Pageant of the History of Aberdeen

Pageant type


<p>The pageant was organised by the Northern Arts Club.</p>

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Place: Union Hall (Aberdeen) (Aberdeen, Aberdeen City, Scotland)

Year: 1908

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 3


2, 3 and4 April 1908, at 7.45pm

There was a full dress rehearsal on the evening of Wednesday 1 April 1908.2 There is no record of an audience being admitted to this rehearsal.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Davidson, George
  • Stage Manager: James A.H. Hector3


George Davidson arranged the tableaux vivants4

Brief information about the arranger of the tableaux is handwritten on the back of a souvenir image of the pageant. George Davidson is there described as an artist in Aberdeen. Dates are given as 'c.1875–1912'.5 He was also a member of the Club's committee.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

There may have been a specific committee in charge of the pageant but this has not been recorded in press reports. However, the Committee of the Northern Arts Club itself in 1908 was as follows, it is clear that at least some of these individuals were involved with pageant organisation:

  • President: Thomas Fotheringham
  • Vice-President: James A.H. Hector, Aberdeen School of Design
  • Secretary and Treasurer: Samuel Pope, Solicitor
  • Other members:
  • John M. Aitken, artist
  • George Davidson, artist
  • R. Buchanan Morton, teacher of music
  • Ralph Hay; A.M. Richardson
  • Peter Smith, Robert Gordon's College
  • Miss Mollison, Mrs Hector and Madame Christen

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

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Probably over 50, including men, women and children. 124 characters were represented in the pageant. It is likely that some performers took more than one role. No details of the musical programme for the final performance have been recovered.

Financial information

The pageant made a profit of £17.8

Object of any funds raised

Funds of the Northern Arts Club.


The Northern Arts Club, a private members’ institution, was established in 1907. It is still in existence.9 Profits from the pageant were to be used to fund 'the fitting up and furnishing of the club's new premises at 1 Bon Accord Terrace'.10

Linked occasion


Audience information

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


Large audiences were described in the local press but exact figures have not been recovered.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


3s. (reserved seats), 2s., and 1s.11

Associated events


Pageant outline

Scene I. Caledonians Watching the Advance of the Roman Legions under Agricola on Devanha

In the image recovered of this tableaux, a group of men and women are seen; some are seated, while others are standing beside a tree. The men are bearded. One woman is facing away from the group and whatever they are watching, and she appears to be calling out. The remainder of the group are looking out across a painted vista of hills and staring into the distance. One man holds an axe in his hand. The local press hinted that the scene was not particularly authentic and stated that 'there is less of the historical element and more of the traditional element' in the tableau.13

Scene II. Retaking of the Castle of Aberdeen by the Citizens from the Troops of Edward II

This is a battle scene; the citizens carry pikes and two soldiers are wearing armour and wielding large swords. The painted background to this scene is an image of the castle.

Scene III. Return of the Citizens from the Battle of Harlaw Bringing the Body of Provost Davidson

This is a procession of people; some of the men are carrying a stretcher on which is the body of the Provost of Aberdeen. Some of the men carry weapons. The background is of medieval buildings. The clothing worn is very plain: the women are wearing plain headscarves and floor-length gowns, the men are in tunics and leggings.

Scene IV. Margaret, Eldest Daughter of Henry VII of England and Queen of James IV being Received as the Guest of the City

The background for this tableau is of tall buildings. Margaret and an entourage of ladies and pages are seen standing under a canopy. In front of her, dignitaries wait to greet her. Two women in the foreground appear to be playing tambours and may be dancing. Margaret is wearing an elaborate gown in the Tudor style. Former Aberdeen city councillors (George Reid and W.D. Watson) played two of the party who greeted her.14

Scene V. Burial of the Bishop of Elphinstone in Kings College Chapel before the High Altar

The image recovered of this tableau is dark and the background is unclear. It is presumed that this would have been part of the chapel interior. Of the people taking part, there are hooded monks and a number of clergy wearing mitres.

Scene VI. Queen Mary Compelled to Witness the Execution of Sir John Gordon, Son of the Earl of Huntly, from a Window in a House in Castle Street

There are two separate surviving images for this tableau. In each, the background is of a domestic interior and a window with the shutters open at the centre of this. A group look towards the window; one woman is seated but all the others stand. Two men flank the window. In the first of the images, Mary stands between the men and her head is turned away from the window as others look on. In the other, she has moved slightly back from the window and she looks upwards; the group are now all looking at her.

Scene VII. James VI and his Court on a Visit to Aberdeen Engage in Archery at Castlehill Butts

In this, the King is seen with an archery bow aiming at a target in the distance. Richly dressed courtiers including one woman seated on a chair surround him and another seated on the ground who is holding what seems to be a posy of flowers. The ensemble includes young boys dressed as pages. Some of the group look on; others are looking away from the target which is painted onto an outdoor landscape in the classical style with hills in the distance. On the right of the vista is an outlook tower.

Scene VIII. Alarm of Spanish Invasion. Citizens Watching from the Blackhouse the Appearance of the Spanish Fleet

In this, the background shows a seascape and several sailing ships on the horizon. A group of men, women and young boys look out from a rocky landscape. One figure is emerging from further down the rock face.

Scene IX. Montrose Sits to Jameson for his Portrait,

The painted background for this tableau vivant is the interior of an artist's studio. There are paintings on the walls and stacked on the floor. The artist is in front of an easel, paintbrush in hand. The subject, Montrose, is standing posed in front of this. This central scene is before a painted window on the right of the scene. Also included are two women seated behind the artist—they are examining canvases. A servant is on the left of the scene.

Scene X. Duchess of Gordon Recruiting for the Gordon Highlanders

The painted background for this tableau is of a street scene. There is snow on the ground and on the roofs of buildings. People and a horse are painted within. The performers include the Duchess who is dressed in military style garb (a jacket with an epaulet from which there is a tartan scarf pinned, a hat in the style of this regiment and a long skirt). She is posed with one hand on her hip and the other raised in a gesture of encouragement. Before her is a queue of men and boys; at the end of this, a woman is pulling on the jacket of a man as if to deter him. In the extreme left is a soldier of the regiment.

Scene XI. 'Symbolical'

This scene was called 'a Homage to Bon Accord' in the local press.15 The statuesque figure of a woman, dressed in a flowing white robe and wearing a crown, is at the centre of this piece. On either side of the central figure, who is standing on a dais, are two women seated; these also wear flowing robes and crowns. Around this trio is a large group of performers. Some are carrying flags and others playing trumpets. Two men kneel on either side of the dais. The painted background is faint but is of a grand building (perhaps the Houses of Parliament).

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Julius Agricola, Gnaeus [known as Agricola] (AD 40–93) Roman governor of Britain
  • Margaret [Margaret Tudor] (1489–1541) queen of Scots, consort of James IV
  • Elphinstone, William (1431–1514) administrator, bishop of Aberdeen, and founder of the University of Aberdeen
  • Mary [Mary Stewart] (1542–1587) queen of Scots
  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
  • Graham, James, first marquess of Montrose (1612–1650) royalist army officer
  • Jamesone, George (1589/90–1644) portrait painter
  • Gordon [née Maxwell], Jane, duchess of Gordon (1748/9–1812) political hostess and agricultural reformer

Musical production

The music was played live in the intervals between each presentation of the tableaux. There was a 15-piece orchestra. There were also vocal performances, a solo piano piece (unnamed), a piano duet, a violin solo and four unnamed pieces for a string quartet included with different pieces played or sung at each performance.

The musical programme changed for each performance of the pageant. Different individuals arranged each programme.

On Thursday 2 April, Mr R. Buchanan Morton arranged the music; this included solo vocal performances of traditional ballads and some songs written by Robert Burns:
  • ‘My Love is like a Red, Red Rose’.
  • ‘Oh Nannie wilt thy Gang wi' me’ (sung by Miss Dora Downie Leslie).
  • ‘The Bonnie Earl o' Moray'.
  • ‘The Spinning Wheel’ (sung by Miss Joan Anderson Rae).
  • ‘The Weaving Song’.
  • ‘My Heart is Sair’ (sung by Miss Bartlett).
  • ‘The Ballad of Harlaw’ (sung by Mr John Cooper).
  • ‘A Hundred Pipers’.
  • ‘Of 'a the Airts’ (sung by Mr J. Mackenzie Forbes).

On Friday 3 April arrangement was by Mr A.M.S. Richardson; this programme was listed as including the following:
  • Flute solo: ‘Romance’ by Saint Saens (played by Mr Bernard Allaway).
  • Three songs: ‘Wiegenlied’ by Brahms; ‘I Know of Two Bright Eyes’ by Clutsam; and ‘Si vous n'avez rien a me dire’ by Rothschild (all sung by Herr Hanus Lasek).
  • Vocal duet: ‘Venetian Song’ by Tosti (sung by Misses Nellie and Nora Atkins).
  • Piano solos: ‘Berceuse’ and ‘Wedding Day in Troldhangen’ by Grieg (played by Herr L. Pokorny).
  • Vocal solos: ‘Le Printemps’ by Gounod, ‘Du hast was liebes in den Angen’ by Galliero; and ‘Das Lied vom sussen Madel’ by Reynhardt [sic – i.e. Heinrich Reinhardt] (sung by Herr H. Lasek).
  • Violin solos: ‘Souvenir’ by Drdla; and ‘Kuiawiak’ by Wieniawski (played by Mr J.M. Riach).
  • Flute solo: ‘Ungarische Fantasie’ by Bruckner (played by Mr Bernard Allaway).
  • Vocal duet: ‘Across the Still Lagoon’ by Logl [sic – i.e. Henri LogeÌ] (sung by Misses Nellie and Nora Atkins).
At the final performance on Saturday 4 April, Mr J.M. Nisbet was the musical arranger.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Aberdeen Press and Journal

Book of words


Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • The only recovered documents are photographs of the pageant held in Aberdeen University's Special Collections. MS 2631.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Northern Arts Club was founded in 1907. Its aims were to bring together 'for mutual benefit' people involved with artistic pursuits, including 'designers, apprentice architects, lithographers, sculptors, stonecutters, wood-cutters, and art students generally'.20 Membership provided studio space and a convivial social meeting place. The club's first premises were in the main thoroughfare of Union Street, Aberdeen, but they quickly outgrew these. This indicates that, although this was a fairly late blossoming of the arts and crafts movement in Scotland, which had flourished years earlier in the cities of the central belt, there was also a considerable groundswell of interest within Scotland's most northern city by this time. From its inception, the club had a membership that included women.

The pageant was essentially a fundraiser to provide money for the kitting out of new rented club rooms at 1 Bon Accord Terrace. Although this Aberdeen event came almost three years after Parker's triumph at Sherborne and the birth of modern historical pageantry, this was really a pageant in a much older tradition involving elaborate tableaux vivants. In part, this must have reflected the skills of the membership who were responsible for producing eleven separate hand-painted backdrops and whose 'lady members' made 'two-thirds' of the costumes.21 However, it also demonstrates how historical pageantry as a movement had a much slower transition to Scotland.

Club members also performed in the pageant, representing figures from history who were artistically arranged in front of the painted backgrounds. It is clear from photographic evidence that the actors were active as well as striking particular poses. However, there is no indication that any dialogue took place. Instead, music created the appropriate atmosphere and there was a small orchestra playing live, as well as a variety of soloists on violin and piano, and vocal accompaniments for some pieces. The pageant took place in the city's Union Halls; this was a large concert hall, which, at the time, likely held well over 1000 seats.

The tableaux included moved in the traditional way from pre-history to the eighteenth century. They mostly depicted famous figures who are significant to the north east of Scotland and Aberdeen in particular, but this included some nationally important aristocratic individuals and monarchs such as the Marquis of Montrose and James VI. Also, there was the perennial pageant favourite of Mary Queen of Scots, who was shown in typically tragic mode witnessing the execution of a local noble who had rebelled against her. A novel feature of the tableaux chosen is that of the eleven, four were centred on women. In addition to Mary Stuart, Queen Margaret was also the subject of one scene; and the penultimate tableau showed the famous society and political hostess, the Duchess of Gordon, recruiting for a new highland regiment on her husband's estates when she was supposed to have offered the King's shilling from between her lips. The final tableau was an allegorical scene and featured a statuesque woman meant to represent the city's motto: 'Bon Accord'. 22

The pageant was generally well received and praised for the degree of effort and detail put into the backcloths, arrangements of performers and the musical programme. A local Councillor by the name of Dunn and his son took photographs of the event at the dress rehearsals using the new technique of 'lime flashlight'.23 Surviving examples of these images show that the Club did indeed put all their artistic efforts into this pageant. In return, it made a profit of £17, not a great deal considering the level of voluntary effort involved, but this was likely a show where the making of the pageant was really its own reward. It raised the profile of the Club and the skills of its members within Aberdeen, at least. It does not appear to have been widely publicised elsewhere.


  1. ^ 'Northern Arts Club: Successful Pageant’, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  2. ^ 'Northern Arts Club: Tonight's Pageant', Aberdeen Press and Journal, 2 April 1908, 4.
  3. ^ Aberdeen Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  4. ^ This information is recorded in manuscript on the rear of one of the images of the pageant held by the University of Aberdeen Special Collections.
  5. ^ Images are held in Special Collections at Aberdeen University Library. MS 2631. The image is a black and white photograph of a tableau that depicts Caledonians watching the advance of the Roman legions under Agricola. There are twelve images in the collection.
  6. ^ 'Northern Arts Club: Annual Meeting’, Aberdeen Journal, 1 June 1908, 6.
  7. ^ 'Northern Arts Club: The Forthcoming Tableaux', Aberdeen Journal, 26 March 1908, 6.
  8. ^ 'Northern Arts Club: Annual Meeting’, Aberdeen Journal, 1 June 1908, 6.
  9. ^ See the Club's website, accessed 7 November 2014,!history/c13d6.
  10. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  11. ^ Advertisement, Aberdeen Journal, 4 April 1908, 1.
  12. ^ The scenes were presented as tableaux vivants. Surviving evidence of the compositions is supplied within photographs taken of the tableaux.
  13. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  14. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  15. ^ Aberdeen Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  16. ^ Aberdeen Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  17. ^ Aberdeen Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  18. ^ 'Northern Arts Club', Aberdeen Journal, 4 April 1908, 4.
  19. ^ 'Northern Arts Club: Tonight's Pageant', Aberdeen Journal, 2 April 1908, 4.
  20. ^ 'Proposed Aberdeen Historic Pageant', Aberdeen Journal, 3 March 1908, 3.
  21. ^ The remainder of the costumes came from a theatrical costumiers in Liverpool; see Aberdeen Journal, 26 March 1908, 6.
  22. ^ Aberdeen Journal, 3 April 1908, 4.
  23. ^ Aberdeen Journal, 2 April 1908, 4.

How to cite this entry

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