Royal Burgh of Cullen Quincentenary Historical Pageant

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: The Haugh, Cullen House (Cullen) (Cullen, Moray, Scotland)

Year: 1955

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


13 and 20 July 1955 at 7.30pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master:  Cochrane, L.G.
  • Assistant to pageant master:  Mr J. Forsyth
  • Commentator: Rev. J.T. Guthrie, M. A.
  • Bandmaster of Turriff Silver Band: George C. Fordyce
  • Conductor of choir:  Mrs Isa Guild Mus.Bac., L.R.A.M.
  • Convenors of Costumiers: Mrs Lownds & Miss Donald
  • Convenors, Property and Scene Changes: Messrs. W.D. Henderson & V. Walker
  • Convenor of Programme Sellers: Miss A. Hunter
  • Convenors for Teas: Mrs Cumming & Mrs McWhirr
  • Convenor, Car Park Attendants:  Mr A. Donald
  • Convenor, Gate Attendants: Mr A.J. Forbes
  • Convenor, Stewards:  Bailie E. Sutherland
  • Photographers: Mr R. Ross, Mr Ian Anderson & Mr Ali Mohammed.


The pageant master was the local county drama advisor and his assistant—J. Forsyth—was a teacher at Fordyce Academy.  The commentator—named as the 'Voice of Cullen'—was a local clergyman, the Rev. J.T. Guthrie, M.A.

All names of staff are listed in Royal Burgh of Cullen-Quincentenary 1455 - 1955: Historical Pageant at the Haugh, Cullen House, Souvenir Brochure (Banff, 1955).

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Committee:

  • Joint Convener: Rev. J.T. Guthrie, M. A .
  • Joint Convener: Bailie E. Sutherland
  • Secretary: Mrs J.E. Milne
  • Treasurer: Miss L. Baxter
Other members:
  • Provost Bain
  • Bailie G. Bain
  • Ex-Provost Keir
  • Councillor G. Falconer
  • Councillor, J. Bertram
  • Councillor A.D. McIntyre
  • Councillor  F.A.G. Milne,
  • Councillor  D. McBeath;
  • Mr W. Robertson
  • Mr J.W. Noble,
  • Mr J. Hepburn
  • Mr G.M. Strachan
  • Mr W.G. Jaffray
  • Mr J. McBeath
  • Mr W.D. Henderson
  • Mr V. Walker;
  • Mrs K. Ross
  • Mrs Strachan
  • Mrs Henderson
  • Mrs Jaffray
  • Mrs D. Addison
  • Miss C. Donald
  • Miss A. Hunter
  • Miss E. Donaldson.


  • Roughly one third of the committee were burgh councillors; all were male. About one third of the total committee members were women (this included two office holders who may have been council employees).
  • Aside from burgh councillors, members of the 'Cullen Amenities Association' formed the remainder of the committee. The two convenors represented the burgh council and the Association jointly.
  • The 'Patron of the Pageant' was the Countess of Seafield, who loaned the grounds of Cullen House for use to stage the pageant and provided some of the props and labour required to build the set.

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

  • Cochrane, L.G.
  • Guthrie, J.T.
  • Ritchie, C.A.
  • McLean, John S.
  • Bain, Mrs
  • Gordon, J.R.
  • Urquhart, Helen
  • Burns, Robert


Different authors wrote each of the episodes as follows:

  • L.G. Cochrane, episode 2.
  • The Rev. J.T. Guthrie, episode 3.
  • Mrs C.A. Ritchie, episode 4
  • John S. McLean,episode 5
  • Mrs Gordon Bain, episode 6
  • Mrs J.R. Gordon, episode 7
  • Helen Urquhart, episode 8
  • Verses by Robert Burns are sung and recited in episode 6.

Names of composers

  • Elgar, Edward
  • Croft, William

Numbers of performers

330 - 370

Overall, the pageant involved around 350 performers; this included men, women and children. Each episode was performed by people from different communities in the surrounding district as well as from the village of Cullen. The Provost admitted that the village of Cullen could not provide a sufficient number of performers: therefore, organisations including 'W.R.I.'s [Women's Rural Institutes], Townswomen's Guilds, and other bodies' from outlying areas became involved [see Royal Burgh of Cullen-Quincentenary 1455 - 1955: Historical Pageant at the Haugh, Cullen House, Souvenir Brochure (Banff, 1955), 2.]

Financial information


Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Celebrations of the quincentenary of the granting of a charter which conferred the status of royal burgh on the village of Cullen. The celebration took the form of a gala week and the pageant was an element of this.

Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


The pageant cost 2s for admission (half-price for children); seats were an additional 2s for adults and 1s. for children. Parking cost 2s. [See advertisement, Aberdeen Press and Journal, 9 July 1955, 2.]

Associated events

There was a week of celebrations, which included the following events in addition to the pageant:

  • Opening of a new Town Hall (Thursday 14 July 1955)
  • Special performance of a play by the local drama society (Thursday 14 July 1955)
  • Sheep dog trials ((Saturday 16 July 1955)
  • Church service of thanksgiving (Sunday 17 July 1955)
  • Also, a children's fancy dress parade, several football matches, performance of an operetta by local young people and pipe band displays.
  • [Details of these events can be found in 'Bon Accord Gossip', Aberdeen Evening Express, 2 July 1955, 4]

Pageant outline

The National Anthem

The national anthem was sung by all.

Opening Ceremony

  • Wednesday 13th July:

Chair: Provost Lewis Bain J.P.

Opened by: W. S. Duthie, Esq., O.B.E., M.P. for Banffshire.

  • Wednesday 20th July:

Chair: Provost Lewis Bain J.P.

Opened by: W. Taylor, Esq., C.B., M.A. 

Fanfare and selection by Turriff Silver Band

Introduction by the 'Voice of Cullen'

Following the opening elements of the pageant, the commentator, Rev. J.T. Guthrie, gives an introduction and explains where the story of Cullen will begin. He announces himself as the 'Voice of Cullen', personifying the history of this place. He states that he is 'as old as the hills' but prefers to leave his age 'a mystery and for speculation'. He comments that he will begin his tale when the 'ancestors of this island were themselves "incomers"... and the great forest of Caledonia... reached almost to our shores'. He then goes on to state that he will recall a day when 'the Vikings drove their ships ashore and put to the flames our homes... need I say, I remember most easily a battle that was won not lost.' [Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from synopses taken from Royal Burgh of Cullen-Quincentenary 1455 - 1955: Historical Pageant at the Haugh, Cullen House, Souvenir Brochure (Banff, 1955).]

Episode 1: The Battle of the Bands (c.960 AD)

Around 30 players performed in this episode; roughly half this number played Viking invaders, while the rest played local inhabitants. R. Taylor played the Viking Chief and W.S. Milne played the leader of the local people. There was no dialogue and it is presumed that the action consisted of fighting and retreat by the Vikings. The episode ends with the commentator introducing the second episode thus:

For years and years we suffered troubled times in Scotland from perpetual invasions, but many invaders settled with us and became our fathers and our grandfathers, Our warfare is not now with Danes and Norsemen from their ships, but with those who live south of the border river who inhabit the land men now call England. To keep our independence has cost us many a stout and sturdy warrior—you've heard of William Wallace whose body, dismembered, shamelessly, hung from London's Tower—but now I bring before your eyes our nation's deliverer in the hour of our greatest need—King Robert the Bruce--and tell you of how, in sorrow for the death of his beloved Queen Elizabeth, he gave to the Kirk of Cullen a gift whereby the church should always pray for the weal of her soul...

Individuals from 'Cullen and District' performed the episode; the pageant master—Mr L.G. Cochrane—produced the scene. The title of the episode suggests that music was integral to the performance.

Episode 2: Robert the Bruce—Death of Queen Elizabeth (1327)

This episode contained the largest cast of all the episodes, having around 85 players made up of men, women and children. These included principal parts as follows:

  • The blacksmith (played by William J. Copeland)
  • The swineherd (Ian Riddoch)
  • Bess (Mrs N. MacGregor)
  • Randolf (Alex. Macgregor)
  • Father Anselm (William. Riddoch)
  • Queen Elizabeth (Janet Smith)
  • The Bishop of Aberdeen (James Anderson)
  •  A trumpeter (William Bremner).

The scene is set in the township of Cullen during the fourteenth century and shows several small houses with thatched roofs and a chapel front made to match that still surviving in the town. The villagers are going about 'their ordinary day routine'. Women are drying and mending fishing nets, and some are doing laundry in a stream. Two others dye wool over a cauldron. All are 'laughing and gossiping while they work'. At the centre of the scene is the blacksmith; at the start of the episode he is shoeing a horse, later a servant leads the horse away. In the background to all of this several young men are 'training’: this includes shooting arrows and wrestling. A 'hunter in green' is 'patiently instructing them' while young girls look on. Children are playing in the foreground at a singing game called 'Lubin Loo'. A swineherd causes the group to scatter as he drives his pigs across the arena. He speaks with the blacksmith; from their talk it emerges that there had been peace in the land for twenty years, 'since Robert the Bruce drove the English back to their ain country, and has become our King'. The blacksmith bemoans the loss of excitement that the wars brought but Bess, an elderly washerwoman who joins the conversation, chastises him. She recalls that for most of her life there was war and states she is glad of the peace.

Bess's young grandson, Randolf, suddenly arrives on the scene calling out that the 'soldiers are coming'. A trumpet is heard announcing their arrival and the blacksmith calls for a bell to be rung to summon the people. The priest, Father Anselm, then emerges from the chapel. The trumpeter tells the assembled people that the queen and the Bishop of Aberdeen ask for shelter and aid; he states that the queen is 'stricken with some sickness'. The royal procession then enters the village. The Bishop tells the queen that the 'humble priest' has knowledge of herbs and asks that he be allowed to approach. However, he declares that his knowledge will do no good because the queen has leprosy. All around receive this news with horror.  Bess then takes a basin and asks to be allowed to 'lave her majesty's face and hands'. The Queen commends her bravery since she has some 'plague'. The priest provides a cool drink. The efforts are futile and Elizabeth declares that 'my hour has come. I am well prepared...' She further states as a last request that:

Because of this cup of cool water given me by this good priest, and because of the unselfish attention of this brave woman, I ask as a final request that His Majesty grant and give in gift for ever TEN merks of the kingdom in support of a Chaplain in the parish of the Blessed Mary of our burgh of Cullen, always to pray for the salvation of my soul. So help me God.

The episode ends with the queen's death while monks are chanting in the background and the villagers kneel and bless themselves. The body is taken to the chapel and Bess is left alone centre stage. The commentator then introduced the next episode.  The episode was performed by players from Portessie and Rathven, and produced by Mrs Nancy MacGregor. The episode contained dialogue and the script was by Mr L.G. Cochrane.

Episode 3: The Royal Charter (March, 1455)

Having described how the lands around Cullen 'had brought much profit and reputation to our people', the commentator announces that the Royal Charter arrived from Aberdeen in 1455. The episode then begins with a conversation between several 'merchants' about the anticipated charter. The conversation underlines the wealth of the town and takes place in the centre of Cullen at the market cross. Various other groups and individuals arrive, including washerwomen, ploughmen and sailors; a prisoner sat in stocks is present and a beggar approaches each of the groups in turn. A 'Dancing Bear' is nearby. Comedy then ensues as a master shoemaker chases his apprentice calling threats. The apprentice calls for 'mercy!' at which the sailors set about the shoemaker and carry him back to his shop. At this, three bailies appear, talking about the charter, their conversation exposes how previous charters have lapsed, to the detriment of the town. Sir Walter Ogilvie comes on the scene greeting all. The king's herald is announced. He calls for silence and the charter is read aloud to the assembled throng. At the conclusion of this, everyone cheers and cries 'God save the King!' The scene ends with Ogilvie proclaiming a toast to the king for his generosity at which tankards appear and there is 'general rejoicing'. Around 63 players took part in this scene which contained dialogue; named individuals included:

  • A parish priest (played by D. Urquart)
  • Sir Walter Ogilvie (W. Christie)
  • Shoemaker (Mrs V.T. Addison)
  • Apprentice (B. Falconer)
  • Sailors (C. Gardiner, B. Findlay, J. Runcie)
  • Merchants (J. Riach, D. Addison, J. Moir)
  • Bailies (F. Urquart, J.T. Addison, J. Sutherland)
  • Wives of Burgesses (V. Ross, D. Addison, J. Sutherland)
  • Lady Ogilvie (E. Riach)
  • Man in stocks (I. Addison)
  • Dancing bear (W. Thomson).

The commentator closed the scene by introducing episode 4. The episode was performed by players from Cullen and produced by Mrs Helen Urquart. The script was written by J.T. Guthrie.

Episode 4: The Betrothal of Mary Beaton and Ogilvie of Boyne (1566)

This episode had 10 female and 10 male players. It opens with 'Greensleeves' playing in the background while a couple wander arm in arm in a garden (meant to be in Edinburgh). They have a conversation; through this, it emerges that the man is Ogilvie, who is Captain of the Queen's Guard. Ogilvie is impatient to be married to the woman accompanying him, who is Mary Beaton (one of the four Marys of Mary Queen of Scots) but she must have the consent of the queen to marry. The couple have been meeting clandestinely at intervals for some time.  Ogilvie declares that he wishes to request an audience with her majesty but Mary Beaton is reluctant and states that the queen needs her. The couple part reluctantly with Ogilvie leaving just as Mary Seton, Mary Fleming and the 'Major Domo' arrive. They greet Mary Beaton and the Domo places a large rug on the grass. The women gossip about the queen, mentioning Darnley and Bothwell.

The queen then enters with her retinue including Bothwell and a French singer called François. The conversation that ensues concerns the dullness of Scotland according to the queen, while Bothwell defends the country and its men. The Domo re-enters and announces the arrival of Ogilvie; the Marys exchange glances and Mary Beaton hides 'a blush'. Ogilvie asks to speak with the queen in private and Bothwell objects but is overruled. While the court retires to another part of the garden, Ogilvie explains his request and describes his fine castle at Boyne and the riches of his lands. The Queen summons Mary Beaton and the others all listen as she states that she cannot release her from her service. This is a joke however, in order to tease 'my serious Beaton'. The queen states:

I am happy in your joy—there is little enough of it in this grim town of Edinburgh—with the wind  blowing from the east to chill us, and master Knox always ready to wipe the smiles from our faces with his preaching of sin and everlasting fire.

The episode was performed by players from Arrandoul and was produced by Mrs Pearson. Mrs C.A. Ritchie wrote the script.

Episode 5: The Duke of Cumberland at Cullen (1746)

Scene I: Prelude to Disaster

Players from Fordyce and Cullen performed this; the producer was Jack Forsyth, and John S. McLean wrote the script. Around sixty performers took part in the episode which was performed in three scenes; men and women were in roughly even numbers. The cast includes Jacobite supporters, Redcoats, Highlanders, villagers, the provost of Cullen and several councillors, a clergyman, the earl of Findlater (played by J.S. MacLean), the countess (played by I. Chalmers), the Duke of Cumberland (M.G. Bruce) and several officers, including Major Wolfe (G. Murdoch).

The Commentator talks about the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and sets the scene, which is said to be five days before the Battle of Culloden. The action then opens with the arena empty and the Kirk bell tolling; gradually, people gather arrive and gather at the Mercat Cross—they are apprehensive and all ask questions about why they have been summoned. An elderly clergyman enters looking grave; he calls for silence. The clergyman then tells all assembled that he has been ordered to inform them that henceforth they must all pray for 'His Majesty King George and His Royal Family' and furthermore 'take good heed of the absurdities and dangerous consequences of popery'. He then orders them to return to their homes, but many remain anxious: one old woman says she is afraid of the Highlanders that are 'rampagin' through the country'. He tries to reassure them; the people disperse and the minister goes into the church.

Scene II: Disaster

A group of highlanders enter noisily; they break into groups of two and three and are bent on forcing their way into houses. Some make their way to Cullen House. Screaming and shouting is heard from inside the houses and occupants are dragged out. One highlander tries to kiss a girl and she calls out for help. A young man breaks free of his highlander captors and runs to her aid but is cut down at point blank range by the assailant, who laughs and throws the young woman on top of her sweetheart's dead body. Highlanders who have looted the town's money force members of the town council onto the street. The council members are forced, some stumbling, towards the Mercat Cross where a Highland officer is waiting: he receives the loot and tears the provost's chain of office from around his neck. The provost protests and begs them to leave the village; argument ensues as more Jacobites arrive, having robbed Cullen House: they carry bags of loot and drive cattle before them. The provost says they will regret this when Lord Findlater hears of it, but the Jacobites pour scorn on this.

Scene III: Aftermath

The bell tolls and people make their way to Mercat Cross. The provost (minus his chain of office) and the minister (minus his Geneva gown) also arrive. The people tease the provost about the loss of his chain. The minister addresses the crowd saying that they should go home to await the arrival of the earl and countess who are making their way to Cullen House in anticipation of a visit by the Duke of Cumberland. They are told to be ready to greet the earl and the duke. All disperse until the arrival of the earl who comes on foot, accompanied by the countess. The mayor, minister and town councillors greet them. A bugle is heard and the Duke of Cumberland arrives with Hanoverian officers, all on horseback. Greetings are exchanged and the people cheer; the earl welcomes the duke to Cullen House, but explains that since it has been looted hospitality is necessarily limited. Cumberland introduces his officers and the earl welcomes them, stating that his home is in the 'Lowlands of the Highlands'. Cumberland enquires about the extent of the damage to Cullen House and the homes of the villagers. It is explained that this is extensive; Cumberland states in reply that the Jacobites must have been informed in advance about where to loot, and he asks in any informers have been apprehended. It is confirmed that three Jacobite supporters are imprisoned and the three (two men and a woman) are then brought before Cumberland. The woman is described as having been 'ower accomadatin' wi the Rebel officers when they lodged in the Big Hoose'. A Hanoverian firing squad is ordered to form up. The two men are condemned to death, and an order is given to send the woman to Aberdeen from where she will be sent 'onwards to London to await penal transportation'. The order to present arms is given to the firing squad and the woman protests loudly as she is bundled off. The Duke then retires to Cullen House accompanied by the earl and countess; the crowd, cheering loudly, follow them. There is a volley of shots and the soldiers unceremoniously carry off the two dead bodies.


The North of Scotland Federation of Townswomen's Guilds, Federation Choir performed two songs; Mrs Isa Guild Mus.Bac., L.R.A.M, conducted the choir.

Episode 6: The Visit of Robert Burns to Cullen (6th September 1787)

This episode was performed by a small cast of around 20 players who were members of Keith Arts Club. It was produced by George Pratt; Mrs Gordon Bain wrote the script. The episode contains dialogue delivered in Scots dialect. The Voice of Cullen introduces the episode:

Owing to pressure of time we have had to cut the next advertised episode. We had thought to set before you how—and not so very, very long ago—men were summarily hanged for the theft of a sheep and women suspected of witchery, spell-casting and blood-sucking were consigned to the ducking-pond or even to the flames. Let ardent golfers remember that once men sat on stools of repentance in the Kirk for playing golf on Sunday afternoon. Will you therefore come with us now and see how now and again Cullen received some notable guest—in this case, Robert Burns.

The scene opens in the 'Boar's Heid' inn with two fishermen drinking ale, seated at a bench. Beside them, a woman—Nancy—washes dishes. A fiddler in the background plays an 'old Scottish air'. The fishermen discuss the day's catch.  A 'tinker' enters carrying his wares in a tray around his neck. He is greeted cordially and the fishermen offer to buy him a drink if he will sing for them. The tinker states that he has come on the mail coach from Buckie and met Robert Burns in an inn there; he goes on to say the poet and his companion Willie Nichol [sic] are coming next to Cullen. Excited discussion follows in which Nancy says she must prepare a bed for them. They speculate about what the poet might choose to write about based on Cullen, and Nancy states that 'for a' his learnin', and for a' his takin' up wi' the gentry, it's the sma', ordinar' things that he pits in his verses'. The tinker confirms this view and says that though he can neither read nor write he recalls the words of a verse Burns created in Buckie. He then proceeds to sing a song about the barmaid in the inn at Buckie using the words recited by Burns. Everyone is impressed and there is applause. An ostler then runs in saying gentry are coming. Robert Burns and William Nichol enter; the latter is clearly in a bad mood.

The innkeeper is summoned and greets Burns; he calls for his best whisky to be served. Burns entertains the assembled drinkers, and Nancy tells him that they have heard his verse about the barmaid at Buckie. Nicol recited a verse by Burns entitled 'Scotch Whisky'. The fishermen take their leave and are replaced by two more locals who are introduced as sailors. One of these (Lieutenant Haughty) had fought in the American War. Burns asks him to tell about his experiences. Haughty responds by saying that he knows Burns has already written about the war and he proceeds to recite part of the verse 'Ballad on the American War'. The locals encourage Burns to stay a few days in Cullen, but Nichol complains at this idea and says they must be on their way to Banff in the morning. He is met with the reply that: 'Ye wid be better tae bide here at the "Boar's Heid" than tae gang awa' amon' yon Banffers—they that hanged puir MacPherson'. Burns appears keen to hear the story of MacPherson, but Nichol grows impatient. Burns reassures him they will make Banff in the morning but first he must hear the tale of MacPherson. He then listens to the story of a lovable rogue who is betrayed by a rival and hanged illegally in Banff. The scene ends with the arrival of supper (a locally-caught salmon) after which Burns takes his leave and all sing 'Auld Lang Syne' accompanied by the fiddle. When all the others have dispersed, the fiddler remains and takes up the tune he was playing at the start of the episode.

Episode 7: A ‘Penny Wedding’ (19th century)

The episode was performed by around thirty members of Portknockie community and produced by Mr G.M. Strachan. The script contained dialogue and was written by Mrs J.R. Gordon. The ‘Voice of Cullen’ explains that a 'Penny Wedding' was usually irregular and performed without the aid of clergyman, and that a collection was taken up in aid of the newlyweds which gave the celebration its name. The scene is in front of some cottages where trestle tables are set up. Some neighbours begin setting up the tables with utensils. Others arrive and children begin playing a game while the adults chat. Two of the organisers go round with a hat collecting pennies. Some of the men go to fetch the groom and a piper leads them. This procession then collects the bride and two girls from another house. They take their places at the head of a table. Women then begin bringing out food. The bride and groom stand and a ring is passed between them. The piper starts playing and the couple lead off a reel. Dancing and drinking continue until the children raise the alarm that the 'Holy Men' are coming. All is rapidly cleared away and those already 'under the weather' are dragged indoors. The Kirk elders arrive and are suspicious but eventually they leave and the revelry resumes. The scene ends when the punch bowl is empty and all call for the couple to be 'put to bed', whereupon they are carried off and all disperse. A note in the pageant programme (p. 27) states that the final record of a Penny Wedding in local Kirk session records is dated 1818.

Episode 8: Cullen Harbour (20th century)

The Voice of Cullen introduces the episode, describing the distinction between the 'Up Town' and the 'Sea Town'. The episode is set at the harbour around the turn of the twentieth century; around 40 players from Cullen took part (the majority women). The writer and producer was Helen Urquhart. Much of the dialogue is in local dialect. When the scene opens, it is evening—but a great deal of activity is taking place. Women gut herrings while others smoke the fish over fires. Boat builders are still working; a fisherman mends nets and others are hanging up their nets to dry. Some women sit outside a cottage and knit while they chat. One of the knitters, tired of her work, suggests a dance. A woman takes up a melodeon and plays a traditional waltz and the younger women dance. At the end of the dance, a herring seller returns from having been to the 'big house' to sell her wares; she is singing the song 'Caller Herrin'. Other women take up the song. A carriage arrives carrying two ladies and two gentlemen. The party go around the fisherfolk enquiring as to their work, which is patiently explained by each in turn. Eventually the travellers depart and a call goes up that the boats are in. The episode closes with the women singing 'O Weel May the Boatie Row' as they leave to welcome in the fishing boats. The Voice of Cullen makes brief closing comments saying, 'let the past inspire us and let the future claim our work and every best endeavour'.


All of the players, ground assistants, the band and choir assemble in the arena. The choir sings 'Land of Hope and Glory'. Within this, a 'parade of personnel' then 'form the letters. C-U-L-L-E-N'. The audience and players end with singing of 'O God Our Help in Ages Past'.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Elizabeth [née Elizabeth de Burgh] (d. 1327) queen of Scots
  • Mary Beaton (c.1543–1597) 
  • Mary Seton (b. c.1541, d. after 1615)
  • Mary Fleming (1542–c.1600)
  • Mary [Mary Stewart] (1542–1587) queen of Scots
  • Hepburn, James, fourth earl of Bothwell and duke of Orkney (1534/5–1578)magnate and third consort of Mary, queen of Scots
  • William Augustus, Prince, duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) army officer
  • Wolfe, James (1727–1759) army officer
  • Burns, Robert (1759–1796) poet
  • Nicol, William (1744–1797) schoolmaster

Musical production

Music was live and performed by the Turriff Silver Band. There was also a choir—The North of Scotland Federation of Townswomen's Guilds Choir; Mrs Isa Guild Mus.Bac., L.R.A.M, conducted this. The choir performed during the intermission and possibly, during the pageant itself, though it is unclear where. A fiddler performed traditional music in episode 6 and a melodeon is played in episode 8.  Available details of music played and songs performed are as follows:

  • 'Greensleeves' [traditional] episode 4
  • Song: 'The Piper O' Dundee' [traditional] (intermission)
  • Song: 'Skye Boat Song' [words by Sir Harold Boulton, music traditional] (intermission)
  • Song: 'Lady Onlie, Honest Lucky' [words by Robert Burns, music traditional] (episode 6)
  • Song: 'Auld Lang Syne' [words by Robert Burns, music traditional] (episode 6)
  • Song: 'Caller Herrin' [traditional] (episode 8)
  • Song: 'O Weel May the Boatie Row' [traditional] (episode 8)
  • Song: 'Land of Hope and Glory' [words by A.C. Benson, music by E. Elgar] (finale)
  • Hymn 'O God Our Help in Ages Past' [words by Isaac Watts, music by William Croft] (finale)

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Aberdeen Press and Journal
Aberdeen Evening Express

Book of words

None noted

Other primary published materials

  • Royal Burgh of Cullen-Quincentenary 1455 - 1955: Historical Pageant at the Haugh, Cullen House, Souvenir Brochure. Banff, 1955.

Although a book of words per se was not produced, the souvenir brochure contains a great deal of descriptive detail and most of the pageant script within its text. It is evident within the introduction to the brochure that it was produced retrospectively, some weeks after the pageant. (Two introductory pieces are included in the brochure, one written by the local MP, W.S. Duthie, and the other by the provost of Cullen, Lewis Bain. These are dated 17 August 1955: see Royal Burgh of Cullen-Quincentenary 1455 - 1955: Historical Pageant at the Haugh, Cullen House, Souvenir Brochure (Banff, 1955),  2).

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Aberdeen University Library holds 1 copy of the souvenir brochure, ref class Lambda Cul q

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Cullen is a village, but historically it enjoyed the status of a royal burgh from the 15th century through to local government reorganization in 1975. In view of its burgh status, it had a provost and council. The village is situated in the modern county of Moray; its historic county is Banffshire.  Cullen was rebuilt entirely during the nineteenth century at a nearby location. The pageant was held in the grounds of a stately house (at the time of the pageant home to the Countess of Seafield) nearby to the old village.

In the post war period, the northeast of the United Kingdom became something of a pageant hotspot. Beginning with the first Arbroath Abbey pageant in 1947, which continued annually until 1956, and intermittently thereafter pageantitis also spread northwards. Several youth pageants were held in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Aberdeenshire, for example. In 1955, it was the turn of Moray, and the quincentenary charter celebrations of the attractive coastal village of Cullen provided the occasion. Although Cullen had a population of fewer than two thousand people in the 1950s, it was a big enough occasion to encourage the village into taking the pageant plunge. Given the small size of the community, people from nearby places were also recruited in order to supply sufficient players. There was evidently a positive response to the call for support, and over three hundred performers, including many members of local organizations such as the Women's Rural Institutes, took part in the pageant, which was held on two evenings over the course of the quincentenary celebration week.

The pageant was staged on a historic site within the grounds of Cullen House, ancestral home of the Ogilvie family (created earls of Findlater in 1638). Until the nineteenth century, the burgh of Cullen and its Kirk had been in the immediate vicinity of the laird's house, but after the local title had passed to the earls of Seafield the fifth earl decided to build a new town nearer the coast. This gave the laird's house more privacy and many embellishments were added to it and its grounds.1 The owner of the house in 1955—the Countess of Seafield—co-operated with the local council to allow its use as a pageant ground; she also contributed in kind to much of its expenditure by providing labour from the estate and most of the material needed for the set.2 Thereafter, no expense was spared: floodlighting and an 'extensive amplifying sound system' were both used.3 Moreover, the staging involved the construction of two separate 'life-size prefabricated' mock-ups of the old village. At each of the two performances, in episode I, which featured a Viking raid, this stage set was burned in a dramatic re-enactment of Viking pillaging. The stage sets were designed and built by a teacher at the local secondary school, assisted by the Cullen House estate carpenter.4

The decision to feature Viking incursions as the first episode reflected a desire to have the pageant reproduce authentic history, for it was stated that the earliest documented records for the village dated from the tenth century—though it was conceded a community might have long predated this time.5 This concentration on local authenticity proceeded to colour the remainder of the eight episodes, each of which was written by different local, amateur enthusiasts. In the second scene, for example, that Scottish pageant favourite Robert the Bruce may have been mentioned, but he did not appear in person. Rather it was his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who died at Cullen in 1327, who took the star part. Bruce gave an endowment to the village church in perpetuity, in reward for the kindly treatment his wife received from villagers and for their care of her remains at their church. Episode three then told the story of the charter granted by James II, but again without featuring this monarch; instead, the central elite figure was a member of the locally-significant Ogilvie family. A member of this family again featured in episode four, although this time the monarch in question evidently presented a dramatic opportunity not to be missed: for this was Mary Queen of Scots. This slight departure from a straightforward emphasis on local history was continued in episode five, which provides the most elaborate narrative within the pageant. In this, the doomed Jacobite cause is dramatized. Somewhat unusually for a Scottish pageant, however, there is little romance, and absolutely no sympathy is shown towards the Stuarts.  This interpretation reflected the Hanoverian sympathies of the Findlater lairds. Indeed, 'Butcher Cumberland', as he became known, is given a wholly sympathetic portrayal in this pageant and Highlanders are depicted as savages. Thus although the emphasis in episode five may have moved more towards the national story, it has a definite and fearless local twist given that affection for Cumberland is generally in short supply in most Scottish versions of the Battle of Culloden.

The arrival of a nationally famous visitor to the village is again celebrated in episode six when the poet Robert Burns and his mercurial companion William Nicol make a stop in Cullen as part of their tour of the Highlands. In this scene, Burns enjoys his stay and is treated by locals to a rendition of neighbourhood lore that the storytellers hope will prove grist to the poet's mill. This episode is conducted in what appears to be lowland dialect in the Burnsian tradition, rather than the local idiom. The episode was written and produced by members of a local arts club, who perhaps wished to demonstrate their erudition in respect of Scottish literature. The retrospectively-published pageant brochure does, however, make clear that in the original advertised programme the Burns episode should have been episode seven, and that another separate drama should have preceded this, had things all gone exactly to plan. The reason given for this cut in the programme was lack of time.

The missing episode is briefly described as including the re-enactment of a hanging for sheep stealing and the punishment of witches.6 In the pageant synopsis included in the brochure, this particular part of the programme is obliquely referred to as 'the upheaval of the Reformation', which is further commented upon as a period that could provide 'ample material for any historical pageant'—yet, ironically, it was this epoch that was dropped from Cullen's pageant. It was likely a technically difficult episode to produce, given that it included a mock hanging; yet the fact that the scene might also have involved some religious sensitivity does raise a slight suspicion that it may have been convenient to cut this episode rather than any other when time ran short. The relative strength of Episcopalianism in this part of Scotland from the nineteenth century onwards is perhaps at the root of this. It is impossible to know for sure, but a will to avoid courting historical controversy on the matter of religion could have been implicated in the episode's disposal. When concluding its short mention of the missing scene, the brochure states that 'ardent golfers' should keep in mind that those who dared to play on a Sunday could later be found sat 'on stools of repentance in the Kirk'.7 Given that this part of Scotland is famous for its golf courses, doubtless a few visiting golfers may have been in the audience, but since a more light-hearted approach to the alleged dourness of Presbyterianism was adopted, it is probable that golf-loving spectators were not offended! Certainly, a lighter tone set the scene for episode seven, which poked gentle fun at the Presbyterian religion. In this episode, some pompous Kirk elders fail to put a stop to the riotous celebration of an irregular marriage.

The final episode brought the history of Cullen more up to date with a dramatic celebration of its fishing industry. Set at the harbourside, the smoking of fish was included in this representation of a still quaint and antique community, perhaps in an aside to the village's most famous export—Cullen Skink—a well-known soup made with smoked haddock. In the drama, the activities of the fisher folk were demonstrated to some upper-class visitors, perhaps in a knowing acknowledgement that this part of Cullen was fast becoming more of a tourist attraction than a working port. A grand finale where all the performers resumed the arena closed the pageant in time-honoured style. This included the singing of 'Land of Hope and Glory'. Although we have no figures for the financial success, or otherwise, of the pageant, it is probable that it did attract a sizeable audience—composed both of locals and summertime visitors. In any case, this event was not really aimed at making money. The quincentenary came along in the context of an end to post-war austerity; and although the future may have been uncertain in some respects, Cullen had comfortably returned to its flourishing status as a tourist attraction and small commercial centre for a rural hinterland. Indeed, the pageant took place alongside other celebrations that spoke of congratulatory, post-war reconstruction. One such was the ceremonial opening of the new 'town hall', which had been built to replace an earlier hall destroyed by fire during the war. Partly funded by the 'Cullen Welcome Home Committee' (who helped ex-servicemen reacclimatize to civilian life), the new hall included social facilities such as a billiard room and a library. However, it also included accommodation for 'Civil Defence Quarters',8 a detail eloquently representative of the existence of a general awareness of the Cold War and lack of complacency about the continuation of peace, even in small and relatively remote communities.

This was a conservative part of Scotland, socially and politically, and at the election held earlier in the year (May 1955), the constituency that included Cullen had returned its Conservative MP with a very comfortable majority.9 The ascendency of Conservatism was reflected in the unionist tone evident in the pageant, and particularly in episode five wherein Cullen is stated to be part of the 'Lowlands' despite its close geographical proximity to the Highlands of Scotland—a comment that is meant to portray the relative sophistication of local society. The pageant also underlined the strong local identity of this part of the coast, as well as the history of relative commercial success that it enjoyed, despite its small population and northerly, rural situation. It was stated in the press that the scope of the pageant was especially impressive given the size of this community and would certainly have made 'bigger places green with envy'.10 All of these factors make it likely that if the weather had held, this pageant, which placed local history in the context of a national story that was firmly unionist in tone, would have been a very successful summer attraction.


1. ^ See 'Cullen House' at the Historic Environment Scotland site, accesses 28 December 2016 at:
2. ^  'Modern Vikings Will Re-enact the Pillage of Cullen', Aberdeen Press and Journal 14 July 1955, 8.
3. ^ Ibid.
4. ^ Ibid.
5. ^ Royal Burgh of Cullen-Quincentenary 1455 - 1955: Historical Pageant, 5.
6. ^ Ibid., 23.
7. ^ Ibid.
8. ^ 'Gala Opening for Cullen's £16,000 Hall', Aberdeen Press and Journal 15 July 1955, 2.
9. ^ See UK General Election Results, online, accessed 6 January 2017 at:
10. ^ 'Bon Accord Gossip', Aberdeen Evening Express, 11 July 1955, 4.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Royal Burgh of Cullen Quincentenary Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,