Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan
Place: Kilbarchan Public Park (Kilbarchan) (Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire, Scotland)
Number of performances: 2
19 August 1933, about 4pm
22 August 1933, evening (floodlit).
The performance took about two hours.1
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Wright, James
- Marshal: John M’Intyre
- Dance Instructors: Miss Gordon, Miss Muir (members of Scottish Country Dance Society), and Miss Connel
- Choir Director: Robert H. More
- Deputy Choir Director: James Henderson
- Wardrobe Mistress: Miss Mitchell
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: James Muir, Esq.
- Hon. Secretary: John Erskine, 23 Shuttle Street
- Hon. Treasurer: Andrew Mitchell, Southview; Robert Ritchie, 37 Low Barholm
- ‘Committee’ [executive committee]: John T. Prentice (Chairman), W. M’Callum Douglas (Secretary), Ronald Bowie, Robert Holms and James Inglis
- John Arnott
- Matthew Blair
- John Brodie
- John Brown
- James Cowan
- William Douglas
- George Fulton
- Alexr. Galloway
- Matthew W. Gardner
- Alex. Harrison
- Robert Holmes
- Robert Holms
- Wm. Hyndman
- James Jackson
- C.P. Lyle
- Adam Marshall
- William M’Connell
- John M’Intyre
- James M’Intyre
- J.G. M’Vicar
- James Nelson
- John T. Prentice
- James Scott
- John Semple
- John Stevenson, JP
- John Stevenson
- James Webster
- James Wright, RSW
- Mrs John Arnott
- Mrs Matthew Blair
- Miss Dow
- Miss Holms
- Mrs Andrew Neilson
- Mrs James Wright
Reserved Seating Enclosure:
- Matthew W. Gardner
- Cuthbert P. Lyle
- James Wright, RSW
Organisation of Floral Arches, Convenors:
- Townfoot: John M’Intyre, J.G. M’Vicar and James Muir
- Shuttle Street: John Erskine and James Nelson
- New Street: James Cowan and William M’Connell
- Barholm: Alexr. Galloway and James Webster
- Old Toll, Millikenpark [sic]: Matthew Blair, John Brodie and Alexander Harrison
- Railway Bridge: John Arnott and John Stevenson
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Wright, James
The ‘scenario’ was by James Wright, adapted from ‘The History of Kilbarchan by Rev. R.D. Mackenzie, DD’: actually Mackenzie, R. D. Kilbarchan: A Parish History (Paisley, 1902).
Names of composers
- Purcell, Edward
- Wright, Waugh
Numbers of performers260
141 named male and 119 named female performers. In addition, the choir numbered 87.
The pageant raised £275.3
Object of any funds raised
Endowing a bed in the Royal Alexandra Infirmary, Paisley.
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
More than 10000 people attended the Lilias Day procession in 1931 and 12000 saw the pageant in 1934, but there are no figures specifically for 1933.4
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Admission to park: 6d. There were also a ‘limited number’ of bookable seats at 2s. and 1s. 6d. (this appears to have included admission to the park).
Associated eventsThe pageant took place as part of Kilbarchan’s annual Lilias Day celebrations.
Episode I. 6th Century AD
‘About the 6th Century Sanct Barchan came to found a church and convert the Britons of Strath Clyde to Christianity. The Britons with their Chiefs gather at the foot of the hill. A look-out is posted. Then the Druid arrives. The people gather in fear. One of their number is chosen for the sacrificial ceremony. Suddenly the look-out gives the alarm—‘Gael’ (strangers). The chief and his men get into fighting order. Sanct Barchan and his monks arrive. The Druid is made a prisoner, and the maiden released. The heathen altar is overthrown. The rage of the Britons is quelled by the Cross’.
Episode II. c.1315
‘Marjory Bruce—daughter of Robert the Bruce—hunted in this district. This group will march past the audience’.
Episode III. Early 15th Century
‘Thomas Craufurd, of Auchenames (early 15th Century) lived in the Castle of Auchenames (a farmhouse now occupies the site). He gave the Chapel of Saint Catharine to the village. The ruins of it can be seen in the old Kirkyard. The incident will be portrayed by the groups: The Ladies enter waiting for Thomas Craufurd. The Seneschal and the Master Builder with model of the Chapel are in attendance of Dame Craufurd. Craufurd enters and inspects the model of the chapel after greeting Dame Craufurd. Then the procession of the house of Auchenames moves off to meet the Church party, to whom the chapel is gifted’.
Episode IV. Late 15th Century
‘The Cuninghames, of Craigends, have for centuries been closely connected with Kilbarchan. At one time the village was a barony under the dominion of Baron Cunninghame, who acted as a judge at the local court of justice (Period, later 15th Century). William Cuninghame and his company arrive on Beltane Day. A Gypsy and his wife are captured and sent by him to the stocks. A minstrel starts a song—the famous old Scots Ballad of Binorie. Sports of the time are enacted, and the old time mummers appear on “horseback”’.
Episode V. 16th Century
‘Habbie Simpson [1550–1620] was the famous Kilbarchan piper of the 16th Century. His statue in bronze adorns a niche in the steeple.5 As Robert Sempill of Beltrees6 has shown, he was much admired and loved by the villagers. Children enter singing and dancing and are followed by the villagers. A Pedlar moves about, selling his wares. Habbie Simpson and his wife Janet appear and are joyfully hailed by the villagers, who demand a tune on their pipes. They dance “The Glasgow Highlanders”. (This dance “belongs” to Renfrewshire and is many centuries old.) The group is led off by Habbie with his pipes’.
Episode VI. Early 18th Century
‘The “Lilias” Group—early 18th Century. Baron William Cunninghame, of this date, changed the old name of Beltane Fair to that of Lilias—the name of one of his daughters. The Cunninghame household and their friends enter in holiday mood. Baron Cunninghame with his lady, a lawyer and his lady arrive. The Baron announces to the company that the “heathen name” of Beltane shall be discontinued and gives “Lilias” as the new name of the Fair day. Lilias enters with pages and is introduced to the company. The choir sings “Passing By”. The minuet is danced. Baron Cunninghame refuses the invitation of a venturesome young lady to dance and retires to play whist. At the finish of the dance the Baron asks “Miss Jenny” for a song. The Lilias Day Song [is sung]. Children enter and lead the company off the field to the chorus of the song’.
Episode VII. 1860
‘1860 Wedding Group. In the sixties Kilbarchan was at the height of its prosperity in the weaving industry and also more isolated than in this age of petrol. These were the days of Paisley Shawls and crinolines, and a wedding party where all dressed in their best was an opportunity to flaunt them. The bride and bridegroom enter, guests pelting them with rice. The guid father and best man throw coppers to the children according to ancient custom. Then a song is called for and Duncan Gray is sung. The beautiful dance, “The love knot” is appropriate to the occason. The company march off singing “Maggie Lauder”. (This song has a reference to Habbie Simpson, of Kilbarchan.)’
‘Time permitting, the whole membership of the Pageant will engage in a dance. This will give the spectators a moving spectacle of kaleidoscopic colour as the dancers in costumes of the different centuries wheel and intermingle’.
‘All the groups take up position on the small hill, Sanct Barchan dominating the picture, with Lilias in the centre. “Auld Lang Syne” will be sung, in which the audience are heartily invited to join’.
Key historical figures mentioned
Musical productionThere was a large choir, numbering 87 in total (44 sopranos, 17 contraltos, 11 tenors and 15 basses). Music was played by the Johnstone Silver Prize Band and the Newark Pipe Band. James Wright (words) and his brother Waugh Wright (music) composed a new song, ‘Lilias Day’, especially for the occasion. Other music included:
- Trad. arr. W.S. Roddie. Folk song, ‘Binnorie’.
- Ed.C. Purcell. ‘Passing By’ (Herrick).
- Waugh Wright. ‘Lilias Day’ (J.W. [i.e., James Wright]).
- Arr. J. Bell. ‘Duncan Gray’ (Burns).
- ‘Maggie Lauder’ (Francis Sempill of Beltrees).
- Trad. ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (Burns).
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 19 August 1933. Souvenir Programme. Kilbarchan, 1933. Price: 6d.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- The programmes for Lilias Day are in Paisley Central Library.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Mackenzie, Robert D. Kilbarchan: A Parish History. Paisley, 1902.
The Lilias Day celebrations in the old weaving village of Kilbarchan dated back to the early eighteenth century, when William Cunninghame of Craigends, chief magistrate of Kilbarchan, gave the name of his daughter Lilias to the Kilbarchan fair, apparently in 1704 when the village was raised in status to a burgh of barony. Lilias or Lily was a ‘winsome young woman’, born in 1691, and she featured in Episode VI of the 1933 pageant, which depicted the renaming of the old ‘heathen’ festival by her father.7 During the nineteenth century Lilias Day died out, before being revived in 1931, two years before the pageant. A number of groups and individuals were involved in this revival, the most important being the Kilbarchan General Society, founded in 1765, which at the time of its 250th anniversary in 2015 claimed to be ‘the oldest continuous operating charity in Scotland’.8
The revival of Lilias Day in 1931 took place in the context of a number of other developments that suggest a growing interest in local and national history during this period. The Glasgow Historical Pageant of 1928 depicted a number of episodes in the city’s history, involved 7000 performers and was seen by more than 100000 people, while the Scottish Historical Pageant at Craigmillar Castle a year earlier, seen by around half this number, showed scenes featuring late medieval Scottish monarchs. Closer to home, the Paisley Pageant of 1929 had depicted a number of national figures and their dealings with the town and abbey of Paisley. Other local events included the annual commemoration of William Wallace at Elderslie, his supposed birthplace, on the anniversary of his ‘martyrdom’, which had commenced in the 1920s.9 The Lilias Day parade on 22 August 1931—the first, apparently, for 55 years—was more parochial in ambition, depicting, for example, Reginald Craufurd, a kinsman of Wallace, but not Wallace himself. This parade was subsequently referred to as a ‘Historical Pageant’10 and included a number of important figures in the history of Kilbarchan such as William and Lilias Cunninghame, the sixteenth-century piper Habbie Simpson, and St Barchan himself, after whom the village is named. Habbie Simpson (1550–1620) is a particularly important figure in the history of Kilbarchan: the subject of a ‘lament’ by the poet Robert Sempill, Simpson is commemorated in a statue, originally erected in 1822 but replaced in 1932, on the side of Kilbarchan steeple. These figures were accompanied by various attendants dressed in historical costumes, and some representing particular ‘crafts’, including a blacksmith, a weaver, laundry maids, joiners and an eighteenth-century fire engine. More than 100 people took part in the procession, and it is this which evolved into the theatrical pageant that was presented in 1933.
Although the 1932 procession was less ambitious than that of 1931, the organisers of Lilias Day in 1933 planned to stage the ‘pageant display … on more comprehensive lines’.11 Local artist James Wright designed the ‘scenario’ and composed a song, ‘Lilias Day’, set to music by his brother Waugh Wright. The pageant, comprising seven episodes, was performed in dumb show in Kilbarchan Public Park, with proceeds going to the Royal Alexandra Infirmary in Paisley. Although the main performance was on Lilias Day itself, Saturday 19 August, there was a repeat, under floodlights, the following Tuesday. The pageant performers were organised into ‘groups’, along the lines of the 1931 parade, and they formed a procession, starting at 3pm on the Saturday, before beginning the performance at 4pm. The procession was led by the Johnstone Silver Prize Band and the Newark Pipe Band, with the choir—numbering more than 80—bringing up the rear. It began at Milliken Park at the east end of the village and marched through streets that were colourfully decorated with floral arches. The pageanteers stopped briefly at the war memorial, where St Barchan laid a wreath, and also at the steeple, where Habbie Simpson was ‘called’ down from his high-up position and, played by Donald Fraser, took his place in the procession with his wife Janet, played by Miss Elizabeth Fraser. ‘Many thousands’ lined the streets to see the procession.12
The theatrical part of the pageant took around two hours to perform and involved a cast of 260, ending with a ‘brilliant tableau’ on the small hill in Kilbarchan Public Park, with St Barchan at the top and Lilias Cunninghame in the middle. Most of the pageanteers were younger people.13 The scenes all depicted local history and characters closely connected with Kilbarchan itself. The most tenuous local link was with Robert I’s daughter Marjory Bruce (c.1296–1316), who, it was claimed, ‘knew the district, and maybe she received hospitality on a hunting expedition’.14 In any case, not a single character was depicted who has their own ‘person entry’ in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; this is very rare among historical pageants. Yet despite this very local focus, according to one later account the pageant, ‘in the opinion of many good judges, [was] the most artistic and satisfying work of the kind ever seen in Scotland’, and, if this seems a little exaggerated, the small community had good cause to congratulate itself on its efforts. Around a third of the population of Kilbarchan took part in the pageant,15 and many more times this figure saw it. Although there are no exact figures for 1933, it was estimated that 10000 saw the 1931 procession, and in 1934—when the pageant was performed again—some 12000 saw the Saturday afternoon performance with more than 6000 in attendance when it was repeated under floodlights, as also happened in 1933.16 It appears that an effort was made to attract visitors from Glasgow and other nearby towns, with additional trains and buses being laid on for the occasion.17
The pageant was presented as an activity that challenged widespread perceptions of the decline of rural communities.18 In his foreword to the souvenir programme, co-editor Cuthbert Lyle asked, in bold typeface, ‘How does this changing post-war twentieth century stand in relation to the days of yore?’ He quoted David Pride, historian of the nearby parish of Neilston, who wrote in 1910 (‘and time has sped on since then’) that:
rural conditions [in Renfrewshire] are silently but surely undergoing change. Public opinion is now so rapidly expanding that ere many decades pass, the simple customs, frugal habits and kindly manners that characterised the earlier and more primitive people will have largely passed away, giving place to more strenuous and exacting conditions.19
For the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, the pageant was both a local response to such conditions, while also reflecting aspects of the Scottish national character: ‘a happy, exuberant gesture illustrative of the good Scottish pride in a sound, healthy communal existence, which can be found in villages which have been able to preserve their identity despite the modern tendency to rural decay’.20 (On the same page, the paper noted that the Wallace commemoration would take place at Elderslie on 26 August, again linking the local with the national in terms of commemoration and ritual.) Elsewhere the paper declared that Kilbarchan had been inspired by ‘the awakening spirit of village patriotism’ and that it stood ‘in the van of the village improvement movement’.21 Lilias Day and its pageants were a revived or reinvented tradition that could serve a useful purpose in the challenging present.
There were some unfavourable reactions to the pageant, although the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette dismissed them peremptorily when reporting plans for the following year’s pageant. One spectator had claimed that the scenes were inaudible, which was hardly surprising as they were in mime! Another thought a more recent scene should have been performed, but the local correspondent felt that the wedding scene of 1860 with which the pageant ended was an appropriate finale, and it would be difficult to do anything more recent ‘in a way that would harmonise with the dignity of the previous scenes’.22 The pageant was staged again, with one additional scene, in 1934 (see entry for 1934 Kilbarchan Pageant), although it has not been performed in the same format since.
Lilias Day seems to have died out again after 1934, but it was revived in 1968 and continues today, with Lilias herself being represented by the ‘gala’s princess’. Habbie Simpson still ‘comes to life’ for the celebrations, but there is no equivalent of the historical pageants of the 1930s. In 2013, Lilias Day involved, among other things, a seven-a-side football match between two local primary schools, a series of stalls, a dog show and an ‘owl magic’ performance.23
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 28 July 1934, 5.
- Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 19 August 1933, Souvenir Programme (Kilbarchan, 1933), 40–48.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 28 July 1934, 5.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 29 August 1931, 5 and 25 August 1934, 5. A figure of 30000 for 1931 is given in the Scotsman, 16 August 1933, 7.
- Note that the original wooden statue had been replaced with a bronze one in 1932; see ‘The Steeple and Habbie Simpson’, accessed 14 March 2016, http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.butler19/page4/steeple/steeple.htm .
- The poet Robert Sempill wrote an elegy, The Life and Death of the Pyper of Kilbarchan, or, The Epitaph of Habbie Simpson, in c.1640, but it was not published until 1700. He was the son of the satirist Sir James Sempill; see Stephen Wright, ‘Sempill, Sir James (1566?–1626)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), accessed 6 January 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25073.
- Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 19 August 1933. Souvenir Programme (Kilbarchan, 1933), 3; Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 15 August 1931, 5.
- Kilbarchan General Society, accessed 6 January 2016, http://kilbarchangeneralsociety.org.uk/what-i-do/. For another account of the pageant, see Scotsman, 21 August 1933, 10.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 15 August 1931, 5.
- Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 18th, 21st, 25th August 1934, Souvenir Programme (Kilbarchan, 1934), 27. See also Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 3 September 1932, 5.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 19 August 1933, 4.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 26 August 1933, 4; Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 19 August 1933, 30–1 and 44.
- Most of the female members of the cast were ‘Miss’ rather than ‘Mrs’.
- Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 18th, 21st, 25th August 1934, 28. Marjorie [sic] Bruce is mentioned in G.W.S. Barrow, ‘Stewart family (per. c.1100–c.1350)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 6 January 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/49411/39581.
- The Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 28 July 1934, 5 reported that a third of the population took part in the 1934 pageant, and the numbers were similar in 1933.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 29 August 1931, 5; 25 August 1934, 5; and 1 September 1934, 6.
- Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 19 August 1933, 3.
- Valerie Wright has noted that the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes organised pageants in the interwar period, and these organisations were deeply concerned about rural depopulation and the decline of rural culture and industry. Valerie Wright, ‘Women’s Organisations and Feminism in Interwar Scotland’ (PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2008), 42.
- Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan, 19 August 1933, 27.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 26 August 1933, 4.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 12 August 1933, 4.
- Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 28 July 1934, 5.
- Daily Record, 31 May 2013, accessed 6 January 2016, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/kilbarchans-big-day-2536942.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Lilias Day Pageant: The Story of Kilbarchan’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1105/