- Co-operative Centenary Pageant, 1844-1944; Co-operative Centenary: Pageant Play of the Peopled
<p><span>This pageant was held by co-operative societies in different locations in Scotland.</span></p>
Place: Co-operative Hall (Bathgate) (Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland)
Number of performances: 4
14–16 September 1944
[The pageant was performed in the evenings on Thursday 14, Friday 15 and Saturday 16 September at 7 pm, with a matinee on Saturday 16 September at 3 pm.]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant
Master]: Wilson, Andrew P.
- Stage Director: Mary
- Dance Arranger: Nan
- Programme Cover
Designer: W. Hollywood Salmon
- Lighting Effects: Robert
- Scenic Effects: Stanley
- Stage Manager: Alistair
- Assistant Stage Manager:
- Property Master: Wm. Lafferty
- Wardrobe Mistress:
- Costumes: Wm. Mutrie and
- Costume Design (for
Spirit of Co-operation): Ann Shiels
The pageant was written and produced by the prolific playwright Andrew P. Wilson.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Wilson, Andrew P.
The pageant was written and produced by the prolific playwright and theatre director, Andrew P. Wilson.
Names of composers
- Wilcox, F.H. Cooper
- Nicol, Marjorie
The pageant programme states that Marjorie Nicol composed special music (Co-operative Centenary, 1844-1944 Bathgate Co-operative Society Salutes the Rochdale Pioneers: Souvenir Programme (Bathgate, 1944), 10).
Numbers of performers
The number of performers has not been recovered; each episode had only a small number of named performers, but there may have been other unnamed persons forming crowd scenes and the pageant included a choir.
Object of any funds raised
Financial information has not been recovered but many such pageants raised money for some aspect of war work: this is also likely to have been the case in Bathgate.
Centenary of the Co-operative movement in Britain.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
The pageant was held in Bathgate's Co-operative Hall; this building has now been demolished; it is likely to have been capable of holding several hundred people.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Ticket prices for the Bathgate presentation have not been recovered. However at stagings of the same pageant in Aberfeldy and in Killin (both in Perthshire) in November 1944, tickets cost 2s and 1s (Advertisement, Perthshire Advertiser, 25 October 1944, 3). Bathgate's prices were likely similar.
The 'Spirit of Co-operation' delivered an introduction; Dorothy Mathewson played the Spirit. It is probable that she also delivered commentary at other points in the pageant; she returns at the close of the pageant.
[All information for this pageant is taken from Co-operative Centenary, 1844-1944 Bathgate Co-operative Society Salutes the Rochdale Pioneers: Souvenir Programme (Bathgate, 1944), 4; available to view for subscribers at the SCRAN website, accessed 2 March 2017 at: https://www.scran.ac.uk/]
Episode One: A time of flux and change [18th century]
This episode dramatizes 'the end of feudal might' and the beginning of the 'machine age'. It includes the character of 'Flora MacDonald' and 'Slaves'. A note in the programme states that 'Until the passing of the Act of Liberation in 1799 there were over 200,000 slaves in the mines and salt workings of Scotland'.
Episode Two: The Fenwick Weavers
This episode features some weavers as well as a Children's Choir and the poet Robert Burns; no further details are available.
Episode Three: The Machine Acquires Power
This episode features James Watt, the engineer and inventor.
Episode Four: The Machine takes Toll
The following characters perform in this episode: Andrew Orr, Mrs Orr, John Wilson, a girl and a boy. No further details recovered.
Episode Five: In France the Storm Clouds Burst
This episode includes a 'Citizeness' and features six female 'Dancers'.
Episode Six: The Quality of Mercy
This episode takes place in a court of law and features Thomas Muir and Lord Braxfield.
Episode Seven: ‘It's Coming Yet, for a' that!’
The poet Robert Burns is featured in this episode and performs a monologue and singing.
Episode Eight: A Prophet Came to View Our Land
This episode includes the character of Robert Owen. The pageant programme includes the following statement: 'A Prophet came to view our land and found it good¾a Prophet with a heart that understood the people's wrongs and taught them to co-operate. The episode also features a children's choir.
Episode Nine: An Edinburgh Drawing Room
Four characters feature in this episode including Mr and Mrs Caddell and two women.
Episode Ten: A Cobbler's Shop
This episode features the character of 'Davie' (played by the author and producer of the pageant), and two women¾Maggie and Lizzie.
Episode Eleven: The Six Points of the Charter
The episode features a 'Chartist Leader' and seven others.
Episode Twelve: Rochdale: the ‘Big Ben’ of Co-operation
This episode features the Rochdale pioneer Charles Howarth, and Mary Howarth.
Episode Thirteen: The Beginning of Co-operation
This scene featured drama concerning the beginning of co-operation locally.
Episode Fourteen: Musical Evening
This features the character of Mother McLean and appears to have presented a sing-along scenario; it included characters called 'the Old-Timers'.
Episode Fifteen: Finale
Dance features in this episode; the characters of the 'Spirit of Co-operation' and a 'Bellman' appear.
Key historical figures mentioned
Flora (1722–1790) Jacobite heroine
- Burns, Robert (1759–1796) poet
James (1736–1819) engineer and scientist
- Owen, Robert (1771–1858) socialist and
- Macqueen, Robert, Lord Braxfield (1722–1799) judge
Thomas (1765–1799) political reformer
Howarth (1814–1868) Rochdale pioneer
Few details have been recovered, but it is assumed music was live; there were two choirs described as 'Junior and Senior'—at least one of these was made up of schoolchildren. They were both under the direction of Marjorie Nicol.
- Music entitled 'O
Brother Man', composed by F.H. Cooper Wilcox.
- Marjorie Nicol composed
- In episode seven,
featuring the poet Robert Burns, songs are performed; it is assumed these were
songs written by Burns but further details have not been recovered.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
- None noted.
A script for this pageant has not been recovered despite the fact that it was written by a well-known playwright.
Other primary published materials
- Co-operative Centenary, 1844–1944 Bathgate Co-operative Society Salutes the Rochdale Pioneers: Souvenir Programme. Bathgate, 1944.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- A copy of the programme for this pageant is held at the Bennie Museum, Bathgate. Digital images of pages from the programme (including the front cover) are available to view for subscribers at the SCRAN website, accessed 2 March 2017 at: https://www.scran.ac.uk/
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The pageant that took place in Bathgate to celebrate the centenary of the co-operative movement was only one example of this genre. A play written by Lawrence Du Garde Peach was widely staged in England throughout 1944 (see entries for (see entries for Sheffield and Manchester), and had at least one staging in Scotland (in Fife in 1945) in order to mark this anniversary.1 This is a much better-known piece of theatre than that written by Andrew P. Wilson. However, Wilson's play, which was performed by members of Bathgate Co-operative Society in September 1944, and which included dramatization of many of the same elements that featured in Peach’s version, addressed the Scottish context of Co-operation more directly and seems to have been preferred north of the border. It had outings in Glasgow (3–8 July), Edinburgh (12–17 July), Kirkintilloch (October), West Calder (1 September), Aberfeldy (4 November), Killin (6 November) and Kirkcaldy (15–16 December) to name only a few examples for which details have been recovered. Such widespread celebration loudly signalled the central place of the Co-op in British society; but it also had a wider propaganda message to deliver about the anticipated reconstruction that would be needed when the war finally ended, and the role that the Co-op might play in this.2 Both these centenary pageants underlined how the Co-op had grown to become hugely important by the mid-twentieth century: they did so through a celebration of the past, but also had an eye to the future.
Included in the 15 episodes of Wilson's narrative is a scene depicting some predecessors of the English founders of the movement, namely the Fenwick weavers who on 14 March 1761 met in a local church to sign the charter of the Fenwick Weavers' Society (a food co-operative followed in 1769).3 The weavers are the subject of scene two, but the pageant opens with another familiar Scottish dissenter. In this scene, Flora MacDonald is a central character alongside some 'slaves'. Unfortunately, we do not know if she simply appeared as a representative of the failed Jacobite risings of the eighteenth century, or if she also had something to say about the treatment of slaves. Although MacDonald spent time in the North American colonies following her Jacobite adventures, it is possible she was included in this episode as much to comment on the so-called 'white slavery' that existed for mineworkers in Scotland until an 1899 Act outlawed the practice, rather than solely on slavery as it existed across the Atlantic. Since further details of the tableau have not been recovered, it is difficult to know what the precise intentions of this drama might have been.
Other distinctly Scottish features were the inclusion of Robert Burns in two of the episodes, and the Scottish political reformer Thomas Muir who in episode six is shown in the court case in which he was charged with sedition. The episodes also dramatized the rapid spread to Scotland of the movement begun in Rochdale. Episode thirteen was concerned with the start of a Co-op in Bathgate in the mid-Victorian period and ensured that local history was not overlooked.
Bathgate's economy was centred on the mining of coal and shale, and it had associated steel and chemical works. The war brought something of a temporary boom to Bathgate, with the sharp post-war decline of industry still ahead for many such industrial towns in central Scotland. As a place with a predominately working-class population, the services provided by the Co-op were vital in towns like Bathgate. The Co-operative Hall where the pageant was held would have been a familiar setting for weddings and works' dances. As well as having a public space for events, the landmark Co-op building in this West Lothian town, described as 'commodious and up-to-date', contained a bakery, butcher’s, grocery, haberdasher’s, and furniture store. As was the case with co-ops in many such towns, the suite of facilities also included a funeral parlour, thereby ensuring that this organization provided every service needed¾from cradle to grave. It is very likely, therefore, that the pageant would have attracted a lot of interest. In 1944, Bathgate Co-operative Society had 4661 members and despite wartime shortages had made sales of £387,658 during the year. 4 Bathgate was the type of medium-sized, industrial town where co-operation was able to thrive. The pageant also demonstrates that Bathgate and its Co-operative could call on sufficient amateur thespians in order to put on a good show that included song, dance and drama.
As well as writing the piece, Wilson produced the pageant himself; he appears to have been very committed to promoting amateur theatre. Around this time, he had founded the Edinburgh People's Theatre.5 While Wilson's work demonstrates a loyalty to the origins of co-operation in Rochdale, it also illustrates something of the divergent nature of Scottish pageantry, and a keenness by Scottish pageant writers to highlight that Scotland had its own separate history to tell. While the Co-operative Cavalcade at Bathgate included the international and English background to the struggle for better conditions for ordinary working people, it placed Scottish nationalist icons—popular representatives of such struggles—squarely in the foreground of the drama portrayed.
The pageant by Peach was held in February and March 1945 in Burntisland and Lochgelly respectively. An entry for these pageants can be found on the pageant database. This piece was performed throughout England in 1944 in for example Bath, Bristol, Chesterfield, Derby, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle , Preston, Sheffield, York and many other places.
See advertisement for the Co-op where it is described as 'a Cornerstone of Reconstruction', Perthshire Advertiser, 1 July 1944, 13.
See National Library of Scotland website, accessed 2 March 2017 at: http://www.nls.uk/learning-zone/politics-and-society/labour-history/fenwick-weavers
Co-operative Centenary, 1844-1944, 7.
See website of the Edinburgh People's Theatre, accessed 2 March 2017 at: https://www.ept.org.uk/aboutus/history.html
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Co-operative Cavalcade’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1515/