Northampton Festival Trades Exhibition, Carnival and Pageant

Other names

  • Grand Imperial Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Abington Park (Abington Park, Northampton) (Abington Park, Northampton, Northamptonshire, England)

Year: 1930

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 8


26–31 May 1930

26 May at 8pm, 27 May at 2.30 and 8pm, 28 May at 8pm, 29 May at 8pm, 30 May at 8pm and 31 May at 2.30 and 8pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Monck, Nugent
  • Assistant Hon. Sec: Mr J.C.J. Legge
  • President: Alderman S.S. Campion
  • Chairman: Alderman W. Harvey
  • Vice-Chairman: Mr. S.H. Barber
  • Hon. Secretary: Mr H. Musk Beattie

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Council:

  • Chairman: Fred Kilby
  • President: The Mayor, Councillor Ralph Smith

Catering Committee:

  • Chairman: B. Guillaume

Transport Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr. H.W. Ede

Exhibition Committee:

  • Chairman: A.H. Hollister

Ye Olde English Carnival:

  • Chairman: Mrs A.E. Ray

Finance Committee:

  • Chairman: W.P. Cross

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

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised

In aid of Northampton Charities.

Linked occasion

In conjunction with the Northampton Festival Trades Exhibition.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


It was expected that 100000 visitors would visit the Festival, and this figure is likely to have been attained, though it is unclear how many would have visited the pageant.1 The Northampton Mercury noted of the first performance that ‘all the seats were occupied at the afternoon performance, but at the evening performance there were many spaces in the most expensive stand.’2

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s. 6d.–1s.

Associated events

The Festival Week in Northampton featured the following:
  • 26 May: Trades Exhibition.
  • 27 May: Civic Luncheon for the Duke of York.
  • 27–31 May: Ye Olde English Carnival in Abington Park.
  • 1 June: Thanksgiving Service.

Pageant outline

Episode I. The Foundation by Simon de Senlis, Earl of Northampton, of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a Thank-Offering for His Safe Return from the First Crusade, 1100

He is accompanied by the Bishop of Lincoln and Prior of St. Andrew’s and there is a service of consecration.

Episode II. The Trial of Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Before the Great Council at Northampton Castle, when He Defied the Jurisdiction and Left the Town

Episode III. A Representation of a Tournament Held Before Henry III at Christmas, 1223

Episode IV. The Passing of Eleanor, Consort of Edward I, at Harby in Nottinghamshire in 1291, and the Transport of her Remains to London for burial, with a Cross Erected at Each Place the Cortege Stopped

Episode V. The Romantic Meeting of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville in the Glades of Grafton, 1468, which Resulted in her Becoming Queen of England

Episode VI. Elizabeth I’s Visit to the Town in 1564 and her Civic Reception

Episode VII. Northampton Busy Making Boots for the Army Heading to Ireland, 1642

Episode VIII. The Removal by Cornet Joyce of Charles I from Holdenby House to London, Where He Was Put on Trial

Episode IX. The Association of the Washington Family with the Town

Grand Finale. March Past with Women from the Past and Figures Representing the British Commonwealth

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Senlis, Simon (I) de [Simon de St Liz] earl of Northampton and earl of Huntingdon (d. 1111x13), magnate
  • Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Henry III (1207–1272) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Aquitaine], suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204) queen of France, consort of Louis VII, and queen of England, consort of Henry II
  • Edward IV (1442–1483) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Elizabeth [née Elizabeth Woodville] (c.1437–1492) queen of England, consort of Edward IV
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Joyce, George (b. 1618) parliamentarian army officer
  • Hereward [called Hereward the Wake] (fl. 1070–1071) rebel
  • Chichele, Henry (c.1362–1443) administrator and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Richard III (1452–1485) king of England and lord of IrelandSir Thomas Tresham
  • Tresham, Sir Thomas (d. 1471) administrator and speaker of the House of Commons
  • Dryden, John (1631–1700) poet, playwright, and critic
  • Franklin, Benjamin (1706–1790) natural philosopher, writer, and revolutionary politician in America
  • Clare, John (1793–1864) poet, farm labourer, and naturalist
  • Carey, William (1761–1834) orientalist and missionary

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times
Manchester Guardian
Northampton Mercury
Nottingham Evening Post

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Northampton Festival Trades Exhibition, Carnival and Pageant, 26–31 May 1930: Official Souvenir Handbook. Northampton, 1930.

Price: 6d.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • British Library: Copy of Programme.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



‘To be content to live upon past history and achievement is a real temptation to individuals and communities alike. Well might we say, the historical associations of our Town and County richly adorn many pages of our Country’s record. In the realm of industry we have established a claim to superiority that has earned Royal recognition.’ So remarked the Mayor, Ralph Smith, in the foreword to the programme. He continued: ‘In the matter of social progress great things have been accomplished. All this is happily true. But Progress demands that we should not stand still. Progress believes that the best is yet to be, and that however glorious the past achievement victories no less illustrious await our efforts.’3 For the Mayor, cautious to balance reverence for the past with hope for the future, the Pageant of Northampton, which was organised as part of the festival week, offered ‘a brief spell [to] re-live the spacious days of long ago’.4 This nostalgic impulse was, nonetheless, voiced by the Northampton Mercury when it announced the plans for the pageant in January 1930: ‘Kings, queens, knights, high church dignitaries, illustrious local worthies, and all who have contributed to the fame of Northamptonshire and its county town will again strut across this mortal stage for a few brief hours; once more they will live their loves and hates, their passions, nobilities, and baseness’.5

While Northampton, whose industries had diversified beyond the shoe manufacturing which had first made it famous, had done better than the rest of the country in avoiding the worst parts of the Financial Crash, its male unemployment lay at just over 9% (compared to 12.8% across the rest of the country).6 Although Northampton had done well from the post-war expansion of light and medium manufacturing across the Midlands, it was fully aware that this position was not unassailable, and the town was particularly prone to the collapse of European and global trade. As the Manchester Guardian declared: ‘Its primary object through the Trades Exhibition is to make the town’s claim to rank as one of the most important industrial centres—shoemaking, engineering, printing, and motor manufacturing being among its industries.’ The festival and pageant also stemmed from the desire ‘to raise many thousands of pounds for local charities and to serve as a reunion week for old Northamptonians.’7 They are a classic example of what Tom Hulme has identified as inter-war ‘civic boosterism’ through spectacle and celebration—and part of the resurgence during the early 1930s of large-scale civic pageants across England.8 The festival, to which special discount trains were put on, would be attended by J.H. Thomas, Lord Privy Seal, W. Graham, President of the Board of Trade, and, most prominently, the Duke and Duchess of York.9 The duke proceeded on a tour of various prominent places of the town, visiting the Manfield and Sons’ Boot Factory where employees were, with due noblesse oblige, ‘released 20 minutes early for luncheon to enable them to cheer the Duke as he left’, and then watching the first three scenes of the pageant before departing for the train back to London.10 The Northampton Mercury made the guess that ‘judging from his obviously happy expression, he had enjoyed himself as much as Northampton had done in entertaining him.’11

Northampton had a prior history of pageantry, including the 1910 Pageant of Northamptonshire Nonconformity and the large Northampton Historic Pageant (1925), from which a number of scenes were repeated. That there were two similar Northampton pageants on a large scale within five years attests to the position of pageants in inter-war Britain, as well as to the willingness for repetition. The Women’s Institute was also organising a pageant at Harleston in the country later that year, organised by Barbara Drummond. The scenes chosen for Northampton’s pageant were pretty much par for the course in the interwar period: various pleasant scenes of medievalism integrating a service of commemoration for an ancient church; scenes of Merrie England, involving a tournament and dance; a reception for the ubiquitous Queen Elizabeth I on one of her many tours; a nod to the local boot-making industry; and recognition of the Civil War, without much indication of the town’s sympathies. There was due acknowledgment of Northampton’s role in cultivating the Washington family, dynasts of the USA, and of Benjamin Franklin’s connection to the town, though there was scant mention of the empire (despite the pageant’s ‘Grand Imperial’ subtitle). Despite the Mayor’s prior warning of the seductive dangers of the past and the need for progress, there was little sense of the town projecting a vision of the future, or even acknowledging the previous century.

Local newspapers, whose owners were often guarantors to pageants and who thus naturally had a stake in their success, often fell over one another to spout greater and more superlatives. As such, it can often be difficult to gauge the success of pageants based on the reports from local newspapers. The Northampton Mercury proved to be unexceptional in this, declaring the pageant ‘a triumph not only for the performers, but for Northampton. The performers and the choir have spent endless hours fitting themselves for a great task, and they succeeded so well that they have made their effort a dedication to Northampton and its glory.’ Throughout ‘nine episodes representing some of the most romantic pages of Northampton’s storied past, audience and performers seemed united in one huge paean of praise. If the daily performances of the pageant do nothing else, they will knit together the hearts of Northampton people in a warmer loyalty, and admiration for their native town.’12 The newspaper went on to remark on ‘their splendid acting and singing, their brilliantly effective costumes, some wonderfully rich, some realistically poor, wafted us over eight centuries of Northampton’s historic past. The piety, the bravery, the wisdom, the splendour of our ancestors has been held up for our admiration and wonder for a margin of two hours.’ It also praised ‘the completeness with which they lifted one right out of the practical hum-drum present into a world in which the kings of olden time, monks and nuns, cavaliers and Roundheads, and all the other figures of history were restored from their faded glory to living reality’.13 In this, one can witness the palpable desire to live in the past, in an era before the coming of roads, council estates, and light industry on the edge of the town. While the great destruction of Northampton’s old town centre would have to wait for the 1970s, as evidenced in Ian Nairn’s Nairn Across Britain (1972),14 there appeared to be a sense that Northampton was losing something important and vital from its past which the pageant was attempting to make up for. According to the Northampton Mercury reporter, upon witnessing the final scenes: ‘“Ah, the good old days of Merrie England,” one sighs as one sees those happy-smiling people’.15 On a more contemporaneous note, the reporter also drew parallels between the trade war between England and Europe in 1223 over cotton and wool spinning and the present-day problems where Britain remained one of the last European countries to put up trade barriers.16

Whatever nostalgic memories of an illusory past were thrown up, the pageant and festival were a commendable success, raising £7000 throughout the week.17 Furthermore, Mrs Shipman, widow of Dr J.G. Shipman, the former Northampton MP, presented £10000 for a convalescent home to be built in the town.18 As the Northampton Mercury remarked: ‘By general consent it was an improvement on that of 1925…The pageant will long be remembered.’19 Northampton on the whole avoided the worst depredations of the Great Depression of the 1930s, with its trade largely intact. As during the Civil War, its shoe and clothes manufacturing industries were in great demand during the Second World War. The Northampton Pageant of 1930 typifies a paradox within much of the twentieth-century British mind, which relied on the proceeds and lifestyle benefits of industrial modernity, yet longed for an earlier, simpler time. This dichotomy was wholly intractable—and yet did much to shape the national character.


  1. ^ Northampton Mercury, 23 May 1930, 4.
  2. ^ Northampton Mercury, 30 May 1930, 8.
  3. ^ Ralph Smith, ‘Foreword’, in Northampton Festival Trades Exhibition, Carnival and Pageant, 26–31 May 1930: Official Souvenir Handbook (Northampton, 1930), 9.
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ Northampton Mercury, 10 January 1930, 1.
  6. ^ GB Historical GIS/University of Portsmouth, Northampton CB/MB through time|Historical Statistics on Work & Poverty for the Local Government District|Rate: Male Unemployment, A Vision of Britain through Time, accessed 24 May 2016,
  7. ^ Manchester Guardian, 24 March 1930, 17.
  8. ^ Tom Hulme, ‘“A Nation of Town Criers”: Civic Publicity and Historical Pageantry in Inter-War Britain’, Urban History, 24 February 2016, accessed 24 May 2016,
  9. ^ Manchester Guardian, 24 March 1930, 17.
  10. ^ The Times, 9 April 1930, 19.
  11. ^ Northampton Mercury, 30 May 1930, 1.
  12. ^ Northampton Mercury, 30 May 1930, 1.
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ See the YouTube clip from the BBC programme, ‘Ian Nairn on Northampton’, posted by CptBlicero, 13 August 2013, accessed 24 May 2016,
  15. ^ Northampton Mercury, 30 May 1930, 1.
  16. ^ Northampton Mercury, 30 May 1930, 8.
  17. ^ Northampton Mercury, 6 June 1930, 5.
  18. ^ The Times, 28 May 1930, 13.
  19. ^ Northampton Mercury, 6 June 1930, 5.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Northampton Festival Trades Exhibition, Carnival and Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,