The McAdam Centenary Pageant: the Romance of the Road

Other names

  • The Macadam Centenary Pageant: the Romance of the Road

Pageant type

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Place: Dam Park (Ayr) (Ayr, South Ayrshire, Scotland)

Year: 1936

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


20 June 1936, 3 pm and 7pm.1

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Conductor of Ayr Military Band: Mr A. M. Mackie
  • Properties Master: Mr W. Purdie
  • Dance Mistresses: Misses Moodie, Murdoch and McArthur
  • Ground Marshals: Messrs D.C. McMaster and J.C. Ballantyne
  • Ground Arrangement and Background: Mr J.A.M. Boyd
  • Architect: Mr Mair2

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Convenor: Dr J.B. Ritchie
  • Other Committee Members: Messrs: J.B. Young, David Murray, W.B. Strain, G. S. Barry. E. Cook, J. Young, A. Dunlop, T. O' Beirne, G. Blane, D.M. Donaldson, W. Dallas, J. Cameron, and P. Morrison


The original organising committee for this event was the Ayr Attractions Committee. This was the strategic arm of Ayr Guildry which aimed to improve facilities and create events to encourage tourism and commercial benefits within the town. A pageant sub-committee of the larger body was appointed to enable the pageant.

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

  • Cairns, J. Douglas

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Also a large number of horses.

Financial information

It is highly likely that this pageant lost money.

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

The centenary of the death of the engineer John Loudon McAdam.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 12000
  • Total audience: n/a


The Pageant of Ayrshire held in 1934 in the Dam Park had a stadium capacity of 12000; it is presumed that the existing stand in this ground (usually a sports field) was utilised for the McAdam Pageant, but it is not known whether the seating was as large as that put in place for the 1934 event.

There was a full dress rehearsal on Friday evening, 19th June 1936 but no note of whether an audience was in attendance in the newspaper article which mentions this.5 The pageant was linked to the crowning ceremony of the Queen of Bonnie Lasses and the Knight of Honest Men which took place on Saturday 20 June.6

The Glasgow Herald states that about 4000 people attended for the afternoon performance; however, this figure probably included the large crowds that turned out to watch the initial procession of the Queen and Knight.7 Certainly, this higher figure contrasts starkly with that given by the local press, which stated1200 attended for the afternoon performance and 'no more than 200' in the evening.8 The latter figures are more likely to be accurate.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

2s. 6d.–1s.

2s. 6d., 2s. and 1s. plus children at half-price.

Associated events

Held alongside the annual gala day celebrating the Queen of the Bonnie Lasses and Knight of Honest Men.

  • On Friday 30 October 1936, a memorial was unveiled in Ayr commemorating McAdam's achievements. The then Secretary of State for transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha, unveiled the memorial stone which stood in Wellington Square adjacent to the Town Council buildings. This associated event was organised by the Institution of Municipal & County Engineers and hosted by Ayr Burgh Council. A centenary memoir was also produced which was written by Ayr's County Surveyor, Mr G.S. Barry.

Pageant outline

Scene I. The Roman Road and Camp, 3rd or 4th Century

Roman soldiers are seen engaged in a variety of ‘athletic and military exercises, members of the Ayr Athletic Club giving an authentic note to the javelin and discus throwing, if scarcely succeeding in imparting conviction to the sword play. About the camp come the people of the country selling their wares and making friends with the invaders. Christian missionaries arrive, bringing a new rule of life.’11

An abbot played by a local Minister, the Rev. L.K. Mudie, heads the Christian missionaries. He delivers a sermon at the end of which a runner arrives bringing news that 'the Vikings had been sighted'.12

Scene II. The Pilgrim Way, 14th Century

The scene is one of medieval pilgrimage. As the Ayrshire Post reported in its coverage of the pageant, ‘A pilgrim train, combining the variety of character and life of which Chaucer has left us his immortal picture, passed across the arena. Beggars, mountebanks and Morris Dancers tumbled and tripped, and the monastic note suggestive of the fourteenth century was provided by a procession of monks and nuns led by an abbot.’13 In this episode, the clergy and nuns sing 'a Latin chant' and some of the procession are on horseback.14

Scene III. The Highway, Late 17th or Early 18th Century

A coach laden with passengers departs from in front of an inn; a highwayman then makes an entrance from behind a hedge and holds up the coach. He robs all of the passengers and makes off whereupon a company of soldiers suddenly appears and gives chase to the robber. This scene was played by members of the Ayr Amateur Players.15

Scene IV. The Turnpike Road, Early 19th Century

The Provost presents McAdam with the freedom of the Burgh of Ayr. This ceremony takes place in front of a turnpike gate and members of the Town Council and town magistrates are in attendance. The Provost makes a speech and McAdam replies to this. Looking on are ‘gentry, common folk and sturdy beggars.’16

Scene V. Procession of Vehicles, Late 19th and 20th Centuries

This episode consists of a procession of vehicles from the preceding 300 years; including ‘the Bute coach which is in an excellent state of preservation… followed by a stage coach of 80 years old, a family ‘bus, a waggonette, a carriage and pair, a brougham, a brilliantly coloured hansom cab, a “growler”, a victoria [sic] and a governess car, all drawn by beautiful specimens of horse flesh’.17 A large cavalcade of more modern vehicles follows this including vans, cars and buses as well as motor cycles and push bikes, including a Penny Farthing.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • McAdam, John Loudon (1756–1836) builder and administrator of roads

Musical production

The Ayr Pipe band played and Ayr Military Band.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Ayrshire Post
Ayr Advertiser
Glasgow Herald

Book of words


A pageant book is mentioned in local newspaper articles but this item has not been recovered, although it is clear that a script was produced.18

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Chaucer. Pilgrims Progress.19


Following the triumph of the Ayrshire pageant of 1934, the Ayr Attractions Committee decided in March 1936 that it would celebrate the centenary year of the death of a favoured local son with another pageant. John McAdam had been born in the town and was educated there; he did much of his initial experimentation in road engineering while he was serving as deputy lieutenant of the county. The Attractions Committee had earlier, in 1933, initiated an annual gala day in Ayr in which a schoolgirl was crowned ‘Queen of the Bonnie Lasses’ and a schoolboy dubbed ‘Knight of the Honest Men’ of the town. Ayr perhaps felt the want of such a summertime attraction, as similar galas were then common in many towns across Scotland. However, in only its second year, this ceremony was suspended because of the large-scale Pageant of Ayrshire. It was reinstated once again in 1935; in 1936, the Committee decided to have the smaller scale McAdam pageant in combination with the gala. In order to do this however, they moved the location of the gala from its previous spot on the Low Green, a wide expanse of grass adjacent to the seafront promenade in Ayr, to the site of the 1934 pageant in the Dam Park.20

On the day, the plan put in place was that the proposed Queen and Knight (Margaret Leggat and Robert Bryson Murray) should process from their school on horseback to the pageant arena which was roughly a mile away; the crowning took place on their arrival at the Dam Park and this ceremony was undertaken by the Countess of Glasgow. The pageant was enacted immediately following this. However, while the weather was excellent and the procession, described as ‘a striking and colourful display’ was very well attended, ‘it did not entice onlookers to enter the park.’21 In moving the gala and combining it with a pageant, an event that had previously been free to the public then became ticketed. Perhaps for this reason, it was not well attended despite modest ticket prices, being far from full in the afternoon and ‘miserably supported’ at the evening performance.22 The Scotsman newspaper remarked that many of the crowd who did attend in the afternoon were holidaymakers.23 Certainly, the pageant is little remembered in Ayr and no copy of the pageant book has been recovered to date. The financial loss that doubtless ensued may have encouraged this amnesia.

Yet from press descriptions of the event, it did provide spectacle, and had some of the hallmarks of classic pageantry including a scene centred on the Romans. The final scene showed a large number of antique vehicles, many drawn by horses, and was in all likelihood an impressive display. Although it is probable that there was not a surfeit of dialogue in the pageant, there was amplification, which effectively conveyed live music played by the Pipe Band and Ayr Military Band. Effort had also been made to decorate the arena, which displayed many exhibits, including ‘two old milestones, a fingerpost, a mounting block, a toll house, old village inn signs, stocks and booths and an old viameter…’24 Moreover, all took place under a ‘cloudless sky’ with the park looking its best.25 Quite aside from the economic depression at large in 1936 that may have discouraged people from paying to attend, the thematic element of the pageant perhaps underwhelmed. Following on from the effusive celebration of Scottish and local history that had taken place in the 1934 pageant, the subject-matter here was maybe insufficiently patriotic and parochial in its approach, despite McAdam’s Ayrshire roots. One local paper was critical of the context of the scenes and asserted that ‘there was uncertainty as to whether the occasions we were witnessing were in England or Scotland. It would have been possible to have preserved the Scottish scene without loss of historical truth.’26 On the other hand, the same paper also grudgingly congratulated the pageant organisers on putting in a lot of effort in a relatively short period of time. However, in doing so, there is a suggestion that after the huge exertions that went into the 1934 event and the success of this, to hold another pageant only two years later was overambitious:

In another decade we may show scant regard for today’s triumphs, and in that way we shall come to possess the stuff of another pageant, if the Ayr Attractions Committee can... go on laying the foundations of civic pride in the quality of the entertainment provided for visitors—and for townspeople.27

This message evidently was heeded and it would be 1952 before another centenary occasion prompted Ayr pageant enthusiasts to put on a pageant again.


  1. ^ Advertisement, Ayr Advertiser, 18 June 1936, 1.
  2. ^ Personnel outlined in 'The Macadam Pageant: Interesting Spectacle', Ayr Advertiser, 25 June 1936, 9.
  3. ^ Ayr Advertiser, 25 June 1936, 9.
  4. ^ ‘M’Adam Centenary: The History of the Highway’, Scotsman, 22 June 1936, 9.
  5. ^ 'The Macadam Pageant: Interesting Spectacle', Ayr Advertiser, 25 June 1936, 9.
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ ‘Macadam Pageant at Ayr’, The Glasgow Herald, 22 June 1936, 9.
  8. ^ 'The Macadam Pageant: Interesting Spectacle', Ayr Advertiser, 25 June 1936, 9.
  9. ^ John Loudon Macadam 1756-1836: Centenary Celebrations at Ayr, Organised by The Institution of Municipal and County Engineers (London, 1936); Barry's writing on Macadam is included in this souvenir programme. Available in NLS. Shelfmark: 5.755.
  10. ^ See ‘M’Adam Centenary’, Scotsman, 22 June 1936, 9 and ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, Ayrshire Post, 26 June 1936, 8.
  11. ^ Described in ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, the Ayrshire Post, 26 June 1936, 8.
  12. ^ 'The Macadam Pageant: Interesting Spectacle', Ayr Advertiser, 25 June 1936, 9.
  13. ^ ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, Ayrshire Post, 26 June 1936, 8.
  14. ^ 'The Macadam Pageant: Interesting Spectacle', Ayr Advertiser, 25 June 1936, 9.
  15. ^ 'The Macadam Pageant: Interesting Spectacle', Ayr Advertiser ,25 June 1936, 9.
  16. ^ ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, Ayrshire Post, 26 June 1936, 8.
  17. ^ ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, Ayrshire Post, 26 June 1936, 8. The coach was loaned by the Marquis of Bute.
  18. ^ Mentioned in both the Ayrshire Post and the Ayr Advertiser.
  19. ^ This is alluded to in The Scotsman’s review of the event, see ‘M’Adam Centenary: The History of the Highway’, The Scotsman, 22 June 1936, 9.
  20. ^ ‘An Ayr Pageant: Suggestions for Macadam Centenary’, Ayrshire Post, 6 March 1936, 8.
  21. ^ ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, Ayrshire Post, 26 June 1936, 8.
  22. ^ ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, 8.
  23. ^ ‘M’Adam Centenary: The History of the Highway’, Scotsman, 22 June 1936, 9.
  24. ^ ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, 8.
  25. ^ ‘M’Adam Centenary: The History of the Highway’, Scotsman, 22 June 1936, 9.
  26. ^ ‘M’Adam Centenary: The History of the Highway’, Scotsman, 22 June 1936, 9.
  27. ^ ‘Pageant of the Road: Celebration of John Loudon Macadam’, Ayrshire Post, 26 June 1936, 8.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The McAdam Centenary Pageant: the Romance of the Road’, The Redress of the Past,