Bilston Historical Pageant

Other names

  • Depicting Bilston Through the Centuries, Given by the Pupils of the Bilston Girls’ High School

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: The School Hall of Bilston Girls’ High School (Bilston) (Bilston, Staffordshire, England)

Year: 1935

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 1


December 1935

No further information

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Challinor, Miss E.B.
  • Historical Details Supplied by: Miss E.B. Challinor
  • Dance Choreographer: Miss Burnand
  • Lighting and Advertisement: Alderman T.R. Wood (Mayor)
  • Loan of Furniture: Alderman H. Beach (Deputy Mayor)

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Challinor, E.B.
  • Rimes, L.M.
  • Barber, D.M.
  • Rickard, M.D.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

Total raised: £70. 18s. 9d.

Object of any funds raised

To benefit the newly inaugurated University Scholarship Fund.

Linked occasion

Silver Jubilee of King George V

Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

No information

Associated events


Pageant outline


Spoken by the Spirit of Bilston—Margery Baggott

Episode I

Lady Wulfruna grants land in Bilston to the monastery in Wolverhampton, but she leaves in haste on hearing of a Danish invasion. Scene: A dais placed beneath a large tree in the year 995.

Episode II

Scene: The Court of King William I in the year 1083.

A commissioner at work compiling the Doomsday Book reports the size of Bilston to King William I, who has returned from Normandy on account of the treachery of his brother Odo, whom he had left to Rule England.

Episode III

Walter de Bilston returns from the Battle of Evesham and reports that the royal lands in Bilston have been granted to him by King Edward III as a reward for valour. Scene: the home of Walter de Bilston in the year 1265.

Episode IV

William de Bilston meets Chaucer at the court of Edward III and receives a charter from the King granting the people of Bilston freedom from tolls, rents, wards and courts in recognition of their service in France. Scene: The Court of King Edward III.

Episode V

Sir Richard Pype, a Bilston man, now Lord Mayor of London, meets William Wylkes, an eminent divine, and discovers that they are both natives of the same place. He is also told of a dedication to himself in the ‘Schoole of Abuse’ by Stephen Gosson. Scene: The house of Sir Richard Pype, Bishopsgate, London, in the year 1578.

Episode VI

After the Battle of Hopton Heath, William Tomkys is tortured by Roundhead soldiers because he refuses to give information about his Cavalier master, Levison Gower. Scene: the home of Levison Gower in Bilston in the year 1643.


Spoken by the Spirit of Bilston—Margery Baggott.

Episode VII

A stranger, entering Bilston market in search of famous enamels, hears of the injustice of the tommy shops. An old woman is accused of being a witch, and a commotion follows which is silenced by the appearance of John Wesley. Scene: Bilston Market in the year 1770.

Episode VIII

John Wilkinson meets Mr Ward, a Bilston Ironmaster, to discuss plans for a new blast furnace.Ward describes some of the latest inventions in the iron trade. Scene: The Home of Mr Ward, an ironmaster lately come to Bilston, in the year 1790.

Episode IX

Father Newman is seen at the house of John Etheridge during the second Bilston cholera epidemic. They discuss the situation. Scene: The house of John Etheridge in the year 1849.


Spoken by the Spirit of Bilston.

Grand March and Finale

Key historical figures mentioned

  • William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
  • Odo, earl of Kent (d. 1097) bishop of Bayeux and magnate
  • Matilda [Matilda of Flanders] (d. 1083) queen of England, consort of William I
  • Robert [called Robert Curthose], duke of Normandy (b. in or after 1050, d. 1134) prince and crusader
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340–1400) poet and administrator
  • Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
  • Herbert [née Sidney], Mary, countess of Pembroke (1561–1621) writer and literary patron
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author [also known as Raleigh, Sir Walter]
  • Sidney, Sir Philip (1554–1586) author and courtier
  • Gower, George Granville Leveson-, first duke of Sutherland (1758–1833) landowner
  • Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
  • Newman, John Henry (1801–1890) theologian and cardinal

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Bilstonian
Black Country Bugle

Book of words


No book of words.

Other primary published materials

  • Bilston Historical Pageant; Depicting Bilston Through the Centuries, Given by the Pupils of the Bilston Girls’ High School. 1935.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Wolverhampton Archives: Copy of the Programme. DX-609/3/10.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Bilston is a town in the heart of the Black Country whose industries were historically focused on coalmining, stone quarrying, iron and steel production, buckle and lock making, and manufacturing industries such as glassmaking and enamelling.1 By the 1930s coal seems had been largely worked out, but the population remained dependent on heavy industry, with 5159 out of a total population of 31255 employed in metalworking, especially in the Sankey’s and Hinkman’s works.2 The great depression of the 1930s hit Bilston hard, with some 1787 out of 8621 working men (almost 21%) unemployed by 1931.3

The Silver Jubilee of the ailing George V came at a difficult time for Britain, in which any economic recovery was experienced primarily in the south east of the country, while areas of traditional heavy industry, whose international markets had been closed by newly erected tariffs, continued to suffer a decline throughout the decade. Bilston never fully recovered and experienced an overall decline in population throughout the 1930s.4 The pageant itself was definitely not a celebration of the whole town but rather of a small part of it, despite the involvement of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Mayoress, along with several Councillors and the Chair of the Education Committee, W.T. Fellows.5

Bilston at this time would have been deeply socially divided. Education for the vast majority of the population was unlikely to have progressed beyond age 14 as mandated (though poorly enforced) by the 1918 Fisher Act. Even as late as 1951, seven years after the Butler Education Act raised the school leaving age to 15, 9456 out of 10779 men had left school before the age of 15 and only 211 had stayed beyond 17.6 The Bilston Girls’ High School, which had opened in 1919, and the pageant held there in 1935 thus attracted only a small section of the population from the middle-class professions who were less likely to have been affected by the depression. The pageant was in aid of the newly inaugurated University Scholarship Fund, at a time when women made up less than a quarter of university students.7 In particular, if a family was suffering from economic problems, girls were expected to step aside and allow their brothers to continue education, often with the expectation that an early marriage would take women out of the labour market and that employment was often only a stop-gap for five years or so. University scholarships, often the only route for all but the wealthiest students, were a patchwork of local council, municipal and county scholarships, topped up by individual institutions, which varied massively across the country and which were often insufficient for students’ needs. While the image of the working-class scholarship boy, displaced from his local roots and sent to Oxford or Cambridge, is a commonly used image, the reality was more often that lower middle-class students (of both genders) were sent to a local redbrick university, which in this case would probably have been the University of Birmingham or possibly Manchester. In all likelihood, the recipient of the scholarship would have studied a course in teacher training.8

The pageant itself is fairly unremarkable, listing the brief entanglements the town had with nationally renowned figures, as well as depicting minor notable Bilstonians such as Richard Pype and William Tomkyns and attesting to the growth of local industries such as enamelling and iron. The seventh episode, which discusses ‘tommy shops’, attests to the injustice of the truck system of payment in small industrial communities in the eighteenth century. Due to a paucity of coinage in circulation, employers paid their workers in tokens redeemable only in certain shops and inns, which were owned (predictably) by the employers themselves—a system that provided poor value for locals.9 The scene also involves a late accusation of witchcraft. With the exception of Lady Wulfruna (after whom Wolverhampton was named), there is little presentation of a women’s view of history, which other women’s pageants (such as the 1928 Pageant of Staffordshire held by the county’s Women’s Institutes) exhibited. This is surprising, given that all the parts were played by schoolgirls.

The pageant itself was relatively successful, raising an impressive total of £70. 18s. 9d. for the scholarship. As the local historian Reg Aston described: ‘The reason why the production turned out such an overwhelming hit was mainly the untiring energy and resources achieved by everyone at the school.’ He described it as ‘one of the best productions of its kind ever to grace a Bilston stage.’10 The pageant was restaged the following year, shortly after the death of George V.

Writing in the Black Country Bugle in 2005, Aston recorded the destinations of many of the performers, giving an impression of the futures for school leavers at the time:

Margaret Hartill, Muriel Richards, Betty Round, Norah Paget and Margery Baggott all went on to training college, while Irene Butler, Muriel Small and Vera Cadman joined the civil service. Joyce Brooks followed a nursing career, and many of the others including Jessie Brighton and Effie Miller sought positions in retail and industry. Doreen Rickard, who wrote the pageant report in the school magazine, joined the staff of the Birmingham Weekly Gazette.11

The post-war era saw a shift in educational policy, following the Butler Act of 1944. While university scholarships were improved and centralized, eventually providing free places for everyone with the ability to attend, the introduction of the tripartite system of Secondary Modern, Technical and Grammar Schools exacerbated the class divide within education, with children’s futures often decided by the eleven-plus examination.12 The Bilston Girls’ High School became a Sixth Form College in 1976 and then part of Bilston College of Further Education in 1983/1984. In the mid-2000s, the site was sold off and turned into flats.13


  1. ^ Accessed 15 March 2016, A History of Bilston
  2. ^ A Vision of Britain Through Time, Bilston UD/MB; 1931 Occupational Order, accessed 16 March 2016,
  3. ^ A Vision of Britain Through Time, Bilston UD/MB; 1931 Census unemployment by Sex, accessed 16 March 2016, The corresponding figure for women was 541 out of 3386.
  4. ^ A Vision of Britain Through Time, Bilston UD/MB; 1931 Total Population, accessed 16 March 2016,
  5. ^ Reg Aston, Black Country Bugle, 26 May 2005, accessed 16 March 2016,
  6. ^ A Vision of Britain Through Time, Bilston UD/MB; 1951 Educational Level, accessed 16 March 2016, There are unfortunately no corresponding figures for women.
  7. ^ Carol Dyhouse, ‘Going to University: Funding, Costs, Benefits’, accessed 16 March 2016,
  8. ^ Carol Dyhouse, ‘Family Patterns of Social Mobility Through Higher Education in England in the 1930S’, Journal of Social History 34, no. 4 (2001): 817–842.
  9. ^ Chris Aspin, The First industrial Society: Lancashire 1750–1850 (Preston, 1995), 108.
  10. ^ Reg Aston, Black Country Bugle, 26 May 2005, accessed 16 March 2016,
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Selina Todd, The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910–2010 (London, 2014), chapter 10; Michael Sanderson, Educational Opportunity and Social Change in England (London, 1987).
  13. ^ Accessed 16 March 2016, Wolverhampton’s Listed Buildings,

How to cite this entry

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