The Pageant of Wakefield and the West Riding
Place: Thornes Park (Wakefield) (Wakefield, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)
Number of performances: 10
17–28 June 1933
17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28 June at 7pm.
The final three days were added due to popular demand.
A dress rehearsal was attended by thousands of schoolchildren.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Genn, Edward P.
- Presenter, Author and Organising Director: Matthew Anderson
- Director of Music: Bandmaster C.W. Gore
- Master of the Horse: Ledgar Holdsworth
- Designer of Background: Percy O. Platts
- Honorary Engineer and Surveyor: Louis Ives
- Hon. Stand and Seating Architect: Percy Morris
- Joint Hon. Treasurers: Mayor of Wakefield; J. Capstick
- Hon. Solicitor: A.E. Greaves
- Hon. Auditors: A. Davey
- Joint Hon. Secretaries: O.D. Griffiths; A.J. Spilsbury
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Alderman W. Emmett, JP
- The Viscount Allendale
- The Rt. Hon. Arthur Greenwood, Esq., MP.
- Chairman: Major J.H. Greaves
- Vice-Chairman: Harold H. Holdsworth, Esq.
- Treasurer: J.H. Capstick
- Hon. Secretaries: O.D. Griffiths; A.J. Spilsbury
- A.E. Greaves
- Mrs Abel
- Mrs Grimshaw
- Mrs Hardy Richards
- Councillor Mrs F.W. Stott
- J. Durham
- T. Nicholas Grimshaw
- Alderman H. Womersley
- Burley Johnson
- Col. H.J. Haslegrave
- Councillor S. Pickles
- Councillor J.W. Smith
- Councillor P.W.T. Mills
- Councillor Hemingway
- R. Yellolly
- G.E. Gilbey, Esq.
- F.E. Harrison
- E.C. Stonehouse
- J. Breakwell
- A.H. Webster
- W.C. Baynes,
- H.J. Lancaster
- P. Kaye
- J.H. Paterson
- Chairman: Eric C. Stonehouse
- Chairman: Harry B. Agate
- Chairman: A.H. Sharp
- Chairman: W.C. Palett
- Chairman: Councillor G. Hemingway
- Chairman: Mrs Hardy Richards
- Chairman: H. Goodison
- Chairman: C.B. Thorne
Episode I [Committee]:
- Chairman: C. Coates
Episode II [Committee]:
- Chairman: The Very Rev Charles Canon Leteux
Episode III [Committee]:
- Chairman: H.C. Haldane
Episode IV [Committee]:
- Chairman: J. Carmichael
Episode V [Committee]:
- Chairman: G.L. Hawbrook
Episode VI [Committee]:
- Chairman: Miss Martin
Episode VII [Committee]:
- Chairman: Rev. J.M. Bass
Episode VIII [Committee]:
- Chairman: Ledgar Holdsworth
Episode IX [Committee]:
- Chairman: Rev. E.C. Hamer
Episode X [Committee]:
- Chairman: Captain T.B. Little
Episode XI [Committee]:
- Chairman: Colonel H.J. Haslegrave
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Anderson, Matthew
Names of composers
- Finck, Herman
- Verdi, Giuseppe
- Ketèlbey, Albert
- Fucik, Julius
- Mendelssohn, Felix
- Luigini, Alexandre
- Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel
- Jacob, Gordon
- German, Edward
- Grieg, Edvard
- Rosse, Frederick
- Meyerbeer, Giacomo
- Fletcher, Percy
- Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich
Numbers of performers2400
Total: £6714 (including £1069 on entertainment tax)
- Admissions: £6075
- Exhibition: £331
- £675 to Clayton Hospital
- £100 to the Cathedral Restoration Fund.
Object of any funds raised
In aid of local charities.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 8000
- Total audience: 150000
The figure of 150000 is an estimate. The Yorkshire Evening Post claimed that 100000 had attended, with three further performances still to come.1 Attendances of 25000 had been recorded.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
- 17–24 June: Civic Week, Industries Exhibition, Drill Hall.
- 17 June: Pageant Queen, Katherine Leach, opened the event with a Carnival Parade.
- 18 June: Open-air service.
- Monday 19 June: Race to Leeds and back by ‘Old Crocks’ motor vehicles.
- Nightly floodlighting of Cathedral, Grammar School, Cenotaph and Wakefield Building Society.
- Weekly ‘Green Diamond Treasure Hunt’.
- 27 June: Commemorative service in the Cathedral.
The ‘Spirit of Wakefield’ recites a prologue. Children dressed in various historical costumes, from the Early Britons to the future, parade across the scene which ‘reflects changing religious and moral ideas and economic conditions’.
Episode I. The Coming of the Romans and Their Reception by the Ancient Britons of the West Riding
Ancient Britons in animal pelts gather for a religious ceremony. Criminals are brought for human sacrifice. During the ceremony the alarm is sounded and Britons take up their weapons. The Romans march in with great discipline and deploy for the battle. Britons taunt them. A further company of Romans arrives to give battle, and the chief Druid, realising the battle is lost, throws himself between the combatants and offers submission to Rome.
Episode II. Overthrow of Penda ‘The Strenuous’, Protagonist of Paganism, at Winwidfield near Leeds
Oswy, brother of Oswald, has become King of Northumbria and in vain sends a tribute to Penda. Oswy sends a small force to fight Penda, pledging his daughter to a monastic life if victorious. Penda is slain in the battle and his army scattered. Aefleda is given to Abbess Hilda with her dowry. A mass is celebrated, and the young child is handed over.
Episode III. Coming of the Normans and the de Warenne Family to Wakefield
The episode depicts the imposition of Norman rule and culture on the West Riding, and the submission of the people of Wakefield to the conquerors and the Earl de Warenne, though a Norman train is plundered by Saxon outlaws.
Episode IV. Robin Hood and George A. Greene, the Pinder of Wakefield
Robin Hood and his band are walking through a corn field and are challenged by the Pinder to go back. Robin Hood calls off the fight after seeing the swordsmanship of the Pinder and asks him to join his band in the greenwood.
Episode V. Battle of Wakefield Green in the Wars of the Roses
The Duke of York, claimant to the English crown, was at Sandal Castle and rashly went to battle the superior Lancastrian forces under the Earl de Clifford. When the expected reinforcements failed to arrive, he was defeated and slain. His second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, was watching the battle with his tutor. Seeing the defeat of his father’s forces, he fled, but he was overtaken on Wakefield Bridge by Lord Clifford.
Episode VI. A Mystery Play and a Medieval Fair of the 13th or 14th Century
The episode shows part of ‘Noah and the Ark’, acted in medieval dress without scenery. Stalls are prepared and merchants bring their wares. Watchmen take their place by the cathedral doors and sound a horn denoting the start of the fair. Townsfolk of all classes arrive with jesters, tumblers, jugglers, beggars etc. Archers display their skill. A procession of monks is seen and the play is enacted. After this, the bells ring and the crowd goes into the cathedral.
Episode VII. Merrie Wakefield. Queen Elizabeth Grants a Charter to Wakefield for a ‘Free Grammar Scoole’
The queen arrives before a crowd with a large retinue. She meets the bishop and the headmaster and is regaled by the choir singing ‘Floreas Wakefieldia’. She grants the charter, and the crowd disperses.
Episode VIII. Capture of John Nevison, the Famous Highwayman
Nevison, masked and mounted, rides down Westgate, with no one daring to stop him. Young Mistress Waddington does not realise who he is until it is too late and she is robbed. A coach arrives, which Nevison also robs, and soldiers appear and chase him unsuccessfully. He adjourns to the Three Houses Inn and is captured while refreshing himself. The lady in the coach bids him a tearful farewell. He gives her his hat. Tableau of Nevison’s execution at York.
Episode IX. Industrial West Riding: The Bishop Blaise Procession, the Rise of the Factory System, the Chartists, etc.
This episode depicts one of the last processions of this kind in Wakefield on 3 February 1829, with a procession of masters on horseback, apprentices, the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ with guards and attendants, the bishop, chaplain, shepherds and shepherdesses, and various wool-workers. A background of millworkers, adult and juvenile, and domestic system workers represents the social and industrial revolutions taking place at the time.
Episode X. Victorian Wakefield and West Riding
The episode presents, through various tableaux, the Victorian era, which will ‘serve to illustrate in the most striking manner the political unity, the religious toleration, the material wealth, and the powerful Empire which had been achieved for Britain in the intervening period’ up to the Diamond Jubilee. Scenes include: the coming of the railway (with a train ballet); the industrial revolution, depicting child labour (factory workers and chimneysweeps) and women hauling coal wagons; the chartists and Corn Law reformers. They are addressed by the Reforming Spirit:
Children of toilsome night and joyless day
Who’ve never known the bliss of carefree play,
Whose lips to sounds of happiness are dumb,
Your laughter strangled by the factory hum.
Ye creatures, damned in sunless caves to crawl,
Chained by the soul, your womanhood in thrall,
Enslaved by Coal, like beasts of burden driven—
Pity and justice cry aloud to Heaven.
England is mighty, Britain rules the waves,
Let not our ships be launched in tears of slaves;
Arise! Rejoice, and shake your fetters free—
Then hail thy England, land of liberty.
Further tableaux include: the Lady of the Lamp in the Crimea; the Indian Mutiny; and the Irish Question (Paddy refuses to accept the hand of friendship from John Bull). The scene ends with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in the town.
Episode XI. A Generation in the History of the West Riding 1913–1933
The West Riding at work and play. There is agitation from suffragettes. An explosion is heard, symbolising the assassination of the Grand Duke. War is declared, a Union Jack is hoisted and recruitment sergeants enter.
An impression of the First World War, with munition workers.
Scene III. Armistice
The cease fire is sounded; ‘Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty’ is heard, and troops return, led by Field-Marshal Haig. Some are wounded. There are nurses as well as orphans and widows, and the crowds cheer.
A resumption of work, though some of the figures are still lame or wounded. The pageant performers assemble.
League of Nations Tableau of the victorious countries and member states.
‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’ and ‘God Save the King’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Hild [St Hild, Hilda] (614–680) abbess of Strensall–Whitby [also known as Hilda]
- Oswiu [Oswy] (611/12–670) king of Northumbria
- Penda (d. 655) king of the Mercians
- Warenne, William (I) de, first earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1088) magnate
- Hood, Robin (supp. fl. late 12th–13th cent.) legendary outlaw hero
- Clifford, John, ninth Baron Clifford (1435–1461) soldier and magnate
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Carew, George, earl of Totnes (1555–1629) soldier and administrator [also known as Carey, George]
- Cecil, William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598) royal minister
- Somerset, Edward, fourth earl of Worcester (c.1550–1628) nobleman and courtier
- Nevison [Nevinson], John [William] (d. 1684) highwayman
- Nightingale, Florence (1820–1910) reformer of Army Medical Services and of nursing organization
- Bull, John (supp. fl. 1712–) fictitious epitomist of Englishness and British imperialism
- Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
- Haig, Douglas, first Earl Haig (1861–1928) army officer
Musical productionDevised and arranged by Edward P. Genn.
Band of 4th Battalion, King’s Own Yeomen and Light Infantry, under C.W. Gore with Wakefield Old Prize Band and L.M.S. Brass Band.
- Finck. ‘Pageant March’.
- Verdi. Prologue, ‘Aida’.
- Ketelby. ‘In the Camp of the Ancient Britons’.
- Fucik. ‘Entry of the Gladiators’.
- Mendelssohn. ‘Fingal’s Cave’.
- Luigini. ‘Ballet Russe’.
- Binning. ‘Robin Hood Suite’.
- Coleridge-Taylor. ‘Funeral March’.
- Gordon Jacob. ‘William Byrd Suite’.
- Ketelby. ‘Knights of the King’.
- German. ‘Henry VIII Dances’.
- German. ‘Nell Gwyn Dances’.
- Rosse. ‘Monsieur Beaucaire’.
- Meyerbeer. Coronation March from ‘Le Prophète’.
- Grieg. ‘Norwegian Dances’.
- Kipling’s ‘Recessional Hymn’.
- Fletcher. ‘Woodland Pictures Suite’.
- ‘It’s A Long Way to Tipperary.’
- ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past.’
- Tchaikovsky. ‘1812 Oveture’.
- ‘Pack Up Your Troubles.’
- Grieg. ‘Sigurd Jorsalfar’.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Yorkshire Evening Posts
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Book of words
- Anderson, Matthew, ed. The Pageant of Wakefield and the West Riding 1933. Wakefield, 1933.
Other primary published materials
- Souvenir Programme of Wakefield and the West Riding 1933. Wakefield, 1933.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- West Yorkshire Archive Service Wakefield: Correspondence, minutes, memos, programmes, tickets, photographs and ephemera. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- Photo Souvenir Book. WDP43/54.
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield
Sources used in preparation of pageant
While pageants had been relatively late to take over the West Riding of Yorkshire, they became major events. The Pageant of Wakefield and the West Riding was the third major civic pageant in the county, after Leeds in 1926 and Bradford in 1931. Wakefield had watched the last with interest and had corresponded with pageant organisers in Barking, Manchester and Liverpool, approaching Matthew Anderson and Edward Genn, who had staged the last two, to put on the Wakefield Pageant.2 By late 1932 the pageant had been extensively planned, with costings and a number of articles in the local press raising interest.3 It was expected to cost around £3750, with the expectation of making some £6750 over nine performances.4
The pageant was a classic example of civic boosterism and was intended to be ‘a great educative effort in citizenship’.5 The pageant organisers were also very aware of the economic plight of the city, noting that ‘Wakefield, like most towns in the industrial areas in the North, has suffered considerable trade depression and severe unemployment…It is hoped as a result of the pageant to increase the trade of the city and help to relieve unemployment.’ It was also expected that ‘much of the work in preparing the ground for the pageant will be done voluntarily, as a community service, by the unemployed of Wakefield’.6 In 1931, at the height of the depression, Wakefield had 13343 unemployed men and women—12.4% of the population.7 The Monday performances on 19 June had 3000 free tickets for the unemployed, as well as a further 3000 free seats for children.
It was in this civic spirit that the Mayor addressed the Citizens of Wakefield, labelling the pageant as:
…an occasion for a great communal effort on the part of the citizens of Wakefield to make this vast production worthy of the City and the County. It will be an occasion of great civic pride and citizenship…The success of the Pageant is absolutely dependent upon the effort and goodwill of every citizen who participates in it.8
The pageant would coincide with the opening of a new bridge over the Calder, which would draw motor traffic away from the medieval bridge with the chapel that was made famous by J.M.W. Turner’s painting.9 The organisers of the week of celebrations were especially eager to attract motorists, with the town clerk suggesting that special measures be taken to encourage caravan holiday-makers: ‘The presence of motor caravanners would bring some trade to the town and might assist materially in making Wakefield better known as a holiday centre.’10 Car parks that could hold 2000 vehicles and the ‘Old Crocks’ motor race, 25 miles to Leeds and back (featuring one vehicle from the 1890s) meant that the pageant was one in which the car played a prominent role.11 Unfortunately, this emphasis on private transport was accompanied by problems with public transport, with one pageant-goer, Dorothy Roach, writing to the mayor to complain that ‘the pleasure I felt at witnessing the Wakefield Pageant on Saturday was quite spoilt by the inadequate arrangements made by the bus company for people to get to their homes’. Woundingly, she wrote that ‘I am quite sure that had the pageant been at Leeds, better arrangements would have been made’.12
Everything that had been done by the diligent mayor and city council to ensure the pageant’s success (they had meticulously planned the event months in advance) was almost wrecked when the Parks Committee refused to close the park for more than four days in a week, or twelve days in a year, for fear that local ratepayers would complain.13 The impasse was only resolved two weeks before the pageant began after the town clerk wrote imploringly to the Parks Department, urging them to permit a closure. ‘While recognising we are asking for what some citizens may regard as a temporary deprivation of their right’ the clerk pointed out that ‘Failure of the pageant, in any way, would be a disaster not only to our guarantors [£2500 had been raised by local townspeople], but to the Corporation and every citizen of Wakefield.’14 This appeal to civic pride seemed to do the trick.
In the special supplement edition of the Yorkshire Observer, Wakefield’s MP and prominent member of the Labour Party, Arthur Greenwood, captured the uncertain sense of the present, threatened by international instability and protracted economic crisis:
The future is pregnant with hope. The present is with us. To-day is a time of anguish and anxiety. The past is dim in its outlines. But it embodies much that we would wish to preserve. The idea of a pageant which will present a picture of the past and the present and hold out hopes for the future is one which should receive the support of all.15
The whole of Wakefield was investing its hopes in the success of the pageant, which came to symbolise the past glories of the industrial town that seemed to have vanished in the early 1930s. The episodes signified Wakefield’s intense civic pride, despite a relative paucity of figures or scenes of national importance, although a number of scenes (such as the early Britons’ submission to the Romans, and the visit of Elizabeth I) were tropes of pageantry to the point of cliché. The last three scenes, which relayed the development of Industrial Wakefield, are of greatest importance, including a recreation of the Bishop Blaise procession (which also featured in Bradford’s Historical Pageant (1931)). Portrayals of the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution were characteristic of left-wing and liberal history at the time, characterised most prominently by J.L. and Barbara Hammond’s Town Labourer (1917).16 The final scene, which brought the action up to the present, was frank in the horrors and sacrifices of the First World War.17 Significantly, Field-Marshal Haig was presented as a military hero, as he was generally seen to be before Alan Clark’s Lions Led by Donkeys (1961) which castigated the leadership of First World War generals. This suffering would have been fairly fresh in the memories of many of those attending and performing.
The pageant had been judged a success even before its first performance. The reviewer from the Yorkshire Post wrote a rave review of the dress rehearsal, attended by thousands of school children, praising the action and ingenuity: ‘Refreshing is the word which comes immediately to mind as you set down the impressions made by this richly various cavalcade which gallops through 6000 years in two and a half hours…Bravo Wakefield!’18 The reviewer drew particular attention to the use of modern technology—microphones, loud-speakers, gramophone and wireless, and a telephone system—which made the event run smoothly. The Yorkshire Evening Post had already passed its verdict: ‘It is already possible to say that the pageant will be a thing of beauty; and all well-wishers of the city will earnestly hope that the recent fine weather will continue over the period of the performances and so ensure them a financial as well as an artistic success.’19 In fact, there was a sudden torrential downpour at the first performance, ironically during the Mystery Play ‘Noah and the Ark’. Poor weather at the start of the week depressed attendances and many feared financial disaster.20 After Wednesday, however, the weather turned, and huge numbers of people went to visit the pageant from across the West Riding and further afield. The Box Office was kept open day and night, and it was estimated that the pageant brought over £100000 to the town in visitor revenue.21 The pageant was continued for a further three days, with the Yorkshire Evening Post remarking that 100000 had attended by Sunday’s performance (a figure larger than the population of the city itself).22
By all measures, the pageant was a great success, and despite a high level of entertainment tax on the performances, there was a surplus of £1412 that was donated to various charities (including the Clayton Hospital and the Cathedral Restoration fund).23 While the pageant was unable to bring the city out of the depression, it succeeded in its aims of presenting the city in a favourable light to a wider audience and proving that the city possessed civic spirit in great amounts.
Anderson and Genn staged the far less successful civic booster pageant at Morcambe the following year. They also staged the London Pageant of Labour (1934), which contained much of Wakefield's anti-industrial emphasis, though with much less success.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 27 June 1933, 9
- Memo, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- E.g., memos, 2 May and 8 November 1932 and Yorkshire Post, 28 September 1932, in West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- Memo, 2 May 1932, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- Memo, January 1933, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- GB Historical GIS/University of Portsmouth, Wakefield District through time, Work & Poverty Statistics, Census Unemployment by Sex, A Vision of Britain Through Time, accessed 31 May 2016, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10197314/cube/CENSUS_UNEM.
- Memo, 31 January 1933, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- ‘History of the Chantry Chapel Wakefield’: http://www.chantrychapelwakefield.org/history.html. Accessed 31 May 2016.
- Memo, 18 March 1933, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 15 June 1933, 8.
- Dorothy Roach to W. Emmett, 20 June 1933, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- Memo, 9 March 1933, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- Town Clerk to Parks Department, 27 May 1933, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. WWD1/Box 202/TB20.
- Wakefield Pageant Supplement, Yorkshire Observer, 16 June 1933, 18.
- J.L. [and Barbara] Hammond, The Town Labourer, 1769-1832: The New Civilisation (London, 1917).
- Mark Freeman, ‘Historical Pageants and the First World War’, accessed 31 May 2016, http://historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/historical-pageants-and-first-world-war/.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 16 June 1933, 6.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 12 June 1933, 8.
- Manchester Guardian, 19 June 1933, 17; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 19 June 1933, 4.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 21 June 1933, 8.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 27 June 1933, 9.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 14 October 1933, 7.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Wakefield and the West Riding’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1227/