies:
- Copy of Programme. Held in Pamphlet Box P370.2.
- West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, Halifax Central Library:
- Correspondence, typescript, programmes and financial Information. SS55.
- DVD and VHS copy of film. Reference V30. Details of film, accessed 11 April 2016, are available at http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/sites/yorkshirefilmarchive.com/files/node_pdfs/node_11280_viewing_notes.pdf.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- T.W. Hanson. The Story of Old Halifax. Halifax, 1920
- Transactions of Halifax Antiquarian Society.
- Autobiography Captain John Hodgson of Coley Hall. Halifax, 1882.
- John Wesley. Journal.
- Blake, Jerusalem.
Despite the fact that Halifax had been one of the fastest growing places in England in the early nineteenth century, its population increasing from 12000 to 66000 between 1801 and 1871—prompting Charles Dickens to remark in 1858 that ‘it is as horrible a place as I ever saw’4—it remained an unincorporated borough until 1848. Unfortunately, Halifax’s centenary fell in 1948, at the height of an economic crisis, with the country and region suffering from continuing post-war austerity, rationing, and general scarcity, and people seemed to be in little mood to celebrate. The Centenary Pageant of Bradford the previous year had been an abject failure, as had the Centenary Pageant of Wolverhampton in 1948. Big plans had been mooted since early 1946 for ‘a real celebration of the whole of the people and not merely a Council affair’, to include civic, commercial, industrial and trade exhibitions, lectures, cinema and theatre performances, and, of course, a large-scale pageant costing an anticipated £15000.5 However, by May 1947 these plans had been called off in the face of deteriorating economic conditions and public feeling. The more pessimistic of Bradford’s residents suggested their city follow Halifax and do likewise. However, in the event, Bradford’s desire to indulge in one-upmanship meant that its own Centenary Pageant went ahead, resulting in what turned out to be a spectacular loss, which persuaded the citizens of nearby Wakefield to cancel all centenary events for 1948.6
In the wake of the failure at Bradford, Halifax doubled down and instead chose to stage its own pageant on a far more modest scale: indoors at the Grand Theatre with children from various schools.7 Crucially, and in marked contrast to Bradford, the committee set its expectations very low: ‘It will be understood that the Committee is not, at this stage, in a position to give detailed estimate of cost which may exceed the figures given, while income, derived solely from seats at the theatre, may be adversely affected by weather or other conditions’ [the winter of 1947 had been the worst in living memory during which the country had ground to a halt, though in the event the pageant was staged during a relative heatwave]. It set out a £600 guarantee from the council, while noting that the committee ‘would hope, of course, that the final reckoning would show a deficit of considerably less than this amount’.8 Such displays of conservative restraint and low expectations were uncharacteristic in pageantry (most towns were deliriously hubristic in their anticipation of financial success and civic glory) and led to the meagre success of the pageant.
Early issues encountered in preparing the pageant included a query as to whether the 5000 copies of the programme could be published under paper rationing. There was also a less than enthusiastic reception from local schools which had to be enjoined to participate and, particularly, to have their teachers supervise the rehearsals: ‘It is confidently hoped, however, that Head Teachers and their staffs will be prepared to co-operate to the best of their ability, and that they will respond fully to the requests made in the accompanying circular’.9 There were further issues with supplying milk and food for rehearsals.10 The script for the pageant was re-written a number of times, and the copy of the typescript of the pageant written in September 1947 in Calderdale Archives bears little resemblance to the pageant as actually performed.
The Mayor Charles Holdworth wrote in the foreword to the pageant programme that: ‘The people of the Parish of Halifax were plain and rugged folk, honest and purposeful. They abhorred all forms of softness, and their story is one of hard toil and patient striving of men who had faith in themselves and what they made with their own strong hands…The greatness of our town reflects the qualities of those who have planned and worked for its future.’11 The low-key nature of the pageant was stressed in the programme’s notes in a foreword by the new Minister for Education, George Tomlinson:
The Halifax Centenary Pageant will be of value… if it refreshes and stimulates in the hearts and minds of the Borough’s citizens this local patriotism on which depends, in the last resort, our democratic system of government, especially local government. The Pageant can also serve a useful purpose in the more narrowly educational sense…If the Pageant brings to life the history of Halifax, and illustrates some of the great events of the last two or three centuries by showing dramatically how they affected the ancestors of the children now in the schools, I am sure it will have been well worth while.12
In fact, the 1945–51 Labour government was most willing to support civic pageants in the north. The 1948 Sheffield Pageant of Production was attended by several ministers, and local MPs were prominent during the various Festival of Britain Pageants (e.g., Rushden 1951). At Halifax, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Dalton, was lined up to attend the Centenary, but was called away with more pressing matters.13
Despite the low expectations for the pageant, its organizers had a noble end in sight: ‘The thread connecting the episodes and scenes is the growth of English liberty, and the events in the history of Halifax have been selected to illustrate this theme.’14 The presentation of the Industrial Revolution in Halifax bore out this agenda well. The programme notes stressed that ‘it would be hard to paint too dark a picture of the conditions prevailing in the factories and mines of Britain in the first half of the 19th century’.15 However, it warned that the Luddites, whose presence in Halifax in 1812 and 1813 threatened to overthrow the forces of law and order, did not constitute a genuine working-class movement. It quoted approvingly a passage from G.D.H. Cole’s classic account of working-class history, The Common People (1939, new ed. 1946), which stated that the group was not ‘a ‘mass’ movement in the sense that the mass of working people were actively involved in it. The Luddites were rather ‘a picked band of daring and desperate men who received the passive support and countenance of their fellow workers whose grievances were many, various, and just’.16
Throughout, the pageant presented a quintessentially nonconformist and Labour-inclined view of local history, siding with the Roundheads in the Civil War and the Methodism of Charles Wesley. The surviving typescript includes omitted scenes stressing Halifax’s support for abolitionist causes, which are juxtaposed with the industrial slavery of children in factories.17 Education is presented in the pageant as the solution to these problems; the presentation of an ‘overcrowded and depressing’ Lancastrian School in Scene VII was a nod to the long-standing rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancaster. The pageant’s closing scenes suggest that it was the granting of the town’s charter in 1848 that guaranteed both the town’s financial prosperity and the wellbeing of its children. As the Mayor, Charles Holdsworth, wrote in the Halifax Daily Courier: ‘I do not want it to be felt, however, that this Centenary is purely a matter for the older people of Halifax. Those of us who are older do reflect with pride the growth of Halifax in the past hundred years, but I would like the occasion, too, to be regarded as a dedication for young people in the part they will play in the coming years of the life of Halifax’.18 The problem of staging the Centenary Pageant solely with children was that it would be seen as a school play on a grand scale, attracting performers’ parents but not the wider audiences required to make the pageant a success. By putting children at the centre of the pageant, the writer and producer were making a wider social point.
The figures presented in Scene IX, Dr Alexander, Michael Stocks and particularly the industrialist and MP Edward Ackroyd, were all local benefactors, endowing parks, libraries, schools and even planned communities on the grateful town. The inclusion of lines from Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ (followed by Parry’s famous arrangement)—one of the most common pieces in pageantry—here took on a new meaning in the context of the Welfare State. Such sentiments undoubtedly sat ill with the conservative attitudes of the local paper, which neglected to review the pageant until 12 March, the penultimate night. Even then there was only a very short piece which offered the the less-than-enthusiastic comment that ‘as entertainment alone it is good’, before going on to add: ‘what a pity it would have been if after the first decision to have no pageant’ nothing had taken its place.19 Perhaps the best that the Halifax Centenary Pageant could have hoped for was that the local press did not wage a protracted campaign against the whole enterprise, as the Bradford Argus had done the previous year and the Wolverhampton Express and Star would do in the case of the 1948 Wolverhampton Centenary Pageant.
The Northern section of the BBC declined to broadcast scenes of the pageant, offering instead to mention it in regular features.20 However, a colour film of the pageant was produced at the Mayor’s request which was shown at the local Odeon Cinema and subsequently loaned to various schools in the town.21 A copy of the film, along with other artefacts, is buried in a time capsule, scheduled to be opened in 2048.22 The film displays a competent performance and a well-crafted narrative. One of the performers, Margaret Avery, was chosen on the strength of her performance to appear in the film A Boy A Girl and A Bike (1949), which sought to tap into the new-found vogue for teenage culture; she appeared alongside Anthony Newley (better-known as the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist) and the young Thora Hird. The film was not a success, though Avery went on to have a television career.23 Another of the performers, John Burnett, who played the Puritan John Hodgson in the first scene, remembered wearing a sword and helmet supplied by the Bankfield Regimental Museum and accidentally stabbing a fellow performer in the ankle before one performance.24 Despite other mishaps with malfunctioning scenery, he was able to deliver his lines, which he could remember and recite to the Halifax Evening Courier fifty years later. Burnett went on to win glory for his town when he played as a centre for Halifax Rugby League Club in the 1950s and 1960s, winning the Yorkshire Cup in 1964 and the Rugby League championship in 1965.25
The pageant made only £595 and cost £968 (a deficit of £373). However, this was less than the estimated £475 shortfall for which the committee had budgeted, in part because of the higher than expected attendance and the healthy sales of programmes in which local businessmen had taken out generous advertising space.26 As such, the pageant secretary M.G. Elders could write: ‘I have the greatest possible pleasure in conveying to you this resolution…Indeed, the Pageant could not have been produced without such wholehearted co-operation and the willing service given by all has been one of the outstanding aspects of this highly successful project’.27 The Halifax Pageant is a prime example of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and proving that the town was indeed ‘No Mean City’. The town held a further Pageant at the Piece Hall in 1976.
- Committee Minutes, 9 September 1947 and 12 August 1948, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SY55.
- All quotations are taken from the Yorkshire Film Archive synopsis of the pageant film, No Mean City, accessed 11 April 2016, http://www.yorkshirefilmarchive.com/sites/yorkshirefilmarchive.com/files/node_pdfs/node_11280_viewing_notes.pdf.
- Outline in the Typescript of Episode III, West Yorkshire Archive Services Halifax, SS55.
- Eric J. Evans, The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783–1870, 3rd ed. (Abingdon, 2013), 515; Charles Dickens, The Letters of Charles Dickens, Volume 2 (London, 1870), 87, accessed 11 April 2016, http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/The_Letters_of_Charles_Dickens_v2_1000066942/91.
- Yorkshire Post, 27 February 1946, 3; Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian, 3 January 1948, 2.
- Bradford Argus, 15 May 1947, np, in WYAS Bradford, Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1; Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian, 3 January 1948, 2.
- Letter from W.A. Williams to Practical Press, 13 November 1947, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SS55.
- Letter from John Mackintosh to W.A. Williams, 28 November 1947, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SY55.
- Letter to head teachers, 27 February 1948; W.A. Williams to Scott Bros. Printers, 18 November 1947, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SY55.
- Circular Letter from C.E. Gent, Chief Educational Officer, 23 January 1948, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SY55.
- C. Holdsworth, ‘Foreword’, in No Mean City, A Pageant Presented by Children and Teachers of Halifax Schools in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Incorporation of the Borough of Halifax (Halifax, 1948), 11.
- George Tomlinson, ‘Foreword’, in No Mean City, 10.
- Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian, 21 January 1948, 3.
- W.A. Davies, Draft Typescript, September 1947, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SY55.
- No Mean City, 31.
- No Mean City, 29.
- Typescript, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SS55.
- Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian, 9 March 1948, 2.
- Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian, 12 March 1948, 3.
- Letter from James Bell to W.A. Williams, 3 March 1948, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SS55. He wrote that ‘‘The Centenary of Halifax is likely to get various references in our Programmes and it was felt that we could not, therefore, make a special feature of the Pageant.’
- Memo, 21 June 1949, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SS55.
- ‘Dramatic Story of Old Halifax’, Halifax Courier, 31 May 2006, accessed 11 April 2016, http://www.halifaxcourier.co.uk/news/calderdale/dramatic-story-of-old-halifax-1-1967501.
- A Boy, A Girl, and a Bike (1949), British Pictures, Accessed 11 April 2016, http://www.britishpictures.com/arch_b3.html; Falkirk Herald, 8 June 1949, 3.
- ‘Dramatic Story of Old Halifax’, Halifax Courier.
- Committee Minutes, 9 September 1947 and 12 August 1948, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SY55.
- Committee Minutes Circular, 18 March 1948, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Calderdale. SY55.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Halifax Centenary Schools’ Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1081/