The Pageant of Ayrshire: The Story of Scotland's Struggle for Independence

Pageant type

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Place: Dam Park (Ayr) (Ayr, South Ayrshire, Scotland)

Year: 1934

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 8


16–23 June 1934, 7pm

Two full, dress rehearsals.

Seven regular performances took place each evening, 7pm. There was no performance on Sunday 17 June. An additional afternoon performance was given on Saturday 23 June, 3pm.1

Each performance ran for two and a half hours.2

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Anderson, Matthew
  • Assistant Pageant Master: Etheridge, Frank
  • Associate Producer: E.P. Genn


Mathew Anderson was also responsible for the Liverpool Railway Pageant (1930), the Lancashire Cotton Pageant (1932), the Wakefield Pageant (1933), the Pageant of Chivalry, Morecombe (1934) and the Pageant of Labour, Crystal Palace (1934).3

E.P. Genn worked alongside Anderson in many of his productions, including the Pageant of Chivalry.4

Names of executive committee or equivalent

The Pageant Committee:

  • President: The Marquess of Ailsa

The Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: Robert Bowman, Dean of Guild
  • Honorary Treasurer: T.L. Robb, Town Chamberlain
  • Honorary Secretary: W.A. Davidson
  • 12 further ordinary members

The Pageant Council:

  • Chairman: Lt.-Col. T.C. Dunlop
  • Vice-Chairman: Lord Inverclyde
  • Honorary Secretary: W.S. Lanham
  • 56 further committee members

The Grounds Committee:

  • Convenor: Colonel R.W. Paton
  • Secretary: W.H. Dunlop, CA
  • 14 ordinary members

The Historical Committee:

  • 6 members made up of 5 men, including the Librarian of Ayr's Carnegie Library and 1 woman.

The Publicity Committee:

  • Convener: Pierre Andreoli (who also sat on the Executive)
  • Advertising Convenor: G.D. Fraser, Jnr.
  • 4 ordinary members

The Ticket Committee:

  • Convenor: Stewart Forbes
  • 3 ordinary members
  • 3 ex-officio members who sat on other committees

The Teachers' Committee:

  • Head teachers of 15 local schools
  • 1 other representative from each of the schools

Sub-Committee to Train Ballet Dancers:

  • 4 women
  • 4 women

Episode I: 

  • 11 office holders and 12 ordinary members plus 8 members of a 'wardrobe Committee' = 31 in total

Episode II.

  • 12 office holders and 6 members =18

Episode III.

  • 9 office holders and 27 members plus 8 ordinary members on a 'Costume Committee' = 44 members

Episode IV.

  • 6 office holders and 28 members =34; most of this committee lived in Maybole and it included serving members of Maybole Town Council including the Town Clerk.

Episode V.

  • 6 office holders (including a 'Musical Director') and 27 members. Also listed are committee members for 4 'Principal Players' , namely, Alexander Peden, John Brown, Mrs Brown and Graham of Claverhouse, each of these has two members assigned. The committee was made up mostly of people who lived in Kilmarnock and some representatives from Kilmarnock Burgh Council, including the Provost. Interestingly the Pageant Master was an ordinary member of this committee and his address is listed as 320 India Buildings, Liverpool.

Episode VI.

  • For this, members were connected with the Scottish Burns Federation; other specific details have not been recovered.


Although the 'Pageant Committee' headed all of the other committees within the Official Book of the Pageant, it is assumed that this was an honorary body functioning in a similar fashion to the Grand Councils noted in many other pageants. As such, its membership likely acted as patrons and they would not have been fulsomely involved with the organization of the pageant. In addition to the Marquess of Ailsa who was president, the remaining membership consisted of 43 Vice-Presidents. Of these, 17 have high-ranking military titles from all three armed forces, and, in addition to a military title, 2 of this number are peers; there are also 8 members with hereditary titles, including the Earl of Glasgow and the Duke of Portland. Also included are the Provosts of Ayr, Cumnock, Galston, Girvan, Kilmarnock, Kilwinning, Maybole, Prestwick and Stewarton, a Bailie and 2 Members of Parliament.

The Executive Committee originated with the Attractions Committee of Ayr Guildry which first put forward the idea of a pageant; this body was then superseded by the Pageant Council in 1933 and served as the pageant's executive wing.

The Pageant Council is the largest committee; among the 56 ordinary members there are also a great many persons with military titles. The committee is predominantly made up of men: although the gender of some is unclear because only initials are given, but there are 5 women members. The provosts of many of the larger Ayrshire towns also sit on this committee including those for Ayr, Irvine, Kilmarnock, Largs, Maybole and Prestwick.

In the lists of committee members, the addresses of members are sometimes given and these indicate that some episodes were the charge of particular towns, including Largs (Episode II), Maybole (Episode IV),and Kilmarnock (Episode V); this indication is confirmed in a variety of other pageant related documents and news coverage.6 In addition, Episode VI was organised by members of the Burns Federation, Edinburgh (made up of representatives from Burns societies from across Scotland); Episode III, centred on Wallace, was the specific responsibility of the Ayr Guildry.

Each of the episodes also had its own committee and each had particular office holders including variously a Chairman or Convener, Vice-Chairman, Hon. Secretary, Producer, Designer(s), Property Master and Wardrobe Mistress/Master. Some had a 'Marshall' and 'Assistant Marshall'. All had ordinary members and sometimes sub-committees dealing specifically with costumes. Women are more fully represented on these committees, although, with the exception of secretaries and conveners of costume/wardrobe sub-committees, most of the office holders are male.

Of the 16 members of the Grounds Committee, the titles of 5 indicate they are ex-forces with high ranks, including the Convenor who was a Colonel; the Chief Constable (Lowdon) was also a member.

The ex-Officio members on the Ticket Committee were Dean of Guild Robert Bowman (Chair of Executive); W.A. Davidson (Secretary on Executive) and W.S Lanham (secretary to Pageant Council).

The Schools included on the Teacher's Committee included the following: Ayr Academy; Ayr Grammar School; Newton Park H.G. School; Newtonhead P.S.; Newton Academy; Russell Street P.S.; St Margaret's School; Holmston P.S.; Wallacetown P.S.; Glenburn P.S.; Prestwick P.S.; Prestwick H.S.; Heathfield P.S.; Whittletts P.S. and Alloway P.S.. These were all within reasonable distance from the location of the pageant in the towns of Ayr and Prestwick; there are no schools representing other parts of Ayrshire.

On the ballet training sub-committee, the 4 members were all described as 'Physical Instructress' and employed at several local schools.7

It is clear that many individuals sat on more than one committee.

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

  • Anderson, Matthew
  • Burns, Robert


  • The Pageant Master, Matthew Anderson, wrote the script.
  • The text of Burns' Tam O' Shanter was narrated in scene III in Episode VI and that of Scots Wha Hae sung in Episode III.

Names of composers

  • Genn, Edward P.
  • Bantock, Granville
  • Wagner, Richard
  • Ketèlbey, Albert
  • Humperdinck, Engelbert
  • Sibelius, Jean
  • Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel
  • Rosse, Frederick
  • Roberts, H.W.V.
  • Mendelssohn, Felix
  • Kennedy-Fraser, Marjorie
  • Rossini, Gioachino
  • Coates, Eric
  • Quilter, Roger
  • Foulds, John
  • Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich
  • Drysdale, Learmont
  • Grieg, Edvard
  • Beethoven, Ludwig van

The music was 'arranged by Edward P. Genn in collaboration with the composer Sir Granville Bantock'.9

Numbers of performers


The number of performers, at 'over 3000', was said to be 'grown far beyond the original conception'. This number included 800 children who danced in the ballets that were part of the performance. An advertisement for the pageant also describes 200 horsemen. Numbers that are more precise are given in an illuminated manuscript describing the pageant. In this, the number quoted is 3404 performers and 70 horses.

Financial information

The pageant made a profit. Probably the most reliable figures are recorded long after the event in Mclean’s illuminated manuscript where total 'Income' is stated at £12361. 16s.; 'Expenses' were £11507. 14s. 2d.14

Pageant Master Anderson received a fee and outlay expenses amounting to £1521. 9s. 5d.15

Object of any funds raised

Ayr County Hospital and Kilmarnock Infirmary


Ayr County Hospital and Kilmarnock Infirmary each received £125 from the surplus of income over expenditure.16 In addition, the grounds of Culzean Castle (then the private home of the Marquis of Ailsa) were opened to the public during the pageant week at the admission charge of 1s. This money was also given to medical and housing charities. A further collection was taken at an open-air church service on the Sunday of pageant week (see associated events); this raised just over £91, which was also given to Ayr County Hospital.17 However, fund-raising was not the main object of the pageant.18

Linked occasion

175th anniversary year of the birth of Robert Burns.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 91728


91728 persons in total attended the 8 regular performances.19

Rehearsals took place on the evenings of Wednesday 13 and Thursday 14 June and together were attended by around 25000 schoolchildren.20 These came by specially commissioned trains from the surrounding counties of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire as well as Ayrshire.21

This was a near sell-out event on most nights and sold out completely on the final day of performance. Rehearsal tickets were over-subscribed. The weather was said to have been 'brilliant' on Saturday 16 and Saturday 23 June; but 'all other performances were carried out in wet and showery weather'.22

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

Reserved and numbered seats at: 2s. 6d., 3s. 6d., 5s., 7s. 6d., 10s. 6d. and £1. 1s; unreserved standing room at 1s.

Children were admitted at half price to all parts of the stadium.23

Associated events

An open air church service was held at the Dam Park (Sunday 17 June 1934, pm) which was led by the then Moderator of the Church of Scotland; around 4000 people attended the service. The Moderator appealed to the congregation to heed the message of ‘faith and freedom’ typified by the pageant. A fancy-dress ball was held in Ayr County Buildings (Friday 15 June).

Pageant outline

Episode I. King Coilus and his Court

King Coilus (monarch of the ancient Kingdom of Kyle in southwest Scotland) and his court assemble with Druids for worship, which includes the burning of a human sacrifice.25 Onto this scene and out of the flames appears the 'Spirit of Ayrshire'. She tells what is in store for the future of the kingdom. As she speaks, other players enact the coming of Christianity, the defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Largs, the freedom fighting activities of Wallace and Bruce, the martyrdom of covenanters, the rule of Cromwell and the birth of Robert Burns. There is also a depiction, enacted through ballet, of the industrial revolution that includes the characters of William Murdoch (inventor of gas) and John Macadam. Finally, the main towns of twentieth-century Ayrshire are represented by a procession of children dressed in ways that characterise the activities for which each town is known. These include: Ayr (ships, farmers' wives at market, a jockey, a lawyer, a golfer and bathers); Kilmarnock (engineering, bonnets, shoes and carpets); Irvine (ships, chemicals and fishing); Dalmellington (coal and iron); Hurlford (coal and railway engineering); Prestwick, Saltcoats, Troon and Girvan (golfers, 'beach pyjama and bathing girls', donkeys, ice-cream barrows and children); Ardrossan (shipbuilding and oil storage); Largs ('bathing belles' and a Viking) and, finally, Maybole (shoes). The episode ends with a tableau scene which was meant to illustrate the local traditional rhyme:

Kyle for a man,
Carrick for a coo,
Cunninghame for butter and cheese
And Galloway for 'oo

These were the four ancient kingdoms, which once existed in what by 1935 was the contemporary county of Ayrshire. They are described in the book of words as follows:

Kyle is represented by a splendid specimen of a man in bathing costume; Carrick by a pedigree cow; Cunnighame by dairymaids carrying butter on trays and young men carrying cheeses on their shoulders; Galloway by a sheep.

Episode II. The Battle of Largs, 1263

This contains two scenes; the first is set in the court of King Haco where news is brought to the King of a raid on Skye (then part of the Norse Kingdom) by Earl Ross acting under orders from Alexander III of Scotland. Despite exhortations to remain at home, Haco takes off with his fleet in order to 'ravage Ayrshire's shores'.26 In scene II, set on the Ayrshire coast, preparations for the battle are seen; then two boys spot the approaching Vikings and run to raise the alarm. The Scottish army takes up position with Alexander at its head; a battle is fought and the Vikings are vanquished. In the performance the heraldry used showed the coats of arms of 20 Scottish families.

There were 13 named characters in this episode and 13 sections of players. These included, on the Scottish side, various types of Scottish soldiery and priests; and on the Norse side, there were the Viking raiders. However, there was also a section of 'Scots ladies' and 'girls', and 'Ladies of the Courts'. In all, roughly 200 performers took part.

Episode III. Sir William Wallace, [c. 1280s–1305]

There are three scenes in this episode depicting different aspects of Wallace's career. Scene I shows a young Wallace fishing in the River Irvine accompanied by a child who is assisting with the net. Five English soldiers come by the scene and demand the fish Wallace has caught, Wallace offers them half the catch but they threaten Wallace if he will not hand over all; a fight ensues and three of the English are killed by Wallace and the others flee in terror. The scene ends with Wallace declaring: 'I'll raise an army now to fight for freedom...'

Scene II is set at Monkton Kirk. Following worship. Wallace falls asleep before the altar and is woken by an elderly man wearing a robe embroidered with the cross of St Andrew; he gives Wallace a sword. Wallace experiences a vision in which he sees Scotland aflame; a 'queen' or angel [Queen Margaret?] descends and gives Wallace a book 'in brass, silver and gold' and proceeds to proclaim his destiny: 'This richt region thou must redeem it all.' While she is speaking, the figure of 'Scotia' is led past by an English soldier. The figure is in chains and has a halter round her neck. Various enslaved people and weeping women and children follow. A 'Clerk' announces that Wallace will 'free his realm'. Wallace states that the book will remain in Monkton Kirk until Scotland 'is reunited and the yoke of the Southerner struck from our necks.' He brandishes his sword in the air and proclaims, 'For Scotland! Freedom or death!'

In scene III Wallace has been captured by the English and is being paraded 'in bonds' through the streets of London. He is brought before Edward who states:

An independent kingdom! God forbid!
Your fate shall daunten Scotland to aspire
To higher status than an English shire.

Wallace is then led away by the executioner, and the English court resumes merrymaking.

All the scenes are based upon the story of Wallace told in verse by Blind Harry. Two different performers play the principal characters of this episode, including Wallace, Edward I and the Spiritual Queen, over the course of the pageant. There are around 200 women in additional roles as nuns, spirits, ladies in waiting, court ladies and so forth; and, there are approximately 100 men playing the parts of priests, soldiers, guildsmen, the mounted escort and members of the court. Within the male players are listed 22 men who were members of the 'Cronie's Club' of Northfield Avenue, Ayr.

Episode IV. King Robert the Bruce, [c. 1270–Bannockburn 1314]

In the first of three scenes, the Spirit of Ayrshire again makes an appearance and proclaims: 'Hail the mother of a king!' The scene shows the Countess of Carrick's first meeting with her future husband, De Brus (Robert's father); this is a short scene, which makes the local ancestry of Robert the Bruce clear. Scene II depicts 'McDouall of Galloway', an Ayrshire warrior said to be related to the better known John of Lorn (a highland ally of the English); McDouall is in pursuit of Bruce because he has slain one of his kinsmen. Bruce sees off his pursuants and slays them all. Scene III shows the gathering of the army before Bannockburn. Bruce addresses the army in the words of 'Scots Wha Hae'. There are sounds of battle; Edward and his followers flee, pursued by the Scots. The scene ends with Bruce at the head of the Scottish army and all the followers cheering his victory. There is little dialogue in this scene. Taking part in this episode are several characters in addition to Bruce and King Edward (both played by performers with military titles), there is the Countess of Carrick and 'Bruce the Elder' in scene I and in scene II, Bruce's foster brother. In scene III, Lord Douglas, the Abbot of Inchaffray and Sir Ingraham are named characters. Other performers take on roles as attendants, knights, clergy, foot soldiers and camp followers (all of these are women and children). In all, around 200 performers took part in the episode.

Episode V. The Covenanters, [1680s]

This episode contains two scenes. In scene I, Graham of Claverhouse captures the covenanting martyr John Brown outside of Brown's home at Priesthill (near Muirkirk); while Mrs Brown and her children look on, Brown is gunned down by Claverhouse's dragoons. Most of the dialogue is between Claverhouse and Brown. Scene II opens with a coventicle held in the Cumnock Hills at which the famous covenanting preacher, Alexander Peden, is set to lead a service. The men are armed and women and children are present. The atmosphere is fervent and worshipful and the scene begins with the singing of the 21st Psalm. Onto this passage a watcher arrives and alerts the meeting that troops are on their way; the women and children are led away before the soldiers appear. A Covenanter is shot; the scene ends with Peden kissing the brow of this new martyr before carrying him off. Approximately 400 performers, men, women and children took part in this episode; all came from Kilmarnock.

Episode VI. Robert Burns, 1759–96

There are four scenes in this episode, each depicting aspects of Burns' life or poetic works. In scene I, there is no dialogue. The scene depicts a cornfield following the harvest, with corn 'stooks' represented by children. Burns and his first love, Nellie Kilpatrick, walk across the field hand in hand. Scene II tells the story of Tam O' Shanter as described in Burns' poem. This begins with an uproarious conversation between Tam, Souter Johnny, the landlord and landlady, and three 'honest men of Ayr' setting the scene for Tam's departure from the inn and his encounter with the witches. Tam scoffs at tales of Auld Alloway's Haunted Kirk before he leaves. In scene III, set in Alloway's Haunted Kirk, the subsequent adventures of Tam’s encounter with Cutty Sark are recounted in the words of the original, well-known poem narrated by the character of Burns. This scene included a ballet.

Scene IV shows Burns in his days as an exciseman; he is first seen dismounting from his horse. He then seats himself on the ground and 'sinks into a reverie'. Characters from his poems then appear upon the scene, accompanied by 'appropriate music'. These include Bonnie Jean, Highland Mary, The Lass O' Ballochmyle, Tam, Souter Johnny, Auld Nick, and characters from The Cottar's Saturday Night. When all of these have assembled, Burns is wakened by the 'gaunt figure of Want'. He tries to flee but the figure of Death blocks his way. Burns then walks between the two figures through the door of the proscenium whereupon the two are repulsed by a radiant figure representing Peace and thereafter a 'burst of happy music greets the poet'.

Men of all nations then come to do him homage. This consists of groups dressed up to represent the following nationals:

Albania, America, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czecho-slovakia [sic], Egypt, England, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Persia, Roumania [sic], Russia, Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden), Scotland, Spain, Turkey and Wales.

Each group consists of around 10 persons wearing national dress. All eyes are turned to an empty chair, and then the company joins hands and sing the last verse of two songs by Burns: ‘For A' That and A' That' and 'There was a Lad' at which point the assembled nations depart. The finale to the pageant consists of all the players assembling on the arena to sing the international anthem ‘Auld Lang Syne' and the pageant ends with a rendition of the national anthem, ‘God Save the King’.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305) patriot and guardian of Scotland
  • Robert I [Robert Bruce] (1274–1329) king of Scots
  • Peden, Alexander (1626?–1686) preacher
  • Brown, John [called the Christian Carrier] (1626/7–1685) covenanter
  • Graham, John, first viscount of Dundee [known as Bonnie Dundee] (1648?–1689) Jacobite army officer
  • Burns, Robert (1759–1796) poet
  • Kentigern [St Kentigern, Mungo] (d. 612x14) patron of the diocese (later archdiocese) of Glasgow
  • Brown, George Douglas (1869–1902) writer
  • Galt, John (1779–1839) novelist
  • Shaw, Sir James, first baronet (1764–1843) lord mayor of London
  • Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Murdock [formerly Murdoch], William (1754–1839) engineer and inventor
  • McAdam, John Loudon (1756–1836) builder and administrator of roads
  • Robertson, William (1721–1793) historian and Church of Scotland minister
  • Welsh, John (1568/9–1622) Church of Scotland and French Reformed minister
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
  • Hary [Harry; called Blind Hary] (b. c.1440, d. in or after 1492) poet

Musical production

Music was played by the band of 2nd Battalion the Royal Scots Fusiliers; the Bandmaster was Mr H.W.V. Roberts, ARCM. This was Ayrshire's local regiment. It is presumed that large orchestral pieces were recorded music, however this is uncertain. There was also a large choir and Ayr Pipe Band performed. Popular items of recorded music were advertised as available on gramophone records. There is an Inserted advertising pamphlet for this inside a copy of the Pageant Book. These were sold by 'Paterson's' in Newmarket Street, Ayr.

The music used for each episode is listed as follows:

Episode I:
  • Wagner. ‘Entry of the Gods into Valhalla’.
  • German. ‘Henry VIII’. Torch Dance.
  • Ketelby. ‘In the Camp of the Ancient Britons’.
  • Humperdinck. ‘The Miracle’ Suite’.
  • Sibelius. Extract from ‘Finlandia’.
  • Coleridge-Taylor. ‘Othello’ Suite. Funeral march.
  • Rosse. ‘Merchant of Venice’ Suite. Doge's March.
  • ‘There was a Lad’. Arranged by Gordon E. Stutely. 
  • ‘Train Ballet’. Arranged by Gordon E. Stutely. 
  • H.W.V. Roberts. ‘Pageant March’.

Episode II:
  • Sibelius. ‘Finlandia’.
  • Ketelby. ‘Knights of the King’. March. 
  • Mendelssohn. ‘Fingal's Cave’. Overture. 

Episode III:
  • Kennedy Fraser. 'Extracts from ‘Songs of the Hebrides.’ 
  • Rossini. ‘William Tell’. Storm scene’.
  • Wagner. ‘Parsifal’. Extracts.
  • Coates. ‘Summer Days’ (‘By the Lake’).
  • Wagner. Procession of Mastersingers.
  • Roger Quilter. Three English Dances.

Episode IV:
  • Foulds. Keltic Suite. Nos. 1 and 3.
  • Tschaikowsky. ‘Pathetic Symphony’. Third movement, March.

Episode V:
  • 'I to the Hills’. Psalm 121 (unaccompanied).
  • ‘Now Israel May Say’ (unaccompanied).

Episode VI:
  • ‘Corn Rigs’. Arranged by Gordon E. Stutely.
  • ‘O my Luv is like a Red, Red Rose. Arranged by Gordon E. Stutely. 
  • Learmont Drysdale. ‘Tam o' Shanter’. Overture.
  • Grieg. ‘Dance of the Dwarfs [sic].’ 
  • Grieg. Peer Gynt Suite. ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. 
  • Grieg. Extract from ‘Reminiscences’.
  • Beethoven. ‘Funeral March’ (B Minor).
  • Grieg. Sigurd Jorsalfer Suite. No. 6. ‘Homage March’.
  • ‘For a' That and a' That’. Arranged by Gordon E. Stutely. 
  • ‘There was a Lad’. Arranged by Gordon E. Stutely. 
  • H.W.V. Roberts. ‘Pageant March’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Ayrshire Post
Glasgow Herald
Saltcoats and Ardrossan Herald
Aberdeen Press and Journal
Dundee Courier
Yorkshire Post
Sunderland Echo
Evening Telegraph
Vancouver Sun

Book of words

Anderson, Matthew. Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant (Ayrshire, 1934).

2 copies in local history room, Carnegie Library, Ayr, and 1 copy in NLS.

Other primary published materials

  • The Pageant Bulletin: Issued with the Official Cooperation of the Pageant Council, 16 June 1934, VII. Newsprint document published in Ayr, 24 pages in length. Multiple copies in the Local History Room, Carnegie Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  • The Pageant of Ayrshire: The Story of Scotland's Struggle for Independence, June 16–23, 1934. A5-size souvenir pamphlet, 6 pages in length, in colour front and back pages. 1 copy in Local History Room, Carnegie Library, Ayr, and 1 copy in NLS.
  • The Pageant Of Ayrshire, Illuminated manuscript. Included in the collection of documents in Ayr's Carnegie Library is a stunning illuminated manuscript; this details that the pageant was the original idea of the 'Attractions Committee' of the Ayr Guildry. The author and artist who completed this 62-page document was Roy MacLean who describes himself as a 'clerk' and who worked on this book of illustrations 'in his spare time' over two years, eventually completing it in March 1936. He states on the final page of his book that he wanted 'to preserve for as long as possible, a record of the Pageant'. The Attractions Committee of Ayr Guildry presented this work to Ayr Carnegie Library.28 The book consists of an ornate handwritten script summarising each episode and illuminated illustrations depicting the scenes from the pageant on alternate pages. The text records the names of all those involved with the committees and describes each of the scenes.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Images of the pageant are available online at the SCRAN site,, and at South West Scotland digital museum,
  • There may be surviving costumes held at Rozelle House, Ayr.
  • Two letters in the national Library of Scotland manuscript collections; these are publicising the pageant and were sent to an official of a Burns Society in Glasgow. NLS. 3721/18/463.
  • Pageant of Ayrshire Badge held in Carnegie Library, Ayr.
  • A commemorative poster which was given away free with the Pageant Bulletin; two examples in the Carnegie Library, Ayr.
  • An illuminated manuscript undertaken by Roy McLean and gifted to the Carnegie Library, Ayr.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Blind Harry
  • Robert Burns

Blind Harry re William Wallace.

Robert Burns re ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ & ‘Scots Wha hae’.


From the outset of planning for this event in 1932, there was no shortage of ambition to make the pageant of Ayrshire a success. Despite the unpromising venue selected, the uncertainty of the weather in the west of Scotland and previous financial failures that had affected large Scottish pageants, the organisers forged ahead and used every means at their disposal to publicise the pageant widely and encourage record attendances. The event was first mooted by local businessmen who were members of the Guildry of Ayr and had set up an ‘Attractions Committee in 1932; the pageant was one of its first initiatives and was aimed at ‘giving the town a big boost, and incidentally helping local business.’29 A deal was quickly negotiated to hold the pageant in the large, rather bland green space of the Dam Park within the town of Ayr. Nonetheless, this unlovely sporting venue was well placed in that it was adjacent to the picturesque banks of the River Ayr, very close to the railway station and a short walk to Ayr town centre and its popular seafront esplanade. Although the pageant aimed to be a county-wide initiative, the vested interests of Ayr as the county town ensured that it would take place there.

In early publicity and continuously up until the event, the pageant was described as '[n]ot an Ayrshire, but a Scottish pageant... for the history of Ayrshire is, in a large measure, the history of Scotland.'30 This aggrandisement was intended to encourage the widest possible audience, drawn not just from the local area but also from the large numbers of holidaymakers and day-trippers who arrived during the summer months to this part of the Clyde coast. It was also aimed at international visitors who it was expected would flock to immerse themselves in the heritage of the ‘land of Burns’.

Such broadening of the pageant’s historical ambit and appeal was most likely the brainchild of the Pageant Master, Matthew Anderson who was involved with planning from at least November 1932 and who came to Ayrshire fresh from his organisation of the Wakefield Pageant (1933). Originally a journalist who had found a niche in writing and directing pageants, he was, despite his English pageant pedigree, also ‘a perfervid Scot and an Ayrshire man to boot’.31 His interest in the pageant of Ayrshire was therefore both professional and personal. It was also commercial: the deal Anderson agreed with Ayr was for ‘ten per cent of the gross takings, less entertainment tax.’32 An able and energetic publicist, Anderson pursued the idea that the Ayrshire pageant should be the ‘most elaborate open-air drama ever presented’ in Scotland.33 Evidently, with the example of much larger English pageants in mind, he further said that it would be ‘the most striking pageant attempted in Great Britain… not through any particular merit of the scenario, but because of the subjects with which it dealt.’34

Anderson enlisted the partnership of shipping companies to create publicity for the pageant in North America and on the European continent. Capitalising on Scottish migrant networks and the international appeal of the poet Robert Burns, news of the pageant was spread to Burns and Scottish societies worldwide. The pageant was advertised at the Lyons Industrial Fair in March 1934 and at the Scottish Travel Exhibition held in London in April and May the same year, where tickets were sold by the player of 'Cutty Sark' in Episode VI of the pageant.35 Competitions to design illustrations for pageant literature and the prologue poem met with a Scotland-wide response.36 Even local political allegiances were laid aside in pursuit of making the pageant a success. Ayr was a Tory and unionist stronghold, but, in January 1933, the Guildry sent circular publicity letters to any group that might be holding a Burns celebration that month, evidently hoping to stir up interest at a time of year when Scottish patriotic sentiment was at its peak: this included sending a letter to the Scottish Home Rule Association’.37

Tourism was, of course, important to the local economy in Ayrshire, and was becoming more so as other industries were affected by the acute downturn of the 1930s. Although times were beginning to change and Ayr had embraced such faddish popular attractions as roller-skating, it was a seaside town that more appealed to sedate, respectable working-class and middle-class tourists, with its teashops, theatres, bracing seafront walk and cultural heritage. Arguably, the tourists attracted to Ayr were relatively immune from economic recession and might be expected to engage with the idea of a pageant. There can be no doubt that the idea of the pageant was intended to boost such visitor numbers. To enable this, special arrangements with rail and bus companies were soon arranged and extra steamers from the likes of Belfast and the nearby island of Arran were organised.38

By June 1933, the pageant had grown in scale and was too large an enterprise for the Attractions Committee. A Pageant Council was established and an appeal made to the town council for financial backing in order to make the event a success. Although the whole idea of the pageant had its genesis with an organisation that had an eye on the commercial benefits for local business, the character of Ayr as home to a ‘county set’ was equally readily exploited to the full. The Marquis of Ailsa was invited to become President of a Pageant Committee, which had over fifty Vice-Presidents; this and further individual committees for each of the episodes provided an opportunity for many of the great and the good of Ayrshire to play their influential part. By the autumn of that same year, both the council and individual well-wishers had guaranteed almost £2000 to fund the production.39 This later rose to over £3000 in the weeks leading up to the pageant.

Anderson was also the author of the pageant. To do this he selected the theme of Scottish independence. This premise was not built upon any contemporary ambitions for national self-determination, although this was growing within some parts of Scottish political opinion, but on the historical sentiment surrounding well-known popular and colourful characters from the Scottish past. Astutely, he combined many familiar tropes of historical pageants generally with figures from local history that crossed easily over into the wider Scottish national story. Thus the Ayrshire pageant begins with the familiar trope of druids and spirits but sets these in the context of the court of King Coilus—a King of the Britons who gave his name to the local area (Ayrshire had once been the district of Kyle), yet who also had great popular appeal, having allegedly inspired the nursery rhyme ‘Old King Cole’. The opening episode was also an opportunity to present a procession of local heroes who would be showcased in the remainder of the pageant or who featured in other aspects of Scottish history and would have been known to the audience, such as the engineer John McAdam. The ingenuity and variety of local enterprise and industry formed part of the spectacle via a cavalcade of performers dressed up to represent the work and life of Ayrshire’s principal centres. As such, Anderson’s opening conformed to the usual model for pageant introductions; nevertheless, it very effectively depicted all that Ayrshire had to offer in historical and contemporary terms.

In terms of the number of episodes, Anderson limited these so that they would fit his theme. Past vicissitudes and victories were presented using a battle with the Vikings in Episode II, which placed the spotlight on Ayrshire’s maritime culture to create a 'spectacular effect with antiquarian accuracy' that involved mock-ups of three full-sized Viking vessels.40 From there, the martial legacy of Ayrshire’s contribution in the Wars of Independence, and the close association of its Scottish leaders with the county during this tumultuous time, was presented in Episodes III and IV. Perhaps cynically, Anderson emphasised this supposed trait by comparing the 'independent spirit that could become fierce, stubborn and warlike' with the 'fervent rush to colours’ shown by local men at the beginning of World War One.41 In Episode V, there was then a turn to another example of the independent-mindedness of the Scots with the zealous religious culture of the county being dramatised through the Covenanters and one of this movement’s best-known martyrs—the local man John Brown. Finally, Robert Burns, known worldwide as important for the continuance of notions of Scottish cultural, if not political, nationhood, was the subject of the final episode. In this, aspects of the poet's life, as well as his best-known works, were dramatised in a colourful fashion; for instance, in the scene depicting Tam O' Shanter, 200 dancing witches made an appearance! Anderson was generally unapologetic about his popular approach despite some criticism.42 With his usual confidence and backed by the Pageant Council, he enlisted the Historiographer Royal for Scotland to endorse his selection.43 Moreover, he repeatedly appealed to local sentiment, stating, for example, that the pageant 'was the preserve and the possession of every person in the county'.44

The pageant took place over a week at the start of the peak summer holiday season in Scotland. To further boost audiences and the appeal of the event generally, organisations had been invited to make block bookings. A notable success of this approach was the invitation to members of the PEN Club who in June 1934 were to attend their international conference in Edinburgh. Together with other Edinburgh organisations, the performance of the pageant on 23 June 1934 came to be dubbed 'Edinburgh Night' when three special trains brought east coast visitors to the west.45 Dam Park had been transformed for the occasion with effective amplification and an impressive 300-foot stage and a 100-foot wide proscenium where an excellent view could be had even from the cheaper seats.46 Even cash-strapped retailers in Ayr invested in dressing up their shop fronts and the main streets with bunting and welcome signs. The publicity effort paid off. Despite some showers and an almost constant threat of rain, there were high attendance figures on every day except Friday when the weather was at its worst and yet the stadium was still half-filled. Although no performance ever quite sold out in advance, forecasts for sunshine on the final day caused a last-minute surge in sales which produced full houses for both shows. This tipped the pageant from break-even status into a small profit.47 In a climate of severe economic depression in Scotland, this was a significant achievement.

Significantly, the pageant engaged a wide spectrum of Ayrshire society. The original aim to have a cast of 2000 from across Ayrshire was, following early public appeals, exceeded with relative ease: in the event, more than 3000 performers were engaged. The aspiration of giving a boost to the town through a pageant was, of course, a response to the high unemployment then widespread in the central belt of Scotland. To this end, as well as employing the talents of amateur dramatic societies, Burns clubs and other literary and social institutions, the unemployed were encouraged to join in. The magazine-style Pageant Bulletin, issued during pageant week, includes short pieces indicating that unemployed men had played their part as performers, often walking long distances to attend rehearsals.48 Moreover, the inland town of Kilmarnock successfully exploited the pageant with an industrial fair.49

The pageant was received with huge enthusiasm. It was remarked that the large numbers of schoolchildren who attended the dress rehearsals set an atmosphere of gusto which had been the hope of the pageant organisers. Although aiming to be a serious treatment of history, humour was integrated into parts of the narrative, most particularly in the Burns episode and the opening episode where a ballet corps of 100 dancers portrayed a railway train whose passengers step out and dance a gavotte.50 There was also, of course, unintentional comedy. In one performance of Episode III, the body of an English soldier, newly slain by Wallace, was accidentally dropped as it was being carried off by his fleeing comrades; 'hearty laughter' erupted from the audience when the 'corpse' then had to walk off 'in disgust'.51 Press coverage was universally positive, and the pageant was held up as a model for other such events. With an eye to the jobs that could be created through increased tourism, the Duke of Montrose, who performed one of the opening ceremonies, declared it 'a great example to the rest of Scotland... that united the people'.52 Some Scottish papers began to talk of an 'epidemic of pageants', with Ayrshire providing the lead in Scotland.53

The fact that no money was lost and much goodwill was earned did not encourage Ayrshire's pageant enthusiasts to repeat this particular drama, although it was mooted at the time that this could be done. Although several different pageants were held in Ayr (1936, 1951 and 1959), they were on a much smaller scale. The sheer level of effort and organisation required, the likely personal ambition of Pageant Master Anderson, and the decline of Ayr as a douce county town probably all influenced this, despite the fact that the pageant was hailed as a triumph. Just after the Second World War, in 1946, Billy Butlin opened one of his holiday camps in Ayr and a new era of tourism, less concerned with local heritage, began in Ayr.


  1. ^ ‘Pageant Week: Where to Book for Big Spectacle’, Ayrshire Post, 20 April 1934, 11.
  2. ^ ‘Pageant of Ayrshire', Glasgow Herald, 6 April 1934, 29.
  3. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Delving the Levels of Memory and Dressing Up the Past’ in British Theatre between the Wars, ed. Clive Barker and Maggie P. Gale (Cambridge, 2000), 201.
  4. ^ 'Curtain Calls: Author and Producers', The Pageant Bulletin: Issued with the Official Cooperation of the Pageant Council, 16 June 1934, XXI. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  5. ^ Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant (Ayrshire, 1934); committees listed at 17-23; Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  6. ^ Notably in The Pageant of Ayrshire. This is an illuminated manuscript presented in book form and hand drawn by an amateur artist named Roy McLean. Some of the illustrations are pictorial and others consist of text detailing information about the pageant and its organisation. It is held in the Carnegie Library Ayr, Local History Collection. Ref.: 394.5(McL). Mclean includes drawings of each town's coat of arms as prefaces to his illustrations of scenes from each of the pageant's episodes.
  7. ^ Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant, 23. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  8. ^ Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant, 7. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  9. ^ Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant, 13. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  10. ^ The Pageant Bulletin: Issued with the Official Cooperation of the Pageant Council, 16 June 1934, III. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  11. ^ The Pageant Bulletin: Issued with the Official Cooperation of the Pageant Council, 16 June 1934, III. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  12. ^ The Pageant Bulletin: Issued with the Official Cooperation of the Pageant Council, 16 June 1934, VI. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  13. ^ The Pageant of Ayrshire, illuminated manuscript, artist Roy McLean, np. Carnegie Library, Ayr, Local History Collection. Ref.: 394.5(McL).
  14. ^ The Pageant of Ayrshire, illuminated manuscript, artist Roy McLean, np. Carnegie Library, Ayr, Local History Collection. Ref.: 394.5(McL).
  15. ^ ‘Success of Pageant’, Ayrshire Post, 16 November 1934, 12
  16. ^ The Pageant of Ayrshire, illuminated manuscript, np. Carnegie Library, Ayr, Local History Collection. Ref.: 394.5(McL). Also, ‘Success of Ayrshire Pageant’, Ayrshire Post, 16 November 1934, 12.
  17. ^ 'Thanks all Round', Ayrshire Post, 30 November 1934, 13.
  18. ^ Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant, 22. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  19. ^ The Pageant of Ayrshire, illuminated manuscript, np. Carnegie Library, Ayr, Local History Collection. Ref.: 394.5(McL).
  20. ^ ‘The Great Pageant’, Ayrshire Post, 8 June 1934, 10.
  21. ^ ‘Children at Rehearsals’, The Scotsman, 15 June 1934, 10.
  22. ^ The Pageant of Ayrshire, illuminated manuscript, np. Carnegie Library, Ayr, Local History Collection. Ref.: 394.5(McL).
  23. ^ The Pageant of Ayrshire: The Story of Scotland's Struggle for Independence, June 16–23, 1934 (souvenir pamphlet: Ayr, 1934) np.
  24. ^ ‘Message of the Pageant’, The Scotsman, 18 June 1934, 12.
  25. ^ There were 27 principal parts in this episode including King Coilus and the Spirit of Ayrshire; and several sections that included ancient Britons, Druids, prisoners, guards, counsellors, court attendants, spearmen and hunters, acolytes, followers, Vikings, Covenanters and Cromwellian horsemen . Two different actors played some of the principal parts at various points over the course of all of the performances of the pageant. In all, roughly 275 adults and a large number of children from 10 local schools took part in this episode. See Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant, 27-34. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  26. ^ Unless indicated otherwise, all quotations in synopses are taken from Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant, 38. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  27. ^ Matthew Anderson, Pageant of Ayrshire: Official Book of the Pageant, 13. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  28. ^ Ayr Guildry is one of the oldest Merchants' Guilds in Scotland having been formed in 1325. The 'Attractions Committee' was instituted in 1932 and the pageant was its most significant production. The committee was disbanded in 1937 when the town council took charge of tourist attractions. See Ayr Guildry, Ayr 800: 800th Anniversary 12-5-2005, A Commemorative Brochure for the People of Ayr (2005) 6. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 941.424.
  29. ^ ‘An Ayr Pageant’, Ayrshire Post, 18 November 1935, 12.
  30. ^ Stated in both the first local newspaper coverage, ‘An Ayr Pageant’, Ayrshire Post, 18 November 1932, 12 and in The Pageant of Ayrshire: The Story of Scotland's Struggle for Independence, June 16–23, 1934 (souvenir pamphlet, Ayr, 1934) np.
  31. ^ ‘Valuable Suggestions’, Ayrshire Post, 23 December 1932, 11; Anderson was the son of a Kilmarnock policeman (of the same name) who was well-known locally as a published poet. See Poems of A Policeman (Paisley, 1898).
  32. ^ ‘An Ayr Pageant’, Ayrshire Post, 18 November 1935 12.
  33. ^ Anderson quoted in ‘World Interest in Coming Spectacle’, Ayrshire Post, 2 June 1933, 8.
  34. ^ Anderson quoted in ‘World Interest in Coming Spectacle’, Ayrshire Post, 2 June 1933, 8.
  35. ^ 'A London Exhibition', Ayrshire Post, 16 February 1934, 11.
  36. ^ 'Widespread Interest in Competitions', Ayrshire Post, 19 January 1934, 9. The eventual winner of the poetry competition came from Glasgow; see the Scotsman, 28 March 1934, 11, although it was later identified that he was born in Ayrshire!
  37. ^ Letter to R.E. Muirhead from the Attractions Committee of Ayr Guildry, held in National Library of Scotland. 3721/18/463.
  38. ^ See, for example, 'Railway Companies Looking ahead,' Ayrshire Post, 10 November 1933, 14 and 'The Pageant of Ayrshire,' Ayrshire Post, 15 June 1934, 8.
  39. ^ ‘Ayrshire Pageant’, The Scotsman, 27 October 1933, 10.
  40. ^ 'First Shots of the Battle of Largs', The Scotsman, 11 April 1934, 9.
  41. ^ 'Support for Ayrshire Pageant', Ayrshire Post, 2 June 1933, 8.
  42. ^ In an article in the Pageant Bulletin, Anderson states that he had been accused of using 'hackneyed characters' .See 'How a Pageant Is Made' in The Pageant Bulletin: Issued with the Official Cooperation of the Pageant Council, 16 June 1934, VII. Carnegie Local History Library, Ayr. Ref.: 394.5.
  43. ^ It was made public that the script was approved by the Historiographer Royal, R.K. Hannay. See 'Pageant of Ayrshire History', Ayrshire Post, 3 November 1933, 10.
  44. ^ 'Mr Anderson Looks Ahead', Ayrshire Post, 9 February 1934, 7.
  45. ^ 'P.E.N. Congress: Big Contingent for Ayr Pageant', Ayrshire Post, 27 April 1934, 10; Ayrshire Post, 22 June 1934, 9.
  46. ^ 'The Great Pageant', Ayrshire Post, 8 June 1934, 10.
  47. ^ 'Thanks All Round', Ayrshire Post, 30 November 1934, 13.
  48. ^ See Pageant Bulletin, III.
  49. ^ 'Kilmarnock Enterprise', Ayrshire Post, 15 June 1934 8.
  50. ^ 'Pageant of Ayrshire, Summary of the Episodes: Brisk Bookings', The Scotsman, 1 June 1934, 15.
  51. ^ 'Ayr Provost Opens Pageant', The Scotsman, 20 June 1934, 9.
  52. ^ Duke of Montrose's speech, quoted in Ayrshire Post, 29 June 1934, 7 and Glasgow Herald, 23 June 1934, 13.
  53. ^ 'Pageant Epidemic', Aberdeen Press and Journal, 30 May 1934, 6 and 5 July 1934, 6.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Ayrshire: The Story of Scotland's Struggle for Independence’, The Redress of the Past,