Bygone Aberdeen: A Historical Pageant in Ten Episodes
Place: Pittodrie Park (Aberdeen) (Aberdeen, Aberdeen City, Scotland)
Number of performances: 3
2–4 June 1953
The pageant was performed at 8pm on all dates.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Director [Pageant Master]:
- Narrative and Speeches
Writer: George Bruce
- Settings and Costume
Designer: James Bayne, with the assistance of Margaret Bayne
- Music Director: Reginald
- Narrator: D. Sinclair Hay
- Stage Directors: William
McCann and George Sinclair, assisted by Daphne Henry, Marie Henfield, Nellie
Insch, Helen Robb, Bill Duncan
- Continuity: Nan Pirie
The souvenir programme notes that the scenario was prepared by Thomas Forbes ‘from historical data supplied by Dr Douglas Simpson, Librarian, University of Aberdeen.’
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of committee members were not recorded in the programme.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
No information has been found on the number of performers. The souvenir programme includes the names of nine junior secondary schools and twelve church youth fellowships that took part in the pageant, as well as nineteen individuals who played major roles. Reference is also made to a number of other organisations who performed in different episodes, including students of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, the Training College for Teachers, and the Pre-Nursing College, boys of the Grammar School, members of Kaimhill and St. Katherines Community Centres, boys of Robert Gordon’s College, members of the Gavin Players and Club Players, pipers and drummers of the Police Pipe Band, and members of the Aberdeen Military Band.
Object of any funds raised
This pageant was held as part of the City of Aberdeen Coronation celebrations.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
The pageant took place in Pittodrie Stadium, the home of Aberdeen Football Club.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Episode I. St. Machar converts the Picts, c. 580 AD.
A man is about to be sacrificed by a group of Pictish men, women and children, followed by a group of Druids. As the Chief Druid raises his knife, the ceremony is interrupted by a group of monks led by a boy carrying a cross and followed by Saint Machar, who interrupts the sacrifice and angers the Druids. Saint Machar instructs them in the Christian faith and gradually they move from doubt, to enthusiasm, to accepting the blessing of the Saint.
Episode II. The Sack of Aberdeen by the Vikings, 1153 AD.
The daily life of Aberdeen townsfolk is interrupted by Vikings who rush out of the forest and attack those trying to flee for the safety of the town, before the Vikings set fire to Aberdeen.
Episode III. King Robert the Bruce grants to Aberdeen the Stocket Forest, 1319.
A large crowd of Aberdeen folk talk and jostle before forming into two lines at the sound of a trumpet. The Provost of Aberdeen, Bailies and Town Councillors appear and are surrounded by the crowd before the trumpets sound again to mark the appearance of King Robert the Bruce, his Queen and retinue. A page carries a cushion on which lies the Royal Charter. All kneel before the King asks them to rise before thanking the town ‘for help given to him during the long struggle against England.’ To thank them, he is gifting them the Royal Forest of the Stocket. The Royal Charter is passed from King to Provost, before entertainment is laid on, after which everyone enters the town gate followed by a cheering crowd.
Episode IV. The Return from Harlaw, 1411.
This episode depicts the return of the survivors from a fierce battle between the Earl of Mar, his followers and the men of Aberdeen and Donald of the Isles and his Highland Followers at Harlaw near Inverurie. Although the sack of Aberdeen was prevented, many were killed, including Provost Davidson of Aberdeen and many burgesses. ‘A pitiful procession of wounded and weary men struggle homewards. They carry on a bier the body of the dead Provost shrouded in a banner displaying the arms of Aberdeen’.
Episode V. The Presentation of the Papal Bull founding the University of Aberdeen, 1494.
A crowd of townspeople and country folk are mingling as a procession of clergy, followed by Bishop Elphinstone, advances. A messenger from Rome arrives on a horse, dismounts and reads the Bull from the Pope that allows for the founding of the University. Bishop Elphinstone replies, pronounces a Benediction, then all sing a Te Deum before dispersing.
Episode VI. The Standard on the Braes o’ Mar, 1715.
Groups of clansmen arrive and gather around the flagpole on the Braes o’ Mar to watch the raising of the standard, prefaced by an address from the Earl of Mar, who arrives with Highland Chiefs and Lowland Lords in tow.
Episode VII. The Provost of Aberdeen is forced to drink the health of Prince Charles Edward Stewart, 1745.
A Jacobite called John Hamilton arrives in Aberdeen with his followers and a group of townspeople gather. Hamilton calls for the Provost, who is brought to him, at which point Hamilton toasts Prince Charles Edward Steward and asks that the Provost do the same. The Provost refuses but is forced to drink the toast ‘Amid laughter and cheers’.
Episode VIII. The Duchess of Gordon raises the regiment of the Gordon Highlanders, 1794.
During a ‘lively fair’ of country folk, the Duchess of Gordon arrives on her horses calling for recruits to help fight France. ‘She offers a golden guinea and puts it between her lips’. The blacksmith steps forward, but returns the guinea, saying that ‘a kiss is enough’. A number of recruits join in this way, mount horses, and then march away to the sound of bagpipes.
Episode IX. Queen Victoria arrives at Aberdeen Harbour, 1848.
A guard of honour is formed, with the Provost and Town Council, and Principal and Senatus of the University all taking up their positions as a crowd gathers to meet the arrival of the Queen, accompanied by Prince Albert and three of their children. She is welcomed by the Provost and given the keys of the city. After inspecting the guard, the Royal Family enter a carriage and are driven away to the sound of cheers from the crowd.
Episode X. Finale.
‘Each of the nine episodes is recalled so as to make a continuous pattern of history. To these are added Veterans of the South African War, ‘Old Contemptibles’ of the First World War, and overhead there is a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.’ (The fly-past occurs on 3 and 4 June performances only).
Key historical figures mentioned
- Robert I [Robert Bruce]
(1274–1329) king of Scots
- Stewart, Alexander, earl
of Mar (c.1380–1435) magnate
- MacDonald family
[MacDhomnaill, MacDonald de Ile] (per. c.1300–c.1500) magnates
- 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
- Victoria (1819–1901) queen
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Bygone Aberdeen: A Historical Pageant in Ten Episodes. Souvenir Programme.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The souvenir programme notes that the scenario was prepared by Thomas Forbes ‘from historical data supplied by Dr Douglas Simpson, Librarian, University of Aberdeen.’ No further details are given.
In June 1953, Bygone Aberdeen: A Historical Pageant in Ten Episodes was performed at Pittodrie Stadium, the home of Aberdeen Football Club, as part of Aberdeen’s Coronation celebrations. Perhaps to convey the historical credentials of the pageant, the souvenir programme stated that it was devised and directed by Thomas Forbes using historical data provided by Dr Douglas Simpson, a librarian at the University of Aberdeen. It was designed, as the foreword to the programme noted, ‘to present, in simple but dramatic form, the progress of our ancient town, in sunshine and in shade, during the long period of some fourteen centuries… the tale is one of progress, and in the end the sunshine breaks through and dispels the lingering shadows.’ The action in the ten episodes are based on scenes that have local significance to the City of Aberdeen, beginning with the coming of Christianity in c. 580 AD and ending with the arrival of Queen Victoria at Aberdeen Harbour in 1848. With a nod to the Coronation of Elizabeth II, the foreword notes ‘the historical scenes of the pageant close upon a radiant note by portraying the first stage of the long and happy connection of the Royal House with Aberdeen and Deeside’. Figures of national historical significance are fairly few and far between, although King Robert the Bruce makes an appearance to thank ‘the brave town of Bon-Accord for help given to him during the long struggle against England’ in Episode III and Prince Charles Edward Stewart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) is referred to, though does not appear, in Episode VII. The narratives and speeches in the episodes were written by George Bruce, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen and at the time a BBC Radio producer in Aberdeen, well known for his popular radio series Scottish Lives and Letters (which ran for over twenty years) and his poetry (Bruce was later to find fame as a poet, writer, television features producer, and arts commentator).
Apart from what is presented in the Souvenir Programme, there is scant information on this Coronation Pageant; few details have been recovered of whom the Pageant Committee comprised of, nothing on the number of performers, finances, or details of the music performed (beyond reference to the Aberdeen Police Pipe Band in Episodes VI, VIII and IX and the Military Band in Episode IX). That said, it is clear from the souvenir programme that a wide range of schools, colleges and other groups were involved in this pageant – the names of nine junior secondary schools and twelve church youth fellowships that took part in the pageant, as well as nineteen individuals who played major roles, are referred to, as well as a number of other organisations who performed in different episodes, including students of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, the Training College for Teachers, and the Pre-Nursing College, boys of the Grammar School, members of Kaimhill and St. Katherines Community Centres, boys of Robert Gordon’s College, members of the Gavin Players and Club Players. Given that the pageant took place at Pittodrie football stadium and was part of the Coronation celebrations, there must have been room for many performers and spectators, and it is likely that the Royal Air Force fly-pasts on two of the three performance nights would have attracted spectators outside the ground too. Aberdeen was to produce another historical pageant in 1969.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Bygone Aberdeen: A Historical Pageant in Ten Episodes’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1576/