Sheffield Pageant of Production
Place: Sheffield City Hall (Sheffield) (Sheffield, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)
Number of performances: 12
16–27 November 1948 at 7.15pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Peach, Lawrence Du Garde
- Music Composed by: William Summers
- Chorus Master and Deputy Conductor: E.H. Taylor
- Dance Arrangements: Constance Grant and Lilian Hainsworth
- Costumes Designed By: Physhe
- Costumes Executed by: Madame Crisp
- Stage Settings: Heath Joyce
- Stage Manager: J. Fullelove
- Electrical Installation: G. Beardsley
- Head Electrician: R. Boyes
- Property Master: J. Dorgan
- Make-up: M. Bailey; Miss Dawes; T. Lowe; Mrs Towers
- Crowd Controller: F. Ashton
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Lord Mayor
- Deputy Chairman: E.W. Senior
- Members: Master Cutler (Lt. Col. J.P. Hunt); The President of the Trades and Labour Council, Mr J. Madin; Alderman J.H. Bingham; Alderman H.W. Jackson; Col. F.A. Neill; Lt. Col. M.W. Batchelor; Mr John Heys (Town Clerk); Mr L. Godber
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Peach, Lawrence Du Garde
Names of composers
- Summers, William
Numbers of performers400
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: 3000
- Total audience: 36002
It was hoped that 30000 would see the pageant.1 On 17 November, 3000 were in attendance, suggesting a total attendance of 36000 across 12 performances.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Associated eventsPart of a wider Civic Festival celebrating Sheffield.
Exhibition in the Central Library, ‘Britain in the Balance’ (15–27 November).
Film Shows at Central Library.
The Herald speaks:
We are proud,
We men of Sheffield, with that honest pride
Which knows its work unrivalled through the world;
And we embrace with pride the consequence:
Though others may be wanting, yet the work
Of Britain would go on: but if we fail,
The work, the heart, the very life itself
Of this our land would, like an unwound clock,
Run down and stop.2
Scene I. Shortages
Why has the post-war world failed to live up to the expectations of those who fought and endured in the hope of a new dawn? This was their song:
Weary years of war are over,
Death and terror from the sky;
Peace on earth dispels the darkness,
Clouds of fear are rolling by:
Men are brothers
Burdens each will gladly bear;
Bright the world which lies before us,
Free from want, and free from care!
World shortages embody the grim answer.
Scene II. The Houses of the People
Sheffield’s record of post-war houses built is second only to one city in the county. Yet this is still the demand of thousands of Sheffield’s citizens. This scene explains, though it does not mitigate, the hardship.
Scene III. The House That Jack Couldn’t Build
These are the dollars which no-one had got to
Pay for the scrap which couldn’t be bought
To produce the steel which wasn’t to hand to
Turn into exports which didn’t mature to balance
The food which didn’t arrive to nourish the
Men who couldn’t be found to make the bricks
Which weren’t to be had to construct the house
Which Jack couldn’t build.
Scene IV. Exports
A pictorial lesson in elementary economics.
Scene V. The Red Lion
This tells of a very familiar argument in a very familiar setting: why work if there is nothing to buy with the wages you earn? Why indeed? Once more the development of the scene supplies the answer.
Scene VI. The Queue
Of all the hardships of today, this is one of the hardest for the housewife to understand.
Waitin’ on the pavement,
Wind or rain or snow,
You’ve quite forgot there was a time,
It seems so long ago,
When shoppin’ was a pleasure,
With the chance o’ somethin’ new,
Not waitin’ ’opin somethin’s doin’,
Standin’ in a queue.
Why are the queues still with us? This scene will tell you.
Scene VII. The Currency Ballet
A holiday abroad? Why not? No reason at all, except that something—no one can quite explain what—has happened to the pound sterling.
Scene VIII. The Optimist and the Pessimist
Both are with us, equal menaces at a time when national recovery depends on looking facts in the face.
Scene IX. Machines
Britannia speaks: these are her people, the common folk of Britain, who suffered and endured.
Behold them now, a people poor in wealth,
But rich in pride. What though the sacrifice
Has been forgotten by ungrateful men,
Who, but for it, who now be hireling slaves
Under a foreign yoke: it shines no less;
A page of history which men shall turn
In centuries to come, and turning it,
Shall ask, what men were these, who gave their blood,
Their treasure, and their youth, unstintingly,
That freedom should not perish from the earth?
Scene X. The Sheffield Cutler
The Herald and the Figure of Steel Introduce the Cutler who sings:
Haft and blade
London for your life,
Show me such a knife.
The ancient Company of the Cutlers of Hallamshire is born, and down the centuries protects the quality of Sheffield blades. Today this great dollar-earning industry depends still upon the Sheffield grinder.
Since first from Iron
The steel was made,
Since first men fashioned
Haft and blade;
Since man relied
On sword or knife,
To win his bread,
Or guard his life;
By day and night the sparks have flown,
From steel upon the grinder’s stone.
Scene XI. Magnets
A history of magnets. From ancient China to modern Sheffield—one looked and feared the devil in the moving iron, the other produced new alloy steels, and gave to war-time Britain the magnets which made Radar possible.
Scene XII. The Ringing Blade
Circular saws—band saws—cross-cut saws—hack saws—every kind and variety of saw! The answer is the highest quality high tension steel. And the answer to that is SHEFFIELD!
Scene XIII. Swords Into Ploughshares
Where once Churchill tanks rolled off the production line, we now find tractors and excavators. This is the modern version of Isaiah’s ‘Swords into ploughshares’. And with the production of iron and steel goes that other Sheffield product, without which there would be no iron or steel—the refractory bricks which line the furnace.
Scene XIV. The World on Springs
A history of springs and their use in high-heel shoes today.
Scene XV. The Beauty of Sheffield Plate
Since Thomas Boulsover discovered in 1743—possibly by accident—that silver could be fused with copper—Sheffield plate has carried the beauty round the world.
A history of Sheffield plate.
Scene XVI. The Song of the City of Steel
In this, the final song of the pageant, Sheffield affirms its faith in itself and in the future.
‘God Save the King’
Key historical figures mentioned
- Boulsover, Thomas (1705–1788) cutler
Music Composed by: William Summers.Chorus Master and Deputy Conductor: E.H. Taylor.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Yorkshire Evening Post
Sunderland Daily Echo
Derby Daily Telegraph
Western Daily Press
Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Nottingham Evening Post
Western Morning News
Art and Industry
Book of words
- Sheffield Pageant of Production Souvenir Programme. Sheffield, 1948.
Other primary published materials
- Binfield, Clyde and David Hey. Mesters to Masters: A History of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire. Oxford, 1997. At 7.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Warwick University, Modern Records Office: Correspondence relating to the Federation of British Industries’ attendance and programme. MSS.200/F/3/53/1/7 and MSS.200/F/3/53/2/61.
- Nottinghamshire Archives: Programme. DD/2378/5/7.
- Bristol University Archives: Programme and press cuttings. M&M Regional Theatres Catalogue, Ref. MM/REF/TH/RE/514.
- Film clip by Pathé, ‘Sheffield on its Mettle’, accessed 29 January 2016, available at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/sheffield-on-its-mettle/query/48+94.
- Sheffield Local Studies Library: Photographs, posters and gramophone record.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Pageant Master, Lawrence du Garde Peach had been pageant master for the 1943 Sheffield Centenary Pageant and 1944 Sheffield Co-operative Centenary Pageant, both held at the City Hall, and had become one of the most popular pageant masters of the post-war era, particularly in industrial cities in the Midlands. His commissions included the Wolverhampton Centenary Pageant (1948) and the Nottingham Centenary Pageant (1949). The former, which featured a robot policeman of the future and general shenanigans bearing scant relation to the town, had angered many locals who saw du Garde Peach’s brand of surrealistic, wacky spectacle as unbecoming of the town’s history.3 The Sheffield Pageant of Production, performed a couple of months later, topped even this, marking a visual extreme in pageantry that was, at best, barely historical, with only a few scenes devoted to the illustrious past of the steel-producing city. The Pageant proved immensely popular at a time of acute crisis and is an odd moment in the history of the British steel industry.
The purpose of the pageant was to foreground the national significance of Sheffield’s steel industry to Britain's economy. It was also designed to convey the important role that steel production had had in turning around the dire economic situation of the immediate post-war era. In March 1948, the UK trade deficit stood at £51.1 million, by far the highest ever recorded, despite record exports of £120 million.4 The cost of the war, the disappearance of the sterling zone, and the end of US loans—coupled with rearmament and the creation of the welfare state—had effectively bankrupted the country, and the forced convertibility of the pound with the dollar meant that the UK was haemorrhaging money.
The upshot of this, which the pageant set out to convey, was that despite relatively high wages, rationing and the restrictions on the building of much-needed houses needed to continue further into peacetime, and at ever-harsher levels. Quite simply, without exporting more goods abroad the UK could not afford a Welfare State or even to adequately provide its citizens with the necessities of life; this was the context in which a continuation of such tough austerity measures was absolutely essential. As the Mayor of Sheffield noted in the foreword to the pageant programme:
All this sounds dull. But this pageant is not dull. It vibrates with light and colour, music and comedy. It is entertainment in every sense of the word, a delight to the eye, and a refreshment to the spirit: it holds with interest, and enthrals with moments of sheer beauty. It is in fact economic instruction in its most painless form: statistics without tears.…This show is designed at once to overcome mental resistance, and to give a reasoned, if only partial picture of present day economic conditions.5
One crucial corollary to this, as the exhibition at the Central Library claimed, was that ‘Sheffield steel is vital to Britain’s recovery….It is we who can tilt the balance for Britain—either down to disaster or up to prosperity and an assured standard of living.’6
In order to convey the message of the organizers, Peach set out to completely transform the pageant form: ‘An audience remembers 90% of what it sees and 10% of what it hears. It is, therefore, obvious that the more we can do in the way of stage pictures, as opposed to putting over ideas by means of dialogue, the more effective will our Pageant be’. He also noted that ‘the impact of music constitutes the exception to the 10% normally taken in by means of hearing.’7 Peach went on to stress the importance of levity: ‘In this Pageant we must put over some statistical data if the whole is to be understood: occasional comedy helps to give variety and to keep the audience alert and awake.’ Peach conceived of this new vision of pageants (one which he had been developing for a number of years) as a means of competing with mass entertainments and holding the attention of an increasingly-distracted public:
It is essential to remember always that this production must have entertainment value—i.e., it must be able to compete with cinemas across the road. Merely to put over pictures or statistics of industry might interest a few technicians and actuaries, but it would not hold the interest of the general public….The script must be read with an ever-present sense of the colour and movement and music, in terms of which it will be told.8
The Pageant achieved this in many ways, including ballets, songs and various comical exchanges that sought to explain post-war shortages, currency depreciation, restrictions on housebuilding, and queues (a favourite trope of the press at that time and picked up by the Conservative Party which accused Labour of establishing a ‘Queuetopia’). -Above all, the pageant sought to demonstrate how the illustrious history and present-day resilience of Sheffield steel could alleviate this crisis: Economics without tears. As the Aberdeen Journal noted: ‘The civic fathers are rightly proud of this and other such achievements of their craftsmen, and they have hit on the novel idea of translating it all into theatrical terms in a mammoth stage production.’9 This it did in the strangest of ways. The pageant highlighted the fact that Britain was losing £1000 a minute (at a time when the average yearly wage was £455):10 ‘This could hardly be the fault of her craftsmen, but just for the sake of the record, a robot skeleton will click a handle each minute to show its running and the £1000s will click up on the score board. All of which seems calculated to rub a little of the glory off the efforts of the good people of Sheffield.’11 One might plausibly suppose that du Garde Peach may have reused the Robot Policeman from Wolverhampton!
As W.E. Yorke explained to Sir Norman Kipping, Director of the Federation of British Industries (FBI), in the course of asking him to attend as a guest of honour: ‘‘The present need for increased production, and especially those basic materials and manufactured articles so necessary at this critical time, has promoted a sense of great urgency in Sheffield, out of which has grown the idea to present, in this vital year, a pageant depicting the industrial production of this City.’12 Yorke stressed that the pageant was above all a collaborative effort which marked an end to the industrial strife that had characterized the pre-war period: ‘This Pageant of Production is a joint effort by workers, employers and the local authority to show that Sheffield is going all out for increased production. It will be very encouraging to us if you are able to visit the Pageant and the exhibition, and we have great pleasure in extending a hearty invitation for you to come.’13 The local director of the FBI, C.A. Wilson cautioned Kipping against attending and was ‘emphatic that there was no need for you to show yourself in Sheffield during the pageant. Apparently, opinion in Sheffield is very divided as to the desirability of holding a pageant at all—and particularly during the month of November.’14
In the event, Kipping attended as just one of many notables who did their utmost to talk up Sheffield’s steel industry. These included Harold Wilson (President of the Board of Trade), Anthony Eden (Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party), and Clement Atlee (who cut short a Cabinet Meeting on extending National Service from one year to eighteen months to attend).15 Wilson, speaking at an event in London a couple of months before the pageant, said ‘that the pageant would help to bring home to the people of this country the importance of production in our national and world recovery.’16 Eden, too, was most effusive in his praise of the pageant:
After seeing the final performance of Sheffield’s Pageant of Production at the City Hall last night, [Eden] said he wished it could be seen throughout the country, the Commonwealth and the Empire, and that they could get it past the Iron Curtain. He doubted if there had ever been in recent times a better expression of what democracy meant.17
He went on: ‘Before the war a quarter of all we consumed was paid for by overseas investments, which had now gone. They had been spent in the year when Britain and the Empire stood alone. Work was now the only substitute for those investments. Soon a period of competition would come, and then the quality of our products would tell.’18 Despite ringing political endorsement, it was the attendance of Princess Margaret on the opening night that garnered the greatest attention from the press. The Yorkshire Post was so effusive in its coverage of the princess (who wore ‘deep cherry red, a glowing colour which made the elegant little figure—for little she remained, despite high heels and a soaring feather—stand out wherever she went’) that it actually forgot to mention the pageant.19 The pageant opened the day after her sister and future queen Elizabeth had given birth to Prince Charles, which filled most of the newspapers that day, though the princess did say: ‘I have had a lovely day in Sheffield.’20
No expense was spared in promoting the pageant, with 20000 copies of the invitation brochure being lavishly published (at the huge cost of £1150), alongside a further 40000 programmes; there was also a documentary film and a specially decorated tramcar to promote the pageant.21 Half-price train tickets were issued for all journeys within 60 miles of the city. Furthermore, members of the public, and especially those employed by the council, were instructed to ‘make a special effort to shew a friendly and helpful attitude towards visitors of the City’, which the Mayor believed ‘would be a great opportunity, if properly used, to enhance the reputation of the people as well as the products of their labour’.22 This evidently had some success, there being reports several weeks before the pageant began that 80 percent of the tickets had been sold, with the remaining portion expected to go by the time of the first performance (which was by invitation only).23
The pageant was designed to present Sheffield as offering a united front, as a place in which class and industrial tensions had been soothed in the effort to boost production and rescue Britain from its economic crisis. The journal Art and Industry recorded: ‘It is a great objective, remarkable for its spirit of co-operation and deserves every encouragement. It is also a challenge to other cities at home and abroad. Who will take up the gage?’24 As the Times approvingly noted, the pageant ‘comes aptly in a year of mounting steel output. The visitor must feel something of the harmony by which production has been steadily raised, with any political differences between employers and workpeople kept for airing in the proper place.’25
The success of the pageant was talked up beyond its merits by politicians. Not even the miraculous news of a royal birth could make the illusion that post-war Britain was a place where co-operation and civic pride had replaced the class conflict and strikes of the 1930s survive more than three nights. As a guest of honour at one of the performances, the American Ambassador, Lewis Douglas, began a prepared speech of thanks during the interval; however, he was interrupted by a large group of communists in the gallery who ‘jumped to their feet and, yelling slogans, scattered leaflets to the audience below.’26 These leaflets denounced Marshall Aid, America’s repression of free speech in Greece and Eastern Europe, and the continued presence of American soldiers and bombers in Britain. Eden, in wanting the pageant to be viewed by communists across the world, had got his wish as the pageant took on a Cold War atmosphere: ‘Members in the audience retaliated by shouting, “Chuck them out” and “Lock them up.” In the gallery one member of the audience jumped to his feet and struck a Communist a blow as he was throwing leaflets. A fight developed.’27 The Times noted that ‘in a fight between a member of the audience and a Communist one of the demonstrators was struck on the jaw and thrown to the floor. Mr Douglas stood smiling during the disturbance, and was loudly cheered when he resumed his speech.’28 The Aberdeen Journal, under the bellicose title ‘British “Reds” Try to Silence Douglas’, approvingly noted that the police and doormen had quickly ejected the protestors.29 It was an irony lost on much of the audience that Britain’s economic woes had largely been caused by America’s insistence that Britain repay her war debts in full and that the pound sterling and the dollar be made convertible. Though the Communist Party had previously criticised the 1931 Bradford Pageant for its false representation of history and had subsequently staged a number of pageants to redress this issue, the Sheffield protest did not seem to be against the pageant’s somewhat confusing presentation of the city’s steel industry. In fact, the Communist Party protested Peach's Pageant in Nottingham the following year on the grounds of its historical inaccuracy.
Despite the realisation that post-war Britain was still beset with class conflict and held a diminished global position (trying to hold its own between American capitalism and Soviet communism) and despite its odd format, the pageant served to foreground Britain’s steel industry and did so in a non-partisan manner. Quite how Wilson and Atlee took the various jibes against and mocking of their hard-fought-for economic policy (mockery that occasionally strayed into aggressive satire of government controls) remains unclear. However, the pageant was a success. After the event, Councillor M.W. Batchelor wrote in an open letter to the Mayor: ‘I firmly believe that the Pageant has achieved not only National, but considerable International Publicity, and that Sheffield will benefit greatly as a result of this united effort, an effort which was so well co-ordinated by yourself.’30 In 1949 the British steel industry was nationalised, only to be denationalised by the Conservatives in 1952 and again renationalised by Harold Wilson in 1967 to be finally privatised again in 1988.Government policy towards the British Steel Industry would almost have merited a further pageant by Peach! Whether or not the pageant did anything to save the British economy, Sheffield steel continued to play a major part in the British economy until the widespread collapse and privatisations of the industry in the 1970s and 1980s ripped the heart out of industrial Sheffield.31
- Letter, W.E. Yorke to Sir Norman Kipping (Director of the Federation of British Industry), 18 October 1948, Warwick University, Modern Records Office. MSS.200/F/3/53/1/7.
- All quotations taken from Sheffield Pageant of Production Souvenir Programme (Sheffield, 1948), np.
- Tom Hulme, ‘Lawrence du Garde Peach, the Nottingham 1949 Quincentenary, and ‘The Town That Would Have a Pageant’’, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/lawrence-du-garde-peach/, accessed 29 January 2016.
- Spectator, 22 April 1948, 3.
- W.E. Yorke, ‘Foreword’, in Sheffield Pageant of Production Souvenir Programme (Sheffield, 1948), np.
- Sheffield Pageant of Production Souvenir Programme, np.
- Memo from J.P. Lamb, including the foreword to L. du Garde Peach’s script, Sheffield City Archives. CA990/31.
- Aberdeen Journal, 14 September 1948, 2.
- Larry Elliott, ‘London's 1948 Olympics: the real austerity Games’, Guardian, 30 March 2012, accessed 29 January 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/mar/30/london-1948-olympics-austerity-games.
- Aberdeen Journal, 14 September 1948, 2.
- Letter, W.E. Yorke to Sir Norman Kipping (Director of the Federation of British Industry], 18 October 1948, Warwick University, Modern Records Office. MSS.200/F/3/53/1/7.
- Memo to Kipping from Peter Sherwood, 22 October 1948, Warwick University, Modern Records Office. MSS.200/F/3/53/1/7. The memo was cc’d to Stafford Cripps and Clement Atlee, who had also been invited to be guests of honour.
- Sunderland Daily Echo, 22 November 1948, 1.
- The Times, 14 September 1948, 2.
- Yorkshire Post, 29 November 1948, 1.
- Yorkshire Post, 16 November 1948, 4.
- Western Daily Press, 16 November 1948, 4.
- Minutes of Meetings of the Publicity Committee, 4 June 1948, 14 June 1948, 6 September 1948 and 24 September 1948, Sheffield City Archives. CA990/31.
- Minutes of Meetings of the Publicity Committee, 25 October 1948, Sheffield City Archives. CA990/31.
- Art and Industry, 1 December 1948, 234.
- The Times, 15 November 1948, 6.
- Yorkshire Post, 18 November 1948, 1.
- The Times, 18 November 1948, 4.
- Aberdeen Journal, 18 November 1948, 1.
- Letter, M.W. Batchelor to the Mayor, 21 December 48, Sheffield City Archives, Minutes of the Publicity Committee. CA990/31.
- This account is largely taken from Sidney Pollard, The Development of the British Economy, 1914–1990 (London, 1992).
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Sheffield Pageant of Production’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1192/