The Quest

Other names

  • The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society

Pageant type


The pageant was held as part of the Blackburn Diocesan Festival in 1930 under the auspices of the local branch of the Girls' Friendly Society (GFS). This was a generic pageant which had first been staged in 1925 in London at the Albert Hall in celebration of the Society's jubilee year. It was alleged locally that the performance of The Quest in Blackburn in 1930 was only its second staging. However, this may not have been the case; there were certainly a great many GFS jubilee celebrations held in 1925, some of which included pageant-type performances. For example, celebrations were held in Cheltenham (May, 1925), Lichfield (June, 1925), Truro (June, 1925) and Bath (July, 1925). During the 1930s, The Quest was certainly performed many times in different locations: for example, Cheltenham (3 October 1931), Hull (28 January 1932) and Sunderland (1 October 1933).

Jump to Summary


Place: King George's Hall (Blackburn) (Blackburn, Lancashire, England)

Year: 1930

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 1


11 October 1930

The Quest had further performances in different parts of the country carried out by local branches of the Society in England and Wales. It is also possible that overseas branches may have performed it as, by the inter-war years, the Girls' Friendly Society was an international organisation with branches in many countries within the Anglican Communion. In the case of Blackburn in 1930, there was a single staging of the pageant, which took place at 6.30pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director [Pageant Master]: Shaw, Ida
  • Choirmaster: Rev. S. Sidebotham
  • Programme Sales Arrangements: Miss Dorothy Roberts6


Miss Ida Shaw was a successful professional drama and elocution teacher based in Blackburn. The role played by Miss Shaw in this pageant is mentioned in a newspaper report.7 It is most likely that she was hired to perform the role of pageant director for a fee. She seems to have been experienced in this field of dramatic work. Shaw had been involved in a church centenary pageant in Blackburn in 1926 and would go on to provide services as a drama coach in a pageant organised by the Lancashire Federation of Women's Institutes held in 1935 in Preston.

Names of executive committee or equivalent


The names of committee members have not been recovered.

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

  • Parker, Louis Napoleon

Names of composers

  • Shaw, Martin
  • James, James
  • Elgar, Edward

Martin Shaw wrote the music for the song 'Glad Hearts Adventuring'.

The Welsh national anthem, 'Land of My Fathers', is attributed to James James.

The most popular musical interpretation of Arthur O'Shaughnessy's poem, ' The Music Makers', was by Elgar. It is likely to have been this version that was sung in the pageant.

Numbers of performers


The number of performers is stated on the cover of the programme.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

Blackburn Diocese Girls' Friendly Society


It is assumed that this pageant was a fundraiser for the Girls' Friendly Society, but details of the finances involved have not been recovered. However, a collection taken at an afternoon service in the Blackburn Cathedral, which preceded the pageant, raised the sum of £27 in aid of the Society.9

Linked occasion

First held in 1925 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Girls' Friendly Society.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 3500


King George's Hall in Blackburn was purpose-built as a concert and event venue and was opened in 1921. It had a 3500 seating capacity.10 Precise figures for attendance have not been recovered; however, the hall is said to have been crowded; the audience figure of 3500 is therefore an estimate.11

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

Associated events

The pageant was preceded on the afternoon of 11 October by a religious service in Blackburn Cathedral. The preacher at this was the Bishop of Wakefield, and the service included a procession by the Girls' Friendly Society members.

Pageant outline


The following is a quotation from the pageant programme:

The pageant has for its central figure the ‘Girl at the Signpost’, as portrayed in Miss Tarrant's Jubilee picture for the GFS.13 She comes to the Crossroads and finds that she has to choose between the High way and the Low. She attempts the High Way, but finds it rocky and difficult and nearly gives up in despair, but is recalled back to the task by an Old Woman, who reminds her of the number of women who have succeeded in the face of fearful odds, and through their efforts have brought happiness into the world.14

Historical Tableaux

This section of the pageant begins with groups of singing and dancing girls entering 'with joy and merriment, the Old Woman showing that they are inspired by the great women who have gone before'. A number of tableaux featuring well-known women from history are then presented as follows:

  • Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and attendants;
  • Saint Hilda and nuns;
  • Saint Joan of Arc and attendants;
  • Queen Elizabeth and attendants;
  • Elizabeth Fry and poor women;
  • Florence Nightingale and nurses.

Girls of Today

The pageant programme states the following:

It is next shown how to-day hundreds of women are joined together in one common band, united in their service to their sisters. England appears, who, having called Wales, Scotland and Ireland to her side, summons the first members of the GFS in 1875. These meet and disperse to spread news of the Society throughout the world, and now, fifty years later, to music and singing enters a great procession of GFS members of to-day. Various groups enter showing present-day activities of the Society. The girl is at last convinced, and asks how she can find this Friendship and join this happy fellowship of service. The Old Woman tells her she found it at the crossroads, and reveals herself as Friendship.

The 'Members of To-day' featured include 'Doctors, Nurses, Students, Dairy-Maids, Domestics, Land Girls, Mill Girls'. A number of activities are also demonstrated including sports, campers, and 'Princess Mary Caravaners'. Also appearing are emissaries of the Society's 'Flower Mission', which delivered fresh flowers to the sick at home and in hospital. The countries personified include the following: France, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Portugal, India, Burma, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Newfoundland, Singapore, Japan, Palestine, South America, the West Indies, the USA and New Zealand.

Different branches of the Society based in particular parishes within the Blackburn Diocese played each group, including parishes from Ashton, Blackpool, Blackburn, Garstang, Lytham, St Annes-On-Sea, Padiham, Preston and Lancaster. All this activity was accompanied by choral singing and dancing.

Pageant Finale

All the countries 'are summoned' and join in a 'Triumphal March and hymn'. After this final element, 'the Girl walks easily up the slope of the High Way with Friendship's arm about her'. At the conclusion, small girls who have taken part in the dances make a formation of a 'cross of purity'.15

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Hild [St Hild, Hilda] (614–680) abbess of Strensall–Whitby
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Fry [née Gurney], Elizabeth (1780–1845) penal reformer and philanthropist
  • Nightingale, Florence (1820–1910) reformer of Army Medical Services and of nursing organization

Musical production

There was live music; 'Dr Brearly' played the organ. There was a choir of 130 voices (choirmaster: Rev. S. Sidebotham) and the following songs were sung:
  • Martin Shaw. 'Glad Hearts Adventuring', lyrics by Margaret Macdonald.
  • James James. 'Land of My Fathers' (sung at the entrance of 'Wales' in the second part of the pageant).
  • Edward Elgar. 'The Music Makers', words by Arthur O'Shaughnessy.
  • Unknown composer. 'Flowers of the Wild-wood'.
  • Unknown composer. 'The Spring Song of the GFS', words by Alfred Noyes.
  • John Goss. Hymn, 'Praise My Soul the King of Heaven' (sung in the finale).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Burnley News
Burnley Express
Lancashire Evening Post

Book of words


A book of words was not produced for this specific staging of the pageant. A book may have been produced for the original presentation held at the Albert Hall in 1925, but, if so, it has not been recovered. Most of the pageant consisted of tableaux, song and dance, and although there certainly was dialogue (written by Louis Napoleon Parker), this element was likely not much to the fore in many parts of the performance.

Other primary published materials

  • The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society, King's Hall, Blackburn. Devised by Henry Miller, Words by Louis N. Parker. Saturday October 11th, 1930, 6.30pm. Blackburn, 1930.

Price: 2d.20

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Lancashire Record Office: one copy of the pageant programme and some associated correspondence in respect of the event. DDX 1119/11/2.

Sources used in preparation of pageant


Other than the poetic works set to music (see musical arrangement), no other sources have been noted.


This institution-led pageant, which took place in Blackburn in the north of England in 1930, made use of an existing text that was the work of no less than the grand pageant master himself—Louis Napoleon Parker.21 The pageant named The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ had been specifically created for use by the Girls' Friendly Society (GFS) in the organisation's jubilee year of 1925 and was first staged at London's Albert Hall in the presence of Queen Mary.22 However, this was a pageant that was designed for reuse and adaptation, for the messages from the past it delivered were centred on the mission of the GFS rather than a celebration of local history. Organisers in Blackburn asserted that their performance of The Quest was the first to succeed the pageant held in London, though this assertion has not been corroborated. The GFS were seasoned pageanteers, and it is possible that it had been held on other occasions; certainly, following Blackburn's use of the pageant it had many subsequent outings during the early 1930s in a variety of UK towns and cities.

The GFS was founded in 1875 with a mission of 'prevention being better than cure' in respect of rescue work aimed at young servant girls. Its founders, most notably Mary Townsend (1841–1914), set up the Girls' Friendly Society as a means of providing education, companionship and mentoring to young women who were deemed to be at risk of social isolation and unwanted pregnancy.23 The Society flourished during its first few decades and spread across the UK and to other parts of the empire. Over time, it added residential facilities to its portfolio of membership benefits. Its founders were Anglicans; although the Society was strictly non-sectarian in terms of the girls it accepted as members, it continued to be managed via parish, deanery, and diocesan groups (with a central office in London). The Blackburn diocese had its own active branch and annually organised a fundraising festival: the 1930 performance of The Quest was the main item on the festival's programme that year and was staged at King George's Hall—Blackburn's newest and most prestigious concert venue.

A local teacher who had experience of pageants provided dramatic coaching to bring out the best in the performers. Choral singing by a large choir augmented the visual elements presented. The pageant was not organised in episodes, but it was performed in a way that suggests four separate parts. In the first of these, a girl is depicted at a crossroads, struggling over the decision of whether to take the high or the low path. This metaphor for the moral choice facing young women is resolved when the allegorical figure of 'Friendship' arrives disguised as an old woman; she goes on to describe to the girl how famous women from the past have overcome their difficulties. This part of the pageant is then followed by the display of a series of tableaux featuring easily identifiable female historical characters that were meant to provide personal inspiration to the young and potentially vulnerable. Among those depicted at Blackburn were religious figures such as Saint Hild, women famous for doing good work such as Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale, and, in true pageant style, the iconic and powerful figure of Queen Elizabeth I. The third part of the pageant celebrates the history of the GFS, demonstrates the many activities it aimed to nurture among its membership, and seeks to show the many countries to which it spread its message. For this, some of those taking part dressed up in the uniforms of a variety of professions, indicating that the Society now reached out to many young women from different backgrounds. Doctors and nurses were depicted alongside domestic servants and mill girls, and even dairy maids had a place! Others appeared in the national costumes of an array of European countries where the Society had established links as well as of territories that were still, or had formerly been, part of the British Empire. The pageant ends with the confused young woman showing a strengthened resolve: she takes the hand of 'friendship' and goes forward easily towards the High Way.

This heavily moralistic tale was possibly a bit hackneyed by 1930. The GFS had experienced some decline in membership following the First World War.24 Its model of 'lady' associates from the middle and upper classes who took on the task of mentoring the young women 'members' and 'candidate members' (female children under 14) was outmoded. However, the organisation did try to modernise with educational programmes and an expansion of its homes and hostels which provided inexpensive, good quality accommodation for women workers at a time when patterns of female employment were changing. Certainly, the days of live-in servants were in sharp decline. The provision of sport, opportunities to read, and other forms of healthy recreation became more important as well, and it was in this context that theatrical activities were promoted. Thus, while the 'golden years' of the GFS might have been over in the British Isles,25 overall membership expanded as the movement continued to spread to other countries.

Although this pageant did not reflect local interests, it did reflect the interests of the GFS and its place as an Anglican institution at the centre of an international network. It is of particular significance that the personification of nations in the third part of the pageant begins with the figure of England, who appears with attendants and banner carriers. It is England who calls the other nations 'to her side', beginning with Wales, then Scotland, and then Ireland. Other countries process onto the stage later, reflecting the historical development of the organisation. Moreover, the historical women depicted were not all British; rather, they were characters whose appeal was international and crossed religious divides, either because of their personal qualities of bravery and stalwartness (e.g., Joan of Arc) or because of their piety and good works (e.g., Elizabeth of Hungary). The work done overseas was conceived along the lines of 'missionary' work; indeed, at a special service held earlier in the day in Blackburn Cathedral, the offertory was taken up specifically in aid of the local GFS, although 'representative members' also made pleas to a packed congregation on behalf of the Society's missions, and collections were raised for these.26 If such pleas were not sufficient to inspire generosity, consciences were clearly meant to be stirred when the young women and girl members of the society were paraded within the service in a manner replete with virginal symbolism. For this procession, 'the maidens' were required to be 'white-robed and blue-veiled'.

However, even if it was somewhat traditional and conservative, and even if it had really moved little in terms of its core aim—the prevention of pregnancy among unmarried women—the GFS still had significant appeal for the young women among its membership. As an organisation, it provided support, friendship and recreation that widened the horizons of many. In Lancashire, the pageant was one such means of bringing young women from disparate parts of the county together in a single endeavour. The whole performance went down well with the local press which stated that the pageant had 'achieved credit of no mean kind' and that 'a crowded audience' was warmly receptive. In an item of correspondence following the pageant, the writer described the event as exceeding all expectations and as 'an inspiration' to everyone who saw it—all of which suggests that it was financially successful.27 Its repetition in later years by other branches of the GFS was perhaps inspired by both the social and financial achievements obtained in Blackburn in 1930. Overall, this pageant, which came from the pen of the founder of modern historical pageantry, is most significant for showing just how adaptable the genre had become during the interwar years.


  1. ^ The Girls' Friendly Society was established in 1875, making 1925 its fiftieth anniversary. The pageant was staged on Saturday 4 July 1925 at the Albert Hall in London and was attended by Queen Mary. See 'Girls' Friendly Society: The Queen Presents Prizes', Scotsman, 6 July 1925, 8.
  2. ^ 'G.F.S. Festival', Burnley Express, 15 October 1930, 3.
  3. ^ See 'Glo-shire Girls' Friendly Societies', Western Daily News, 5 October 1931, 7.
  4. ^ 'Pageant-Play', Hull Daily Mail, 29 January 1932, 11.
  5. ^ See picture caption, Sunderland Daily Echo, 2 February 1933, 1.
  6. ^ The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society, King's Hall, Blackburn. Devised by Henry Miller, Words by Louis N. Parker. Saturday October 11th, 1930, 6.30pm (Blackburn, 1930), 1.
  7. ^ 'Diocesan Festival', Burnley News, 15 October 1930, 7.
  8. ^ The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society, King's Hall, Blackburn. Devised by Henry Miller, Words by Louis N. Parker. Saturday October 11th, 1930, 6.30pm (Blackburn, 1930).
  9. ^ 'G.F.S. Festival', Burnley Express, 15 October 1930, 3.
  10. ^ See information about the venue, ‘About the Hall,’ King George’s Hall, accessed 31 May 2016,
  11. ^ 'G.F.S. Festival', Burnley Express, 15 October 1930, 3.
  12. ^ 'G.F.S. Festival', Burnley Express, 15 October 1930, 3.
  13. ^ This painting by Margaret W. Tarrant illustrated the front cover of a history of the Girls' Friendly Society. It shows a girl standing beside a signpost on a windy hill, with black titles and the text 'The high way or the low?' printed along the bottom; see Mary Heath-Stubbs, Friendship's Highway: Being the History of the Girls' Friendly Society 1875–1925 (London, 1926).
  14. ^ Unless indicated otherwise, all quotations in the synopses are taken from The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society, King's Hall, Blackburn. Devised by Henry Miller, Words by Louis N. Parker. Saturday October 11th, 1930, 6.30pm (Blackburn, 1930).
  15. ^ 'G.F.S. Festival', Burnley Express, 15 October 1930, 3.
  16. ^ 'G.F.S. Festival at Blackburn', Lancashire Evening Post, 13 October 1930, 6.
  17. ^ This song uses words from the poem 'Ode' by Arthur O'Shaughnessy; this work is widely known by the title 'We Are the Music Makers'.
  18. ^ This song uses the words of the poem 'When Spring Comes Back to England' by Alfred Noyes; the musical adaptation is by an unknown composer.
  19. ^ For information about the music, see The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society, King's Hall, Blackburn. Devised by Henry Miller, Words by Louis N. Parker. Saturday October 11th, 1930, 6.30pm (Blackburn, 1930), 1 and 4.
  20. ^ The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society, King's Hall, Blackburn. Devised by Henry Miller, Words by Louis N. Parker. Saturday October 11th, 1930, 6.30 pm (Blackburn, 1930), 1.
  21. ^ Parker is named as being responsible for the words of the pageant, but the drama was 'devised' by Henry Miller; see The Quest: ‘The High Way or the Low?’ A Pageant of the Girls' Friendly Society, King's Hall, Blackburn. Devised by Henry Miller, Words by Louis N. Parker. Saturday October 11th, 1930, 6.30 pm (Blackburn, 1930), 1.
  22. ^ There were at least two performances in the Albert Hall, one at 2.30pm on Saturday 4 July 1925 and another on the same date in the evening. The Queen attended the afternoon display, and for the evening performance Princess Mary, the Viscountess Lascelles, attended; see 'Court Circular', The Times, 4 July 1925, 17.
  23. ^ For information about Townsend, see G.M. Harris, ‘Townsend, Mary Elizabeth (1841–1918)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), online, accessed 1 June 2016.
  24. ^ History of the Girls' Friendly Society, available online at the organisation's website, accessed 1 June 2016,
  25. ^ Ibid.
  26. ^ 'G.F.S. Festival', Burnley Express, 15 October 1930, 3.
  27. ^ A few items of correspondence in respect of the pageant are held in the Lancashire Record Office; one note bearing the GFS heading and dated 14 October 1930, penned by an unknown writer and addressed to 'Mrs Mortimer', praises the pageant in fulsome terms. It must be assumed that Mrs Mortimer was one of the organisers and/or had a senior role in Blackburn GFS.

How to cite this entry

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