Coventry Cathedral Pageant

Other names

  • Six Hundred Years: An Historical Pageant

Pageant type


Additional information drawn from 'Survey of Historical Pageants' undertaken by Mick Wallis; with thanks to the staff of Coventry Central Library.

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Place: Coventry Cathedral Ruins (Coventry) (Coventry, Warwickshire, England)

Year: 1945

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 3


20, 21 and 22 September 1945, 7pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Harrison, Tom
  • Directors: Mr J. Wilson and Mr Leonard Turner

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised

Proceeds on behalf of the Cathedral rebuilding fund.

Linked occasion

600th anniversary of the granting of Coventry's charter.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


There were reserved chairs.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline


Episode I. The Foundation of St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral on the Site, 1050 AD

Episode II.

[No information on title]

Episode III. The Building of St Michael’s Church, 1400

Episode IV. The Visit of Henry VII to Coventry Cathedral After the Battle of Bosworth, 1485

Episode V.

[No information on title]

Episode VI.

[No information on title]

Episode VII. The Destruction of the Cathedral, 1940

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland

Musical production

Music performed by Royal Leamington Spa Bach Choir, directed by J.M.W. Didwell.
Choirboys of All Saints’ Church Warwick.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Coventry Standard
The Times
Birmingham Daily Post
Birmingham Daily Express
Burnley Express
Leamington Spa Courier

Book of words


None available

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant



Many cities in Britain were heavily bombed during the Second World War; however, along with London, Coventry has come to symbolise the civilian costs of war in a similar way to Dresden, Stalingrad and Hiroshima (the first two of which are twinned with Coventry). The heavy concentration of key war industries in and around Coventry, a symbol of its pre-war success, had made the city an obvious target for the Luftwaffe. In several raids, most notably 14–15 November 1940 and 8–10 April 1941, much of the centre of Coventry had been destroyed and 1236 residents killed.1

In Philip Larkin’s novel, Jill (1946), the protagonist John Kemp leaves Oxford and attempts to revisit his parents’ house in Huddlestone, which had just been bombed—an experience which closely mirrors Larkin’s own recollections of the Coventry Blitz:

As he came nearer the centre of the town, where disused tramlines were still in the streets and there were warehouses and shops, ruins all at once appeared on every side. Many streets that harboured delayed-action bombs were barred off, and in these streets the tiles and broken glass remained unswept, littering the road, not in tidy heaps in the gutters. He had sudden perspectives of streets that had been completely wrecked. There were few ordinary pedestrians about here: groups of men and boys in helmets and blue overalls stood chatting at street corners, and among one such group John noticed a boy who had been at school with him…As soon as he was out of their sight he broke into a quick shamble filled by the other’s words with a desire to know the worst. He ran down a side street, leaping over pools of a curious red mud compounded of brick dust and hosepipe water. It seemed utterly deserted: here and there a house, a mere shell, would be standing, but on the whole it seemed like a city abandoned because of pestilence or migration of humanity.2

As David Kynaston has suggested, ‘for most Coventrians…the top priority was not to take part in controversies about a nebulous future. Rather it was to regroup, to retrench, and to try to get back as soon as possible to something like normality, which in essence meant life before the war.’3 Nonetheless, the question of what to do with the ruins of the cathedral was an important one, and already, by the end of the war, designs were being mooted for its rebuilding.

The Pageant of Coventry Cathedral was thus a look backwards to Coventry’s pre-war days in which major pageants had been held dating back to medieval times and, more recently, every few years (see entry for the Pageant of 1929). The specific anniversary in this case was the sexacentenary of the granting of Coventry's charter of incorporation by Edward III in 1345. The Pageant of Coventry Cathedral was on a far larger scale than these mass processional pageants which took up the whole of the city centre and attracted tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of spectators—in part, to catch a glimpse of Lady Godiva (clad in a skin-coloured bodysuit).4 The Cathedral pageant was to be a more demure affair, yet one that possessed a poignant resonance, representing the city rising Phoenix-like from the flames and raising funds for rebuilding the cathedral. The setting, on ‘a flood-lit stage erected at the east end of the Cathedral’,5 was designed to provoke the maximum amount of emotion from the audience, compounded by the presence of ‘a six-foot model of the Cathedral as it was before the raid’ made by Coventry Technical College and painted by the School of Art.6

The pageant, which had been postponed from 12–14 July until September ‘to enable a fuller and more effective presentation of the pageant…than was originally envisaged’7, involved a number of dramatic groups from Coventry, Warwick and Leamington under the auspices of Tom Harrison, the Regional Officer for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (the forerunner to the Arts’ Council), an organisation that was vital to the cultural renaissance experienced by Britain in the years after the Second World War.8 Harrison had previously produced two pageants in association with E.M. Forster and Ralph Vaughan Williams, Abinger Pageant (1934) and England’s Pleasant Land (1938). Cloth for the costumes was donated by John Sharples, a Burnley factory owner, who garnered ample publicity from his act of goodwill.9

The pageant was a great success, with the Coventry Standard calling it ‘one of the most impressive and spectacular pageants that Coventry people have seen’.10 Harrison himself emphasised the success of the pageant in comparison with the failure of lunchtime factory concerts.11 Following the pageant, it was suggested that a band of ‘Pilgrim Players’ be formed from willing pageant performers: ‘There has been an awakening of the drama as a medium for strengthening the Christian life and ideals. The Church could not afford to lose again the great divine power implicit in the drama and the stage’.12 While this idea seems not to have caught on, Coventry continued to be a hotbed of dramatic theatre (housed in the Belgrade Theatre, which opened in 1958) as well as a venue for a number of further pageants. Early hopes for the reconstruction of the Cathedral faded, and it was not until 1951 (shortly after a further Festival of Britain Pageant) that Basil Spence’s designs for a completely new building, next to the ruins of the old cathedral, were unveiled. The cathedral would finally be consecrated in 1961 with a further Pageant of Coventry in celebration of a city rising— Phoenix-like—from the ashes.13


  1. ^ David McGrory, ‘The Coventry Blitz’, CWN, accessed 23 February 2016,
  2. ^ Philip Larkin, Jill (London, 2005), 195–196.
  3. ^ David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945–51 (London, 2007), 49.
  4. ^ Alexander Hutton, ‘“The World’s Most Famous Strip-Girl”: Lady Godiva and the Coventry Pageants’, accessed 4 May 2016,
  5. ^ Coventry Standard, 22 September 1945, 5.
  6. ^ Coventry Standard, 21 September 1945, 4.
  7. ^ Coventry Standard, 23 June 1945, 8.
  8. ^ Robert Hewison, Culture and Consensus: England, Art and Politics Since 1940 (Abingdon, 1995), 38–46.
  9. ^ Burnley Express, 26 September 1945, 2.
  10. ^ Coventry Standard, 22 September 1945, 5.
  11. ^ Nick Hayes, ‘More Than “Music-While-You-Eat”? Factory and Hostel Concerts, “Good Culture” and the Workers,’ in 'Millions Like Us'? British Culture in the Second World War, ed. Nick Hayes and Jeff Hill (Liverpool, 1999), 226.
  12. ^ Birmingham Daily Gazette, 24 September 1945, 1; Coventry Standard, 29 September 1945, 8.
  13. ^ David Kynaston, Family Britain, 1951–1957 (London, 2009), 13–14; Lionel Brett, ‘Coventry Cathedral’, Observer, 23 September 1951, 6.

How to cite this entry

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