Co-operative Century: a Pageant Play of the People (Tamworth)
Place: Assembly Rooms (Tamworth) (Tamworth, Staffordshire, England)
Number of performances: 6
13–19 July 1944
[13, 14, 17, 18 July at 6.30pm; 19 July at 3.30 and 6.30pm.]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Director [Pageant Master]: Coxon, Mrs
- Assistant Director: W.H. Lockwood
- Choral Director: Albert Knight
- Secretary: G.A. Stock
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Peach, Lawrence Du Garde
Names of composers
- Williams, Charles
Numbers of performers100
There was an indicated profit of £123 14s 5d.
Object of any funds raised
NotesThe following amounts were donated:
- £5 5s to Tamworth Orthopaedic Clinic
- £30 British Red Cross Society
- £50 Co-operative Union Freedom Fund
- £33 4s 5d Tamworth Hospital
- £5 5s to St John Ambulance Brigade
[Source: Tamworth Herald, 29 July 1944, 3]
Centenary of the Co-operative Movement
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
[Synopses written by Tom Davis]
Episode I. Trouble in the American Colonies and Revolutionary Fervour
We are first introduced to the pageant with news of the troubles in the American Colonies. Questions are being raised over to what extent Magna Carta is being followed and whom the MPs in Westminster serve—many of the same questions are being raised in the colonies. Talk quickly turns revolutionary, and debate breaks out. The scene then changes to the American Revolution with George Washington addressing the crowd on issues of freedom and liberty. Suddenly, George III and a group of English ministers appear, and the two Georges argue concerning their ideas of government. The argument ends with George III declaring war. With reference being made to the English Civil War, much of the crowd seems inspired by the actions of the colonialists and their quest for liberty. We then see the entrance of a recurring character named ‘little man’ who questions the rousing speaker’s ability to unite the crowd.
Episode II. The Weaver’s
The crowd, off stage, are heard jeering and discussing while the main attention is focused on a weaver’s house. The weaver, in discussion with the speaker, expresses his disapproval with all the revolutionary talk and says he simply wants to be an honest man working an honest job. These words, however, antagonise the speaker who says that honest men have started and been involved in revolutions before. The weaver reaffirms his belief in there being a right and wrong way of doing things. The son expresses interest in joining his father and is keen to learn his skills; but he is also wants to sing the rebellious songs—he is not allowed to do so as his father says that men were put on the earth for honest work, not bad deeds. The ringleader then questions the weaver on not joining in with the revolutionary discussion. The talk then turns to the factories, and the weaver seems convinced by the newly-entered owner’s argument that the new factories will provide employment for the many. The ringleader then challenges the factory owner over a variety of different issues including working conditions and pay. The owner then turns to the weaver and says he will see him at work at 5pm, but the weaver refuses as he has his own loom. The owner responds by cutting off his supply of wool, and so the weaver is forced to work for him in the factory, and to take his children to the workhouse as child labour. Whilst trying to protect his children, the weaver is shot.
The scene then changes to the French Revolution and the ‘Marseillaise’ is played. A character named Desmoulins declares the individual’s liberty and freedom much like Washington did.
Episode III. The French Revolution
There is an aristocratic party in France, and King Louis XVI walks in. Soon after, Desmoulins disturbs the party, and the ‘citizens’ shout about equality after a scuffle breaks out. The ‘little man’ returns, saying that though the violence brought an end to the ancien régime and Louis XVI, it also brought the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte, and we are ‘worse off than ever’. He also notes that America is still essentially the same nation as under the British, with an elite controlling most aspects of life. He points out that the high price of a bed (a major gripe for political campaigners) is down to Napoleon and the French Revolution.
Episode IV. The Luddites and Robert Owen
The episode begins with talk of the high price of bread and the mass starvation that is occurring; there are demands that the shops must be broken up to rectify the situation. The Luddites enter, who say that the breaking of shops would not be effective, and instead they should smash the machines in the factories as they are the root of the problem. As the crowd readies itself to attack the factories, the magistrate and soldiers move in to disperse them. After a brief exchange of words wherein the Luddite leader refuses to give in, the magistrate then reads them the Riot Act, and a fight breaks out between the soldiers and rioters, and the crowd is violently removed from the stage. The socialist Robert Owen then walks in, and the children he has been educating perform a dance. They then turn to their lessons, which all focus on poverty, freedom and equality. Owen tells the crowd that the issues are not with the machines but with the social system and that is what needs to be changed. The clergy, MPs and capitalists all agree that Owen is a dangerous man and he should be removed from society.
Episode V. The Beginnings of the Co-operative
We are taken to Rochdale, and weavers are discussing setting up a co-operative after their last endeavour has failed. Howarth then comes up with a new idea that profits should be shared according to the amount of money spent/invested in the co-operative. Another Corn Law protest approaches the town, and a speech is made by its leader, but the Chartists then arrive. There is obvious tension over the disagreements regarding the major social issues of the time. ‘Little man’ reappears and comments that they cannot agree on how best to resolve their issues. The speaker states that it is better for man to fight his friend than not to fight at all because it shows that he wants to fight for something he believes in.
Episode VI. The Co-operative Is Set Up
In a meeting of townspeople, the members agree on a committee and where and from whom they should rent the site of their new shop. Members raise a total of £28 capital and rent, and a rousing rendition of ‘England Arise!’ is sung. They agree that their name should be the ‘Rochdale Pioneers’. The speaker emerges and asks whether these men have succeeded where the kings and ministers have failed, and a suggestion is made that the men’s way of peacefully trying to change the status quo is better than a violent way.
Episode VII. The Opening of the Shop
The scene opens with Dr and Mrs Dunlop, the owners of the shop that the Pioneers wish to rent, talking about the ongoing social issues; they are generally scornful about the working classes, saying they are asking for too much. They are then disturbed by the Pioneers, who offer a business proposal to Dr Dunlop. After some hesitation, because of the Pioneers’ previously precarious economic situation and their socialist beliefs, the Dunlops agree to rent them the lot on the understanding that advance payment of rent will be made, and that all the work of the shop must be carried out by the Pioneers. A Pioneer then enters with a pile of stock gathered from Manchester. Some members of the society are worried that the shopkeepers will not be happy with the endeavour and may use their power over the townspeople to stop it. Such fears come true when one shopkeeper threatens the wife of one of the Pioneers with the collection of her mother’s outstanding credit. He proceeds to threaten the rest of the town, but they refuse to give in to the shopkeeper’s demands. Another song, ‘Shop at the Co-op’, is played.
Episode VIII. Looking Back at the Success of the Pioneers
The scene is set 21 years after the founding of the Rochdale Pioneers. The last remaining Pioneers take a photograph together, one that is widely circulated amongst co-operatives. The speaker reveals the great success of the co-operatives today. With 72.5 million members worldwide, the early Pioneers are lauded as true heroes of the cause, and it is stated that their methods are intrinsic to further social progress.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Desmoulins, Lucie Simplice Camille
Benoit (1760-1794) French journalist and politician
- Washington, George (1732–1799)
revolutionary army officer and president of the United States of America
- George III (1738–1820) king of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
- Bonaparte, Napoleon (1769-1821)
French military and political leader
- Owen, Robert (1771–1858) socialist
- Bright, John (1811–1889) politician
- David Brooks (1802/3–1882) Rochdale
- James Daly
(1811/12–1849) Rochdale pioneer
- James Smithies (1819–1869) Rochdale
- William Mallalieu (c.1796–1863)
- Miles Ashworth (1792–1868) Rochdale
- Charles Howarth (1814–1868) Rochdale
- Samuel Ashworth (1825–1871) Rochdale
- John Holt (1777/8–1852) Rochdale
- Cooper, William (1822–1868) promoter
of the co-operative movement
- William Taylor (1813/14–1854)
- Holyoake, George Jacob (1817–1906)
freethinker and co-operator
- James Tweedale
(1818–1886) Rochdale pioneer
- Recorded music, composed by Charles
Williams, and performed by the Queen’s Hall orchestra was played.
- Choral pieces performed by the Tamworth
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
- Peach, Lawrence du Garde. Co-operative Century: A Pageant of the People. Manchester, 1944.
Other primary published materials
- None found
References in secondary literature
- Burton, Alan. The British Consumer Co-operative Movement and Film, 1890s–1960s. Manchester, 2005. At 35.
- Flanagan, Desmond. 1869–1969: A Centenary Story of the Co-operative Union of Great Britain and Ireland. London, 1969. At 92.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘Pageantry and the Popular Front: Ideological Production in the “Thirties”’. New Theatre Quarterly 10, no. 38 (1994): 132–156.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- None found.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The opening night of the Tamworth Co-Operative Pageant was one of ‘150 such ‘first nights’ all over the country’,1 with similar performances of the pageant being staged from Plymouth to Sheffield and Manchester in celebration of the centenary of founding of the first Co-operative Society at Toad in Rochdale. It was written by Lawrence Du Garde Peach, a playwright and author of national repute, known especially as a pioneer of radio drama. He was also enthusiastic about community amateur dramatics, having started a company of thespians in Great Hucklow in 1927; he thus claimed that the Co-operative Century was ‘a Pageant of the People, presented by the people, for the people’.2 Peach would go on to direct a number of Pageants, such as the Sheffield Pageant of Production (1948), the Wolverhampton Centenary Pageant (1948), and the Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant (1949), which combined a populist left-wing interpretation of history with a modern (and some would say showy) theatrical style.
Tamworth’s pageant, staged in one of the smaller towns to host the pageant, was put on by Mrs A.M. Coxon, the wife of the Vicar of Tamworth, who proposed the venture in March 1944.3 Tamworth had previously held a pageant in 1913. The pageant received favourable press notices, with the Staffordshire Advertiser writing that ‘The incidents were convincingly presented, full measure being given to the dramatic situations. There were several spectacular settings, the production being well dressed throughout, and included period costumes’, praising the signing, which was ‘tunefully rendered by the Tamworth Co-operative Choir’.4 The Tamworth Herald declared that ‘the pageant is an ambitious undertaking. There must be something of the faith of the Rochdale Pioneers in the Tamworth Co-operators to have spurred them on to make the attempt, but it has been carried through most successfully’. The paper also noted that the performances, given to capacity audiences, ‘were in every way worthy of the subject, and would bear favourable comparison with the presentations in much larger places.’5 The newspaper was particularly enthused that the very first employee of the Tamworth Co-operative Society, Mrs Owen, who had been employed in 1886.6
The pageant, which played to full houses, made a small but reassuring profit of around £125, which was donated evenly to various local charitable societies as well as the British Red Cross Society.7 A number of the amateur performers from the pageant went on to form the Tamworth Co-operative Players, which performed several plays in the late 1940s.8
Manchester Guardian, 20 June 1944, 6.
Lawrence du Garde Peach, ‘Introduction’, in Co-operative Century: A Pageant of the People (Manchester, 1944), unpaginated.
Tamworth Herald, 18 March 1944, 4.
Staffordshire Advertiser, 22 July 1944, 6.
Tamworth Herald, 22 July 1944, 5.
Tamworth Herald, 29 July 1944, 3.
Tamworth Herald, 21 April 1945, 4; 1 December 1945, 3; 11 January 1947, 2; 10 December 1949, 5.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Co-operative Century: a Pageant Play of the People (Tamworth)’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1500/