Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant
Place: Nottingham Ice Stadium (Nottingham) (Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England)
Number of performances: 12
27 June–8 July 1949
Original run: 27 June–6 July 1949, 7.15pm.
Extended run: 7–8 July 19492
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer: Heath Joyce
- Script: Dr L. du Garde Peach
- Music: William Summers
- Assistant to Producer: G.L.S. Batty
- Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs A. Lancaster
- Costume-Making Supervision: Mrs E. Birkett; Mrs E.E. MacDowell; Mrs B.M. Smith
- Make-up Supervision: Mrs W.M. Noon; Mrs F.N. Gardner; W. Lloyd; P. Guest; Mrs Veisey
- Crowd Controller: D. Woodburn
- Stage Manager: H. Allison (plus 6 male staff)
- Chief Electrician: J.A. Wise (plus 12 male staff)
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: W.C. Boswell
- Vice-Chairman: G.R. Herrick
- Hon. Secretary: W.J. Spencer
- Financial Secretary: T. Broadley
- Choral Organiser: G.C.A. Austin
- Costumes: J.W. Chambers
- Choral Organiser: R.H. Cooper:
- Education Musical Adviser: N.S. Cox
- Drama Adviser: L.C. Crutchley
- E.M. Durham, Rotary Club
- Duncan Gray, City Librarian
- Andre Van Gyseghem, Producer Nottingham Playhouse
- F.G. James, Trades Council
- H. Lawson, Deputy Chief Engineer
- F. Lloyd, Arts Council
- R. Master, Manager Nottingham Playhouse
- A.C. McMeeking, Costumes
- Professor L.V.D. Owen, Nottingham University
- R. Sanders, Ice Stadium
- J. Stoddart, Drama Organiser
- Miss E.H. Tilley, Operatic Society
- S.H. Turner, City Business Club
- E.S. Warth, Pageant Marshal Organiser
- H. Willatt, People’s Theatre
- Dr A.C. Wood, Nottingham University
- Organising Secretary: J. Culley
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Peach, Lawrence Du Garde
Names of composers
- Summers, William
- Herbert, A.P
- Reynolds, Alfred
- Todd, W.V.
Numbers of performers700
Men, women, children.
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasion500-year anniversary of the charter of King Henry VI that separated Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, thus confirming its independence, and granted two Sheriffs to replace two bailiffs.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 4000
- Total audience: 40000
A capacity audience of 4000 saw the opening performance and, since there were 12 performances and a total attendance of 40000, attendances must have remained high.3
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
7s. 6d.–1s. 6d.
7s. 6d., 5s., 3s. 6d., 2s. 6d., 1s. 6d.
Associated eventsEvents included:
Civic reception at the Council House (Tuesday 28 June 1949, 6pm).
- Dr A.C. Wood.‘The History of Nottingham’. University of Nottingham (21 June, 7.30pm).
- Professor K.C. Edwards. ‘Nottingham as a Centre of Transport and Communications’. Technical College, Shakespeare Street (22 June, 7.30pm).
- Professor Thomas Bodkin. ‘Bonnington, the Artist’. University of Nottingham, Highfields (24 June 7.30pm).
Local Government Exhibition, Broad Marsh, Canaan Street Chapel Premises (27 June–2 July, 10am-9pm). An exhibition of models, photographs and other features showing how the City is provided with public services of all kinds. Each department of the Corporation shows examples illustrating its own work. Entrance: 6d. Organised parties of School Children free.
Art Exhibition, The Castle, Nottingham (27 June–2 July). Two exhibitions in one: 1) Artists now living in and around Nottingham; 2) Distinguished living artists native to Nottingham and Notts. Nottingham Art of the Past—Medieval alabaster, pottery, and paintings by the Sandby brothers and Bonington, etc.—will be illustrated by items from the permanent collection. Entrance: Free, except on Wednesday 29 June, see Mediaeval Fair, admission 1s. and Thursday 30 June grounds closed all day.
Historical Exhibition, The Guildhall, Burton Street (27 June–2 July, 10am – 9pm). Display of the historical treasures of the City of Nottingham; original charters granted to the City by the Sovereigns of England; manuscript records of the Corporation’s activities during eight centuries; the regalia of the Lord Mayor and Sheriff, and the Corporation silver and plate. Admission Free.
River Carnival, Victoria Embankment, River Trent (27 June–2 July).
Grand Gala Opening (27 June, 3pm)
Aqua Theatre Show: Roy Fransen’s Aquatic Troupe of stars in spectacular swimming displays, water ballet from an Aqua Theatre on the River Trent, supported by local swimmers.
High Diving Act from the Suspension Bridge (10.30pm)
Admission to enclosure for Aqua Show, near Suspension Bridge 1s., remainder free, (27 June–2 July)
Magnificent illuminations every night (27 June–2 July, 10.30pm)
Open-Air Dancing every night to Basil Halliday’s Band (27 June–2 July, 10.45 pm)
Events on specific days:
- Monday 27 June: Venetian Fete and Parade of Decorated Boats, Surf Boat Riding, Display of Model Yacht Racing (7pm)
- Tuesday 28 June: Gala Parade of Boats, Surf Boat Riding (afternoon and 7pm)
- Wednesday 29 June: Motor Boat Racing by Lowestoft and Oulton Broad, Motor Boat Club (2pm and 6pm), Canoe Racing, Comedy Obstacle Racing, Surf Boat Riding (7pm)
- Thursday 30 June: Scratch fours boat racing, Grand Sea Cadet Show and Display, Afternoon and Evening
- Friday 1 July: Surf Boat Riding (7pm)
- Saturday 2 July: Scratch Fours Boat Racing, Canoe Racing and Display, Comedy Obstacle Races (afternoon and evening); Surf Boat Riding, Venetian Fete and Parade of Decorated Boats (7pm); Grand Fireworks Display, (10.45pm)
- Monday 27 June to Saturday 2 July. Bands of the Royal Marines, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards and other Bands will play in the various parks. Charges of admission to enclosure at Military band concerts—2d. Charges of admission to enclosure at Combined and Massed Band performances—6d. Special combined and massed band concerts. Cricket Knock-out Competitions in various parks. Children’s Entertainments will take place in various Parks. Open air dancing in various parks, as set out in the day to day programme.
- Monday 27 June—Nottingham Forest. Bowls—The Charles Smart Coronation Trophy Ladies’ Singles Competition (2.45pm)
- Tuesday 28 June—Nottingham Forest. Bowls Match, E.B.A V N.C.B.A. (3pm)
- Wednesday 29 June—Nottingham Forest. Great Open Bowls Drive (6pm); Cricket—Comedy Costume Match (6pm)
- Thursday 30 June—Nottingham Forest. Bowls—Ladies v Gentlemen (3pm); Rugby Football Costume Match and Demonstration (7.30pm)
- Thursday 30 June—Trent Bridge Cricket Ground—J. Arthur Rank’s Stars XI v Notts. Cricket Association XI (2.30pm). Usual charge of admission.
- Friday 1 July—Nottingham Forest. Second Great Open Bowls Drive (6pm)
- Friday 1 July—Victoria Embankment. Grass Track Cycle Racing, Old Time (Penny Farthing) Races, 3 mile Point to Point Racing (7.30pm)
- Saturday, 2 July—Victoria Embankment. Archery—Novelty Shooting, Open Archery Competition for Sheriff’s Arrow (2pm)
- Saturday, 2 July—Nottingham Forest—Athletic Meeting—Track and Field Events (2.30pm-5.30pm) Massed Start Cycle Racing—Leading Riders in the Country (2.30pm), Bowls—Sir Jesse Boot Shield Competition (2.45pm)
- Saturday, 2 July—University Park, Highfields—Men’s Tennis Tournaments—Notts v Northants (3pm)
- Arboretum—The Massed Bands of Irish Guards, Welsh Guards and Royal Marines (7pm)
- Illuminations and Firework Displays
Firework displays, Saturday, 2 July at 10.30pm, University Park, Highfields, Victoria Embankment, Woodthorpe Grange Park
Swimming and Other Events
- Bulwell Lido, Monday 27 June, 7pm
- Carrington Lido, Tuesday 28 June, 7pm
- Highfields Lido, Wednesday 29, June 7pm
- Aqua Sports. Visit of Dutch Champion Swimmers, Water Polo Matches, Swimming and Life-Saving Exhibitions and County Swimming Championships
- Bulwell Lido, Thursday 30 June, 3pm
- Baby Show—Open Competition
- Aquatic Sports, 7pm
- Visit of Dutch Champion Swimmers, Water Polo Matches, Swimming and Life-Saving Exhibitions and County Swimming Championships
- Highfields Lido, Saturday 2 July, 3pm
- Aquatic Sports
- Swimming and Water Polo, Dutch Champions v Plaistow—English Champions, Swimming and Life-Saving Exhibitions, Bathing Beauty Competition.
- 7pm—North Midlands v The Leeds Leander
- Swimming Exhibition by Tom Blower
- County Swimming Championships
- Admission to Lidos: Adults—1s; Children under 15—6d.
- Nottingham Forest, Tuesday 28 June, 2.30–4.30pm: Primary School Sports—Procession of competitors, each school headed by school banner. Finals of the various athletic events, displays of agility movements and displays of English Country Dances, and also of a selection of Peasant and other types of Continental Dances.
- Nottingham Forest, Tuesday 28 June, 7.15pm: Youth sports under the aegis of the Standing Conference of Voluntary Youth Organisations and the City of Nottingham Education Committee, comprising track and field events.
- Nottingham Forest, Tuesday 30 June, 2.30–4.30pm: Secondary School Sports—Finals of Athletic Events open to all City Secondary Schools. Relay Race—Grammar Schools, County and City, Massed display of National Dances, approximately 500 girls in costume taking part. Massed demonstration of 400 boys—gymnastics and vaulting.
- Nottingham Forest. Friday 1 July, 7.15–9.15pm: Youth Demonstration—Demonstration of vaulting and agility. Camping, pioneering, Basket Ball, Netball, Games through the Ages, P.T., Country Dancing, etc.
- The Albert Hall, Derby Road, Wednesday 29 June, 7 p.m.: Music and Dramatic Items by Secondary School children. Special script composed and arranged by teachers featuring 500 years of song, dance and mime. 'There will be a massed choir of 450 voices and verse speaking choirs. Variety will be obtained by Dances in costume. The theme will be presented by specially selected narrators from the schools.'
- The Albert Hall, Derby Road, Thursday 30 June, 7 pm: Musical and Dramatic items by Primary School children featuring incidents in the life of Robin Hood under the title of ‘Under the Greenwood Tree.’ Period dresses will be used throughout the individual items. There will be a massed choir of 450 voices, choral verse speaking choirs, King’s musicians, Queen’s dancers, Ballet and Morris Dancers, King’s Tumblers (P.T. display). Admission to Albert Hall, 1s. 6d., 2s. 6d. Children under 15 half price.
- A Parade of Fashion through the Ages
- Folk Dancing
- Dancing Display by the students and pupils of the Nancy Clarke School of Dancing.
- Dancing Display by the Hanford and Richards School of Dancing
- Maypole Dancing
- Punch and Judy Show
- Side Shows
- Exhibition of Handicrafts
- Public Dancing in the evening
- The Albert Hall Derby Road, Monday 27 June, 7pm: Concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra—Pianoforte Concerto—Soloist, Loudon Merry. First performance of the ‘Nottingham Symphony,’ especially commissioned by the Nottingham Co-Operative Society Limited, composed by Alan Bush and conducted by David Ellenberg (Musical Director, Co-Operative Arts Centre. Presentation to the City of Nottingham of the original manuscript.
- Tuesday 28 June, 2.45pm. Special concert for school children only by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Violin Concerto—Soloist, Ivry Gitlis.
- Tuesday 28 June, 7pm. Concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra—Violin Concerto—Soloist, Ivry Gitlis
- Choral Concert, Co-Operative Arts Centre
- The People’s Theatre, George Street, 1 July and 2 July, 7.30pm—Programme of ‘500 Years of Song’ staged by Co-operative Arts Centre, Choir and Soloists. Conductor—David Ellenberg. Producer and Narrator—Hugh Willatt. Script—Diana Ellenberg. Admission 2s.
- 500 Years of Church Music: St. Mary’s Church, Sunday 3 July, 6.30pm—Presentation of 500 years of Church Music by the St. Mary’s Church Choir at 6.30pm. Organist Mr H.O. Hodgson
Garden Party at Nottingham Castle on 6 August 1949—for those ladies and gentlemen who gave their services in a voluntary capacity during the quincentenary celebrations—including sound and film recordings of the celebrations and a programme of music by the Nottingham City Police Miltiary Band.
Scene I. Viking, 850 AD
The arrival of the Danes.
Scene II. Saxons, 920 AD
The scene shows the famous Trent Bridge, built by Edward the Elder, a ballet of the River Trent, and presents humorously the first attempt to collect tolls from unwilling townspeople.
Scene III. Story of the Church
This scene covers the early history of the church from the middle of the seventh century, and Diuma, one of the Irish bishops from the North, had taken charge of his vast diocese of Mercia. Diuma is depicted founding churches, one of which was no doubt the humble building which later became the splendid St. Mary in Nottingham.
Scene IV. Norman, 1066 AD
The coming of the Normans. The scene portrays the alarm in Nottingham arising from two invasions, one from the North, the other from the South; the building of Nottingham Castle; the foundation of Lenton Priory; and culminates in a great country fair.
Scene V. Robin Hood, 1194 AD
In this scene Robin Hood meets King Richard Coeur de Lion who, on his return from captivity in Germany where he had been the prisoner of the Emperor Henry VI, was in Nottingham for a few days from 25 March 1194. Richard retook the castle which was held by the lieutenants of his rebel brother John, and then followed the chase in Sherwood Forest from the royal hunting box at Clipstone. At Nottingham, in the presence of the King, Robin Hood gives proof of his marksmanship before he vanishes into the crowd. The scene concludes with a ballad of Robin Hood which depicts the Outlaw in his favoured role of benefactor of the poor and helpless at the expense of the rich.
Scene VI. Plantagenet, 1330 AD
In September, 1330, the Queen Mother, Isabella of France, and her paramour, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, took up residence in Nottingham Castle with the young King Edward III. A plot is formed to get rid of Mortimer by William de Montacute and others. The conspirators obtain aid from William de Eland, Deputy Constable of the Castle, who reveals to them a secret passage through the rock. By this route Montacute and his men surprise Mortimer, who is found in the Queen’s chamber. Mortimer was arrested and was executed at Tyburn. The young King now rules the Kingdom, and William de Eland is made Constable of Nottingham Castle for life.
Scene VII. The Charters, 1155–1449
No dialogue. This scene is a masque of the Kings from Henry II to Henry VI who gave Nottingham its early charters.
Scene VIII. Wars of the Roses, 1485 AD
In August 1485 King Richard III was at Nottingham, and on the 16th left the town to meet Henry of Richmond at Bosworth. Here the last Yorkist King fell fighting and Henry VII wore the crown of England. The new King is shown at Nottingham about to depart for Stoke where he crushed a Yorkist army under the Earl of Lincoln.
Scene IX. Nottingham High School, 1513 AD
In 1513 Dame Agnes Mellors was moved to help the already existing Nottingham School so that free instruction should henceforth be provided. Dame Agnes endowed the School with property which would bring in the sum of £13. 6s. 8d. (a gift subsequently increased), and made the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council responsible for the annual election of two chamberlains (treasurers) to control the endowments, and appoint the masters and ushers who about this time received as salaries £18 and £12 a year—in modern values more than thirty times as much.
Scene X. Charles I, 1642 AD
On 19 August 1642 King Charles I rode into Nottingham and took up his quarters at Thurland Hall. On Monday, the 22nd, at six in the evening of a blustery day, the standard was brought out from the Castle and set up on what is now called Standard Hill. Nottingham did not, however, respond to this royal compliment, and Colonel Hutchinson held Nottingham and its Castle for the Roundheads. At the end of the scene Oliver Cromwell bestows his blessing.
Scene XI. Princess Anne, 1688 AD
In 1688 Princess Anne visited Nottingham, and to the sound of strings, a minuet is danced in her honour.
Scene XII. Gentlemen of the Press, 1808 AD
This scene was probably processional.
Scene XIII. The Police, 1820–1949 AD
This was an unusual scene. The programme stated that ‘No pageant, and especially that of Nottingham, could be complete without bringing in the guardians of law and order who are now familiar figures in our midst, the British police, the envy of other lands and the butt of much kindly humorous reference in our own. A decorative addition to this mighty force has been provided of late by the advent of the police-woman, and, finally, the robot.’
Scene XIV. Stockings and Lace, c. 1589 AD
This scene presents the inventor of the stocking frame, William Lee, one of the chief architects of the fame and fortune of Nottingham. Here he meets the result of his early work in the form of a ‘stockings and lace’ ballet.
Scene XV. The Riots, 1830 AD
This scene portrayed mob violence in Nottingham in the years of the Reform Agitation, before the passage of the Great Reform Act of 1832.
Scene XVI. Cricketers, 1860 AD
Featuring some of the great figures of Nottinghamshire cricket.
Scene XVII. Legacy of Time, c. 1750, 1812, 1914–1918, 1939–1945
This scene focused on ‘the stirring history of the Sherwood Foresters’. As the programme described it, ‘Parties of the 45th and 95th parade, and we are present at the taking of Quebec in 1759, and the storming of Badajoz in the Peninsular War, 1812. To the songs of the Boer War, the 1914–1918 war, and the 1939–1945 war, the regimental battle honours are recited, and at the climax this history of courage is massed on the stage with the Charter Kings. Thus, the riches of the past and the riches of the future, with all their attendant privileges and—let us add—responsibilities, are presented as the legacy of time to the people of Nottingham City today.’
Key historical figures mentioned
- Edward [called Edward the Elder] (870s?–924) king of the Anglo-Saxons
- William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
- Peverel, William (b. c.1090, d. after 1155) baron
- Richard I [called Richard Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart] (1157–1199) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Hood, Robin (supp. fl. late 12th–13th cent.) legendary outlaw hero
- Tuck, Friar (fl. 15th cent.) legendary outlaw
- Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Mortimer, Roger (V), first earl of March (1287–1330) regent, soldier, and magnate
- Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
- Bohun, Humphrey (VII) de, fourth earl of Hereford and ninth earl of Essex (c.1276–1322) magnate and administrator
- Henry of Lancaster, third earl of Lancaster and third earl of Leicester (c.1280–1345) magnate
- Burghersh, Henry (c.1290–1340) bishop of Lincoln
- Richard III (1452–1485) king of England and lord of Ireland
- Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Hutchinson, John (bap. 1615, d. 1664) parliamentarian army officer and regicide
- Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland (1619–1682) royalist army and naval officer
- Lee, William (d. 1614/15?) inventor of the stocking frame
- Wolfe, James (1727–1759) army officer
- George [St George] (d. c.303?) patron saint of England
Orchestra: The City Transport Band. Conducted by E. Radburn and a chorus consisting of 125 members.William Summers, composer, and Lawrence du Garde Peach, lyricist, wrote the following pieces for the pageant, the sheet music for which is at Nottingham Archives. DD2464/2/1.
- ‘Nottingham City’
- ‘The Viking Song’
- ‘Isles of the West’
- ‘The Silver Trent’
- ‘Lord Our Lives are in thy Hands’
- ‘Maytime is Here’
- ‘In Merry England’
- ‘Roses White and Roses Red’
- ‘We Inherit from Our Fathers’
- ‘England was England’
- ‘No Man Should Die Unloved’
- ‘Immortality’ (40 years later a performer of the pageant remembered that: ‘Immortality, which became the theme tune of the two week pageant, was one that everyone whistled on the way home after the show.’)
- A.P. Herbert and Alfred Reynolds. ‘A Song of England’.
- W.V. Todd. ‘Praise to our God’.
Newspaper coverage of pageantNottingham Evening Post
Nottingham Evening News
Book of words
No book of words
Other primary published materials
- City of Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant Souvenir Programme. Nottingham, 1949. DD/1803/17.
- ‘Nottingham Thro’ 500 Years Celebrations June 26th–July 2nd 1949: Programme of Events’. DD/2464/1/2 (ii).
14912 copies of programme sold.5
References in secondary literature
- Bush, Nancy. Alan Bush: Music, Politics and Life. London, 2000. At 62.
- Gray, Duncan. Nottingham: Settlement to City. Nottingham, 1969. At 109.
- Waters, Julie. ‘Proselytizing the Prague Manifesto in Britain: The Commissioning, Conception, and Musical Language of Alan Bush’s ‘Nottingham’ Symphony’. Music and Politics 3 (2009).
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Nottingham Archives:
- City of Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant Souvenir Programme. Nottingham, 1949. DD/1803/17.
- ‘Nottingham Thro’ 500 Years Celebrations June 26th–July 2nd 1949: Programme of Events’. DD/2464/1/2 (ii)
- Invitation to the City of Nottingham's Quincentenary Celebrations and Historical Pageant. DD/2378/4/3.
- Order of Scenes Showing Numbers for Crowd Scenes, City of Nottingham Quincentenary Celebrations. 1949. DD/2464/1/1 (i).
- Nottingham's 500th Charter Year Celebrations. Nottingham, 1949. DD/2464/1/1 (iii).
- Garden Party at Nottingham Castle on Saturday 6th August 1949. DD/2464/1/3 (iii).
- Letter to Mr Elliot from Chairman of Committee Organising the Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant Celebration Dance, 14th July 1949. DD/2464/1/3 (vii).
- Photographs of Pageant. DD/2464/3/2 (i-iii).
- Untitled script. Note says ‘Written by “Sniper” Peatman and “Alf” Barradell’. DD2464/1/3 (i).
- Letter to Mr Elliot from Chairman, Thursday 14th July 1949. DD2464/1/3 (vii).
- Sheet Music for Pageant, Words by L. du Garde Peach and Music by William Summers. DD2464/2/1 C-G.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant was a key attraction of city-wide anniversary celebrations of the 1449 charter granted by King Henry VI. It took place in the Nottingham Ice Stadium, an indoor ice rink constructed in 1939, and was performed twelve times. In many ways it epitomised the changes that pageantry had undergone by the post-war period, while also maintaining a link with some of the key aspects of the original outburst of pageantitis in the Edwardian period. The third large pageant the city held, following an abortive attempt in 1908/1909, the evocative Pageant of Peace in 1919, and the more successful 1935 Pageant, it was also to be the last.6 In terms of press opinion and public engagement, however, it was seemingly very successful—though no figures regarding its profit or loss were published. In introducing the pageant in the souvenir programme the Lord Mayor, William Sharp, was straight to the point in describing its purpose:
This Pageant, sponsored by the Corporation, is designed to bring to the citizens of this City and their guests a vivid visual impression of the history and traditions which lie in the background of our civic life. Every age has its problems and the manner in which we solve our own will determine what the future will be. The Nottingham our children will know to-morrow will reflect our achievements, and our failures of to-day. Our hope is that this Pageant may, through the medium of theatrical entertainment, increase your pride of Nottingham’s present, and strengthen your sense of responsibility for Nottingham’s future.7
The script was written by Lawrence du Garde Peach, a nationally renowned playwright and author, known especially as a pioneer of radio drama.8 He was also enthusiastic about community amateur dramatics, having started a company of thespians in Great Hucklow in 1927, and authoring a Co-Operative Centenary Pageant in 1944 which commemorated the inception of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers—the birth of the modern co-operative movement.9 Yet he was not a slavish devotee of the original pageantry format. In the year previous to the Nottingham Quincentenary, he wrote the script for the Sheffield Pageant of Production, a piece of self-aware local industrial boosterism. In describing this event he declared it ‘a pageant for the want of a better word. It would not be a pageant of doublets, hose and top hats, but it would have colour, music, movement, thrills and even emotion in pictorial form.’10 A couple of months before the Nottingham Pageant, he made similar statements at a Ladies’ Day event of the Nottingham Rotary Club, and even went further. Declaring that a pageant should be a cross between a review, a musical comedy, and a psychological play, he argued that it should also be
simply entertainment. It must compete with the cinema across the way, and the dance hall… I would sacrifice any historical fact in order to get entertainment value in my script, although here I have had no need to. You had had some of the most amusing and colourful murders in history…
As Louis Napoleon Parker likely turned in his grave, Peach went on:
We are going back to Merrie England—a fabulous England that probably never existed. In the real England the men marched off to fight at Crecy and Agincourt and came back to rotten houses and no drains, and no cars, and no. B.B.C., and no telephones.11
Not everyone in Nottingham saw the allure of Peach’s vision. From the beginning of the pageant, and until well after its finale, the local press and the letters page of the Nottingham Evening Post was used for both positive and critical debate. Responding to Peach’s comments, one man worried that such an approach would be a ‘deplorable misuse of a golden opportunity’ and, concerned about the sacrifice of historical fact, wondered if it would ‘be impertinent to ask if the pageant script was passed by any local body of experts such as the appropriate faculty at the University or the Thoroton Society’.12 Also unimpressed was the local branch of the Communist Party. Intending to publish their own pamphlet, ‘A Working Class History of Nottingham’s 500 Years of Struggle and Progress’, they called upon
the organised working-class and progressive people of Nottingham not to permit this distortion to take place, but to proclaim to the world the great contribution that our city and its people have made in the long and terrible struggle for social justice, and political equality and freedom, for a world rid of the terrible diseases of poverty and war.
They also considered it ‘alarming’ that ‘tendencies exist to present this great history of ours in a pageant as a cross between a review, a musical comedy, a psychological play, and entertainment.’13 In fact, at the Sheffield Pageant of Production the previous year, also directed by Peach, Communists disrupted a performance attended by the American Ambassador, Lewis Douglas, and began a brawl. While Peach seemingly did not comment on this controversy, two years later he published The Town That Would Have a Pageant, a satirical and farcical play about the staging of a quincentenary pageant in the fictional town of Mangle-Wurzleton, perhaps inspired by his experiences in Nottingham.14 Ironically, it came to be the most performed of his ‘pageants’ in the post-war period.15
In the event, however, many of the common themes of traditional historical pageantry were still evident. While the script for the pageant in its entirety does not seem to have survived, the narrative joiners, presumably spoken between episodes, and the brief synopses in the souvenir programme, reveal many of the usual traits.16 In the opening monologue it is declared: ‘Be it known unto all men that we are proud citizens of a proud city and we take great joy in singing to you once again, these songs which so clearly express what it feels like to be custodians of the pride of Nottingham City.’ In future monologues the conflicts, developments and history of the nation were connected to the locality, particularly evident in scenes featuring the civil war, the ‘birth of democracy’ in the 1830 riots, the typical visits of royalty (such as Princess Anne in 1688), and, in the final scene, the sacrifice made by local servicemen in wars of the 18th–20th centuries, including the most recent World War. Unsurprisingly, as a celebration of the city charter, the pageant also told a tale of growing municipal power. This was particularly evident in Scene VII, which featured a masque of the Kings from Henry II to Henry VI who gave Nottingham its early charters; in Scene IX, which portrayed the endowment of Nottingham High School by Dame Agnes Mellors in 1513 and the consequent controls given to the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council; and in Scene XIII, which featured a history of the municipal police from 1820 to 1949. As the song ‘We Inherit from our Fathers’ summarised:
In pictures of the stories past, learn of us the greater pride, honour those of this our city who for freedom dies, honour those who live undaunted, those who for the common good. Life and treasure freely given freedoms foes withstood.17
Despite these familiar pageantry tropes it was also, unsurprisingly considering Peach’s previous comments, in many respects untraditional. This was particularly evident in its production. Some scenes concentrated on an individual incident, while others took in several incidents connected by a theme such as war. This had the effect of making the pageant not strictly linear. As with other pageants by this point, it also featured both mimed episodes (Scene XII, in which the Gentlemen of the Press were presented), and also more expressive ways of communicating history, such as the ‘stockings and lace’ ballet in Scene XIV. Furthermore, while most of the scenes covered actual events, Peach also included more ‘symbolic’ scenes, such as the building up of the police or the demonstration of industry. The fears of fantasy were also not unfounded; of course, being a Nottingham Pageant, an obligatory Robin Hood episode was included. Unlike the original Edwardian pageants, the costumes were mostly hired rather than made and the actors, rather than being merely locals, were drawn mainly from amateur dramatic societies.18
In the run-up to the launch of the quincentenary celebrations, the local press complained about a worrying mood of malaise, pointing first towards the low numbers of volunteer actors for the pageant and later about a lack of bunting from local citizens.19 By the time the celebrations actually arrived, however, the citizens had seemingly rallied, bedecking the city with bunting and flags in time for the royal visit of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, who later commended the city on the welcome it provided.20 From the first sell-out night, the civic spirit continued and, due to the ‘tremendous pressure of bookings’, it was eventually decided to extend the closing date of the pageant, with two more performances taking place.21 Overall, in attendance terms, the Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant and the celebrations of which it was a part were a tremendous success, marred only by a disastrous fire on the final night, which destroyed a major part of the Local Government Exhibition.22 Around 117000 people saw the Trades Exhibition; 12297 visited the Medieval Fair; and over 40000 people paid admission for the pageant.23 At the climax of the Quincentenary, over 100000 crowed onto Victoria Embankment to see the final aqua show, the diver Roy Fransen take his last high plunge, and the firework finale.24 Many of those who did not visit could also experience the pageant; reflecting his experience with the BBC, Peach adapted a shortened 45-minute version of the Pageant for radio, repeated across several stations.25
In critical terms, the first reports of the Nottingham Evening News were mixed. While describing the pageant as ‘a brilliant spectacle, lavishly staged and blazing with colour’ they lamented that it was also ‘far too long’ and in need of ‘drastic pruning’—the ‘packed audience’ for the sell-out first performance seemingly in agreement, having ‘dwindled considerably’ before the finale. Furthermore, ‘the acoustics were bad, and many of the historical references were lost on the audience, which was unable to hear them.’ Despite its problems, the Evening News summarised it as ‘on the whole, a triumph for Nottingham’s amateurs… [and] a fitting tribute to the history of this great Midland city.’26 Heath Joyce must have been reading; the pageant was shortened, much to the approval of the News.27 Following the pageant many in Nottingham wrote to the editor of the Evening Post to express a more positive, though still balanced, opinion. Sir Douglas McCraith, a local solicitor, congratulated all involved for ‘a wonderful production’ but criticised the penultimate episode, complaining that ‘The caricaturing of some of our greater cricketers of the past as figures of fun is not worthy of our cricket history.’28 Others described the show as ‘spectacular and outstanding’29 and as a ‘magnificent spectacle, beautifully staged and costumed and most enjoyable’.30 An ‘Old Contemptible’ promised that its memory would live on for those who took part.31
After the pageant the spirit of camaraderie seemingly remained among the participants, a Pageant Celebration Dance being held by the newly formed Pageant Club towards the end of July. William Summers, the chief musical composer, played the music of the pageant again as the surrounding crowd sang ‘the melodies they knew so well.’32 Forty years later, however, there seemed to be little popular memory of the pageant. Barry Elliot, the old Chairman of the Pageant Club, wrote to the Nottingham Evening Post to remind the city of the impending anniversary. Describing the pageant, he ended by saying ‘I trust that these few lines will stir a few memories some of which, hopefully, might appear in your columns in future weeks.’ As he noted, on a copy of his letter held in the Nottingham Archives, ‘...not one reply was received. The Pageant cannot really be repeated + is nothing more than history.’33 A further attempt to encourage the Nottingham Operatic Society to perform the music for the third time, after the first (and only) meeting of the Pageant Club in late July 1949, met with a similar apathy.34
Nonetheless, the Quincentenary celebrations do live on in one respect, having been memorialised with the erection of a statue of Robin Hood, paid for by the head of local company, Gloveen Ltd, Philip Clay. Now an iconic tourist attraction of Nottingham, at the time the decision incited feverish debate in the press, with some (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) letter writers declaring him a symbol of theft or Socialism, citing Churchill as a more worthwhile choice, with others wondering if the money could be better spent on charitable provision.35 As some countered, it was ‘not the responsibility of local philanthropists to provide for… unfortunates’ and it was, above all, the donator’s own prerogative to decide upon the subject.36 In a sense this public debate reflected shifts in notions of welfare provision and middle-class philanthropy. As ‘Another Conservative’ asked the Editor of the Evening Post in relation to the controversy, ‘As to needy people participating in a distribution of someone else’s money, surely with the fleecing which the country is now experiencing no so-called working man or woman should be in need. Hasn’t the wherewithal been poured into their hands, without effort on their part?’37
Overall, the Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant was a clear success. While many of its elements differed from Louis Napoleon’s original vision, it still quite obviously bore the imprint of the historical pageantry movement. Instead of viewing it as a diluted version of a historical pageant, we should instead perhaps conclude that it was an evolution. Moving inside, rather than in a local field, ensured stability and most likely kept costs down, while keeping the storyline light and humorous maintained a crowd in a time of increasing leisure provision. As a well-attended and well-reviewed spectacle, though hardly remembered in either public imagination or academic work, its success also attests to the popularity that a historical pageant could still muster in post-WWII Britain.
- ‘Money for Arts?’, Nottingham Evening Post, 9 August 1949, 4.
- ‘Pageant’s Second Week’, Nottingham Evening Post, 5 July 1949, 5.
- ‘Round the Theatres’, Nottingham Evening Post, 28 June 1949, 3.
- ‘Ice Nostalgia’, letter from Barry Elliot, Nottingham Evening Post, 19 June 1989, 4. DD/2464/1/4 (i).
- ‘Charter Week Tributes’, Nottingham Evening Post, 13 July 1949, 1.
- ‘Nottingham Pageant’, Nottingham Evening Post, 18 February 1908, 6.
- William Sharp, ‘Introduction’ in City of Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant Souvenir Programme (Nottingham, 1949), np. Nottingham Archives. DD/1803/17.
- E. D. Mackerness, ‘Peach, Lawrence Du Garde(1890–1974)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), online edn., accessed January 2011, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/49367, accessed 30 April 2014.
- ‘200 Amateurs in Co-op Centenary Pageant’, Derby Daily Telegraph, 22 August 1944, 4; Lawrence du Garde Peach, Handbook to the Centenary Pageant (Manchester, 1944).
- ‘Pageant will Show Sheffield Craftsmanship to the World’, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 10 April 1948, 7.
- ‘Pageant Worthy of City’, Nottingham Evening Post, 28 March 1949, 1.
- ‘Pageant of the Past’, Letter from E. Flewitt to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 8 July 1949, 4; Nottingham Evening Post, 31 March 1949, 3.
- ‘Nottm. Pageant Critics’, Nottingham Evening Post, 7 May 1949, 1.
- Lawrence du Garde Peach, The Town That Would Have a Pageant (London, 1952).
- It was performed in Great Hucklow, 1951; Walthamstow, 1962; Glossop, 1956; Northampton, 1962; Bristol, 1953; Cowbridge, 1953; and Kippax, 1960. There were probably many other productions.
- Untitled script. Nottingham Archives. DD/2464/1/3 (i).
- Sheet music for ‘We Inherit from our Fathers’, words by L. Du Garde Peach and music by William Summers. Nottingham Archives. DD/2464/2/1 Q.
- ‘Pageant Singers Wanted’, Nottingham Evening Post, 9 March 1949, 5; ‘Pageant Plans’, Nottingham Evening Post, 26 January 1949, 1.
- ‘Pageant Singers Wanted’, 5; ‘Five Days Left—Only a Few Buntings’, Nottingham Evening Post, 21 June 1949, 5.
- ‘Nottingham Puts Last Touches to Queenly Raiment’, Nottingham Evening News, 25 June 1949, 1; ‘Royal Visitors will Never Forget City’s Welcome’, Nottingham Evening Post, 2 July 1949, 1.
- ‘Three More Days for Pageant’, Nottingham Evening Post, 1 July 1949, 1.
- ‘Priceless Treasures Destroyed in Nottingham Fire’, Nottingham Evening News, 11 July 1949, 5.
- ‘Charter Week Tributes’, Nottingham Evening Post, 13 July 1949, 1.
- ‘Remarkable Scenes at Finale of Quincentenary’, Nottingham Evening News, 4 July 1949, 5.
- ‘Radio Version of Pageant’, Nottingham Evening News, 30 June 1949, 5.
- ‘Pageant Must be Pruned’, Nottingham Evening News, 28 June 1949, 5.
- ‘Pruning has Improved the Pageant’, Nottingham Evening News, 5 July 1949, 5.
- ‘Imaginative Pageant’, letter from Sir Douglas McCraith to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 30 June 1949, 4.
- ‘Spectacular Show’, letter from J.E.W. to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 8 July 1949, 4.
- ‘A Real Credit’, letter from Housewife to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 8 July 1949, 4.
- ‘Not to be Forgotten’, letter from Old Contemptible to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 15 July 1949, 4.
- ‘Still enthusiastic’, Nottingham Evening Post, 1 August 1949, 4.
- Letter from Barry Elliot to Editor of Nottingham Evening Post, 14 June 1989. Nottingham Archives. DD/2464/1/4 (ii).
- Letter from Barry Elliot to Mrs Gillingham, Secretary of the Nottingham Operatic Society, 6 February 1989. Nottingham Archives. DD/2464/1/4 (iii).
- ‘Churchill Preferred’, letter from Robbing Hoodwink to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 8 July 1949, 4; ‘Money ‘Wasted’, letter from Bill Cole to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 8 July 1949, 4; ‘Poor and Needy’, letter from Hemlock to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 8 July 1949, 4.
- ‘Children’s Statute?’ letter from Harold Fisher to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Post, 15 July 1949, 4; ‘An Eyesore’, letter from Snowy to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Post, 15 July 1949, 4.
- ‘What is in a Name?’ letter from Another Conservative to Editor’s Letter Bag, Nottingham Evening Post, 13 July 1949, 4.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Nottingham Quincentenary Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1141/