Pageant of Labour

Pageant type


Organised by the Central Women’s Organisation Committee to the London Trades Council and presented by The London Pageant of Labour Society.

Jump to Summary


Place: Crystal Palace (Sydenham) (Sydenham, London, England)

Year: 1934

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 7


15–19 October 1934 at 8pm; 20 October 1934 at 3.30pm and 8pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Genn, Edward P.
  • Hon. Organising Secretary: Sadie Cheesman
  • Ballet Mistresses and Choreographers: Peggy Goulding; Sybil Spencer; Margaret Irwin; Helen Elton; Mildred Bult; Mary-Clifton Haddan
  • Costume Designers: Lizzi Pisk and the LCC Central School of Arts and Crafts
  • Stage Manager: Milton Locquhardt
  • Stage Settings and Furnishings: T. Robinson
  • Properties and Scenery: T. Robinson
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs Jean Whiteley
  • Sound Engineer: F. Mayne
  • Conductors of Orchestra and Choir: Michael Tippett and Alan Bush
  • Presidents: Lady Noel-Buxton and Sir Stafford Cripps, KC, MP


Patrons include: Frances Warwick; George Bernard Shaw; Lord Passfield (Sidney Webb) and Mrs Sidney Webb; R.H. Tawney; Walter Citrine; David Lloyd George; Herbert Morrison; Arthur Henderson; J.R. Clynes; Margaret Clynes

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: G. Maurice Hann
  • Vice-Chairman: Alfred G. Tomkins
  • Hon. Organising Secretary: Miss Sadie Cheesman
  • Rt. Hon. Margaret Bondfield
  • Miss Nancy Adam
  • Miss R. Whyatt
  • Miss B.A. Godwin
  • Miss Annie Somers
  • Mr Benrnard Sullivan

Episode I Committee (Lewisham):

  • Chairman: William Flood

Episode II Committee (Hampstead):

  • Chairman: Michael Sheehan

Episode III Committee (Wandsworth):

  • Chairman: David Norval

Episode IV Committee (Holborn):

  • Chairman: Hilda Burnett

Episode VA Committee (Hackney):

  • Chairman: L.A. Gregory

Episode VB Committee (Leyton):

  • Chairman: Henry Underhill

Episode VI Committee (Organised by the Central Committee):

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

  • Anderson, Matthew

Names of composers

  • Bush, Alan

Numbers of performers


1500 performers plus 200 for the ballet

Financial information

Income and Expenditure Account (from 1 May 1934 to 31 January 1935):


Income Sale of Tickets: £491. 9s. 3½d.
Less Crystal Palace’s Take of 33%: £163. 16s. 5½d.
Total: £327. 12s. 10d.
Programmes: £59. 1s. 3d.
Donations: £968. 9s. 3d.

Total: £1357. 7s. 10d.


Production Fees and Expenses: £1117. 0s. 4d.
Fares of Cast and Chorus: £376. 12s. 7d.
Hire of Costumes: £322. 2s. 7d.
Scenery Stage Setting Properties: £375. 8s. 11d.
Hire of Electrical Apparatus and Amplifying Equipment: £260. 15s. 0d.
Printing and Advertising: £661. 14s. 6d.
Office Expenses: £110. 15s. 1d.
Company Expenses: £552. 9s. 9d.
Total Expenditure: £3276. 18s. 9d.

Deficit: £1919. 10s. 11d.1

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

The centenary year of the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 6571


This is the figure for the paying audience only.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

11s. 1/2d.–3s. 6d.

Children half price.

Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode I. Capital Enslaves the Workers, 1790

Scene I. Domestic Workers, 1790

The scene opens with a chorus sung by family groups of domestic workers on a darkened stage. The workers are vigorous and of independent bearing, and their song tells of the joys of labour in spite of discomforts and small earnings; of liberty, independence and laws that protect them. The central panel lights up to disclose the interior of the Fletchers’ cottage with a husband weaving, a girl spinning and Mrs Fletcher rocking a cradle. Domestic workers sing a chorus.

Scene II. The New Political Philosophy

Adam Smith expounds his philosophy of free trade. Listening to him are Burke, Pitt, a peer and a manufacturer. After Smith leaves, the manufacturer interprets his words as sanctioning complete freedom to exploit the worker without restraint and as implying that the laws of supply and demand will help the worker. The judge points out that laws maintain the standard of life and accuses the manufacturer of encouraging chaos. Burke suggests that no regulation is necessary and that a paternal system will ensure that the workers are fed as well as beasts, as the capitalists’ wealth depends on workers’ labour.

Scene III. Malthus

Malthus appears and expounds his philosophy that poverty is inevitable without a check on the population and that ‘vice and misery will adjust the balance between food and population’. His audience chant: ‘Poverty is inevitable. It is a law of Nature. The poor are always with us.’

Scene IV. The Domestic Workers and the Cottage Interior

The song has changed from before. Uncertainty, fear and foreboding are present as the mother laments the break-up of the family circle and the enslavement of its members by the factory and the machine. The father describes the differences between the old life and the new. The children protest their fate. There is a procession of pauper children from London, driven by overseers who beat the children. Capitalists and overseers enter, supported by soldiers, police, judges and clergymen. The capitalists take tools from the workers and force the children to take their place. Factory bells sound as the children move to work.

Episode II. The Martyrdom of the Children, 1800

Scene I. The Cottage Interior

The Fletchers, minus Emily who is still working, have finished a scant meal. All are haggard and poorly clad. Uncle Samuel, a sincere and enthusiastic Methodist, is present. Mr Fletcher has lost his parental authority, having being thrown out of work. He blames his children for his condition rather than the system. Uncle Samuel is only concerned with individuals’ souls and sees their suffering as a preparation for the hereafter. John, William, and Mary Fletcher argue about what is to be done. Emily’s body is carried in. She has fallen asleep and been crushed by the machine.

Scene II. The Children’s Ballet

A ballet of degraded, stunted children. The movements suggest dull, mechanical obedience to an awful taskmaster without joy.

Scene III. Underground Working in a Mine

A child is working a trap door through which a dirty miner comes. Rats run over his feet. A girl drags a wagon harnessed to her body by chains.

Scene IV. A Sectional View of the House of Lords

In a few sentences the attitude of the ruling classes to child labour is set out as the Lords throw out a bill for the amelioration of the lot of chimney sweeps.

Scene V. Children’s Ballet

The ballet is resumed as the Lords and well-dressed persons pass by. Mrs Fletcher keeps vigil by the bed of her dead child.

Episode III. Consolations of Philanthropy and Religion, 1800–1820

Scene I

Hannah More and her sister, Martha, with other social workers, address an audience of famine-stricken people. More says that scarcity is God-given and that it has enabled people to see how rich and poor are connected as well as the benefits of constitutionalism and the aristocracy: ‘We trust the poor have received what has been done for them as a matter of favour—not of right—if so, the same kindness will, I doubt not, always be extended to them, whenever it shall please God so to afflict the land’.

Scene II

The Fletcher family discusses the high prices of food, low wages and the war with France. John reads out statistics showing the increase in England’s wealth and trade. They discuss the possibility of a petition to the Prince Regent.

Scene III

Wilberforce and his friends discuss the inevitability of poverty and its consolation, citing scripture. Paley’s ‘Reasons for Contentment Addressed to the Labouring Part of the British Public’ is quoted.

Scene IV

Mrs Fletcher pleads unsuccessfully with Robert not to go to the meeting of Luddites.

Scene V. The Luddite Meeting

The ‘delegate’ from Manchester addresses the meeting and administers an oath of secrecy. He is a spy and agent provocateur. The burning of a power loom factory is urged.

Scene VI

The Home Secretary reads a report of the meeting by the spy.

Scene VII

The Luddites leave in semi-darkness to carry out the attack. Shots are fired. The men come running back. Several fall wounded. Soldiers, constables and armed civilians follow and make arrests.

Scene VIII

Robert Fletcher rushes into the cottage and confesses he has shot the Master. Constables enter and arrest him.

Scene IX

Robert Fletcher and others are on a scaffold surrounded by mourning women, including Mrs Fletcher.

Episode IV. London Receives the Chartists, 1848

Scene I

A political reception in a fashionable house in London featuring members of the cabinet, high officials of the military and navy and ambassadors. A lady is singing Schubert’s ‘Hark, Hark, the Lark’ to piano accompaniment. The conversation is on the subject of the Chartist demonstration. The Duke of Wellington answers anxious inquirers as to the precautions taken by the authorities.

Scene II

Mrs Fletcher is now an old woman, remonstrating with another old woman who is afraid of accepting the mercies of the poor law. She thinks the Lord has abandoned her for allowing her to live so long. She talks about giving her husband a proper burial. Mrs Fletcher tells of her son William’s successes in life.

Scene III

Feargus O’Connor addresses the Chartist demonstration at Kennington Common. William Fletcher, who is present, predicts that the repeal of the Corn Laws will end Chartism.

Episode V. The Triumph of the Trade Union

This was an impressionistic scene, presenting the struggle against the Combination Laws and the struggle with employers over a century in broad outline. The pioneers of the Trade Unions are represented, including the Dorchester Labourers (Tolpuddle Martyrs). Public opinion acts as a Greek chorus beginning by fearing the movement and ultimately becoming sympathetic. The Co-operative movement is represented by the Rochdale Pioneers opening their shop with the descendants of the Fletcher family looking on. The dramatic point in the scene shows the London match girls’ strike of 1888 with Mrs Besant and Herbert Burrows bringing public opinion to side with the strikers. The Dock Strike follows, with Ben Tillett, Tom Mann and John Burns. The Fletcher family now have a better standard of living and self-respect.

Episode VI

This episode shows another generation of the Fletcher family, initially around 1900 during the Boer War. The action then moves to Marble Arch in 1914 where we see the declaration of war and a recruiting sergeant. We then see the family in 1916. All are engaged in the war Effort except one member, a conscientious objector. The scene then shifts to Hyde Park where we see a crowd of wounded soldiers, civilians, nurses, etc. We see generals demanding more men to fight and the company directors of an armament firm meeting. We see a final glimpse of the Fletcher family in 1919, suffering under post-war conditions. The Unknown Soldier appears and addresses the audience: ‘I am the worker who forged the instruments of my own destruction. I am he who shared the fears and hates and greed of my masters. I am the invisible army of the dead that weep to see our sacrifice was in vain.’ The pageant closes with a prophetic note as the symbols of Peace and Prosperity appear with workers in a final ballet, and the pageant comes to a conclusion with the singing by massed performers on the stage of the ‘Pageant Song.’

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Smith, Adam (bap. 1723, d. 1790) moral philosopher and political economist
  • Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797) politician and author [also known as Burke]
  • Pitt, William [known as Pitt the younger] (1759–1806) prime minister
  • Malthus, (Thomas) Robert (1766–1834) political economist
  • More, Hannah (1745–1833) writer and philanthropist
  • Wilberforce, William (1759–1833) politician, philanthropist, and slavery abolitionist
  • Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852) army officer and prime minister
  • James Loveless (1808–1873) member of the ‘Tolpuddle martyrs’
  • Thomas Standfield (1789–1864) member of the ‘Tolpuddle martyrs’
  • Loveless, George (1797–1874) leader of the ‘Tolpuddle martyrs’
  • John Standfield (1812–1898) member of the ‘Tolpuddle martyrs’
  • James Hammett (1811–1891) member of the ‘Tolpuddle martyrs’
  • James Brine (1812–1902) member of the ‘Tolpuddle martyrs’
  • Besant [née Wood], Annie (1847–1933) theosophist and politician in India
  • Burrows, Herbert (1845–1922) socialist organizer
  • Mann, Thomas [Tom] (1856–1941) trade unionist, socialist, and communist
  • Burns, John Elliott (1858–1943) labour leader and politician
  • Tillett, Benjamin [Ben] (1860–1943) trade unionist and politician
  • Manning, Henry Edward (1808–1892) Roman Catholic convert and cardinal-archbishop of Westminster
  • Booth, (William) Bramwell (1856–1929) Salvation Army officer [also known as Booth]
  • Buxton, Sydney Charles, Earl Buxton (1853–1934) politician

Musical production

London Labour Choir of 100 voices, directed by Michael Tippett. Alan Bush composed the music for the pageant, full details of which can be found at Alan Bush Music Trust, accessed 13 April 2016,

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Glasgow Herald
Sydney Herald
Manchester Guardian
The Times
Sheffield Independent

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette

Book of words

Genn, Edward P., ed. Official Book and Programme of the Pageant of Labour. London, 1934.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature

  • Barker, Clive and Gale, Maggie B., eds. British Theatre Between the Wars, 1918–1939. At 204.
  • Bullivant, Joanna. ‘Tippett and Politics: The 1930s and Beyond’. In The Cambridge Companion to Michael Tippett, edited by Kenneth Cloag and Nicholas Jones, 68–85. Cambridge, 2013. At 71.
  • Chambers, Colin, ed. The Continuum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre. London, 2002. At 580.
  • Craggs, Stewart R. Alan Bush. A Source Book. Aldershot, 2007. At viii–ix, 17 and 40–42.
  • Wallis, Mick. ‘Pageantry and the Popular Front: Ideological Production in the 'Thirties’. New Theatre Quarterly 10 no. 38 (1994): 132–156.
  • Wallis, Mick. ‘The Popular Front Pageant: Its Emergence and Decline’. New Theatre Quarterly 11, no. 41 (1995): 17–32.
  • Wallis, Mick. ‘Heirs to the Pageant: Mass Spectacle and the Popular Front’. In A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, edited by Andy Croft, 48–67. London, 1998.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Minutes of Central Women's Organisation Pageant of Labour, 1933–1937. Reference MSS.292/1.91/44.
  • Book of Words, Correspondence and Financial Information. Reference MSS.126/Z/219.
  • Warwick Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick:

Sources used in preparation of pageant



In the words of the Glasgow Herald, 1934 was a ‘vintage year for pageants’ in London.2 Already the city had enjoyed the Pageant of Runnymede and the Pageant of Parliament; indeed, the Manchester Guardian assumed that the Pageant of Labour was ‘Labour’s answer to the latter which was ‘organised by the well-to-do’.3 The most obvious contrast was with the Pageant of Runnymede that year, which celebrated Magna Carta as the triumph of the nobility. If anything, the Labour movement had come somewhat late to pageantry, which is surprising given its mass membership and the perceived importance of history to the struggle.

Maurice Hann, a Shopworkers’ Union leader and later key agitator for Republican Spain, wrote the foreword to the pageant programme, stressing, as socialists had done throughout their history, the importance of remembrance and commemoration for the movement:

It is as needful as it is seemly that the workers should, on due occasion, commemorate the struggles and sufferings endured by those who have gone before. Nor must we forget our pioneers and martyrs, a goodly company, now enshrined in our memories, but, in their day, victims of oppression and contumely. Hence this Pageant of Labour, which so vividly brings to mind the long succession of events which led to our political liberties, and which, with great suffering and sacrifice, have paved the way for our future economic redemption…In that new spirit let us dance and rejoice and enjoy this work of art, provided with such care and labour by our comrades…May this pageant help us to strive for the coming of the day when the hearts of the workers shall be glad and they shall dance and sing and ‘think lightly of the laws’.4

Indeed, the pageant book of words was a showcase of the great and good of the Labour movement. Alan Wall, Secretary of the London Trades Council, wrote of ‘the propagation of the gospel of trade unionism’, noting that ‘there could be no more enthralling story of dynamic struggle against overwhelming odds, of almost miraculous achievement, of steady relentless rise to power and influence than that which the trade union can relate’. He went on: ‘The gospel of trade unionism will be conveyed to thousands through the pageant. May its message give new heart and courage to the faithful and inspire the lazy and unthinking among us to a realisation of the glory of our cause and of the battles yet to be won.’5 Stafford Cripps, founder of the Socialist League and later a key proponent of the Popular Front, wrote of the history of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of English Socialism, while Herbert Morrison explicitly linked the pageant to the upcoming London County Council Elections (which the Labour Party went on to win). George Lansbury, then leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, wrote:

This pageant tells a wonderful story of achievement, a story which proves that in the fight for truth and justice some people forsake all class ties and throw in their lot with the toilers…This pageant is an effort to make you understand the beauty and glory of your high calling. Ours, that is yours and mine, is the great privilege of proving it is possible to transform capitalism into co-operation. We can capture all our municipalities. We can capture Parliament, not for mere class or sectional benefit, but for the service of us all. The days of free, unfettered competition are ended.6

Despite these strong supporting words from professional orators, however, the pageant organizers later claimed to have encountered a lack of support from the Labour Party.7 The overwhelmingly male-dominated party seemed to be at a distance from the pageant organizers who were mainly made up of women. The pageant was not merely in competition from aristocratic and bourgeois representations of English history, of which the Pageant of Runnymede and the Pageant of Parliament had clearly been examples. It had been intended as a part of a much wider commemoration of the centenary of the Tolpuddle martyrs (a group of agricultural labourers in Dorset who had been deported to Australia for their attempt to form a trade union).8 The leading trade unionist Walter Citrine had proposed that ‘the best method of popularising the Trade Union movement was by means of a series of indoor dramatic performances in four centres—North, South, East and West. It was hoped that in this way a nucleus would be formed in each district which would continue to carry on propaganda work on similar lines.’9 In the event, these celebrations were lumped into a much larger event in the village of Tolpuddle from which the Pageant of Labour was wholly detached.10 The well-publicised Tolpuddle commemorations in August, attended by every significant British socialist and trade unionist, set a benchmark that the Pageant of Labour struggled to live up to.11

The pageant also struggled from the outset to secure sufficient funds for a large event, with Herbert Morrison remarking in March 1934 that ‘the London L[abour] P[arty] would like to take a friendly interest in the pageant, but pointing out that the financial position of the party would not enable them to shoulder any money responsibilities.’12 Despite a donation of £100 from Stafford Cripps and a reluctant £500 from the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the pageant had to appeal to the public for a further £3000.13 Matthew Anderson, whose recent Pageant of Wakefield, had focused on the plight of the working classes at a time of acute economic depression, offered to write the scenario for £150 and Alan Bush agreed to a mere £25 to compose the entirety of the music.14 The pageant had to borrow the remainder of the funds from creditors. Against the predicted costs of £2025 (which rose to £3226), the pageant committee confidently expected a return of up to £6125 over seven performances and a total attendance of 35000.

The narrative of the pageant is striking in its composition, though perhaps more in line with the work of the radical historians J.L. and Barbara Hammond, whose highly influential Labourer trilogy (1911–1919) and subsequent works were almost certainly a key inspiration for the piece. The pageant follows the contention that the Industrial Revolution was, at least in part, due to the free trade principles of philosophers such as Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and Thomas Malthus which influenced governments to allow the free exploitation and immiseration of labour. The presentation of the action through the prism of the Fletcher family is an interesting device which allows for the presentation of an abstract history, largely devoid of key events of the kind usually presented in pageants (for instance the signing of Magna Carta). The Fletchers’ experience of the worst vicissitudes of the Industrial Revolution and the various responses to it (religion, Luddism, Chartism and ultimately trade unionism) is a powerful way of conveying the various responses of the working class and the ultimate appeal of trade unionism. Significantly, though the pageant encourages involvement in trade unionism and parliamentary socialism rather than agitation or revolution, there is surprisingly little mention of the Labour Party in the later episodes. The Popular Front, which sought to unify a variety of strands of left-wing politics during the 1930s, was characteristically coy about more recent history (as was the Communist Party of Great Britain), focusing rather on the shared roots and history of the labour movement rather than the divisions and splits that plagued the movement. Subsequent pageants such as Music for the People at the Royal Albert Hall (1939), the Pageant of Chartism (1939) and the Communist Manifesto Centenary Pageant (1948) would all embrace more violent forms of class struggle.

The pageant was widely praised by the press, with the Sheffield Independent celebrating the ‘catholic appeal of the venture’. The Times, which one might have expected would be hostile towards a socialist endeavour, was appreciative of many episodes, enjoying the final scene which closed ‘on a prophetic note, the symbolic figures of peace and prosperity joining with the workers in a final ballet’, singling out Basil Maine who played the orator for praise, and noting that ‘many of the amateurs and actresses revealed undoubted ability in their respective roles’.15 Both the Glasgow Herald and Manchester Guardian warmed to the ‘unashamedly propagandist’ note of production, with the latter praising the ‘dramatic chronicle of the miseries and struggles of the people under the industrial revolution, and their gradual climb to a consciousness of their birthright and consequent realisation of the need to organise against the power of the wealthy’.16 The reviewer was particularly taken with the scenes involving the Fletchers, ‘who suffer the descent from rural independence in the eighteenth century… to the very real hell of child labour in the mills and mines, and all the other evils of economic oppression.’17 Many reviewers praised the various ballets throughout, with children dressed as workers in rags as well as robots. The Pageant of Labour was one of the first major pageants to be held indoors, in the majestic surroundings of the Crystal Palace (which would burn down in November 1936). The Manchester Guardian noted that ‘everything could be clearly seen from any seat, the stage being so high, and on the whole the articulation of the speakers was extraordinarily clear and their voices were enlarged without distortion by good amplifiers.’18

This was perhaps a euphemistic way of suggesting that the 9000 seats of the pageant hall were practically empty. This was in marked contrast to the good attendance at both of the other London Pageants, and, more worryingly, at the rallies held by Oswald Mosely and the British Union of Fascists at Olympia throughout May and June.19 Ironically, it is likely that more socialists attended these fascist rallies, with the express purpose of disrupting them, than attended the Pageant of Labour in October.20 The attendance of 6571 was barely 18 per cent of the projected capacity (and it was estimated that the organisers needed 47% attendance to break even).21 The disappointing attendance was due, in part, to the lack of publicity beforehand and a lack of support from local Party groups and from ‘individuals of our own movement’22 (perhaps a little far-fetched given the many prominent figures who gave their support). It was also hindered by the remote location of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham (subsequent socialist pageants held in the Albert Hall or Wembley Stadium tended to do better). One might also blame the remoteness of the history to the rank and file and the pageant’s provincial focus at a time when international fascism was menacing and when the struggle for socialism appeared to be taking place in Continental Europe.

Whatever reasons were given, it was clear that the pageant had been a massive financial failure. The Organizing Secretary, Sadie Cheesman, tried to put on a brave face, claiming that ‘in itself the effort has been worthwhile because, apart from the excellent press which the production secured, and which is of great value to the movement, we have demonstrated for the first time that the history of our movement can be told in a dramatic and colourful way, and, without question, this method of propaganda is capable of infinite expansion. There is not the slightest doubt that other efforts will follow’.23 Anne Godwin remarked defiantly that ‘it would be idle to pretend that the movement as a whole responded to the experiment and we shall be told that the pageant was a failure. We were optimistic enough to carry the enterprise through to financial success and we were mistaken. But in our main objective we were not mistaken…We have let loose a flood of ideas which the movement will use and profit by when the original Pageant of Labour has been forgotten’.24 However, the merits of the pageant in propaganda terms would not be sufficient to mollify the creditors, despite donations from Party members to offset the cost. Walter Citrine offered them the less than encouraging return of 5s. in the pound, which was promptly rejected.25 The London Pageant of Labour Society Ltd was only wound up in May 1938 after long legal wranglings as creditors unsuccessfully attempted to regain their investment in a failed company.26

Anne Godwin, listing her thoughts on the Pageant remarked thus:

1. It has long been a matter of complaint that the pages of history books are filled with the stories of kings and statesmen. As a background to the gold and scarlet of their lives, certain drab events cannot altogether be ignored—agitations among the workers, food riots, sheep stealings, unlawful assemblings and even strikes—but the history books regard them as minor events compared with the development of empire or the backstairs intrigues of a Court favourite.

2. We will have written a history of the lives of the common people. We will entrust our history to the youth of the movement and we will ask them to relive the tragedy and heroism of other days.

3. In the music and the dancing, the throb of the machine was rarely absent, and across the stage swept the cavalcade of beaten children, angry rioters and starving strikers.

4. The pageant was a great experiment in propaganda, an attempt to bring art and drama, action and colour into the service of the movement. It is not a new idea.27

Though the colossal failure of the Pageant of Labour (and lengthy financial claims) firmly dissuaded the Labour Party from holding any further pageants, others in the Popular Front, for whom financial probity was less important than the cause, were willing to continue in their stead, as Goodwin had predicted. While it is hard to construe the Pageant of Labour as anything other than a costly failure, the act itself heralded the beginning of the politicised pageants of the 1930s and was an important cultural collaboration between left-wing composers and artists which went on to inspire the wider collaboration that lay at the heart of the Popular Front of the 1930s. This, perhaps, qualifies it for that most overused of terms: a noble failure.


  1. ^ Source: Minutes of the Executive Committee, Income and Expenditure Account from 1 May 1934 to 31 January 1935 in Warwick Modern Records Centre. MRC MSS. 292/1.91/45.
  2. ^ Glasgow Herald, 15 October 1934, 10.
  3. ^ Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1934, 10.
  4. ^ G. Maurice Hann, ‘Foreword’, in Edward P. Genn, ed., Official Book and Programme of the Pageant of Labour (London, 1934), 9.
  5. ^ Alan M. Wall, ‘The Main Purpose’, in Official Book and Programme, 35.
  6. ^ George Lansbury, in Official Book and Programme, 43.
  7. ^ Letter from S. Cheesman to H.V. Tewson, 20 November 1934, in Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/45.
  8. ^ Minutes of the Executive Committee, 31 May and 20 June 1933, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/43–44.
  9. ^ Minutes of the Executive Committee, 31 May 1933, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/44.
  10. ^ See Clare V.J. Griffiths, ‘Remembering Tolpuddle: Rural History and Commemoration in the Inter-War Labour Movement’, History Workshop Journal 44 (Autumn 1997): 144–169; Sub-committee Minutes, 19 February 1934, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/44.
  11. ^ There were a number of films of the event, British Pathé, accessed 13 April 2016,
  12. ^ Minutes of the Executive Committee, 7 March 1934, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/44.
  13. ^ Minutes of the Executive Committee, 23 November 1933, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/44.
  14. ^ Minutes of the Executive Committee, 4 January and 7 March 1934, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/44.
  15. ^ The Times, 16 October 1934, 16.
  16. ^ Glasgow Herald, 15 October 1934, 10. Quotation from Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1934, 10.
  17. ^ Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1934, 10.
  18. ^ Ibid.
  19. ^ ‘Oswald Mosely’s Circus’, Manchester Guardian, 8 June 1934, accessed 12 April 2016,
  20. ^ Martin Pugh, ‘The British Union of Fascists and the Olympia Debate’, The Historical Journal 41, No. 2 (1998): 529–542.
  21. ^ Minutes of the Executive Committee, [late] October 1934, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/45.
  22. ^ Letter from S. Cheesman to H.V. Tewson, 20 November 1934, in Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/45.
  23. ^ Ibid.
  24. ^ Anne Godwin, ‘Afterthoughts on the Pageant of Labour’, Memo to the Executive Committee, in Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/45.
  25. ^ Executive Committee, 30 May 1935, Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/45.
  26. ^ The Times, 7 May 1935, 4.
  27. ^ Anne Godwin, ‘Afterthoughts on the Pageant of Labour’, Memo to the Executive Committee, in Warwick Modern Records Centre. MSS. 292/1.91/45.

How to cite this entry

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