Bradford Centenary Pageant

Pageant type


Additional information drawn from 'Survey of Historical Pageants' undertaken by Mick Wallis; with thanks to Carol Greenwood of Bradford Central Library.

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Place: Peel Park (Peel Park, Bradford) (Peel Park, Bradford, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)

Year: 1947

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 15


7–19 July 1947

  • 7–11, 14–15, 17–18 July at 7.30pm
  • 12, 16, 19 July at 2.30pm and 7.30pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Writer, Producer and Pageant Master: Ede, Christopher
  • Chief Marshal: Jack Price
  • Conductor: Inspector A. Parrish
  • Chorus Masters: Harry S. Hurst and Frank Hartley
  • Wardrobe Master: Joseph Cadman
  • Property Master: W. Raistrick
  • Master of Horse: Messrs. T.S. Briggs and L.A. Hodgson
  • Designers: Dorothy Wade, G.W. Bedford, R.C. Peter, and Eric Lombers
  • Pyrotechnics: R.G. Hall (under direction of Wing Commander F.T. Harris, MBE)

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Centenary Executive

  • President: Lord Mayor, Alderman T.I. Clough
  • Chairman: Alderman Kathleen Chambers, JP
  • Hon. Secretary: Mr W.H. Leathem
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mr B.R. Sinkinson
  • Financial Supervisor: Mr. E. Johnson
  • Committee Secretary: Mr J.C. Swales
  • Alderman Revis Barber
  • Miss Esme Church
  • Mr R.F. Cook
  • Miss M.A. Cox
  • Mr J. Dumville
  • Mr John Emsley
  • Mr M. Fisher
  • Councillor Thomas Helliwell
  • Alderman Walter Hodgson, JP
  • Mr A.D. Ickringill
  • Mr William Illingworth
  • Alderman William Leach
  • Mr H.S. Pickles
  • Mr F. Robertshaw
  • Mr J.H. Shaw
  • Mr A. Spalding, BA
  • Mr J.A. Sullivan, MPS, MICO
  • Rev. Foster Sunderland
  • Very Rev. J.G. Tiarks, MA
  • Major L.A. Walker
  • Mr. D.A. Walmsley
  • Mr A. Widd

Finance Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Councillor H. Semper

Designs Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Mr. H. Rhodes, MC, ARCA

Historical Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Mr. E. Cummins, JP

Illuminations and Decorations Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Mr. S.G. Wardley, BSc, AMICE, M. InstM. and Cy.E

Music Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Mr C. Hooper, MA, Mus.Doc

Properties Sub-Committee

  • Mr. W.E. Allen

Performers Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Mr. C.W. Towlson, MA, BD, LCP

Publicity Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Mr. R.W. Parsons

Sites Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Alderman F. Butler

Transport Sub-Committee

  • Chairman: Councillor Berry

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

Ede, Christopher

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

The Pageant took £3577 (£6395 in total for the celebrations) in receipts, and made a net loss of approximately £13000.

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Centenary of the granting of Borough status

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 23987


Audience figure as reported in local press.1

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

9s 6d–1s

Owing to poor attendance, ticket prices were reduced: from 9s 6d to 5s 6d, from 7s 6d to 3s 6d, and from 1s 6d to 1s.

Associated events

  • Pageant Opened by the Rt. Hon. Lord Nathan, Minister of Civil Aviation with an Army Day, Navy Day, Air Force Day and Civic Day.
  • A Trade exhibition in Cartwright Hall was also held in association with the pageant.

Pageant outline


The Monks of Kirkstall tend their flocks under the eye of the Abbot.2

Scene I. Circa 1830

The rioters assemble and await their leader while tired children and a small group of women enter the mill under the eye of the overlooker. The crowd attack the mill with torches and primitive weapons. The Town Crier, with the total ‘police force’ of 6 men try to disperse the crowd, but have to employ the Volunteers—known as the Ready and Steadies—who fire over the heads of the people.

Scene II. 1846

Crowds gather to meet the first train from Leeds which arrives with important personages and the band. A celebration follows, but not all of the passengers are converted to travel on the new steam train.

Scene III. 1847

The Charter of Incorporation is greeted by the Citizens of Bradford

Scene IV. 1390

The story of the origin of the Coat-of-Arms is here enacted. First, William arrives with the Boar’s head and is rewarded by John of Gaunt. Roger arrives at the celebrations, carrying the tongue of the beast which he had cut out after killing it. Northrop of Morningham then receives the gift of land and to the blasts of his horn the Coat-of-Arms is charged.

Scene V

The first Bradford Market which Edmund de Lacey visits after hunting

Scene VI

The people of Bradford are quietly combing and spinning when John Kempe, a Flemish weaver, is introduced to them and, after a moment of Yorkshire distrust of the foreigner, he is welcomed after he has proved his skill. The Pageant play which follows is a shortened version of the Second Shepherd’s Play from the Wakefield Cycle. These plays had their roots in the Church liturgy plays. Mac, a sheep-stealer, brings a sheep to his wife. On being followed by the shepherds they place the sheep in a crib and declare it to be their new born son. Their plan does not succeed and Mac is tossed for his sins. On returning to the fields an angel summons the shepherds to Bethlehem.

Scene VII. 1806

Samuel Marsden pays a visit to George III and receives a gift of Merino sheep to take back with him to Australia.

Scene VIII. 1853

A Musical interlude based on the visit of members of the Festival Choral Society to Buckingham Palace to sing before the Queen.

Scene IX. 1897

Jubilee—an impression of Victorian Celebrations on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, in which year Bradford became a city.

Scene X.

First we see a class in a nineteenth-century school, showing the intellectual rigidity and the over-crowding then so common. Bishop Blaize then introduces W.E. Forster, James Hanson, Sir Henry Mitchell and Margaret McMillan who bridge the gap to more modern schooling. A message from the present Minister of Education Rt. Hon. George Tomlinson, MP, heralds the present day groups: a physical education lesson: a survey party: a classroom play-reading: boys learning their science through the study of a motor car: and groups of boys and girls making their way to gardening and housecraft lessons.

Scene XI. 1643

The second siege of Bradford finds the population erecting a stockade under the directions of Sir Thomas Fairfax—woolsacks are hoisted on the Church tower. The Royalists, under the command of the Earl of Newcastle, bring their artillery to bear on the town. After the attack a parley is called, and Sir Thomas is seen refusing surrender. Under the cover of night Sir Thomas withdraws, the Royalists enter the town and erect gibbets. Night falls, and the Earl is visited by the Bolling Hall ghost which pleads for the life of the townspeople. In the morning we see the gibbets taken down.

Scene XII. 1745

The Market drill of the Grenadiers, which gives an example of the rate of fire that was achieved in the 18th century.

Scene XIII. 1914

The suffragettes’ speeches are interrupted by the newspaper boys shouting ‘War Declared’. We see the volunteers drilling without uniform and a squad of ‘Tommies’ off to France. The squad is seen wending up the hill and through the Great Door. The white crosses symbolise those who did not return. The scene ends with Armistice Celebrations, leaving the bonfire smouldering.

Scene XIV. 1939

The scene is an impression of what is too familiar to all of us—Total war which enveloped the whole nation and we show something of both Civil and Military work and sacrifice.

Scene XV. 1947

Finale. Bradford Today and its many activities, which are stopped by Bishop Blaize, who reminds the people of the Past and the Challenge of the Future. The City Motto shows the way, Labor Omnia Vincit—work conquers all.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Cavendish, William, first duke of Newcastle upon Tyne (bap. 1593, d. 1676) writer, patron, and royalist army officer
  • Fairfax, Thomas, third Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1612–1671) parliamentarian army officer
  • Forster, William Edward (1818–1886) politician
  • McMillan, Margaret (1860–1931) socialist propagandist and educationist
  • Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
  • Marsden, Samuel (1765–1838) missionary and farmer
  • John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England

Musical production

Massed Chorus and the bands of the Bradford Police Military Band and the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment

Newspaper coverage of pageant

  • Bradford Argus
  • Bradford Observer
  • Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
  • The Times

Book of words

City of Bradford, 1847-1947, Centenary Pageant. London, 1947.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • West Yorkshire Archive Service Bradford, 68D88/13/25, Centenary Notes, synopses, letters, script and committee minutes and Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, cuttings relating to the pageant.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The previous Bradford Pageant, held in 1931, had continuously flirted with disaster, from torrential rains to Communist opposition to a militant weavers’ strike, which had forced the organizers to cancel a number of episodes depicting the Luddite rising for fear of inspiring would-be-revolutionaries. It nonetheless made a profit of £6239, and was seen by around 120000 people. The Bradford Centenary Pageant of 1947 was to be far less lucky: it was an unmitigated, and highly-predictable, catastrophe which did much to hasten the end of civic pageantry in West Yorkshire.

A number of northern industrial towns and cities celebrated the centenary of their charters in the late 1940s at a time of great austerity. Big plans had been mooted in Halifax since early 1946 for ‘a real celebration of the whole of the people’ to include civic, commercial, industrial and trade exhibitions, lectures, cinema, and theatre performances, with a large-scale pageant to cost £15000.3 However, in May 1947 it was reported that these had been cancelled in the face of deteriorating economic conditions and negative public opinion.4 However, in the event, Halifax scaled down its celebrations and held an indoor pageant, No Mean City, performed by children from local schools. While many in Bradford suggested following Halifax’s example, Bradford’s Centenary Pageant went ahead in July 1947.

Christopher Ede was commissioned to write and produce the pageant in late 1946. He wished to break with the previous pageant, suggesting in a memorandum that ‘I think it would be a mistake to try and repeat any episodes out of the 1931 Pageant… As the Pageant is to celebrate the Centenary, it should deal mainly with the last 100 years in which there must be a vast amount of material’, adding that, ‘The suggestions above are perhaps out of the ordinary conception of Pageant making, but this type of Pageant has proved successful when handled properly and does break away from the rather slow-moving spectacle of yesterday.’5 Above all, it was imperative to ‘speed up’ the events.

The accompanying Centenary Fair, intended to boost Bradford’s moribund woollen industries, called for many bright and fashionable items of clothing which, due to prolonged rationing and the pressing need to boost exports, could not be purchased at home.6 Worse still, the Board of Trade allowed only a fraction of the number of coupons required for the pageant costumes.7 The irony that Bradford, a city built on the textile industry, could not adequately clothe those who were supposed to perform its history was certainly not lost on local residents, who became increasingly resentful of the cost of the Pageant. A local resident wrote the following complaint:

As a Bradford ratepayer, I, with many more Bradford citizens, think this state of affairs an insult to the many industrial workers in Bradford. We in Tong… are still in back-to-back houses, and without baths, fully aware houses cannot be had for quite a long period. The money wasted on pageants at this juncture is unnecessary. Also, I fail to understand the mentality of our City Fathers, with a Labour Council, approving of such a state of affairs.8

Indeed, the Bradford Argus newspaper, in which this complaint appeared, had waged a protracted campaign against the pageant, printing numerous similarly critical letters. One of these went so far as to berate the ‘detestable modern cubism’ of the pageant poster, prompting similar complaints from others.9 The Argus provoked a scandal when it reported that printers from the nearby town of Brighouse had been chosen to print the pageant materials instead of the local printing press (which was owned by the Argus’s proprietors). This led to a number of people on the pageant’s executive committee resigning in protest.10 For A.E. Warren, a former (and presumably disgruntled) City Council Member and advertising agent:

It is a positive disgrace that advertising specialists who pay hundreds of pounds in rent and rates should have their offers ignored… And what of Bradford printers? Are they not capable of producing this for the city?... Yet they do not get a smell of a job for their own city; they are denied the opportunity of letting our citizens examine the really high-class work which they can produce’.11

The Argus, which boasted a circulation of 113980,12 did much to dissuade its readers from attending the pageant, printing numerous critical articles and letters against the pageant, and repeatedly calling for it to be cancelled.

Whatever the negative impact of this critical commentary in the local newspaper press, Bradford’s pageant was in the event a catastrophic failure. Only 300 people attended the first performance.13 In this context, and after a prolonged campaign of attrition, the Argus chose, somewhat disingenuously, to exhort citizens to attend with the headline: ‘your city and your pageant—support them’:

There are people who tiring of difficulties and frustrations, look back with envy upon the past, and talk vaguely of the “good old days.” There are people who regret the comparative lack of colour in dress to-day and sigh for the colourful costumes of earlier periods. There are people who long for the return of old-world customs and traditions. For these people, Bradford’s Centenary Pageant…provided ideal food for thought. And for those not at all interested in the old days, but anxious for further development in national and civic life to-day, the Pageant presented interesting entertainment and provided insight into the life of Bradford of yesteryear.14

The pageant script itself was hardly an accomplished piece of writing, lacking any sense of chronology or unity of theme (and certainly not restricting itself to the last 100 years), jumping around the previous seven hundred years seemingly at random through fourteen lengthy and eclectic scenes. The newspapers, whether continuing to under-report the pageant, or merely out of consideration for the performers, chose not to assess the quality of the drama, instead obliquely referring to it as a ‘fascinating lucky-dip into the past’.15

Writing afterwards in the Bradford Argus ‘Depictus’ praised those who took part, whilst stressing that ‘The fault lies with the citizens. Their support was lacking.’ Nonetheless the anonymous commentator did not believe that they were ‘altogether to blame. Their minds, at the moment, are concentrated on queues, ration books, clothing books and shortage of consumables’. Instead, the writer went on to criticize the Council, suggesting that ‘a spirit of civic pride is not present is due to their apathy’ and asking ‘Have they ever heard of public relations?16 A ‘Lover of Pageantry and Local History’ had previously warned that ‘at present both the necessary interest and the “atmosphere” are lacking’.17 The Committee described attendance as ‘very disappointing’ ‘tragic’ and ‘appalling’ and cut admission prices drastically.18 But nothing could prevent the dismal failure of the pageant. On the day that the 99-year old Bradfordian Sarah Ann Shann was due to attend as a guest of honour, heavy rain and lightning prevented the pageant from taking place. It was confirmed on 18 July that there would be no continuation of the run.19

The devastating failure of the Braford Centenary Pageant put a stop to civic celebrations in Bradford for the next decade. Bradford’s calamity persuaded Wakefield to cancel all events for its own centenary in 1948 and the nearby village of Horbury indefinitely postponed its pageant, blaming a lack of costumes, ‘staggered hours and petrol restrictions’.20 Bradford was one of the few places in the country that refused to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951, with one commentator bluntly remarking that ‘The City Council are not going to spend money on festivities.’21 Christopher Ede, however, recovered from his setback and went on to stage further pageants at Boston (1951), Hampton Court (1951), Guildford (1957), Bury St Edmunds (1959), and Croydon (1960); but few councils in Yorkshire were willing to risk another Bradford. The failure of the Bradford Centenary Pageant was due to bad luck, to organising a pageant in a year of prolonged economic crisis, and—at least in part—to mismanagement.


  1. ^ Bradford Argus, 21 July 1947.
  2. ^ All synopses taken from City of Bradford, 1847-1947, Centenary Pageant (London, 1947), unpaginated.
  3. ^ Yorkshire Post, 27 February 1946, 3; Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian, 3 January 1948, 2.
  4. ^ On the ‘annus horrendus’ of 1947 see Kenneth Morgan, Labour in Power, 1945-1951 (Oxford, 1984), 315; 330-58
  5. ^ Memo from Christopher Ede, 31 October 1946, West Yorkshire Archive Services Bradford (henceforth WYASB), 68D88/13/25.
  6. ^ B.R. Mitchell and H.G. Jones, Second Abstract of Historical Statistics (Cambridge, 1971), 93-4. Exports of woollen and worsted yarn, of which Bradford was the largest producer, had fallen from 27.8m pounds in 1938 to 14.5m. British wool production had decreased from 91 million pounds in 1940 to 50m in 1947.
  7. ^ Bradford Argus, 16 May 1947, cutting in Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB.
  8. ^ Elsie Hughes, ‘Letter’, Bradford Argus, 23 April 1947, cutting in Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB.
  9. ^ Bradford Argus, 1 July 1947, Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB. The offending picture is accessible at, accessed 24 August 2016.
  10. ^ Bradford Argus 15, 16 May 1947, cutting in Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB.
  11. ^ Bradford Argus, 16 May 1947, cutting in, Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB.
  12. ^ William Ewert Berry Camrose, British Newspapers and Their Controllers (London, 1947), 101.
  13. ^ Yorkshire Post, 8 July 1947, 4; Bradford Argus, 21 July 1947, cutting in Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, West Yorkshire Archive Services Bradford (henceforth WYASB).
  14. ^ Bradford Argus, 8 July 1947, cutting in Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB
  15. ^ Ibid.
  16. ^ Bradford Argus, 29 July 1947, cutting in Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB.
  17. ^ Bradford Argus, 16 May 1947, Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB.
  18. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 12 July 1947, 6.
  19. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 17 July 1947, 6 and 18 July 1947, 3.
  20. ^ Bradford Argus, 15 May 1947, cutting in Deed Box 31, Case 2, 1, WYASB; Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian, 3 January 1948, 2; Yorkshire Evening Post, 28 October 1947, 4 and 21 April 1948, 4.
  21. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 7 July 1951, 8.

How to cite this entry

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