Pageant of Derby

Pageant type


<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>

Jump to Summary


Place: Darley Abbey Park (Derby) (Derby, Derbyshire, England)

Year: 1949

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

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 performers

1000 - 1000

Financial information

The Pageant took £2400 and made a profit of £1000 [Derby Daily Telegraph, 13 September 1949, 6.]

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 25000 - 25000


The park acted as a natural amphitheatre

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

3s 6d–1s.

Associated events


Pageant outline

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

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

Derby Daily Telegraph
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.


1. ^ Derby Daily Telegraph, 26 February 1949, 5.

2. ^ Derby Daily Telegraph, 3 March 1949, 8.

3. ^ Derby Daily Telegraph, 6 September 1949, 7.

4. ^ Derby Daily Telegraph, 2 September 1949, 3.

5. ^ Derby Daily Telegraph, 13 September 1949, 6.

6. ^ J.S. Bloomfield, Letter, Derby Daily Telegraph, 15 September 1949, 5.

7. ^ 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,