The Pageant of Paisley
Place: George A. Clark Town Hall, Paisley (Paisley) (Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland)
Number of performances: 5
5–9 March 1929
There was a performance on 4 March 1929 that was a ‘rehearsal’.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Thorburn, Robert
- Scenario by: C. Stewart Black
- Costumes Designed by: J. Steel Maitland
- Costume Decorations by: Ellison Maitland
- Musical Director: William Rigby
- Dances Arranged by: Annie I. Manifold
- Finance Manager: James Shaw
- Publicity Manager: T. Dun Macnair
- Property Master: Robert MacDougall
- Stage Manager: J. Cormie Speirs
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Hon. Chairman: Provost William Crawford
- Chairman: Councillor Thomas Ballantyne
- Vice-Chairman: Councillor Hamilton Neil
- Convenors of Costumes Committees: Mrs Stewart Coats; Mrs J. Richardson; Mrs Douglas Allan
- Lighting Effects by: Paisley Corporation Electricity Department
- Secretaries and Treasurers: Muirhead and Thomson, C.A., 17 High Street
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Black, C. Stewart
Most of the pageant had no dialogue. The ‘scenario’ was by C. Stewart Black.
Names of composers
- Rigby, William
- Black, C. Stewart
- Ballantyne, G.H.
- Provan, Robert
- Baker, H.E.
These were local musicians.
Numbers of performers300 - 400
Plus another 100 in the choir.
Around £1000 raised.
Object of any funds raised
Royal Alexandra Infirmary, Paisley
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 6000
The pageant took place indoors. It appears that 1000 saw each performance, including the ‘rehearsal’ on Monday 4 March, so 6000 in total. Some spectators also watched the two scenes that were filmed outdoors on Saturday 9 March.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
This featured a herald, two trumpeters and the ‘Storyteller’.
Song: ‘Coronach’ by William Rigby.
Episode II. AD 560
How the holy monk, Mirin, came to Paisley and won the people there for Christ.
Plain Song–composer not known. ‘Gloria in Excelsis’ by William Rigby.
Episode III. 9th/10th Century
How the Norse Chieftain, Grimketil, feasted his warriors at Arkleston, while his scald sang to the Vikings of war, wine and women.
This episode featured two songs by Dr C. Stewart Black (words) and William Rigby (music): the ‘Battle Song’ and ‘Drinking Song’.
Episode IV. c.1157
How King David entrusted the Breton knight, Walter Fitz Alan, with the task of guarding the southern shores of the Clyde from Norse invasion.
Episode V. 1164
How Somerled, the Norse Lord of the Isles, landed with an army of Vikings; how he was met in battle by Walter Fitz Alan, High Steward of Scotland; and how Somerled was defeated and slain.I. The High Steward and His Knights
II. The Coming of the Vikings
III. Gunrud’s Vigil
IV. The Battle
V. Death of Somerled
VI. Gunrud’s Anguish
Episode VI. 1169
How, in thanksgiving for his victory, the High Steward founded at Paisley a monastery for brethren of the Order of Clugny.
Episode VII. 1280s
How the young knight of Elderslie [Wallace] saw a vision in Paisley Abbey where Scotland appeared to him, weeping and in chains, and how he vowed to her cause his sword and his life.
Episode VIII. 1316
How Marjory Bruce, the daughter of the King, was wedded to the High Steward of Scotland (Walter); and how, ere she had been scarce a year a bride, she was carried to Paisley Abbey to be buried in front of the High Altar.
Episode IX. 1370–90
How King Robert II held Christmas at his hunting lodge at Blackhall.
Carols: ‘Good Christian men, Rejoice’ and ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’.
Episode X. c.1490
How the good folk of the Abbot’s town of Paisley held the Fair on St Mirin’s Day.
Episode XI. 1684
How Graham of Claverhouse was wedded in the Place [sic] of Paisley to Jean Cochrane, daughter of the Earl of Dundonald; and how he was torn by the call of duty from his new-made bride.
Episode XII. 1841
How the young Queen Victoria purchased a number of ‘Paisley Shawls’ and so set a fashion that made the name of Paisley famous throughout Europe and America.
Singing of ‘Scots Wha Ha’e Wi’ Wallace Bled’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- David I (c.1085–1153) king of Scots
- Somerled (d. 1164) king of the Hebrides and regulus of Argyll and Kintyre
- Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305) patriot and guardian of Scotland
- Robert II (1316–1390) king of Scots
- Graham, John, first viscount of Dundee [known as Bonnie Dundee] (1648?–1689) Jacobite army officer
- Ross, William, twelfth Lord Ross (c.1656–1738) politician
- Cochrane, William, first earl of Dundonald (1605–1685) army officer and politician
- Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
There was a choir numbering around 100, who were behind a curtain. The music was composed by local musicians and was played on the organ by Mr H. E. Baker:
- William Rigby (music) and Isobel Adam (words). Song, ‘Coronach’ (Prologue).
- Composer not known. Plain song (Episode II).
- William Rigby. ‘Gloria in Excelsis’ (Episode II).
- Dr C. Stewart Black (words) and William Rigby (music). ‘Battle Song’ (Episode III).
- Dr C. Stewart Black (words) and William Rigby (music). ‘Drinking Song’ (Episode III).
- Plain song (Episode VI).
- Plain song (Episode VIII).
- Carol, ‘Good Christian Men, Rejoice’ (Episode IX).
- Carol, ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’ (Episode IX).
- Song, ‘Scots Wha Ha’e Wi’ Wallace Bled’ (Finale).
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette
Evening News [Glasgow]
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- The Book of the Pageant of Paisley 1929. Paisley, 1929.
- The Pageant of Paisley 1929: Programme. Paisley, 1929. Price 1s.
These two books were very similar, both containing details of the scenes and a set of historical notes. The Book of the Pageant contained photographs from the Glasgow Evening News of the pageant, including the finale, and did not have any advertisements. The Pageant of Paisley 1929 contained short descriptions of scenes, cast lists, and musical scores.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- The published materials are in Paisley Central Library.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Paisley pageant of 1929 took place in the town hall in March. It contained 12 episodes and was performed almost entirely without dialogue. Episodes ranged from the coming of St Mirin in 560 AD to the nineteenth century—when Queen Victoria set a fashion by purchasing some Paisley shawls—but most focused on the medieval period. The pageant involved around 500 performers, including a choir of 100 and dancers from several schools in the town. It is possible that some difficulties were experienced in persuading men to play in the pageant, as in a number of scenes women took parts that men might be expected to have taken, for example as monks in Episode VII and knights in Episode VIII. According to the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, the idea for the pageant came from Charles Stewart Black and Robert Thorburn, both local men. Black wrote the ‘scenario’ and some of the music, while Thorburn took the role of ‘producer’. The local newspaper, announcing the ‘Complete Success of [the] Notable Enterprise’, attributed some of this success to Thorburn’s ‘knowledge and experience of the art of the stage’.2 Black (1887–1963) was a prolific playwright and later the author of historical works including Glasgow’s Story (1937) and The Story of Paisley (1948); he was also associated with the National Party of Scotland, one of the two parties that merged to form the Scottish National Party in 1933.3 Glasgow’s Story was illustrated by the artist James Wright, who created the nearby Kilbarchan pageant of 1933, which was repeated in 1934.
Although there were no words in the Paisley pageant—except those spoken by the ‘storyteller’ who introduced each episode—music played an important part. Most was composed by local musicians, played on an organ by Mr H.E. Baker, and sung by a choir numbering 100 who were out of sight of the audience, concealed behind the stage drapings. The opening song was a coronach in which British women wailed because their men had been killed by Roman invaders; with words by Isobel Adam and music by Dr William Rigby it was described in the local press as ‘a haunting melody of poignant grief’. Elsewhere in the performance, there were, however, lighter musical moments: the Christmas scene (Episode IX) featured carols (‘Good Christian Men, Rejoice’ and ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’), and the closing song, ‘Scots Wha Hae’, was sung by all the performers in addition to the choir.4 Dancers came from local schools. As well as music, visual spectacle was important, with each performer providing material, which was made up into costumes by volunteer ‘ladies’, to designs by the local architect and designer James Steel Maitland.5
One notable feature of the pageant was its indoor location, something on which the local press commented:
Pageantry on an extensive scale is usually associated with the environment of spacious amenity out of doors. Risks of unfavourable weather have to be considered—and experience elsewhere has wrecked many an ambitious enterprise—so that the disadvantages of product under cover are possibly counter-balanced by the certainty of witnessing the presentation under conditions of comfort and convenience.6
The town hall platform was extended, and curtains were hung to divide the auditorium from the stage. Lighting was used to convey mood and emotion. On Saturday 9 March episodes from the pageant were filmed, including two that were enacted outdoors at Paisley Abbey: the weddings of Marjory Bruce to the High Steward and of Jean Cochrane to Graham of Claverhouse. A number of spectators were present when these scenes were being filmed, and the film was subsequently showed at La Scala cinema.7 After the final performance of the pageant, the leading figures were called to the town hall stage and cheered to the rafters one by one. The president of the infirmary’s board of directors and the local MP, Rosslyn Mitchell, both made speeches.
The pageant was a clear financial success. Around £1000 was raised for the Royal Alexandra Infirmary. It was also considered successful in theatrical terms and as a demonstration of the strength of the local community. The verdict of the local newspaper, the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, was delivered on 9 March and emphasised local pride and ideas of progress. As was common in many other pageants, an important theme was the role that Paisley had played in the bigger national history:
By their means was offered a progressive picture, or series of pictures, of the rise of the community from the days before the coming of the Romans, through the ages in which events of national significance were enacted within our borders … Each of the selected episodes was told with an effectiveness that must have stirred local patriotism and gratified pride in Paisley’s honoured history.8
The heroics of Walter Fitzalan and his descendants, the Stewart family, were at the centre of the story told in the pageant, and this was emphasised in the build-up to the event by a long historical note in the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette by Nettie H. Richardson on ‘Paisley and the Royal House’. Richardson offered a detailed account of the rise to prominence of Walter Fitzalan under David I, who appointed him high steward of Scotland—in which capacity he built castles at Paisley and elsewhere—as well as his descendants who formed the Stewart line. She noted that even William of Orange was ‘half Stewart’ and claimed that ‘the reigning house owes its position, not to conquest, scarcely even to selection, but to the fact that in their veins runs a strain of the Stewart blood, and their power and majesty all originated in the High Stewards of Paisley’.9
The souvenir programme, as at many other places, was an important feature of the pageant: it was already enjoying a ‘ready sale’ at 1s. in advance of the pageant.10 It had an attractive cover, which, like the pageant costumes, was designed by James Steel Maitland. The programme contained a long set of historical notes on Paisley, offering readers detail on many of the scenes presented in the pageant, and also other aspects of local history, including Paisley’s role in the 1745 rebellion (along with other burghs in Scotland, it opposed the Pretender) and the riots of the early nineteenth century. Neither episode was depicted in the pageant: the only scene set after the late seventeenth century showed Queen Victoria placing an order for Paisley shawls. The industrial history of Paisley was carried into the twentieth century, noting that ‘today’ 12000 people were employed in Coats’s thread works.11 With the exception of the young queen’s intervention, none of this industrial history, which the historical notes traced back to 1721, appeared in the pageant, which concentrated heavily on the medieval period.
Compared with some other Scottish pageants of the period, this was a small-scale affair: the Scottish Historical Pageant of 1927 attracted some 50000 spectators, the Glasgow pageant of 1928 was seen by 100000, and even James Wright’s Kilbarchan pageants were seen by many more than the 6000 who watched in Paisley. It was, however, notable in a number of respects, particularly its indoor location (comparatively rare at this time), the ‘cleverly staged’ episodes which allowed most of the pageant to be performed in mime,12 and an early depiction of Queen Victoria. This was not the first such portrayal in a pageant, but it was probably ‘unauthorised’, as the Lord Chamberlain did not explicitly permit any such portrayals of the late queen until 1937.13 In any case, reaction to the pageant was largely very positive. The Scotsman newspaper, certainly, was impressed with it: ‘The whole spectacle redounds greatly to the credit of the ladies and gentlemen responsible for the organisation and production of the pageant, and its success is merited.’14
- Figures vary. The and Renfrewshire Gazette, 2 March 1929, 4, gave the total as 500, but it is not clear whether this included the choir.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 9 March 1929, 5.
- C. Stewart Black, Glasgow’s Story (Paisley, 1937); C. Stewart Black, The Story of Paisley (Paisley, 1948); C. Stewart Black, The Scottish Church: A Short Study in Ecclesiastical History (Glasgow, 1952). There are 29 entries for Black in the National Library of Scotland catalogue, including Scottish Nationalism (Glasgow, 1933).
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 2 February 1929, 4.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 2 March 1929, 4. On Maitland (1887–1982), see the entry in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects, accessed 8 January 2016, http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=100087.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 9 March 1929, 5.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 16 March 1929, 5.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 9 March 1929, 5.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 9 February 1929, 4.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 2 March 1929, 4.
- [C. Stewart Black], ‘The Story of Paisley’, in The Pageant of Paisley 1929: Programme (Paisley, 1929), np.
- Scotsman, 5 March 1929, 10.
- See Tom Hulme, ‘A Queen Who Can’t Be Seen: Pageants and Censorship in the 1930s’ (6 October 2014), accessed 8 January 2016, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/queen-who-cant-be-seen-pageants-and-censorship/.
- Scotsman, 5 March 1929, 10.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Paisley’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1157/