Guiseley Historical Pageant
Place: Grounds of St. Oswald’s Rectory (Guiseley) (Guiseley, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)
Number of performances: 2
9 August 1930, at 4pm and 7pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Payne, A.E.
- Facts Collated by: Ven. Archdeacon J.F. Howson, M.A.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Cropper, Margaret
- Payne, A.E.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers100
The figure of 100 is an estimate.
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasionPart of the annual Patronal Festival of St. Oswald
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
The performances were packed, suggesting that the audience was around 1000.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Church Service by the Dean of Chester and tea.
Prologue. Entrance of Guiseley’s Rose Queen and Attendants
Episode I. Making of the Roman Road, 4th Century AD
The setting is somewhere between Olicana (Ilkley) and Eboracum (York). A centurion orders work for the coming day to be done by peasants and slaves, as well as some legionaries. Flavius and Junius grumble about having to do work and having to live in the country— becoming ‘Barbarian among these savage dales.’1 Caius and Marcus accuse them of being soft. A messenger arrives and delivers his message to the centurion, which warns of a Pictish assault on York and the need for reinforcements. In the commotion that follows this news the slaves escape, beating the sentinel senseless in doing so. The centurion orders the luckless sentinel to be whipped for negligence and the legion marches off. The assembled peasants talk about rising against the Romans and the Northern spirit. They rush off to assist the Picts.
Episode II. Conversion of Guiseley in Airedale by S. Osawld and S. Aidan, 7th Century
Two women talk about the recent past when marauding Welshmen attacked the area, but are glad that they had been defeated at the Battle of Dennisbourne. Men approach and discuss why King Oswald, who is passing through the area, is worshiping a new God. They are afraid that the old gods will be angry. A messenger arrives announcing the arrival of the King. The King arrives and is acclaimed. He wishes them to convert and be baptised by St Aidan, but many are fearful of angering the old gods. Aidan blesses them in Gaelic and then Latin. Oswald tells them about Jesus, who gave him victory over the Welsh. Aidan and Oswald erect a cross and pledges to send them a priest to teach them Christianity. The crowd breaks into song.
Episode III. Dissolution of Esholt Nunnnery, 1536
William Holgill, Rector of Guiseley and Thomas Browne the Chantry Priest are talking to a peasant. Browne is looking forward to the dissolution of the dissolute Nunnery, but is chastised by the Rector. Browne protests his loyalty to the King and apologises. The prioress and nuns approach and are told that they will be ‘divorced’ from the church. The Prioress protests their poverty but the Rector is insistent that the house must be dissolved. The King’s Commissioner, Leonard Beckwith, arrives. He angers the Rector with his disrespectful nature, and accuses Holgill of conspiring with the nuns. The Rector and Browne protest their loyalty. Beckwith continues to mock the Prioress. The Clerk reads out a proclamation allowing Beckwith to confiscate all the property and possessions of the Priory of St Mary and St Leonard. The Clerk reads out a statement for the Prioress to sign, abandoning all their property to the crown. She refuses and is only impelled to sign when Beckwith threatens to hang the nuns and townspeople. The nuns leave, weeping and chanting ‘A De Profundis’, followed by peasants.
Episode IV. Guiseley Feast of Olden Times, Rectory Field 1730.
William Stanhope and Frederick Layton enter and talk about the new Duke of Norfolk and his wife. A crowd approaches and a Bellman proclaims the feast. Mrs Hawksworth retreats from them. There are various revelries and digs at ‘Yorkshire folk’, as well as dancing and revelries. The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk are cheered loudly and dance. Jack Gill and some servants cause a commotion; they are arrested and tried by various drunken townspeople—the sentence is that the offenders are ‘taen by t’neck and t’heels and soused int’ summiest part o’t pond.’ 2
Epilogue. Spoken by St Oswald
Key historical figures mentioned
- Oswald [St Oswald] (603/4–642) king of Northumbria
- Áedán [St Áedán, Aidan] (d. 651) missionary and bishop [also known as Aidan]
- Brontë, Anne [pseud. Acton Bell] (1820–1849) novelist and poet
- Brontë, (Patrick) Branwell (1817–1848) writer and painter
- Brontë [married name Nicholls], Charlotte [pseud. Currer Bell] (1816–1855) novelist
- Brontë, Emily Jane [pseud. Ellis Bell] (1818–1848) novelist and poet
- Brontë [formerly Prunty, Brunty], Patrick (1777–1861) Church of England clergyman and author
- Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
- Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Yorkshire Evening Post
Book of words
- Guiseley Historical Pageant. Guiseley, 1930.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Rawnsley, Reginal Gerard and Alan Dobson. A History of the Church of Saint Oswald, Guiseley. Keighley, 1964. At 25 and 60.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Book of Words in Brotherton Library, University of Leeds
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Whilst Virginia Woolf’s notable literary depiction of a pageant in her novel Between the Acts features an annual pageant, these were in fact quite rare. The level of organisation and time commitment for all involved made the annual staging of pageants quite difficult. Furthermore, one ran the risk that an audience which had already seen the pageant the previous year would be unwilling to view the same scenes again just twelve months later.
The Guiseley Historical Pageant, which dated back to 1924, solved this problem in an ingenious way. The Book of Words remarked that ‘This has now become an annual event, and has achieved considerable local importance. It took its beginning in a plucky effort by the local Branch of the Girl’s Friendly Society…which had as its theme the conversion of Guiseley’3 The first open air pageant had been held in 1925, held as part of the annual Church Patronal Festival in the Rectory grounds, and two further scenes were added in 1926 ‘when the Archbishop of York was present’.4 Further scenes had been added in 1927, 1928 and 1929. Whilst these were included in the Book of Words to the 1930 pageant, a number of scenes, telling the life of St. Oswald and St. Aidan in Iona and at Bamburgh in Northumberland, were not performed on this occasion. Instead, there was a procession of local characters having some association with the town. These included John Wesley, who had preached there (as he had done in practically every village of West Yorkshire); Oliver Cromwell, who had passed through; Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell, who were married at St Oswald’s church, and their famous literary children; and a procession of local artisans representing local trades. The reporter for the Yorkshire Post, who also covered the pageant in previous years, praised the pageant and particularly St Oswald’s moving epilogue:
This year the epilogue, always impressive, gained in dignity and force by a procession of famous people in the history of the town. Headed by a Crusader in chain mail, and heralded by a brilliant fanfare of trumpets, they took their places by the side of the Saxon king, who greeted each one of them and spoke of their contribution to the life of the community.5
The flexibility built into the Guiseley pageant format thus allowed a similar story to be told in a number of different ways each year the pageant was performed, with individual scenes added or taken out to change the focus—in the case of the 1930 pageant, the action was somewhat less focused on the life of St. Oswald than previously.
Whilst the Roman episode adds relatively dramatic interest—aside from intimating a stubborn Yorkshire defiance of authority—the second and third scenes are well written, describing how the coming of Christianity to the region came on the back of King Oswald of Northumbria’s spectacular victory at Dennisbourne. The Pageant continues a story ascribed to Bede—this being that Oswald acted as St Aidan’s translator, bringing both peace and Christianity to the region.6 The third episode shows the conflicted nature of the dissolution of the monastery. Though both William Holgill, the Rector, and Thomas Browne, the chantry priest, support the dissolution of the priory out of loyalty to Henry VIII, the King’s commissioner is presented as a wicked and dissolute man. And whilst there is no specific mention of the event in the pageant itself, the scene hints at the popular rising in Yorkshire later that year, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, which was a protest against the reformation of the church and the dissolution of the monasteries which pledged loyalty to the King.7
The Pageant was well received, with a Times reporter venturing up from London to see the spectacle and remarking that ‘wonderful aptitude was shown both in the acting of the principal parts and the movements of the crowd.’8 The Yorkshire Post saw the pageant as a true expression of the vitality of an old Yorkshire suppressed by the industrial revolution:
The ‘Merrie England’ of the pageants has been overlaid in Guiseley by a century of industrialism, and the peaceful lines of its old church tower peep rather defensively from harsh, unbeautiful surroundings. But Guiseley is a town of spirit—as Yorkshire towns of its size are apt to be. You will find evidence of a strong, admirable parochial pride if you forget dingy streets and mill chimneys for a while and inspect the interior of its church…9
The newspaper noted the ‘overpowering numbers’ of spectators, meaning that there were only seats for a third of those attending. It noted that ‘Even the Press had to stand, but the Press could not grumble at that, for all the visiting clergy were standing, too!’10 The Yorkshire Post concluded by arguing that the pageant revealed a true spirit of Yorkshire: ‘Yorkshire had a distinctive contribution to make to the progress of England. The Guiseley Pageant helps us, rooted as it is in Yorkshire history and character, to understand what that contribution can be.’11
The Pageant the following year (1931) was beset by terrible weather, with the Yorkshire Post reporting that
The wind tossed the branches of the trees overhanging the Rectory lawn, where the pageant is staged, rustled the leaves, and snatched the words from the mouths of the players, while the rain lashed their faces, dragged vivid costumes made for sunshine, and drip-dripping continuously from the branches coursed in tricksy rivulets down necks and cheeks and noses, glistened in tremulous drops from the lobes of ears…But the players endured to the end; every scene was presented; and though the big audience which had gathered before the rain started dwindled gradually, a sturdy few remained – huddling under umbrellas or peering doggedly round them—and gave the company three cheers at the close in recognition of their pluck and enthusiasm.12
The evening performance had to be postponed, but the weather throughout the week was so bad that the restaging was held in the Town Hall.13 The Pageant was held again in 1932 but in June 1933 Archdeacon Howson announced that the pageant would not be held for the first time in nine years.14 It appears that after this break it proved impossible to revive the pageant.
The Guiseley Pageant proves the strength of local identities wrought through history. Similar Pageants put on by small towns and villages in Yorkshire and Lancashire, such as Ripley (1930) were similarly effective. The meaning of the Guiseley Pageants, which made them so effective, was contained in the Epilogue spoken by St. Oswald:
You have but now glanced back upon the Past made Present, and seen your counterparts of olden time in mirth and sorrow. Yet these were but the painted ghosts of yesterday, for yesterday is gone and to-morrow you too will be as yesterday. In this welter of mortality one thing alone endures—your heritage, as it was my heritage—the Everlasting Love.15
- Guiseley Historical Pageant (Guiseley, 1930), 2.
- Ibid, 25
- Sn, Guiseley Historical Pageant (Guiseley, 1930), unpaginated
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 11 August 1930, 12.
- D.J. Craig, ‘Oswald [St Oswald] (603/4–642), king of Northumbria’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 17 August 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/20916?docPos=2
- Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537 and the Exeter Conspiracy 1538, Volume 1 (Cambridge, 1971).
- Times, 11 August 1930, 12.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 11 August 1930, 12.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 10 August 1931, 5.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 15 August 1931, 14.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 June 1933, 3.
- Ibid, 26
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Guiseley Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1286/