Newhaven Historical Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Leith Town Hall (Leith) (Leith, Midlothian, Scotland)

Year: 1936

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 2


7–8 December 1936, at 7.45pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Chairman (Monday): Louis S. Gumley, The Right Hon. Lord Provost of Edinburgh,
  • Chairman (Tuesday): Gilbert Archer, Esq., J.P.


Names of committee members have not been recovered; it may be assumed that the committee was made up of local members of the Newhaven on-Forth Parish Church.

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


No information has been found on the scriptwriter. The souvenir programme does advertise that an illustrated history of Newhaven and its church was prepared by the minister and was available to buy in the Hall.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers

No information has been found on the number of performers. 

Financial information


Object of any funds raised

The King George Memorial Fund and Leith Hospital Extension Fund.

Linked occasion


Audience information

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Ticket prices were between 2 and 5 shillings for reserved tickets and 1 shilling for unreserved.

Associated events


Pageant outline

Act I. Beginnings

Scene I. The King’s Haven (A.D. 1504)

This was set on the links west of Newhaven and tells the story of how King James IV came to build the Royal Dockyard in Newhaven. The scene shows the King, shortly after he had been crowned King James IV of Scotland, arriving on the West Links with Sir Andrew Wood, who became Scotland’s first Admiral, and deciding that this was a good strategic place to build a Navy ‘capable of defending the coasts against English invasion.’

Scene II. The Chapel of Our Lady of Grace (A.D. 1506)

This scene is focused on the arrival of King James IV for the dedication of the Chapel, the reading of the Royal Proclamation and the Charter of Chaplaincy. The programme explains that one of King James’ first acts in Newhaven was to establish a Chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. James, and to appoint Sir James Cowie as priest.

Scene III. The Great Michael (A.D. 1511)

This shows King James visiting the Royal Dockyard a few days before the launching of the Great Michael, a war ship that was 240 feet long, 36 feet broad and with side walls 10 feet thick. 

Interlude. Mainly Historical (A.D. 1511-1780)

No information on the content of this scene is provided in the programme. 

Act II. The Fisher Folk

Scene I. The Free Fishermen’s Society (A.D. 1788)

Set in the Auld Box in Lamb’s Court, this scene depicts a ‘stormy meeting’ between Newhaven and Prestonpans men over oyster poaching, which was an issue of conflict during the late eighteenth century. 

Scene II. Baiting the Lines (A.D. 1795)

This scene depicts women baiting the lines for herring fishing and making nets whilst singing a number of songs of the period. The accompanying text in the souvenir programme emphasises the importance of women in the life of the fishing community and notes that herring fishing started in the Forth in 1793. 

Scene III. The Storm (A.D. 1795)

‘In this scene we try to suggest some of the dangers of a storm at sea.’

Scene IV. The Wedding (A.D. 1795)

This scene shows part of a wedding banquet and dance, which followed a traditional wedding ceremony in the eighteenth century. The programme notes that festivities used to last at least a week at this time. 

Act III. School and Kirk

Scene I. The New School (A.D. 1830)

Taking place in the new school, built on the west lings to replace the first Newhaven School which had stood in Lamb’s Court, this scene depicts an inspection in progress. In this, the children are ‘being examined on the notable part played by their fathers during the Napoleonic Wars.’

Scene II. The School Service (A.D. 1830)

This scene shows the time that so many people attended the weekly service that the Ministers of North Leith put on for people in Newhaven that there were not enough seats for everyone. This is taken to be the reason for a new church being built in Newhaven.

Scene III. The New Kirk (A.D. 1836)

This shows the first service of the new Newhaven-on-Forth Church (opened on 30 October 1836) and introduces the architect, John Henderson, and the first Minister, Rev. James Fairbairn. 

Scene IV. After the Disruption (A.D. 1850)

Set after the church had been closed for some years following the Disruption of 1843, this scene, set in the manse study, shows the original minister, James Fairbairn, calling on his successor, Rev William Graham (inducted in 1850). 

Act IV. The Twentieth Century

Scene I. Votes for Women (A.D. 1913)

This scene follows the part played by a Newhaven suffragette who represented Scotland as part of a deputation received at the House of Commons in 1913. The programme indicates that women in Newhaven ‘were strong supporters of the Suffragette Movement.’

Scene II. The Great War (A.D. 1914-1918)

Gives a glimpse of life during wartime, and presents a tableau at the end that ‘reveals the Price of Peace’ (no further details provided).

Scene III. The Everlasting Kingdom (The Present)

This scene depicts ‘The Voice’, described as ‘the Voice of Wisdom which has been the mouthpiece of God in Scripture.’ It reminds the audience that ‘we are all heirs to a great inheritance, and that none other than God Himself has been and remains our Leader’. 

Key historical figures mentioned

  • King James IV (1473–1513) king of Scots
  • Archibald, second earl of Argyll (d. 1513) magnate
  • Wood, Sir Andrew (d. 1515) sea captain and merchant
  • Barton, Robert [called Hob a Barton] (d. 1540) sea captain and administrator
  • Lindsay, Robert, of Pitscottie (c.1532–c.1586) historian

Musical production

The music was live and reference is made to a Conductor and Members of the Orchestra in the Souvenir Programme, although neither are named.

Act I of the pageant began with the singing of God Save the King followed by an overture by the orchestra.

Scene I.  Carol ‘I sing of a maiden that is makeles’, sung by children.

Scene II. ‘Ave Maria’ by the company.

Scene III. ‘Clang, clang, clang on the anvil’ and ‘The Song of the Michael’ by male voices

The Interlude was followed by the song ‘The Flowers of the Forest’ by ‘A Fisher Lass’.

There was no music in Scene I of Act II.

Scene II. ‘Will ye no come back again’ by Janet, ‘Caller Ou’ by Jean, and ‘Caller Herrin’’ by the Company.

Scene III. Verses 1 and 2 of the Hymn ‘Jesus, Lover of my Soul’ was sung.

Scene IV. Five songs were sung during the wedding scene, with Peter listed as singing the fourth song ‘The Tarrin’ o’ the Yool’, and the Company as singing the other four: ‘Glad news is come to the toun’, ‘The Boatie Rows’, ‘The Lassies o’ the Creel’, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

There was no music in Scenes I and IV of Act III.

Scene II. Psalm 23, verses 1 and 5 to the tune ‘Orlington’.

Scene III. Psalm 118, verses 19, 28 and 29 to the tune ‘Southwark’ and Psalm 24, verses 7 to 10 to the tune ‘St George’s, Edinburgh’.

There was no music in Act IV.

Newspaper coverage of pageant


Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Newhaven Historical Pageant of Scotland’s Famous Fishing Village in Four Acts and Fifteen Scenes Souvenir Programme, Price 3d, Leith 1936

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant



This pageant on the history of the fishing village of Newhaven, which sits just north of Edinburgh city centre, was organised and performed as part of the centenary celebrations of Newhaven-on-Forth parish church. There were two evening performances, which took place in the nearby Leith Town Hall, on 7 and 8 December 1936. The full title of the pageant was ‘Newhaven: a Historical Pageant in Four Acts and Fifteen Scenes’, with the historical narrative presented beginning with King James IV of Scotland establishing the Royal Dockyard in Newhaven in 1504 and ending in the present day. Each of the four main acts dealt with a different theme in Newhaven’s history: its formation and initial development in the early sixteenth century; the fishing community; education and the church; and themes in the twentieth century (women’s suffrage, the First World War, and the present day, in relation to God and religion). The performers appear to be members of the church, including children, with most performers not named, although where solos are indicated first names are provided. The accompanying music was live, and provided by a conductor and orchestra (neither of whom were named in the programme). The music was made up of a mixture of hymns and psalms, traditional folks songs, and fishing songs, including ‘The Flowers of the Forest’, about the Battle of Flodden but increasingly associated with the First World War, and ’Auld Lang Syne’. The content of the episodes is very locally based, though, in the tradition of pageants, connected with much wider historical events at a Scottish- and British-national level; for example, we see how Newhaven’s ministers responded to the Disruption of 1843, and the part played by a Newhaven suffragette, who represented Scotland as part of a deputation received at the House of Commons in 1913. Women are well represented in this pageant, with Newhaven fishwives well-known throughout the British Isles and their significant contribution to the community well documented and acknowledged. It is interesting that a scene depicting life during the Great War is included, which at the end presented a tableau that ‘reveals the Price of Peace’, although unfortunately further details of what this was are not revealed. The foreword for the Souvenir Programme, on sale for 3d, was provided by Ernest Brown, the Minister of Labour and MP for Leith, and in this he emphasised the historical importance and character of Newhaven, particularly in the face of new technology and what he referred to as ‘the growth of common standards of speech, dress and habit.’ This would chime with fears in the 1930s about the impact of new technologies, mass popular culture and suburbanisation on the individuality of places in Britain. In Newhaven, the growth of the city of Edinburgh (the former village of Newhaven is now a district of the city) may also have underscored these fears. This was a small scale, indoor pageant linked to a particular village and institution, and unfortunately little documentation, apart from the souvenir programme, has been located. 


How to cite this entry

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