The Church Marches On: A Grand Pageant

Pageant type


The pageant was organised by the Council of Colne Churches as one of the town's Festival of Britain initiatives. This was the second church pageant held in Colne that year. An outdoor perfomance, 'A Pageant of the Church in Colne', was also staged between 4 and 9 July 1951 in the grounds of Colne Parish Church.

Jump to Summary


Place: Colne Municipal Hall (Colne) (Colne, Lancashire, England)

Year: 1951

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 4


Colne Municipal Hall is a large concert and event venue.

The pageant was held Monday to Thursday 13-16 August 1951 in the evening.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Preston, Frank
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Jones, S.
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Wigley, H.C.
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Brame, G.
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Murphy, Mrs
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Watts, Mrs J.
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Payne, Mrs K.W.
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Podmore, Mrs M.
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Grindrod, Mrs
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Crabtree, Mrs W.
  • Stage Manager: Mr A. Tindall
  • Business Organiser: E.T. Bradley


Each episode had its own producer(s); and although it was planned to have one overall producer in charge of the entire show, in the end this could not be arranged for reasons that are not specified in news reports.1 Women were well represented among the organisers.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Committee

  • Chairman: Rev. R. W. L. Huggins
  • Secretary: Rev. Francis A. Payne
  • Other members: Rev. H. Pughe Morgan, Mr T. H. Land, Mr T. H. Sephton, Miss A. A. Schofield-Clegg, and Miss Boys.


The pageant committee was formed out of members of the Colne Council of Churches.3

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

  • Macvicar, J. Ross


The pageant's scriptwriter was the Rev. J. Ross Macvicar; he was rector of Colne Parish Church. Macvicar also wrote the script for the outdoor pageant held in July in Colne.4

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


A newspaper report states that almost 300 performers took part. The pageant had two narrators: Miss Kathleen Haworth and Mr T. H. Sephton.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

It was stated in newspaper coverage that fundraising was not part of this pageant's remit.7

Linked occasion

Festival of Britain

Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 2250


The pageant was held in the Municipal Hall in Colne. This theatre has a seating capacity of 600, or 800 standing. A review of the pageant stated that following the opening night, the hall was packed to capacity for the remaining three performances.8 The total audience figure of 2250 is an estimate.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Ticket prices were 2s and 1s; children were admitted at half-price. Tickets were sold at the door and were not bookable in advance.9

Associated events

A number of events were held in Colne as the town's contribution to the Festival of Britain; most of these took place in July (see entry for 'A Pageant of the Church in Colne'). The 'Church Marches On' was an additional element of these earlier celebrations.

Pageant outline


'Jerusalem' was sung 'by distant voices' up until the point where the curtain rose.11

1. The Church and Healing

This episode dealt with the Church's historic role in delivering care to the sick. The drama covered 'the founding of St Bartholomew's Hospital and the St John's Ambulance Association (by the Knights Hospitallers), and a scene depicting a modern Christian mission dispensary in India.' The episode was organised and performed by members of the Baptist and the Congregational churches in Colne and by members of the St John's Ambulance Association.12

2. The Church and Social Service

The role of the church in social service was the subject of this episode. What is described as the 'Legend Beautiful' was dramatized; this concerned 'the story of the monk who remembered his duty to the lame, the halt and the blind'.13 The action of Elizabeth Fry in aiding inmates of Newgate prison was included in the action of this episode. Charles Kingsley's work on behalf of boy chimney sweeps and the efforts of 'the benevolent Dr. Barnardo with the homeless waifs of London' also featured. The episode was organised by members of Providence and Blucher Street Independent Methodist Churches.

3. Holy Days

This episode recalled 'the people's holidays' of 'May Day and the crowning of the May Queen, a Rogantide procession for the blessing of the crops, the Harvest Home, and, of course, Christmas'. Aspects of these festivals were re-enacted by members of Holy Trinity Church and Bethel Independent Methodist Church.

4. The Church and Education

Among the drama of this episode were the Venerable Bede and the activities of 'members of Reformation Schools set up by Christian men in the Elizabethan period, and the first Sunday school, founded by Robert Raikes'. Members of Colne Parish Church and Cotton Tree Methodist Church performed in the tableaux that made up the episode.

5. The Church and the Arts

In this episode, members of Foulridge Methodist Church performed tableaux that included the figures of St Cecilia, Handel, St Luke (patron saint of fine arts), Leonardo da Vinci and John Bunyan. A church choir also performed.

6. The Church and Social Justice

This included scenes 'showing a fugitive seeking sanctuary within the Church, the Peasants' Revolt, led by the priest John Ball, and part of the story of the Methodist Tolpuddle Martyrs, the trade union pioneers'. Members of Skipton Road Methodist Church performed this episode.

7. The Movement for Peace

Represented in this episode were 'St Telemachus ending the fighting of the gladiators in the Roman arena, and William Penn, the great Quaker, making a treaty of peace with hostile Red Indians' [sic]. The final tableau included re-enacted 'people of all nations as they attended the Christian International Conference of Youth, at Amsterdam, in 1939'. Albert Road Methodist Church took charge of the episode.

8. Finale - the Church To-day

This included tableaux 'symbolising the Church to-day, still in the forefront of youth and community service'. A 'march past of Church organisations and those who had taken part in the event' then took place.

Concluding Prayer

The Rev. F. A. Payne led devotions.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Fry [née Gurney], Elizabeth (1780–1845) penal reformer and philanthropist
  • Kingsley, Charles (1819–1875) novelist, Church of England clergyman, and controversialist
  • Barnardo, Thomas John (1845–1905) philanthropist and founder of Dr Barnardo's Homes
  • Bede [St Bede, Bæda, known as the Venerable Bede] (673/4–735) monk, historian, and theologian
  • Raikes, Robert (1736–1811) promoter of Sunday schools
  • Handel, George Frideric (1685–1759) composer
  • Bunyan, John (bap. 1628, d. 1688) author
  • Ball, John (d. 1381) chaplain and leader of the peasants' revolt
  • Penn, William (1644–1718) Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania
  • Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

Musical production

Music was a large part of the pageant but few details of this have been recovered.14 It is not known whether this was live or recorded music; however, a choir performed at the start of the pageant when William Blake's 'Jerusalem’ was sung, and in episode 5.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Barnoldswick & Earby Times
Burnley Express

Book of words


A Book of words was not produced.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


A programme was produced but a copy of this has not been recovered.

Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, Tales of a Wayside Inn. First published 1863.

This pageant has not left much of a documentary trace. Information has been obtained from local newspaper coverage. The only recognised source used is Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn, a poem from which inspired one of the tableau presented in episode 2.


This pageant capitalised on Festival of Britain celebrations and was billed as a part of these within the town of Colne. However, given that another Festival-inspired, church-led pageant had been held in Colne the previous month, organised by the main Anglican church in the town, it may be surmised that this event had an additional agenda. This scheme is not difficult to identify, for the writer of the Colne Parish Church pageant held in July 1951 was also the writer of this particular pageant. The Rev. Mcvicar had made plain in his church's pageant that he was in favour of ecumenism. Accordingly, his second pageant script was commissioned by Colne's Church Council—an umbrella group made up of representatives from Anglican and nonconformist chapels in the town. In true ecumenical spirit, this pageant was held not in or around a church, but in the town's main civic centre. It had the advantage of being performed indoors, for rainy weather had presented problems for several of Colne's festivities in 1951. The title of the pageant also addressed its agenda, which was a clear intention to broadcast the work of all Christian churches and demonstrate the continued relevance of this faith in the modern world.

A programme for this theatrical event was produced; but as a copy of this has so far not been discovered, news coverage is all that we have in order to assess its content and impact. From the first, it appears that this was very much an initiative designed to bring different branches of the Christian faith in Colne together. Several different denominations thus worked cooperatively on a project that both celebrated the Festival of Britain and made a point about the importance of Christianity—in the past and for the future—within the life of the town and the progress of the nation. While the Anglican pageant held in July had concentrated on the history of Colne's main parish church and had a local focus, this pageant had a wider scope. It hoped to tell the story of Christianity's influence on wider aspects of civilisation both in the UK and across the world.

The aspects selected concentrated on social and cultural life, and most particularly, on how the Christian religion and its social mission had been at the root of many initiatives for the collective public good. From this point of view, it was both a partial tale and an evangelical undertaking. Everything from health care to workers' rights to the joy of literary and musical culture was presented as having been inspired by faith. That it did bring people from different denominations together is certain; it also likely attracted a similarly diverse audience from within the town. The pageant was also very much in the spirit of the Festival of Britain which celebrated the past while looking to a more positive future. In Britain, this was a future made more secure by the introduction of a welfare state and it does seem as if this pageant capitalised on the general feeling of optimism inspired by this turn of events following six years of war. Yet for the organisers of the pageant, it was unthinkable that this future would not include a major role for Christianity as well as political reform.

The pageant had quite an old-fashioned method of presentation with narrators providing introductory commentary to tableaux vivants. These were dramatised within eight thematic episodes. The roll call of key historical characters is more diverse than that seen in most pageants and was not centred on figures of British national fame. Instead, the international and catholic nature of the Christian faith was represented through such diverse persons; and though saintly figures were on regularly display, so too were philanthropists such as Dr Barnardo and reformist activists - from those involved with the peasants' revolt to the Tolpuddle martyrs. The church's overseas, evangelical mission was also put on display with a tableau showing missionary work in India in the first episode which dramatised the role of the religious in providing health care.

The subjects chosen in some ways do reflect the post-war zeitgeist of increased collective responsibility for social welfare, and it is difficult not to assume something of a political agenda in this religious pageant held in the north of England where the turn to socialist politics was now mature. It is a great pity we do not have more information about its content and impact, however, a newspaper review did comment that three of the four performances were played to packed houses.15 At one level, this perhaps provides testament to the continued strength of the churches in the immediate post-war period. On the other hand, the brand of old-fashioned Christian socialism that is evident within 'The Church Marches On' may have been up against a very different brand of left-wing politics by 1951, and this pageant could also be seen as an evangelical reaction to the emerging and seemingly unstoppable march of secularism.


  1. ^ For names of producers see Barnoldswick & Earby Times , 17 August 1951, 3, 5.
  2. ^ 'The Church Marches On', Barnoldswick & Earby Times 17 August 1951, 5.
  3. ^ 'Pageant Committee's Thanks', Barnoldswick & Earby Times 17 August 1951, 4.
  4. ^ Manchester Guardian, 6 July 1951, 10.
  5. ^ 'What Lay Behind That Curtain', Barnoldswick & Earby Times, 24 August 1951, 4.
  6. ^ 'The Church Marches On', Barnoldswick & Earby Times , 17 August 1951, 5.
  7. ^ 'What Lay Behind That Curtain', Barnoldswick & Earby Times , 24 August 1951, 4.
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ Advertisement, Barnoldswick & Earby Times , 10 August 1951, 8.
  10. ^ For the themes covered over eight scenes within the pageant see 'The Church Marches On', Barnoldswick & Earby Times, 17 August 1951, 5.
  11. ^ 'What Lay Behind That Curtain', Barnoldswick & Earby Times, 24 August 1951, 4.
  12. ^ Unless otherwise stated, all quotation within the synopses is from 'The Church Marches On', Barnoldswick & Earby Times 17 August 1951, 5.
  13. ^ This description suggests the drama was based on the poem, 'The Legend Beautiful' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
  14. ^ A review of the pageant states that each tableau was introduced by a narrator and the drama was accompanied by appropriate music, see 'What Lay Behind That Curtain', Barnoldswick & Earby Times 24 August 1951, 4.
  15. ^ 'What Lay Behind That Curtain', Barnoldswick & Earby Times, 24 August 1951, 4.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Church Marches On: A Grand Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,