The Manchester Pageant

Other names

  • The Manchester Centenary Pageant
  • The Historical Pageant of Manchester

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Platt Fields (Platt Fields, Manchester) (Platt Fields, Manchester, Lancashire, England)

Year: 1938

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 10


27 June–9 July 1938

27-29 June: 7pm; 30 June: 2.45pm and 7pm; 1 July: 7pm; 2 July: 2.45pm and 7pm.

After the pageant attendance was affected by poor weather, two further performances were given on 7 and 9 July, 3pm.

Before the pageant proper there were six public dress rehearsals:
20, 21 and 22 June: evening performances for elementary school children with their teachers.
23 June: afternoon performance for the press and also pupils from secondary, technical, private schools, and colleges, and with members of women’s institutes and other similar organisations.
24 and 25 June: Evening performances for members of women’s societies, mothers’ unions, Girl Guides, and others.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Monck, Nugent
  • Producer: Edward Baring
  • Costumes, Lectures and Assistant to Producer: Mabel G. Iremonger
  • Director of Music: W. Arthur Lomas
  • Conductor: S.G. Owen, RMSM
  • Chorus-Master: Edward Stanely
  • Accompanist: Mrs Ethel Clarke
  • Hon. Secretary: Cecil Sproson
  • Masters of Designs: Miss M. Pilkington, R.A. Dawson, ARCA (Principal, School of Art), Miss Doris Taylor, ARCA, and J.S. Willock
  • Searchlight Tattoo Under the Direction of: Major A.W.U. Moore
  • Masters of Grandstand: Councillor F. Tebb, JP; G. Noel Hill, FRIBA, MTPI (City Architect); J Herbert Hall
  • Masters of Properties: W.T. Robb, MIME; H. Valentine Plant; F. Nelson Matthews
  • Masters of Horse: A.F. Holden and G.H. Locke, MRCVS
  • Press: Bernard Reeves
  • Official Photographers: Navana, LTD

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Patron: The Earl of Derby (Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire)
  • President: The Lord Mayor of Manchester (Alderman Joseph Crookes Grime, OBE, JP)
  • Vice-Presidents: 14 women and 24 men

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: Sir Kenneth Stewart, KBE
  • Vice-Chairman: A.P. Simon
  • Hon. Solicitor and Secretary: F.E. Warbeck Howell (Town Clerk)
  • Alderman Joseph Crookes Grime, OBE, JP (Lord Mayor)
  • Councillor T.R. Ackroyd, MA, JP
  • Professor D. Atkinson, MA
  • J. Lea-Axon
  • Harold Bacon
  • Alderman J.H. Birley
  • R. Bond, JP
  • K.R. Brady
  • J.E. Bray, FIMTA, FSS (City Treasurer)
  • T. Brown, MBE, MA
  • J.W. Barker
  • Lady Barclay, JP
  • Alderman Sir R. Norton Barclay, JP
  • Alderman J. Binns, JP
  • J.P. Chettle, RBA, FRSA
  • Miss M.G. Clarke
  • W.E. Lucas
  • Rt. Hon. Lord Colwyn
  • F.H. Cowell
  • Alderman Sir William Davy, JP
  • Very Rev Dean of Manchester
  • F.E. Doran
  • R.A. Dawson, ARCA, FSAM (Principal, School of Art)
  • G. Powys Dewhurst
  • H.S. Fairhurst
  • R.J. Forbes
  • Dr Henry Guppy, MA
  • Francis Grundy
  • Philip Godlee
  • Councillor D. Gosling
  • G.H. Grimshaw
  • Councillor R.S. Harper, Jnr
  • G. Noel Hill, FRIBA, MTPI (City Architect)
  • Councillor J.S. Hill, JP
  • A.F. Holden
  • Miss C. Hey (HM Inspector of Schools)
  • Jesse Hewitt
  • J. Herbert Hall
  • Professor E.F. Jacobs, MA, DPh
  • Dr J. Wilfred Jackson
  • Alderman J. Jones
  • G.H. Locke, MRCVS
  • J. Maxwell, CBE (Chief Constable)
  • D.G. Miller
  • W. Melland
  • Miss M. Pilkington
  • A.G. Parker, AIPA
  • Dr A. Redford, MA
  • Sir Edward Rhodes
  • J. Richardson, F Inst PA (Director of Parks)
  • J.F. Russell
  • R.U. Sayce
  • Lady Simon
  • W.O. Lester Smith MA (Director of Education)
  • F. Sladen Smith
  • Professor J.S.B. Stopford, MD, FRS (VC of University)
  • E. Raymond Streat, CBE
  • W.T. Stevenson, MA (HM Inspector of Schools)
  • Alderman J. Toole, JP
  • Councillor F. Tebb, JP
  • Alderman G.F. Titt
  • Alderman W. Walker, JP
  • Sir Frederick West, KT, CBE, JP
  • Sir Percy Worthington, MA, LittD, FSA, FRIBA
  • Alderman T.S. Williams, JP
  • Alderman S. Woollam, JP


  • Chairman: Alderman Sir R. Norton Barclay, JP
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor T.R. Ackroyd, MA, JP
  • Hon.-Treasurer: J.E. Bray, FIMTA, FSS (City Treasurer)
  • Plus 10 other men

Historical and Lecture:

  • Chairman: Professor J.S.B. Stopford, MD, FRS (VC)
  • Hon. Secretary: Miss C. Hey (HM Inspector of Schools)
  • Plus 28 men, 3 women


  • Chairman: Alderman Sir William Davy, JP
  • Vice-Chairman: Lady Barclay, JP
  • Hon.-Secretary: W.T. Stevenson, MA (HM Inspector of Schools)
  • Plus 48 men, 16 women


  • Chairman: Miss M. Pilkington
  • Hon. Secretary: R.A. Dawson, ARCA, FSAM, FRSA (Principal, School of Art)
  • Masters of Designs: Miss M. Pilkington; R.A. Dawson, ARCA (Principal, School of Art); Miss Doris Taylor, ARCA; JS Willock
  • Plus 17 men, 7 women


  • Chairman: A.P. Simon
  • Vice-Chairman: F. Sladen Smith
  • Masters of Properties: W.T. Robb, MIME; H. Valentine Plant; F. Nelson Matthews
  • Plus 25 men, 3 women


  • Chairman: Philip Godlee
  • Vice-President: R.W. Baker
  • Hon. Secretary: John F. Russell
  • Director of Music: W. Arthur Lomas
  • Conductor: S.G. Owen, RMSM
  • Chorus-Master: Edward Stanely
  • Accompanist: Mrs Ethel Clarke
  • Hon. Secretary: Cecil Sproson
  • Plus 26 men, 1 woman

Grand Stand and Grounds:

  • Chairman: J. Hebert Hall
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor F. Tebb, JP
  • Hon.-Secretary: J. Richardson, FInstPA (Director of Parks)
  • Masters of Grandstand: Councillor F. Tebb, JP; G. Noel Hill, FRIBA, MTPI (City Architect); J. Herbert Hall
  • Plus 22 men


  • Chairman: A.G. Parker, AIPA
  • Plus 24 men

Evening Displays and Searchlight Tattoo:

  • Chairman: R. Bond, JP
  • Vice-President: Alderman W. Walker, JP
  • Tattoo: Under the Director of Major A.W.U. Moore
  • Plus 24 men, 8 women


  • Chairman: Councillor J.S. Hill, JP
  • Vice-Chairman: F.H. Cowell
  • Hon. Secretary: G.H. Grimshaw
  • Plus 21 men


  • Chairman: A.F. Holden
  • Vice-Chairman: G.H. Locke, MRCVS
  • Masters of Horse: A.F. Holden and G.H. Locke, MRCVS
  • Plus 13 men, 1 woman

Episode Committees:

  • Children of Manchester Schools, Organised by the Teachers
  • Chairman: Alderman J.H. Birley
  • Vice-Chairman: Tom Brown, MBE, MA
  • Producer: Stephen F. Pawley
  • Assistant Producer: L.M. Belben
  • Co-Producers and Designers: 10 men, 15 women
  • Dr Griffiths has arranged Music for the Prologue
  • Marshal: F. Smith
  • Assistant Marshal: Miss Bracher
  • Hon. Secretary: W.T. Stevenson, MA
Episode I:
  • Manchester and Salford Toc H, ADS
  • Chairman: L.E. Mather
  • Vice-Chairman: H.B. Shelswell
  • Producer: W. Allan Marsden
  • Assistant Producer: S. Brocklehurst
  • Costumes: Miss Mollie Wright
  • Assistant Costumes: Miss Louis Ellis
  • Properties: Tony Owen and Miss Irene Thompson
  • Marshal: W.H. Thomson
  • Hon. Treasurer: B.W. Pemberton
  • Assistant Hon. Secretary: Miss E. Kennelly
Episode II:
  • Catholic Community
  • Chairman: Very Rev F. Gonne, MA
  • Vice-Chairman: Rev Br Martin, CFX
  • Producer: F.J. Porter
  • Assistant Producer: Mrs L.F. Dickenson
  • Costumes: Miss M. Seaston
  • Properties: Mrs McCarthy and R. Cartwright
  • Marshal: R.M. Lee, BSc
  • Hon. Secretary: W. Whalley, MA
Episode III:
  • Municipal Officers’ Guild
  • Chairman: H.S. Bailey
  • Producer: W.H. Leah
  • Costumes: Miss Ena Tonges and Miss K.L. Jones
  • Properties: A. Ford
  • Hon. Secretary: N. Hurd
  • Assistant Hon. Secretary: Miss D.G. Stewart
  • Hon Treasurer: W.J. King
Episode IV:
  • Women’s Conservative and Unionist Association
  • Chairman: Mrs N. Westcott, JP
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor Mary L. Kingsmill Jones, OBE, JP
  • Producers: Councillor R.S. Harper and Miss A.M. Staniland
  • Marshals: S.B.H. Oliver and Councillor R.C. Rodgers
  • Costumes: Mrs Sidebottam, Mrs Williams and Miss M. Turner
  • Properties: Mrs Lord and Mrs Mitchell
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs G.E. Whittaker
  • Press: Mrs Bridge
Episode V:
  • Women Citizens’ Association
  • President: Mrs A.P. Simon
  • Chairman: Mrs Edgar Cooke
  • Producer: Richard Morgan
  • Costumes: Mrs James
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mrs Cooper
  • Hon. Secretary: Miss M. Heywood
  • Co-Secretaries: 25 women
Episode VI:
  • Free Churches and Chetham Hospital
  • Chairman: Rev Ernest Hamson
  • Vice-Chairman: Rev Percy Wild
  • Marshal: D. Wilson
  • Assistant Marshal: F. Dowse
  • Properties: S.H. Farmer
  • Hon. Secretary: Harley Hamson
  • Costumes: Miss Gwen Griffiths, Miss Hudson, Mrs Smallwood, Mrs Atherton
Episode VII:
  • Scottish Societies
  • Chairman: W. Maxwell Reekie, OBE, JP
  • Vice-Chairman: J. Drysdale
  • Producer: T.H. Moffett
  • Costumes: Mrs McKerlie
  • Assistant Costumes: Mrs Oakes and Mrs Roy
  • Hon. Secretary and Treasurer: A.D. Stewart
Episode VIII:
  • ‘City News’ Fellowship
  • Chairman: T.D. Fletcher
  • Vice-Chairman: H. Knibb
  • Producer: A. Willett Whittaker, BA
  • Costumes: Mrs Crosby
  • Assistant Costumes: Miss Newman
  • Choir: S. Valentine and H. Greenwood
  • Treasurer: J. Crane
  • Hon. Secretary: Miss M. Critchley
Episode IX:
  • Benchill ADS
  • Chairman: C.H. Waterfield
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor J. Cooper
  • Producer: A. Dixon
  • Assistant Producer: Mrs C. Holland
  • Marshal: J. Duffy
  • Costumes: Mrs J. Duffy
  • Assistant Costumes: Mrs N. Bell
  • Properties: E. Mills
  • Assistant Properties: H. Ellis
  • Hon. Treasurer: T. Thomas
  • Hon. Secretary: A.C. Conroy
  • Assistant Secretary: Mrs Waterfield
Episode X:
  • Youth Hostels Association
  • Chairman: P. Boyle
  • Vice-Chairman: Mrs A. Butterworth, PCT
  • Producers: Miss F.V. Fowler, H. Russell Morley, Miss R. Leigh
  • Marshals: W. Lawton and K. Hayward
  • Costumes: Miss M.E. Morrison and Mrs C.T. Boroughs
  • Properties: O.R. Ginnever
  • Hon. Secretary and Treasurer: H.J. Wright
  • Assistant Hon. Secretary and Treasurer: Miss J. Prophet

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

  • McIntire, W.T.

Names of composers

  • Bullock, Ernest
  • Hall, R.
  • Wenlock, Peter
  • Grainger, Peter
  • Aston, Hugh
  • Hudes, Eric
  • Sharp, Cecil
  • Byrd, William
  • Weelkes, Thomas
  • Williams, Ralph Vaughan
  • Spofforth, Reginald

Numbers of performers


10000 of which 4000–5000 were children. There were also 16 horses, 4 borzoi dogs, and 2 hawks.

Financial information

£1000 profit2

Object of any funds raised

Manchester Voluntary Hospitals

Linked occasion

Centenary of Incorporation of the City

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 5000
  • Total audience: 80000


The grandstand held 5000; there was also room for between 3000 and 5000 in standing room.

The largest audience was seemingly on 1 July 1, the penultimate night of the original run, when 6000–7000 were in attendance. Often, the attendance was only a fifth or a quarter of the capacity, and this was blamed on the poor weather. It seems probable that between 50000 and 80000 people saw the pageant, perhaps reaching 100000 if the public dress rehearsals are included.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s.–1s. 3.

  • Numbered and reserved seats: 2s. 6d, 3s. 6d., 5s., and 10s.
  • Admission to the unreserved standing enclosure: 1s. 3d.
  • Admissions to rehearsals were at half-price.
  • Admissions to the extra two performances: 2s. 6d, 1s. 6d., and 1s.

Associated events

  • Great Searchlight and Military Tattoo on the Pageant Ground, Platt Fields, 4–9 July 1938, nightly at 8.30–11.30pm.
Programme of Displays:

Monday, 4 July:
  • Community Singing conducted by T.P. Ratcliff (News Chronicle)
  • Gym display YMCA.
  • Display by 250 members of the Church Girls’ Brigade.
  • Air raid precaution demonstration by Manchester Fire Brigade.
  • Manchester Mounted Police. 
  • Musical ride. 
  • Display of ‘Keep-Fit’ work by leaders of the Lancashire ‘Keep-Fit’ Movement for Women. 

Tuesday, 5 July:
  • Community Singing conducted by T.P. Ratcliff (News Chronicle)
  • Demonstration by 150 members of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
  • Manchester Mounted Police. 
  • Musical ride. 
  • Boxing Displays by Members of the Manchester and District Federation of Boys’ Clubs. 

Wednesday, 6 July:
  • Community Singing conducted by T.P. Ratcliff (News Chronicle).
  • Display by the Salvation Army.
  • Display by 250 members of the Church Girls’ Brigade.
  • Demonstration by 100 members of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
  • Air Raid Precaution Demonstration by Manchester Fire Brigade.
  • Physical training exercises by the North West Division, National Council of Girls’ Clubs.

Thursday, 7 July:
  • Community Singing conducted by T.P. Ratcliff (News Chronicle).
  • Scene by 300 members of the Girl Guides.
  • Display by the East Lancs Cadet Brigade.
  • Manchester Mounted Police. 
  • Musical ride. 
  • Fencing displays by past and present members of the Manchester University Fencing Club and others, under leadership of Sergeant Healey, MUFC.

Friday, 8 July:
  • Community Singing. Conducted by Cecil Sproson.
  • Gym display by Members of the YMCA.
  • Demonstration of exercises for general health by 300 members of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty.
  • Manchester Mounted Police. 
  • Musical ride.
  • Massed Physical Drill by Manchester Battalion of the Boys Brigade. 

Saturday, 9 July:
  • Community Singing. Conducted by Cecil Sproson.
  • Display by 250 members of the Boys’ Brigade.
  • Demonstration of Exercises for General health by 300 members of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty. 
  • Air Raid Precaution Demonstration by Manchester Fire Brigade.
  • Manchester Mounted Police. 
  • Musical ride.
  • Gymnastic Display by Members of the Northern Counties Gymnastic Team.

As well as these events, the centenary celebration included:
  • Centenary Municipal Exhibition, 2–7 May, 12pm to 9.30pm, City Hall, Deansgate.
  • Sunday 8 May a commemoration service in Cathedral, at which the Bishop of Manchester (Dr Guy Warman) preached. 
  • The King and Queen visited the city, and opened the town hall extension and new council chamber, 18 May. 
  • Mr Bertram Mill’s Circus at Hough End Fields, Alexandra Park, 30 May–8 June. 

Pageant outline


“A band of Manchester children, weary of the noise and tumult of the city, express their longing for the rest and quiet of the country. Fantasy comes to their aid, and, causing the streets and houses of the city to disappear, shows them the site as it was before Manchester arose—woodland and stream, inhabited by the creatures of the forest. The goddess, Truth, appearing to the children, promises to show them the deeds of their ancestors, and how their city arose amid the surrounding waste. First, however, she shows them the victory of Sir Lancelot du Lac over the giant Tarquin—an allegory of the victory of modern progress over the powers of darkness and obstruction. The wild wood-creatures mourn the defeat of Tarquin and what they think is the end of the old days of poetry and romance. They are comforted by Sir Lancelot, who tells them and the children that poetry and romance never die, and that these modern days of scientific progress possess a romantic charm of their own. He summons the fairies of the Cotton Plant, Steam, Electricity, and Chemistry, who join in joyous dance with the wood-nymphs. Their revels end as Father Time appears to say that at Truth’s request he has ‘turned back his slow, remorseless wheel,’ and summoned the mighty dead to rise from their tombs and once more perform their exploits. He bids them yield place to the dead, and the Prologue closes.

(Into the empty pageant arena advances the Spirit of Fantasy, beckoning onwards two groups of Manchester children, who enter from opposite sides. The children sing with the Pageant chorus.)”

Episode I. The Founding of the Roman Fort at Mancunium, AD 79

“Cartismandua, Queen of the Brigantes, the British Tribe inhabiting the northern parts of Britain, has—owing to her misrule—earned the displeasure of Agricola, the Roman Governor, who has summed her to meet him at the place where Manchester now stands. Cartismandua, who apes Roman customs, arrives at the tryst accompanied by a retinue of Roman ladies, buffoons, mimes, and dancing girls. She is sternly rebuked for her frivolity and neglect of her duties by the Druid, Acco, whose words encourage Magis, a young Briton, to make an attempt upon the life of the Queen, the hated betrayer to the Romans of the British hero, Caractacus. Foiled in his attempt to slay the Queen and condemned to death, Magis is saved by the timely approach of a detachment of the Twentieth Roman Legion, followed by the arrival of Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Cartismandua vainly exerts her blandishments upon the stern Roman Governor, who pitilessly denounces her misdeeds and decrees her dethronement and banishment. Struck by the suitability of the position of the rising ground between the rivers Medlock and Irwell, Agricola determines there to establish the Roman fort of Mancunium, and leaves directions for plans to be prepared. Having pardoned Magis for his attempted assassination of Queen Cartismandua, and exhorted the tribesmen of his neighbourhood to remain faithful in their allegiance to Rome, Agricola departs.”

Episode II. King Edward (‘The Elder’) Includes Mameceaster in his Dominions, AD 924

“The inhabitants of Mameceaster, the English settlement which has arisen at the confluence of the rivers Irk and Irwell, are suffering from the disorders caused by the weakness of the Northumbrian government. A quarrel takes place between some of the English townsfolk and the Danish intruders into the settlement, and Halfdene, a Danish lord of the district, who is returning from a hunting expedition with his retinue, takes the part of his countrymen and sends the English offenders to punishment. Halfdene is taking his ease over the wine-cup while he listens to the song of his favourite skald, when he is surprised by the arrival of an English army which Edward, King of the Angles and Saxons, has sent to Mameceaster from Thelwall, near Warrington. The Danes are defeated and taken prisoners. Edward, who arrives shortly afterwards, restores order in the town and informs the townsfolk that henceforth their town and district will be annexed to Mercia. He promises to repair the fortifications of Mameceaster, and to ensure a more stable and just government in the place. The Bishop of Lichfield, accompanied by a procession of clergy, comes to Mameceaster at Edward’s request, and to his See the King hands over the Church of St Mary. The King and Bishop leave the arena in a procession to ask God’s blessing upon their decision, while a choir of nuns from a neighbouring priory sings a processional hymn.”

Episode III. Manchester Receives its First Charter from Thomas Gresley, AD 1301

“At the opening of the episode a group of labourers are seen clearing away the sheaves of corn from Acresfield, the site of the present St Anne’s Square, Manchester, for the purpose of holding the annual fair at the feast of St Matthew the Apostle. The fair is attended by the usual rout of tradesmen, jongleurs, beggars, minstrels, and mountebanks. Proceedings are interrupted by the appearance of a homicide, who eludes his pursuers and takes sanctuary within the prescribed bounds. A performance given by Morris-dancers is followed by the arrival of Thomas Gresley, last of the Gresleys to hold the Barony of Mameceaster. Thomas Gresley, a young man in his twenty-second year, informs his sister Joan, affianced to John La Warre, of his intention not to marry but to leave his estates to her and her future husband. He receives the report of his bailiff and foresters upon the condition of his mill, his woods at Blackley and Allport, and his fisheries in the Irwell and Medlock. He then addresses the chief burgesses of Mameceaster, and delivers to the Town Reeve Mameceaster’s first charter, dated May 1301, bidding him preserve it carefully for future generations. The Rector of Mameceaster enjoins the people to observe faithfully the provisions of the charter, and gives them his blessing before they depart.”

Episode IV. King Henry VII Visits Manchester, AD 1495

“The scene represents the old Market Place of Manchester, where the Town Swineherd and a Town Crier discuss the coming visit of King Henry VII, who, after staying at Knowsley and Lathom with the Earl of Derby and his Countess, the King’s mother, is returning southward through Manchester. The Lord of the Manor and the Town Reeve arrive and bid the multitude assembled to see the arrival of the King to welcome him in a fitting manner. The royal procession presently enters the arena, and the King, in bidding farewell to the Earl of Derby, draws attention to his numerous retinue and hints his disapproval of large bodies of funeral retainers. The Countess of Derby smoothes the ruffled feelings of the Earl; feelings encouraged by a broad hint from the household jester that the King is in the Stanleys’ power. Henry receives the Reeve and chief burgesses of Manchester and afterwards converses with the Countess, who tells him of her schemes for the advancement of education and the encouragement of religion. Her chaplain, Hugh Oldham, speaks also of his intention… of founding a school at Manchester. The King then bids his host and hostess adieu, and departs for the south, where his presence is required to deal with the imposter, Perkin Warbeck, who is making headway in Kent.”

Episode V. Lancashire Musters her Men on the Approach of the Spanish Armada, AD 1588

“The scene represents Manchester Market on a July day in 1588. Besides the ordinary crowd of market folk, a group of young men are seen occupied in warlike exercises against the coming of the dreaded Spanish Armada. Several members of the assembled people give vent to their discontent with Queen Elizabeth’s government, and a dance which takes place while the archers are resting from their practice with the long bow is interrupted by the entry of the escaping printer and publisher of the Martin Marprelate tracts, whose office has been raided by the authorities. The Borough Reeve and his officials enter shortly afterwards in pursuit of the fugitives, and the Reeve sternly rebukes the crowd for aiding their escape. William Chadderton, Bishop of Chester, and holder in commendam of the wardenship of Manchester, reminds the Reeve that it is not only from the Puritans but also from the Recusants that trouble is to be apprehended, and presages a poor response to the appeal for volunteers to serve against the Spaniards. The Earl of Derby appears shortly afterwards and makes a moving appeal to the men of Manchester to offer themselves for service. Some of the malcontents hesitate for a moment, but at the news that the beacon fires are alight, and that the Spanish fleet has been sighted off the coast of England, all are overcome by a fervour of patriotism, and, setting aside all their sense of private injustice, are eager to be led against the foe. The departing troops are solemnly blessed by Bishop Chadderton as they leave to take up their stations upon the coast.”

Episode VI. Chetham’s Hospital Founded, AD 1654

“Humphrey Chetham, a rich and prosperous Manchester merchant, who has devoted his energies to furthering the interests of the town, feeling his end approaching, calls together his friends, and informs them of the contents of his will. Among those who assemble at Clayton Hall, the testator’s residence, are Richard Heyrick, the warden of the suppressed College of Manchester, Richard Hollinworth, the celebrated Divine, Henry Newcome, and Richard Johnson. Humphrey Chetham informs his friends that he wishes the school, at which he is maintaining and educating twenty-two poor children of Manchester and its [the building’s] neighbourhood, to be continued and enlarged after his death. He appoints twenty-four feoffees to see to the carrying out of his intentions, and expresses his wish that they should purchase for the purposes of the proposed institution the buildings which had been in turn the Manorial Hall of Manchester, the home of Manchester College, and the residence of the Stanleys, before it [the building] was sequestrated by Parliament for the part played by the Earl of Derby in the Civil War. He informs his hearers that he proposes to leave £7000 for the foundation of the school and £1000 to supply books for the use of inhabitants of Manchester.

In a second part of the episode, a year later, is represented the accomplishment of Humphrey Chetham’s project. The College has been purchased by the feoffees, and Richard Hollinworth pays a fitting tribute to the memory of the benefactor. Into this scene are introduced several local characters such as Colonel Charles Wolsey, MP for Manchester, [and] Colonel Birch, the famous Parliamentary officers, and Richard Dutton, first Master of Chetham’s Hospital.”

Episode VII. Prince Charlie Visits Manchester, AD 1745

“It is the afternoon of 29 November 1745, and a crowd of Manchester people has assembled in the Market Street Lane to witness the arrival of Prince Charlie and his men. A combat between the rival supporters of the Prince and the House of Hanover is stopped by the intervention of the Borough Reeve and his beadles. Several prominent inhabitants of Manchester, among whom are Mr John Clayton (a fellow of the College and an ardent Jacobite), Dr John Byrom (the well-known poet), his daughter Elizabeth, and his friend, the celebrated Dr Thomas Deacon, discuss the prospects of the Prince’s attempt to recover for his father the throne of England. Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of the pipes and the arrival of Prince Charlie’s Highland troops. They are followed by other troops of the Prince, including the newly formed Manchester Regiment with its colonel, Francis Townley, and some of its officers, among whom are Captain James Dawson, Thomas Sydall, the three sons of Dr Deacon, and Lieutenant Beswick. Lastly, Prince Charlie himself appears in company with his generals, the Duke of Perth, Lord George Murray, and the Marquis of Tullibardine. Prince Charlie is joyous at the success which has hitherto attended his enterprise, but is warned by Lord George Murray of the perils in which he is becoming involved. The Prince then compliments the officers of the Manchester Regiment, and receives the respectful greetings of some of the town’s inhabitants, including Dr Byrom, Elizabeth Byrom, and Dr Deacon. He commands the Borough Reeve to have his father proclaimed as James III at the Market Cross and to provide billets for his troops. The Prince then repairs to his headquarters in Mr Dickenson’s house, which stood in what is now known as Palace Square, and his men fraternise with the townsfolk before retiring to rest. A last solemn note of warning is struck by Dr Byrom, who foresees the disastrous issue of the enterprise.”

Episode VIII. The Incorporation of the Borough of Manchester, AD 1838

“The scene of this episode is in front of the old Town Hall in King Street, erected 1822–25, and subsequently used as a reference library. The date is 25 October 1838, the day on which the Charter of Incorporation was handed to the members of the Committee for the Incorporation of Manchester in the Borough Reeve’s room at the Town Hall. A crowd of Manchester folk of various classes has assembled in the street to witness the departure of the Committee and other notable people interested in the fortunes of the borough.

To illustrate some of the remarkable changes which preceded the Incorporation of Manchester—the Industrial Revolution, the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, Peterloo, the scientific achievements of John Dalton, the opening of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway and other mile-stones in the road of progress—representative groups of performers, ushered in by Father Time and the Spirit of Things Past and [the Spirit of] Progress, will make their way across the pageant arena.”

Episode IX. The Cotton Famine, AD 1864

“The following scene is supposed to take place in Stevenson Square, where during the Cotton Famine the unemployed operatives met upon more than one occasion. A throng of these unemployed men and women fills the arena. Mr and Mrs Ashton, Mr and Mrs Bellasis, Mr Clegg, Mr Aspinall, and other members of the Relief Committee are going about among the crowd. At the back of the arena is a soup kitchen, and agents of the Committee are distributing bread, coals and other necessaries to applicants who appear in many cases to be reluctant to accept charity. Joe Halton, an unemployed mill-operative, who wears a gaunt and hungry look, but bravely keeps up his spirits, meets some friends, singing the words of a song. At the end of the episode a cotton wagon from Liverpool arrives, and the unemployed celebrate wildly.

To link this episode with the one which precedes it, groups pass along the arena representing the material and intellectual progress of Manchester during the interval between the Incorporation of the Borough and the Cotton Famine. Among these groups are represented the Chartist Movement, the Anti-Corn Law Association, the new Manchester Police Force, the introduction of the use of gas for public lighting, the Chamber of Commerce, the Royal Exchange, a group of Manchester literary celebrities, and the group of authors who were present at the opening of the Public Library at Campfield.”

Episode X. Queen Victoria Opens the Manchester Ship Canal, AD 1894

“The scene represents the neighbourhood of Trafford Wharf on the recently completed Ship Canal, on 21 May1894. In the background is seen a representation of the Admiralty yacht ‘Enchantress’ with her two gunboats ‘Speedy’ and ‘Seagull.’ A crowd assembles eager to see the arrival of Queen Victoria. The people are in a holiday mood but amenable to the discipline imposed by the troops and police who keep the way to the wharf clear. Some of the crowd arrive on bicycles and amongst them are a few girls in ‘bloomers.’

Before the episode several groups cross the arena in a historical tableau: a procession representing students of the Victoria University, Manchester; a procession of doctors and nurses follows, representing the Manchester Royal Infirmary.


“Soldiers from South African War and the Great War and lastly a group of Manchester veterans. While this is happening, the arena gradually fills with the performers in all of the previous episodes, who stand in massed groups. The Spirit of Things Past declares:

‘Ere to the tomb these phantoms dread,
Forget not we the men who fought and bled
For England’s cause on many a foreign field.
To them their meed (sic) of grateful praise we yield.

Father Time replies:

These mighty dead, while they on earth did live,
To Manchester did faithful service give;
To whom, in presence of your fathers great,
I bid you all your lives to dedicate.

The Spirit of Manchester enters accompanied by maidens representing the Manchesters of the United States of America. All the performers kneel before her and stretch forth their hands.

The spirit of Manchester declares:

Hail Manchester! We raise our hands to thee,
And these thy daughters fair from o’er the sea.
May we and sons to come in future days Strive,
like our sires of old, to win thee praise.

The performers and audience unite in singing ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’, during which the performers depart from the arena.”

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Sir Lancelot du Lac (fl. c.500AD) legendary Knight of the Round Table
  • Cartimandua [Cartismandua] (fl. reigned c. ad 43 – c. 69) 1st-century queen of the Brigantes
  • Julius Agricola, Gnaeus [known as Agricola] (AD 40–93) Roman governor of Britain
  • Ceolwulf I (reigned 821 to 823) King of Mercia, East Anglia and Kent
  • Edward [St Edward; known as Edward the Confessor] (1003x5–1066) king of England
  • Stanley, Thomas, first earl of Derby (c.1433–1504) magnate
  • Beaufort, Margaret [known as Lady Margaret Beaufort] countess of Richmond and Derby (1443–1509), royal matriarch
  • Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Penny, John (d. 1520) abbot of Leicester and bishop of Carlisle
  • Chaderton, William (d. 1608) bishop of Lincoln
  • Chetham, Humphrey (bap. 1580, d. 1653) financier and philanthropist
  • Heyrick, Richard (1600–1667) Church of England clergyman
  • Hollingworth, Richard (1639?–1701) royalist writer
  • Byrom, John (1692–1763) poet and creator of a system of shorthand
  • Clayton, John (1709–1773) Church of England clergyman
  • Deacon, Thomas (1697–1753) bishop of the nonjuring Church of England and physician
  • 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 thrones
  • Drummond, James, styled sixth earl of Perth and Jacobite third duke of Perth (1713–1746) Jacobite army officer
  • Murray, Lord George (1694–1760) Jacobite army officer
  • Murray, William, styled second duke of Atholl and marquess of Tullibardine (1689–1746) Jacobite leader and army officer
  • Towneley, Francis (1709–1746) Jacobite army officer
  • Dawson, James (1716/17–1746) Jacobite army officer
  • Byrom, Elizabeth [Beppy] (1722–1801) Jacobite sympathizer and diarist
  • Cobden, Richard (1804–1865) manufacturer and politician
  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1809–1898) prime minister and author
  • Nield, Sir William Alan (1913–1994) civil servant
  • Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
  • Edwards, Sir Fleetwood Isham (1842–1910) army officer and courtier
  • Ponsonby, Sir Henry Frederick (1825–1895) courtier
  • Kay, John (1704–1780/81) inventor of textile manufacturing machinery
  • Hargreaves, James (bap. 1721, d. 1778) inventor of the spinning jenny
  • Arkwright, Sir Richard (1732–1792) inventor of cotton-spinning machinery and cotton manufacturer
  • Crompton, Samuel (1753–1827) inventor of the spinning mule
  • Dalton, John (1766–1844) chemist and natural philosopher
  • Egerton, Francis, third duke of Bridgewater (1736–1803) canal promoter and colliery owner
  • Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812–1870) novelist
  • Brindley, James (1716–1772) civil engineer
  • Ruskin, John (1819–1900) art critic and social critic
  • Owens, John (1790–1846) merchant and philanthropist
  • Faulkner, George (1790?–1862) industrialist and philanthropist
  • Hallé, Sir Charles [formerly Carl Halle] (1819–1895) conductor and pianist
  • Richter, Hans [formerly Johann Baptist Isidor] (1843–1916) conductor
  • Brierley, Benjamin [Ben] (1825–1896) writer
  • Whittaker, John William (c.1790–1854) Church of England clergyman
  • Collier, John [pseud. Tim Bobbin] (1708–1786) satirist and caricaturist
  • Quincey, Thomas Penson De (1785–1859) essayist
  • Gaskell [née Stevenson], Elizabeth Cleghorn (1810–1865) novelist and short-story writer
  • Banks, Isabella Varley [née Isabella Varley; known as Mrs G. Linnaeus Banks] (1821–1897) public lecturer and writer
  • Ainsworth, William Harrison (1805–1882) novelist
  • Bright, John (1811–1889) politician
  • Thackeray, William Makepeace (1811–1863) novelist
  • Milnes, Richard Monckton, first Baron Houghton (1809–1885) author and politician
  • Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852) army officer and prime minister

Musical production

Manchester City Police Band under the direction of Mr S.G. Owen. Augmented by 1st violins (5 people), 2nd violins (6 people), violas (3 people), Violoncello (3 people), and Double Bass (C.F. Hague, C. Cooper). There were 100 members in the orchestra, and 700 in the chorus.

Choirs in the pageant:
  • Manchester City News choir
  • Union Chapel, Oxford Road
  • Beecham Choir
  • Hallé Choir
  • Manchester Choral Society
  • Manchester Philharmonic
  • Cambrian Choir
  • Manchester Bach Choir
  • Albert Hall Choir
  • Central Hall Choir 
  • Manchester and Salford Choral Society
  • Blackley Choral Society
  • Opollo Male Voice Choir
  • Metro-Vickers Male Voice Choir
  • George Street Methodists, Altrincham
  • Platt Chapel Choir
  • St Anne’s Church Choir
  • Moss Side Congregational Church
  • City Road Methodists
  • Stand (Whitfield) Choir
  • Heaton Park Congregationalists 
  • Greenheys Congregationalists 
  • Macfadyen Choir
  • Bank Street Chapel, Altrincham
  • Moravian Church
  • Chorlton Presbyterian 
  • Whalley Range Methodists
Music performed included:
  • Fanfare—‘Manchester Pageant Fanfare’, Dr Ernest Bullock.
  • ‘God Save the King’.
  • Prologue—‘The Manchester Angel’.
  • Folk tunes arranged by Dr W. Griffiths.
  • Chorus —‘Castlefield’ arranged from an ‘Irish Melody’ by R. Hall.
  • Episode I—‘Slave’s Dance’ (from an Old Greek Folk Song), R. Hall.
  • ‘The Soldier’s Chorus’ (to the tune of ‘The Hardy Norseman’).
  • Episode II—Orchestra—Capriol Suite, Peter Wenlock.
  • Orchestra—The ‘Te Deum’.
  • Episode III—Orchestra—‘Shepherd’s Hey’, Peter Grainger.
  • Morris Dances.
  • Orchestra—‘Trunkles’, Bledlington Tradition, C. Sharp.
  • Episode IV—Orchestra—‘My Lady Wynkfield’ Round.
  • Orchestra—A Hornpipe, Hugh Aston (about 1500), arranged for Strings by Eric Hudes.
  • Episode V—Chorus—‘Armada’, Eric Hudes.
  • Orchestra—‘Hobby Horses’ (to the tune of ‘Ballingrie’).
  • Country Dance—‘Put up thy Smock on a Monday’, C. Sharp.
  • Pavanne—‘The Earl of Salisbury’s’, Byrd.
  • Chorus—‘Strike it up, Tabor’, Weelkes.
  • Episode VI—Chorus—‘King Arthur had Three Sons’, Traditional.
  • Duet—‘As I Walk Out One May Morning’ (from Folk Sons of the Eastern Counties), Vaughan Williams.
  • Chorus—‘Christians, Awake’.
  • Orchestra—Folk Song Suite, Vaughan Williams.
  • Episode VII—A Reel—‘The Dashing White Sergeant’.
  • Chorus—‘Farewell, Manchester’, arranged by R. Hall.
  • Episode VIII – Orchestra – ‘Hail, Smiling Morn’, Spofforth
  • Episode IX—Orchestra—‘The Old Folks at Home’.
  • Chorus—The Doxology.
  • Clog Dance—Lancashire Morris Dance.
  • Episode X—Orchestra—Popular 19th century songs.
  • Chorus—‘Hail Manchester’, R. Hall.
  • Chorus—‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Manchester Guardian
Lancashire Evening News
Lancashire Evening Post
Derby Daily Telegraph
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Aberdeen Journal
Burnley Express

Book of words

Manchester Historical Pageant. Manchester, 1938.

Copy in the British Library.

Other primary published materials

  • Manchester Historical Pageant: Official Souvenir and Programme. Shrewsbury, 1938.

Price: 1s. Copy in British Library.

References in secondary literature

  • Walmsley, Robert. Peterloo: the Case Re-Opened. Manchester, 1969. At 35 and 37.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • In the Manchester Archives:
  • [Small photo of pageant performer] ‘In manuscript on front: 1938 Anna King. In manuscript on reverse: 1938 Manchester Centenary Pageant. June 27 to July 2nd.’ 1848/1/ Negative Sheet Number 2/A26/3.
  • [Leaflet] Manchester Historical Pageant. GB127. Broadsides/F1938.7.
  • Photographs of the pageant. GB127.m61981–GB127.m61986, GB127.m62052.
  • Pageant Executive Committee, GB127.Council Minutes/Pageant Executive Committee/Pageant Committee and Executive Committee Minutes. GB127.M467/4/3.
  • City of Manchester Historical Pageant Invitation, GB124.DPA/687/22.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Manchester Historical Pageant was the ‘chief feature’ of the citywide celebrations in 1938, following on from major pageant in 1926 and 1932. It commemorated the bestowal of a Charter of Incorporation a hundred years earlier.5 It was staged at Platt Fields, a large public park in the Fallowfield area of Manchester. With 10000 performers and eleven episodes, ranging from the Romans in AD 79 to the opening of the Ship Canal in 1894, it was an ambitious and spectacular venture. Like the celebrations more generally, the pageant was primarily led by the city council, with the support of the wider business and civic elite. The Lord Mayor, Joseph Crookes Grime, acted as President, and the position of Chairman of the Executive Committee was taken by Sir Kenneth Stewart, KBE, an important local—indeed national—figure in the cotton industry. Actual episodes, however, were under the control of local associations, such as the Manchester and Salford Toc H (a Christian movement that aimed to provide wholesome recreation centres for ex- and current soldiers), the Municipal Officers’ Guild, the Women’s Conservative and Unionist Association, and the Youth Hostels Association. The production team, headed by Director Nugent Monck, had a wealth of experience in producing pageants such as Northampton (1930) and Nottingham (1935), and many had worked together already. The pageant was performed 10 times (plus 6 public dress rehearsals) and made a profit of about £1000, or around £40000 in today’s money. Owing to foul weather for almost the whole run of the pageant, however, attendances were not very impressive, and the profit was at the lower end of what had been expected. Reflecting the ethos of the celebrations and the local culture of inter-war Manchester more generally, the pageant was an exercise in urban and industrial boosterism and civic co-operation. Before the inter-war period, Manchester had not staged a proper historical pageant. By the end of the 1930s, with the staging of the centenary pageant, it had become a centre of historical pageantry—following the success of the Manchester Civic Week Historical Pageant in 1926 and the Cotton Pageant in 1932, along with other historical re-enactments at the Belle Vue amusement park, and the Salford Pageant of 1930.

The decision to stage a pageant as the most important feature of the celebrations was made in September of 1937 by a special committee appointed by the Town Hall.6 A grandstand that could hold 5000 people was erected, and the enclosure was marked out to provide enough standing room for up to another 5000.The committee brought in Nugent Monck to master the pageant. Monck was the Director of the Norwich Maddermarket Theatre and had been responsible for events such as the Pageant of Norwich in 1926, Ipswich’s Wolsey Pageant in 1930, and the Nottingham Pageant of 1935. Monck boldly claimed, at times, to have actually developed his own type of historical pageantry without being influenced by the original master, Louis Napoleon Parker.7 However, he was arguably part of a much broader and pervasive shift in the style of historical pageants that had taken place in the inter-war period, as masters tried to compete with both the style and popularity of cinema, the rise of popular entertainments more generally, and the growing desire for industrial boosterism. This was also reflected in the other key figures in the production. The narrative and words were written by W.T. McIntire, a historian who had also written the successful Carlisle Pageant of 1928—another event which had been as much about urban industrial boosterism as it was history. Edward Baring took the role of Producer. He had worked alongside McIntire at Carlisle as the organising Director, and with Monck for pageants in Ramsgate in 1934 and Nottingham in 1935. Before teaming up with Monck, Baring had worked predominately with the most famous of the inter-war pageant masters, Frank Lascelles, who had died in 1934. At pageants in Carlisle, Stoke-on-Trent, and Rochester, Lascelles and Baring honed a civic style of pageant, following on from the successes Lascelles had had inventing an earlier form of imperial pageant.8 Lascelles’s pageants were particularly notable for their spectacular and above all visual style, and the ways in which they had updated the Edwardian form. He favoured using extraordinarily large casts, and privileged spectacle, colour and movement over lengthy and turgid dialogue.9 Baring clearly carried the influence of Lascelles and, with Monck, the Manchester Historical Pageant was produced in much a similar way.

Monck took to the press earlier in the month of the pageant to explain what was different about his vision of pageantry in the 1930s as compared to Louis Napoleon Parker’s before 1914. He suggested that the main change was that pageant authors and producers were developing the theme of the growth of the ‘influence of the crowd in municipal government’:

From the first imposition of law and order by the Romans, through the breaking of the Feudal Barons, the establishment of the Constitution, and so gradually to universal suffrage and state ownership, it is the increasing power of the man in the street to organize his life, which is the central theme of modern pageantry, and it is these men and women who become the principal performers in pageants.10

But what had not changed, according to Monck, was how pageants actually affected those that were taking part. Like Parker, he believed that costumed drama allowed rich and poor to mix more freely than they could usually, eliminating religious, political, and social cliques.11 This was put into practice in the casting of roles: it seems that the part of Queen Victoria, far from being played by an aristocrat or local notable, was taken be one Annie King 'of the Navigation Inn, Woolley'. A photograph of Mrs King 'without make-up of any kind and wearing her own dress' was sent to Queen Mary, who (perhaps rather taken aback?) sent a formal acknowledgment of the 'interesting and unique' image (this correspondence is in the possession of Ann Redburn, who shared it with the project team: it can be found on the 'images' section of the website). As the pageant began to gear up for its opening performances, the Manchester Guardian thus explained that, far from being ‘a piece of princely ostentation’, the pageant was actually ‘a medium for the expression of civic pride’.12

The pageant, as with most in the period, was meant to be educational. There was a special effort to get children involved. Four to five thousand took performing roles, and the first three dress rehearsals were evening performances for audiences of elementary and central school children who were admitted at a discounted rate. Each main pageant performance was opened by a different special guest who used their time at the microphone to extol what they thought were the educational virtues of the pageant. Lord Snell, ex-chairman of the London County Council, used his speech to hope that the ‘pictures of the city’s past would inspire a greater enthusiasm for the city that we all want it to be—a city of the future more beautiful than that of the past.’13 This ethos was evident in the pageant souvenir programme as well. It began with a poem by Hedley Lucas, a trained barrister and local man. Entitled ‘For Manchester’, it allegorised the pageant as a loom-produced pattern, where the ‘blended threads of heart and mind From unity of purpose wound’ could be found. It ended by imploring contemporary Mancunians to continue making the city great, drawing on the spirit of the ‘noblest charter’.14 These themes of education, urban prosperity, civic pride, and the role of local people came especially to the fore in the actual episodes of the pageant. 

In contrast to Parker’s Edwardian spectaculars, it was important that the storyline for urban pageants, especially in industrial places such as Manchester, should come all the way to the present. After all, as the Manchester Guardian pointed out, pageants had to re-create or synthesise ‘how the city has grown to be what it is’.15 Thematically, the narrative of the pageant therefore attempted to show three things.16 First of these was the story of the building up of the government and rights of the city. In this vein, the first episode showed the establishment of the Roman fort of Mancunium in AD 79 between the rivers Medlock and Irwell. The second episode, set in AD 924, showed King Edward arriving at Mameceaster to defeat the marauding Danes, and promising to restore order in the town by annexing it to Mercia. The third episode showed Mameceaster receiving its charter in 1301—and the people of the town being instructed by the Rector to carefully and faithfully observe its provisions. In the sixth episode, Chetham’s Hospital was founded by the gracious gift of Humphrey Chetham in 1654—a particularly relevant episode due to the pageant’s beneficiary being local hospitals. The eighth episode was even more relevant, since it portrayed the Incorporation of the Borough of Manchester in 1838, and was set in front of the Town Hall. As the Book of Words explained, up until this point Manchester had been hampered by ineffective government. Unfortunately for the pageant producers, the actual bestowal of the Charter in 1838 had elicited little public excitement and had taken place behind the closed doors of the old Town Hall. The producers consequently decided to invent an imaginary scene of public celebration outside the Town Hall, in order to give dramatic flair to this most important of incidents.17 Before the ninth episode, which showed the cotton famine in 1864, there were processional tableaux showing the material and intellectual progress of the city in the previous 26 years, consisting of groups representing the Chartist Movement, the Anti-Corn Law Association, the new Manchester Police Force, the introduction of gas-fired public lighting, the Chamber of Commerce, the Royal Exchange, a group of Manchester literary celebrities, and the group of authors who were present at the opening of the public library at Campfield. Finally, before the final episode dealing with the opening of the Ship Canal, there was a procession showing the establishment of the University, as well as the doctors and nurses of the Royal Infirmary. These tableaux and episodes showed how Manchester depended on its local government and civic institutions for prosperity, success, and safety.

The second theme of the pageant was the growing industrial power of the city. This aim was unique to inter-war pageantry and was especially prominent in industrial cities in the 1930s. As the Derby Daily Telegraph joked in the run-up to the pageant, ‘The name of Manchester is so closely associated with the cotton industry that few people realise that the city had any history before the industrial revolution.’18 The pageant began with a prologue featuring modern-day Manchester children, weary of the noise and tumult of the city, expressing longing for the rest and quiet of the country. The Spirit of Fantasy appears and shows the children the victory of Sir Lancelot du Lac over the giant Tarquin—an allegory, as the pageant souvenir explained, of the victory of modern progress over the powers of darkness and obstruction. Fairies (representing the Cotton Plant, Steam, Electricity and Chemistry then joined in a joyous dance with wood-nymphs, as Father Time summoned the figures of the past to rise from their graves to once more perform their exploits. The final three episodes covered Manchester’s industrial rise from the eighteenth century to the present, and these seem to have had the most characters and care given to their production. The eighth episode, which showed the incorporation of the borough, was preceded by processional tableaux that displayed the Industrial Revolution, the construction of the Bridgewater Canal, the scientific achievements of John Dalton, and the opening of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway. Famous inventors, such as John Kay and Richard Arkwright, were shown alongside mill-hands and canal navvies. The ninth episode showed the Cotton Famine in 1864. But rather than dwelling on the hardship of unemployment, it portrayed Lancashire grit and spirit triumphing over adversity. As the Manchester Guardian explained, the episode would ‘avoid the shadows of that grim period’ by instead showing the end of the famine, signalled by the arrival from Liverpool of the first wagon-load of cotton from the USA.19 The tenth and final episode showed Queen Victoria opening the Ship Canal in 1894, the great engineering work being presented as a potent symbol of Manchester City Council’s progressive governance. As the Book of Words proudly proclaimed, the Ship Canal was ‘one of the greatest engineering achievements of modern times’ and led to Manchester becoming ‘one of the most important ports of the British Isles’.20

Finally, the third theme addressed by the pageant episodes was the place of the city in the wider story of the nation. This theme had been prevalent since the earliest historical pageants, and it ran through all of the episodes in 1938. Having important figures visit and compliment the town or city, especially royalty, connected the locality to a story that was larger than just its own history. The fourth episode, for example, showed the visit of King Henry VII to Manchester in 1495. He mixed with the important folk and declared ‘So this is Manchester! A fair town and a lusty race of men as any in my realm of England.’21 Similarly, in the seventh episode, Prince Charlie was shown visiting in 1745, meeting the civic worthies and praising the Manchester Regiment. Another way of showing the importance of the local in national culture was to portray the patriotism of the city’s inhabitants. Thus, in the fifth episode, the local men of Lancashire showed their readiness to fight for the crown in a ‘fervour of patriotism’ as the Spanish Armada approached in 1588. The very last historical scene of the pageant cemented this narrative, by showing Manchester veterans from the Boer and Great Wars processioning across the arena. As the Spirit of Things Past declared:

‘Ere to the tomb these phantoms dread,
Forget not we the men who fought and bled
For England’s cause on many a foreign field.
To them their meed (sic) of grateful praise we yield.22

This final incident encapsulated, in a way, the whole point of the pageant: a lesson in the meaning of service and sacrifice for the city and the nation. As Father Time summarised: ‘These mighty dead, while they on earth did live, To Manchester did faithful service give; To whom, in presence of your fathers great, I bid you all your lives to dedicate.’2

But the version of history put forward by historical pageants was not always unchallenged. Rather than absorb class tensions, pageants sometimes threatened to force them to the surface. At first, the producers had had no intention of portraying the bloody massacre of Peterloo—one of the defining moments in the nineteenth-century quest for the reform of parliamentary representation. The Manchester Guardian explained that this was simply because, taking place in 1819, the incident did not fit into the last hundred years from 1838, of which the pageant was going to make such a big deal; yet, at the same time, it was too close in time to that period to justify being a separate episode.24 More likely, as the newspaper reported a couple of months later, Peterloo was still too recent to be retold without causing ill-feeling—especially in the context of a decade of mass urban protests by the working classes.25 But many in the city were angered by its omission. The Trade Unions raised the most widely reported concerns, but the most vibrant and sustained critique came from the Manchester and Salford District of the Communist Party.

In a penny pamphlet entitled 100 Years of Struggle: Manchester’s Centenary, the Real Story, the Party laid out what it saw as the more important modern history of Manchester.26 It described events and moments in the history of what it saw as working-class protest, such as the eighteenth-century food riots, the rise of the Chartists, the march of the Blanketeers in 1817, the growth of the trade unions, the establishment of the Cooperative movement, the fight for women’s suffrage, and the establishment of the Labour party. The crowning achievement, of course, was the establishment of the Communist Party after the First World War. Like the main centenary celebrations, the pamphlet also looked back to the Charter of 1838, which it posited as the culmination of a struggle against the landowner at that time, Sir Oswald Mosley (ancestor of the more famous interwar fascist), by the ratepayers of the borough. But incorporation, it argued, had not brought the results the working class deserved, and the city corporation was still controlled by the wealthy class and ‘the most reactionary elements in society.’27 Normal contemporary Mancunians had to organise, then, to ‘take up the liberal traditions of Manchester’s past’ and ‘carry them forward.’28 Unlike the main celebrations, of course, the pamphlet was also happy to draw attention to recent struggles and protest in the city—such as the General Strike in 1926 and the use of batons and horses against a 50000 strong crowd protesting the Means Test in 1931.

By the end of the pamphlet it became clear that it was the historical pageant that had provoked this alternative history of Manchester’s commemoration. Describing the episodes the producers had chosen, the authors expostulated:

Could anything be more shameful as a representation of these earlier years of our history? Of the struggle against the feudal lords, the religious struggles of the 16th century, the Civil War of 1642, and the great part Manchester played in holding the North of England for Parliament against the King, of bread riots, industrial development, Blanketeers, fights for democracy, transportation of trade unionists, of Peterloo—nothing.29

It was up to the working class to ‘rescue Manchester’s centenary from this mockery of its history.’30 To this end, the Communist Party thus went even further than its leaflet and staged an alternative historical pageant of its own. Short and simple, especially in comparison to the effort taking place in Platt Fields, it naturally focused on the story of working-class struggle over the previous hundred years. The performance began with a march of several hundred uniformed Communist youth, carrying red flags. Groups of men and women then came on, each carrying three-sided banners painted with historical scenes and slogans. There followed the pageant story proper, which began, predictably enough, with Peterloo, before going on to the Chartists. Other scenes included the founding of the Ship Canal and the rise of the city’s industrial prosperity—in respect of subject matter (if not of message) being not that far removed from the official pageant. The Communist pageant ended with demands for ‘A Manchester with no unemployment,’ ‘A Manchester without the threat of war,’ and ‘A Manchester that belongs to its people.’ Overall, the story it told operated not only as a rebuke to the official narrative presented by the Corporation’s pageant but also as the basis for ideological understandings of the movement. Enacted drama like pageants were endorsed and promoted within political movements to serve the ‘mental and recreational needs’ of its members.31 Furthermore, and similar to the more traditional pageantry movement, they provided a way for a community to imagine itself—the fundamental difference being that this community was more constructed from below than above.32

Influenced by the general questioning of the exclusion of Peterloo, the pageant producers in the end decided to portray the incident in a processional historical tableau preceding the eighth episode. The Spirit of Things Past declared:

Yet do the years thou boastest bear the stain
Of social ills which followed in their train.
See! How the troopers’ vengeful swords pursue
The hapless crowd at mournful Peterloo.

As the Spirit of Things Past spoke these words, a procession of protesters, bearing banners with inscriptions, were flanked by a few mounted yeomanry and Hussars, with drawn swords. The Spirit of Things Past then quickly called time on the event, declaring:

Enough! Let Time his kindly mantle cast
O’er cruel wrongs and evils of the past.
Come hail we now with acclamation loud
The day on which was born our city proud.33

Yet, despite the capitulation of the Pageant Committee, the Manchester Guardian could not even tell if the Peterloo massacre had been portrayed or not.34

Conflict over episodic choices was not the only challenge the pageant faced. Throughout the week of performances the amateur actors were plagued by poor weather. Children fainted and had to be carried off the muddy field, some performers wore cellophane capes, and the women who were lucky enough to have long dresses chose to wear mackintoshes beneath them.35 Episodes were, unsurprisingly, often cancelled or curtailed, and the microphones and loudspeakers frequently malfunctioned under the onslaught of rain.36 After the run of performances had finished, the Guardian surmised that the pageant had been ‘unlucky to the end’, unable to fulfil its popular potential because of the foul climatic conditions.37 The press might have had a point; on the rare occasions when the sun did shine, the stands were more than three-quarters full. Bad weather was not the only misfortune to befall the pageant, however. During one of the later performances the Lord Mayor, who was away near Blackpool, collapsed in his car and later died. The Chairman of the Committee, Kenneth Stewart, announced the death to a shocked audience; afterwards, they joined the performers, as usual, in singing ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past.’38 An emergency meeting was called the following day by the Pageant Committee to discuss whether the run of performances should continue. The Mayor’s daughter, who was playing the Spirit of Manchester, valiantly declared that the pageant should be continued as this was surely what her father would have wanted, and the meeting concurred with her desire.39

Despite the commitment of the performers in the face of adversity, however, early press reports were mixed. The Manchester Guardian, reporting on a dress rehearsal, complimented the dresses and the dances but complained that not enough attention had been given to modern Manchester, as well as criticising the acting and choreography of later scenes.40

In summary, the Historical Pageant of Manchester was a mixed success. While it did not fail spectacularly (it still made a profit), it was not the triumph hoped for by the organisers. It seems likely that between 50000 and 80000 saw the pageant—probably not quite reaching the 100000 that supposedly saw the earlier historical pageant staged in Manchester in 1926.41 Certainly, the foul weather must take a large part of the blame. But in managing to get 10000 people from a variety of backgrounds and associations to work together for such an extended period, the event was testament to the genuine civic pride felt during the commemorative year. It was certainly an ambitious attempt by the civic elite to make a statement of intent about the power and position of the city in the inter-war years, despite the challenging circumstances of industrial depression and restructuring—although, of course, it would have little effect on the structural decline of industry in northern England. In many ways, along with the Birmingham Pageant in the same year, the 1938 Manchester Pageant represented the apotheosis of urban historical pageantry in Britain. It was also the epitome of the inter-war transformation of the format, with exceptionally large casts, modern scenes, a mix of historical ‘fact’ and fiction, and a popular and spectacular style of production. After the Second World War, far fewer cities staged historical pageants, with Nottingham (1949) a notable exception. However, when cities had been at their most challenged economically in the 1930s, pageantry had seemed a natural option to cities such as Manchester to boost their trade and confidence.


  1. ^ Toc H was a Christian movement that aimed to provide wholesome recreation centres for ex- and current soldiers.
  2. ^ ‘The Manchester Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 13 October 1938, 13.
  3. ^ Manchester Historical Pageant (Book of Words, Manchester, 1938) and Manchester Historical Pageant: Official Souvenir and Programme (Shrewsbury, 1938).
  4. ^ It is likely that all local and regional newspapers around Manchester reported the pageant.
  5. ^ ‘Manchester’s Pageant: City’s Story from Pre-Roman Days to Ship Canal’, Manchester Guardian, 8 January 1938, 14.
  6. ^ ‘Manchester History in Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 15 September 1937, 11.
  7. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Delving the Levels of Memory and Dressing up in the Past’, in British Theatre between the Wars, 1918–1939, ed. Clive Barker and Maggie B. Gale (Cambridge, 2000), 190–214.
  8. ^ Deborah Sugg Ryan, ‘Staging the Imperial City: The Pageant of London, 1911’, in Imperial Cities: Landscape, Display and Identity, ed. Felix Driver and David Gilbert (Manchester, 1999), 117-135.
  9. ^ Deborah Sugg Ryan, ‘”The Man who Staged the Empire”: Remembering Frank Lascelles in Sibford Gower, 1875–2000’, in Material Memories: Design and Evocation, ed. Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward and Jeremy Aynsle (Oxford, 1999), 169.
  10. ^ W. Nugent Monck, ‘English Fond of Pageantry’, Portsmouth Evening News, 7 June 1938, 6.
  11. ^ Ibid., 6.
  12. ^ ‘Manchester Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 24 June 1938, 13.
  13. ^ ‘No Interruption of Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 1 July 1938, 13.
  14. ^ Hedley Lucas, ‘For Manchester’ in Manchester Historical Pageant: Official Souvenir and Programme (Shrewsbury, 1938). For more of Lucas’s Manchester poems, see Hedley Lucas, See You a City (Manchester, 1937).
  15. ^ ‘Manchester Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 24 June 1938, 13.
  16. ^ For the synopsis of the episodes, see Manchester Historical Pageant: Official Souvenir and Programme.
  17. ^ Manchester Historical Pageant, Book of Words (Manchester, 1938), 82.
  18. ^ ‘Manchester Pageant’, Derby Daily Telegraph, 15 June 1938, 4.
  19. ^ ‘Manchester’s Pageant: City’s Story from Pre-Roman Days to Ship Canal’, Manchester Guardian, 8 January 1938, 14.
  20. ^ Manchester Historical Pageant, Book of Words, 103.
  21. ^ Ibid., 52.
  22. ^ Ibid., 106.
  23. ^ Ibid., 106.
  24. ^ ‘Manchester’s Pageant: City’s Story from Pre-Roman Days to Ship Canal’, Manchester Guardian, 8 January 1938, 14.
  25. ^ ‘Peterloo for Manchester Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 13 April 1938, 11.
  26. ^ 100 Years of Struggle: Manchester’s Centenary, the Real Story (Salford, 1938).
  27. ^ Ibid., 19.
  28. ^ Ibid., 13.
  29. ^ Ibid., 19.
  30. ^ Ibid., 21.
  31. ^ Alan Burton, The British Consumer Co-Operative Movement and Film, 1890s–1960s (Manchester, 2005), 34.
  32. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Pageantry and the Popular Front: Ideological Production in the Thirties’, New Theatre Quarterly 10, no. 38 (1994): 134.
  33. ^ Manchester Historical Pageant, Book of Words, 85.
  34. ^ ‘Manchester Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 24 June 1938, 13.
  35. ^ ‘The Manchester Pageant: Rain Plays a Part’, Manchester Guardian, 28 June 1938, 13; ‘Pageant Still Unlucky’, Manchester Guardian, 8 July 1938, 13.
  36. ^ ‘Pageant Still Unlucky’, Manchester Guardian, 8 July 1938, 13.
  37. ^ ‘Pageant Unlucky to the End’, Manchester Guardian, 11 July 1938, 11.
  38. ^ ‘Lord Mayor Dies Near Blackpool’, Lancashire Evening Post, 30 June 1938, 2.
  39. ^ ‘No Interruption of Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 1 July 1938, 13.
  40. ^ ‘Manchester Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 24 June 1938, 13.
  41. ^ ‘Civic Week’s Meaning to Manchester’, Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1926, 13.

How to cite this entry

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