Coventry Festival of Britain Godiva Pageant
Place: Coventry City Centre and War Memorial Park (Coventry) (Coventry, Warwickshire, England)
Number of performances: 1
23 June 1951 at 3pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Turner, Leonard
- Chief Marshall: Walter B. Lowe
- Master of the Horse: T.J. Bates
- Grounds Director: W. Shirran
- Wardrobe Mistresses: Homecrafts Department, Coventry Technical College
- Historical Programme written by: D. Leech
Leonard Turner was the Principal of the Coventry Technical College.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Festival of Britain Committee:
- Chairman: The Rt. Worshipful Mayor, Councillor Harry Weston
- Vice-Chairman: The Deputy Mayor, Alderman B.H. Gardner
- Councillors W.R. Jones; W.H. Malcolm; W. Parfitt; Mrs. Stevens; J. Tranter
- Town Clerk: Charles Barratt
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Leech, D.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers2000
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasion1951 Festival of Britain
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 500000
Some 500000 people saw the procession through the streets of Coventry.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
- Thanksgiving Service in Cathedral Ruins (17 June).
- Boxing Display (18 June).
- Story of the Bible Exhibition, St Mary’s Hall (18–21 June).
- Festival Sports (19 June).
- Massed Choirs and Women’s Rally (20 June).
- Massed Schoolchildren’s Physical Training Display (21 June).
- Dance Final of Miss Coventry (22 June).
- United Churches Rally (24 June).
Episode I. Coventry, 1951
A procession of mounted, police, Miss Coventry, Coventry Silver Band and Salvation Army Band, as well as the Elephant and Castle.
Episode II. The Spirit of Coventry, 1940
The episode depicts the Coventry Blitz, including a tableau of fire brigades, wardens, rescue squads, St John’s Ambulance, British Red Cross, a tableau of the Phoenix, a Hospital Tableau, and a Cathedral Tableau.
Episode III. The Campaign for Women’s Rights
Suffragettes and police marching together with Bedworth Silver Band and Keresley and Coundon Silver Band.
Episode IV. The Freemen and the Franchise, the Campaign for their Rights, 1768–1769
After granting those who had served a seven-year apprenticeship the freedom of the city (and voting rights), the Whig Corporation who drew up the rolls of electors excluded as many as possible, only admitting those likely to be sympathetic to their cause. The Freemen sued the Corporation and won, which was followed by celebrations and ringing of bells.
Tableau of the Trial.
Tableau of the Sheriffs in stocks.
Episode V. The Governing Charter, 1621
Tableau of James I awarding the town’s charter to the mayor.
Episode VI. Visit of the Princess Elizabeth, 1603
A procession of Princess Elizabeth Stuart and attendants from Combe Abbey to Coventry.
Episode VII. The Coventry Martyrs
Tableau of the Stake and Martyrs during Queen Mary’s reign.
Episode VIII. Visit of Henry VII and Elizabeth, 1500
Henry and Elizabeth enter with a procession of archers and representatives of local guilds.
Episode IX. Visit of Henry VI, 1451
Tableau featuring the awarding of the charter to the town.
Episode X. The Charter of Incorporation, 1345
Tableau of the King, Queen Philippa, Isabella, the Queen Mother, the Archbishop of Canterbury and local burgesses, followed by the Black Prince and squires, pages, and finally townspeople.
Episode XI. The Twelfth-Century Charter
Produced in co-operation with the Hertford Players, Blue Triangle Operatic Society and YMCA Dramatic Society.
A procession of the Earl of Chester with entourage and knights followed by burgesses, Benedictine monks and peasants.
Episode XII. Lady Godiva, 1040–1050
A procession of Leofric, Algar (his son), Hereward the Wake his kinsman, a Saxon guard of honour, Benedictine nuns and monks and finally Lady Godiva.
Tableaux of Various Local Industries.
Tableau No. I. Wool, 1100–1200
Brandon and Wolston Young Farmer’s Club.
Tableau No. II. Felting Wool, 1300–1500
Arranged by Mr. G.W. Gunter.
Tableau No. III. Coventry Blue Dye, 1500
Arranged by Courtaulds Limited.
Tableau No. IV. Spinning and Carding, 1500–1600
Arranged by Coventry Technical College.
Tableau No. V. Silk Weaving, 1700
Arranged by J. and J. Cash, Ltd.
Tableau No. VI. Ribbons, 1800
Arranged by J. and J. Cash, Ltd.
Tableau No. VII. Introduction of the Jacquard Loom, 1820
Arranged by Lester and Harris Ltd.
Tableau No. VIII. Introduction of Women Labour on Looms, 1831
Arranged by Wm. Franklin and Sons, Ltd.
Tableau No. IX. Home Weaving, 19th Century
Dalton, Barton Ltd.
Tableau No. X. Introduction of Steam Power, 1832
Frederick Marsden Ltd.
Tableau No. XI. Signing of the French Treaty, 1860
The treaty negotiated by Cobden with Palmerstone’s sanction abolished the duty on imported silk goods and caused a major depression.
Tableau No. XII. Depression, 1860
Arranged by Coventry Textile Society.
Tableau No. XIII. Cotton for Coventry, 1880–1890
Arranged by B. Laird and Co, Ltd.
Tableaux Nos. XIV–XVI. Rayon Production, 1906 to Present
Arranged by Courtaulds Ltd.
Watch and Clock Manufacture Section, Two Tableaux of Watchmaking in 1851 and Present
Rotherham and Son, Ltd.
Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacture Section from 1820 to Present in Ten tableaux
Machine Tool Section ‘Machine Tools Create Better Living’
Gas Manufacture in Coventry
Motor Car and Aeroplane Section
The history of various cars, motorcycles, aeroplanes, tractors, and helicopters built in Coventry. Includes the Ferguson Tractors, Leonides Helicopters, and Jet Engines.
Key historical figures mentioned
- James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
- Elizabeth, Princess [Elizabeth Stuart] (1596–1662) queen of Bohemia and electress palatine, consort of Frederick V
- Saunders, Lawrence (d. 1555) protestant martyr
- Glover, Robert (d. 1555) protestant martyr
- Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
- Elizabeth [Elizabeth of York] (1466–1503) queen of England, consort of Henry VII
- Henry VI (1421–1471) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
- Stafford, Henry, second duke of Buckingham (1455–1483) magnate and rebel
- Talbot, John, second earl of Shrewsbury and second earl of Waterford (c.1413–1460) magnate
- 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
- Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
- Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince], prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376) heir to the English throne and military commander
- Godgifu [Godiva] (d. 1067?) noblewoman
- Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057) magnate
- Hereward [called Hereward the Wake] (fl. 1070–1071) rebel
- Cobden, Richard (1804–1865) manufacturer and politician
- Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon (1808-1873) French military leader and emperor of France
Newspaper coverage of pageantCoventry Telegraph
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Coventry Festival of Britain Godiva Pageant. Coventry, 1951.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Coventry History Centre, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry: Copy of Programme.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
In 1951 Coventry, perhaps more than anywhere else, had reason to wish for something better and to focus on its past rather than its ruined present. The heavy concentration of key war industries in and around Coventry, a symbol of its pre-war success, had made the city an obvious target for the Luftwaffe. In several raids, most notably those of 14–15 November 1940 and 8–10 April 1941, much of the centre of Coventry had been destroyed and 1236 residents killed.1 Like much of the rest of the country, the 1951 Festival of Britain was conducted against a background of a still bombed-out urban environment, many of whose residents were still housed in temporary shelters under the grip of seemingly never ending austerity. As David Kynaston has suggested, ‘for most Coventrians … the top priority was not to take part in controversies about a nebulous future. Rather it was to regroup, to retrench, and to try to get back as soon as possible to something like normality, which in essence meant life before the war.’2
The 1951 Godiva Pageant was not strictly an historical pageant in the sense established by Louis Napoleon Parker in 1905 (see entry for Sherborne Pageant), since it took the form of a procession rather than dramatic performance. But it is included here as it represented a significant attempt to re-establish ancient traditions of pageantry in the city, which dated back to medieval times. The comparatively recent Godiva Procession, to commemorate Lady Godiva’s famous ride through the town during the eleventh century, had been held every few years, with some significant gaps since the 1680s.3 Major pageants had been held in 1907, 1911, 1919, 1929 and 1936.4 Although a minor pageant had been held in the prominent ruins of Coventry cathedral in 1945, the 1951 pageant reinstated the famous Godiva Procession:
After an interval of fifteen years the ‘Lady’ will ride again through the streets of Coventry … We rejoice that our citizens realise the significance of the ride undertaken in a spirit of nobility and humility and we are glad that many thousands of visitors from home and abroad will visit us on June 23rd, for surely they must be deeply impressed with that part of our City’s story both historical and industrial which they now see told in pageantry.5
The Mayor similarly attempted to sound upbeat in his foreword to the Programme:
The Festival is intended to show to the world what Britain can do and our local celebrations are designed to illustrate the part Coventry has played and is still playing to maintain Britain’s prestige amongst the nations of the world. To our visitors we extend a most hearty welcome to this our famous City; we hope they will be impressed by what we have to show them and that they will carry away with them pleasant memories.’6
The pageant, like many other Festival pageants, foregrounded the struggle of the common people over adversity and for their political and social rights and freedoms, along the lines expressed in G.D.H. Cole and Raymond Postgate’s The Common People (1938, new edition 1946), along with a detailed account of Coventry’s economic history represented by the various industries which had made it great and were key to its recovery. From the Coventry martyrs under Queen Mary to the suffragettes, Coventry had displayed a characteristic dissidence towards authority.7 This rather neatly dovetailed with the extension of the civic rights to burgesses and townspeople through the various charters confirming the rights and privileges of the townspeople. The pageant led inexorably backwards in time to the first and most famous defence of the townspeople’s freedom from oppression and over-taxation: Lady Godiva’s infamous ride through the streets.
The choice of how Lady Godiva would be depicted, and by whom, was bound to be a contentious and widely reported issue. So much so, indeed, that the story attracted transatlantic attention, the Chicago Tribune noting:
Periodically in the past Godiva has ridden through Coventry as a part of a pageant designed specifically to draw people into the city. They come, look and spend their money. This time, Godiva rides, not only for Coventry, but for all Britain. She will be, the city council hopes, one of the prime features of the festival of Britain.8
As to the person of Lady Godiva, the Tribune went on, there were a number of stipulations. The council wanted ‘a woman of culture’. ‘We are keeping this on a high plane … The festival’s Godiva will pass by the bronze statue so, the city council said, the 1951 model must be “of good appearance” and of “at least fairly good physique.”’9 The bronze statue mentioned in the city centre, erected in 1949, was a foretaste of the reconstruction of Coventry, with money from the local industrialist W.H. Bassett-Green.10
The council was attempting to tread the fine line between welcome gaiety and impropriety which all previous pageants had steered. When the inclusion of Lady Godiva in the civic procession was mooted in the 1850s, the response was predictable (albeit ineffective). ‘One of the Disgusted’ protested that: ‘I hold no extreme views in regard to public exhibitions, but simply, as the head of a family, I would uphold… common modesty… surely, whatever the promoters of the Godiva show may say, we are not to be told in the middle of the nineteenth century that the spectacle of a female on horseback, half intoxicated and nearly naked, and thus triumphantly paraded in open day through the main thoroughfares of an English city, is neither offensive to decency nor public morality.’11
The Manchester Guardian, reporting in February 1951, was critical of the overly rigorous pronouncements of the spoil-sport council on the matter: ‘Everything seems to conspire against those whose job it is to organise our gaiety. Coventry has now started looking for a Lady Godiva to take part in its Festival of Britain pageant. Applicants must be of “mature age, cultured, of good physique and appearance, and able to ride a horse side-saddle at walking pace.”’12 The paper remarked ironically that ‘probably it is the shadow of the times that at once brings to mind the more brooding sort of Thurber picture.’ It went on to ask: ‘Why does the lady have to be cultured? Does this mean that she must be able to quote from ancient charters to prove her existence and look as if she fully realised that her ride is in protest against excessive taxes.’ The Guardian relented a little, acknowledging that ‘Coventry does not want its Godiva joking over heartily with passers-by to cover her embarrassment, or breaking off her side-saddle. The more one thinks about it, the more the undertaking grows in solemnity’. It concluded, darkly, that ‘Siberian weather’ was being reported and hoped that this would not last until June.
In the event, the pageant was a success, widely covered in newsreels.13 The 28-year-old stage and screen actress Ann Wrigg (who later appeared on Coronation Street) was an acceptable candidate to all sides and to the huge audience, which Life reported to be in the vicinity of half a million, with the magazine praising her ‘perfect performance’, accompanied by several (more or less tasteful) pictures.14 Speaking to Billboard magazine (the American press was absolutely fixated on the pageant), Wrigg said that her reason for taking the job was ‘because I so love horses’, adding that ‘all the essentials were covered, but if it had rained it might have been embarrassing.’15 Whether or not the impression of nudity managed to dispel painful memories of the war or to take people’s minds off the long, slow process of reconstruction, the Festival of Britain heralded the start of the rebuilding in earnest of Coventry. In August, the winner of the competition to redesign Coventry Cathedral was announced and Basil Spence’s plans unveiled to acclamation from architects and the general scepticism of the public; this would be opened with a pageant after a further eleven years in which time the shape of Coventry had shifted out of all recognition.16 Despite the many puerile comments it engendered, the Godiva Pageant injected much-needed levity into the city and provided a way for it to reconnect with its history.
A further Pageant was held in 1962 to commemorate the opening of the cathedral.
- ‘The Coventry Blitz’, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.cwn.org.uk/heritage/blitz/index.html.
- David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945–1951 (London, 2007), 49.
- Ronald Aquilla Clarke and Patrick A.E. Day, Lady Godiva: Images of a Legend in Art & Society (Coventry, 1982).
- 'The City of Coventry: Social history to 1700', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick, ed. W.B. Stephens (London, 1969), 208–221, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol8/pp208-221.
- Leonard Turner, ‘Foreword’, in Coventry Festival of Britain Godiva Pageant (Coventry, 1951), 21.
- Ibid, 20.
- One of the suffragettes, Hazel Williams, recalled the pageant in Coventry Telegraph, 2 April 2012, 22.
- Chicago Tribune, 15 February 1951 [reprinted in Spokesman Review], accessed 23 February 2016, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19510215&id=yX1WAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0OUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7102,5400804&hl=en.
- ‘Self Sacrifice (Lady Godiva)’, PMSA, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.pmsa.org.uk/pmsa-database/5750/.
- London Daily News, 11 May 1854, 3.
- Manchester Guardian, 17 February 1951, 4.
- ‘Pathé News Special Festival in Coventry 1951’, accessed 18 March 2016, http://www.britishpathe.com/video/pathe-news-special-festival-in-coventry/query/boy
- Life, 9 July 1951, 29 July 1951 and 30 July 1951.
- Billboard, 14 July 1951, 76.
- David Kynaston, Family Britain, 1951–1957 (London, 2009), 13–14; Lionel Brett, ‘Coventry Cathedral’, Observer, 23 September 1951, 6.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Coventry Festival of Britain Godiva Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1043/