Pageant of Derby
<p>The population of Derby was 248,700 in 2011, which was just below the threshold for 'large town/city'. It is likely to have exceeded this by 2017.</p>
Place: Darley Abbey Park (Derby) (Derby, Derbyshire, England)
Number of performances: 4
8–11 September, 1949, at 6.45pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Munns, C. Clement
- Secretary: S. Hirst, Secretary of YMCA
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Twells, J.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers1000 - 1000
The Pageant took £2400 and made a profit of £1000 [Derby Daily Telegraph, 13 September 1949, 6.]
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 25000 - 25000
The park acted as a natural amphitheatre
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
The Coming of the Danes
Bonnie Prince Charlie’s retreat from Derby, 1745
Derbyshire Transport from Penny-farthings to the latest Rolls-Royce
Women in Industry
A Ballet on the Cultural Life of Derby
The Second World War
Final March Past
Key historical figures mentioned
- Charles Edward [Charles Edward Stuart;
styled Charles III; known as the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie]
(1720–1788) Jacobite claimant to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Nottingham Evening Post
Book of words
- None known.
Other primary published materials
- The Pageant of Derby & Searchlight Tattoo: Souvenir programme. Darley Park, Derby. September 7, 8, 9, 10, 1949. [Derby], 1949.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Programme in Derby Local Studies Library, Reference BA700
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Derby was one of very few towns and cities which held regular pageants in the postwar era, holding smaller events in 1946 and 1948. There was also a church/school pageant, 'The Golden Chain', in 1950. The 1949 Pageant, which was mooted in February 1949, was to be a grand affair, held with the express support of the Duke of Devonshire; its object was to raise funds towards the duke’s Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) appeal.1 Darley Abbey Park was quickly agreed on as it offered a natural amphitheatre, making a grandstand unnecessary. It is not clear, however, if the Council, who owned the Park, was successful in its demand for a cut of the profits.2 The pageant focused heavily on the military history of the town, drawing on performance elements that had previously been part of the 1910 Army Pageant in Fulham.
Witnessing a dress rehearsal, the Derby Daily Telegraph remarked that ‘The Pageant presents a colourful picture of the history and development of Derby. It highlights the outstanding features of the story of Derby historically, industrially and socially, and shows how the town has kept abreast with the march of time’.3 A Diarist for the same newspaper also declaimed the Pageant’s instructional properties as a chance to boost civic understanding and pride: ‘For young people it will… be an opportunity to learn something of their town’s history in a spectacular way, and the older generation should enjoy it as a form of entertainment incorporating features new to Derby.’4
The pageant also included a number of demonstrations of the development of Derby’s industries, supported by major local firms such as British Celanese, which provided historical and contemporary costumes, and Rolls Royce, which staged a parade of its cars from one of the first automobiles built by Henry Royce in the 1890s to the latest models. At a time of acute austerity, when most cars and luxury clothing was exported to boost the economy, it seems that most people enjoyed the pageant, in contrast to the abortive Bradford Centenary Pageant (1947), where an industrial exhibition of clothes that locals couldn’t buy and the demand that performers provide their own costumes became sources of major controversy in one of the country’s foremost textile manufacturing cities.
Despite the Duke of Devonshire’s enforced (though unexplained) absence from the proceedings, the pageant attracted five to six thousand spectators each night, taking £2400 in total. There was some consternation that high expenses meant that only £1000 was donated to the YMCA, though given the fate of many similar pageants around the same time, it was a relief that Derby’s venture had made a profit at all.5 The only real issue which spoiled an otherwise effective display of civic pride was remarked on in a letter by J.S. Bloomfield to the Derby Daily Telegraph, which complained that few people had joined in the singing of the National Anthem or the staple pageant hymn, ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’.6 W. Michael H. Butler agreed that Bloomfield was right to see this as a worrying sign of declining national and local spirit—one, he went one, that was also evidenced by the lacklustre reception given returning soldiers who had been interned after the fall of Singapore and a still more muted response to a visit by Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh (‘even the Cathedral bells did not welcome them’).7 Thus Derby’s 1949 pageant, which was to be its last, paradoxically demonstrated both the continuing popularity of historical pageants in the right circumstances as well as declining levels of direct engagement with civic culture: the historical roots of local identity, so celebrated in pageantry, were slowly weakening.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 26 February 1949, 5.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 3 March 1949, 8.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 6 September 1949, 7.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 2 September 1949, 3.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 13 September 1949, 6.
J.S. Bloomfield, Letter, Derby Daily Telegraph, 15 September 1949, 5.
W. Michael H. Butler, Derby Daily Telegraph, 17 September 1949, 6.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Pageant of Derby’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1400/