- Co-operative Centenary Pageant, 1844-1944; Co-operative Centenary: Pageant Play of the People
This pageant was held by co-operative societies in different locations in Scotland.
Place: Central Hall (Edinburgh) (Edinburgh, City Of Edinburgh, Scotland)
Number of performances: 5
12–17 July 1944
[This pageant opened on Thursday 12 July 1944. It had five performances; the exact schedule for these is not known, but it is probable that it took place on Friday 13, Saturday 14, Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 July. Central Hall is owned by the Methodist Church and has been open for worship and used as a performance venue since 1901.]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant
Master]: Wilson, Andrew P.
The pageant was written and produced by the prolific playwright Andrew P. Wilson.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Wilson, Andrew P.
Names of composers
Wilcox, F.H. Cooper
F.H. Cooper Wilcox composed original music (Scotsman, 13 July 1944, 3).
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
Centenary of the founding of the Co-operative Society in Rochdale.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
The price of tickets is unknown.
In introduction was delivered by a female player in the character of the 'Spirit of Co-operation'; it is probable that this player also provided commentary between scenes and she returns in the final episode.
[A programme for this particular production of the pageant has not been recovered; however it was also staged in Bathgate in September 1944 and digital images of a programme entitled Co-operative Centenary, 1844-1944 Bathgate Co-operative Society Salutes the Rochdale Pioneers: Souvenir Programme is available to view for subscribers at the SCRAN website, accessed 2 March 2017 at: https://www.scran.ac.uk/]
Episode One: A time of flux and change [18th century]
This episode dramatizes 'the end of feudal might' and the beginning of the 'machine age'. It includes the character of 'Flora MacDonald' and 'Slaves'. A note in the programme states that 'Until the passing of the Act of Liberation in 1799 there were over 200,000 slaves in the mines and salt workings of Scotland'. [Co-operative Centenary, 1844-1944 Bathgate Co-operative Society Salutes the Rochdale Pioneers, 4.]
Episode Two: The Fenwick Weavers
This episode features some weavers as well as a Children's Choir and the poet Robert Burns; no further details are available. [Ibid.; unless specified all details in the synopses of episodes are from this source, 4-9.]
Episode Three: The Machine Acquires Power
This episode features the engineer and inventor, James Watt.
Episode Four: The Machine takes Toll
The following characters perform in this episode: Andrew Orr, Mrs Orr, John Wilson, a girl and a boy. No further details recovered.
Episode Five: In France the Storm Clouds Burst
This episode includes a 'Citizeness' and features six female 'Dancers'.
Episode Six: The Quality of Mercy
This episode takes place in a court of law and features Thomas Muir and Lord Braxfield.
Episode Seven: ‘It's Coming Yet, for a' that!’
The poet Robert Burns is featured in this episode and performs a monologue and singing.
Episode Eight: A Prophet Came to View Our Land
This episode includes the character of Robert Owen. The pageant programme includes the following statement: 'A Prophet came to view our land and found it good¾a Prophet with a heart that understood the people's wrongs and taught them to co-operate. The episode also features a children's choir.
Episode Nine: An Edinburgh Drawing Room
Four characters feature in this episode including Mr and Mrs Caddell and two women.
Episode Ten: A Cobbler's Shop
This episode features the character of 'Davie' (played by the author and producer of the pageant), and two women¾Maggie and Lizzie.
Episode Eleven: The Six Points of the Charter
The episode features a 'Chartist Leader' and seven others.
Episode Twelve: Rochdale: the ‘Big Ben’ of Co-operation
This episode features the Rochdale pioneer Charles Howarth, and Mary Howarth.
Episode Thirteen: The Beginning of Co-operation
This scene featured drama concerning the beginning of co-operation locally. At different performances, it variously featured the foundation of Edinburgh's St Cuthbert's Co-op, and Leith Provident Co-operative Society; there may have been other societies within the Lothians similarly included but details have not been recovered. ['Co-operative Centenary Pageant', Scotsman, 13 July 1944, 3.]
Episode Fourteen: Musical Evening
This features the character of Mother McLean and appears to have presented a sing-along scenario; it included characters called 'the Old-Timers'.
Episode Fifteen: Finale
Dance features in this episode; the characters of the 'Spirit of Co-operation' and a 'Bellman' appear.
Key historical figures mentioned
Flora (1722–1790) Jacobite heroine
- Burns`, Robert (1759–1796) poet
James (1736–1819) engineer and scientist
- Owen, Robert (1771–1858) socialist and
- Macqueen, Robert, Lord Braxfield (1722–1799) judge
Thomas (1765–1799) political reformer
Howarth (1814–1868) Rochdale pioneer
Music was original and played live; there was a choir under the supervision of the composer Mr F. H. Cooper Wilcox ('Co-operative Centenary Pageant', Scotsman, 13 July 1944, 3). There was also a children's choir.
In episode seven featuring the poet Robert Burns, there was singing; it is presumed that songs written by Burns were performed.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
A script for this pageant has not been recovered despite the fact that it was written by a well-known playwright.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
No references noted. A dedicated programme for this pageant has not been recovered, though it is almost certain that one was produced.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The centenary of the Co-operative movement in the UK was widely celebrated as the services provided by this organization were still very important to a great number of people in the mid-twentieth century, particularly working-class families, though the Co-op did not exclusively serve this group in Scotland. Moreover, with the war drawing to a close, the co-operative movement saw itself as having a significant role to play in reconstruction. In Scotland, virtually every settlement of any size had a Co-op store (indeed it was often affectionately called 'the Store'), and the organization—with its dividends to customers—was a ubiquitous feature of everyday life. In England a centenary pageant was written by the well-known playwright Lawrence Du Garde Peach to celebrate the movement's beginnings in Rochdale, and enjoyed multiple performances in many locations (see entries for Sheffield and Manchester). It was also performed at least once in Scotland in Fife in 1945.1 However, a different centenary pageant written by the Scottish playwright Andrew P. Wilson had many more performances north of the border.
While Wilson's play also saluted the achievements of the Rochdale pioneers and featured similar themes such as the French revolution, the Charter campaign and the life of Robert Owen, it also included a scene depicting some predecessors of the English founders—namely, the Fenwick weavers who on 14 March 1761 met in Fenwick Church to sign the charter of the Fenwick Weavers' Society.2 The weavers are the subject of scene two, but the pageant opens with another familiar Scottish dissenter. In this scene, Flora MacDonald is a central character alongside some 'slaves'. Unfortunately, we do not know if she appeared simply as a representative of the failed Jacobite risings of the eighteenth century, or if within her performance she commented on slavery.
Other distinctly Scottish features were the inclusion of Robert Burns in two of the episodes, and the Scottish political reformer Thomas Muir who in episode six is shown in the court case in which he was charged him with sedition. The episodes also dramatized the spread to Scotland of the movement begun in Rochdale; and for this, it appears that the location of the drama was shifted to reflect the foundation of a Co-operative in the place where the pageant was being staged. In the case of the Edinburgh staging, this formed the focus of episode thirteen, in which the foundation of at least two local societies was enacted on different nights within the pageant run. The pageant was held in a very large event space in the centre of Edinburgh owned by the Methodist Church. Unfortunately, we do not have figures for attendance; but given the widespread popularity of the Co-op Societies, it is likely to have drawn large audiences.
During 1944, this pageant also took place in other Scottish towns: Bathgate and Calder (both in West Lothian), Aberfeldy in Perthshire, Kirkintilloch in Dunbartonshire, and Kirkcaldy in Fife. There may have been other examples but details remain to be recovered. Reviewing the pageant held in Edinburgh, the Scotsman newspaper stated that Wilson had 'treated his subject in a bold way'. The paper conceded that the subject matter, which included 'the speech of Thomas Muir at his trial' and the 'principles of the French Revolution declaimed by a red-capped citoyenne', all helped Wilson to achieve drama. Nonetheless, it claimed that 'capitalism came in for rather heavy-handed treatment'.3 Doubtless, this play was left-leaning in tenor¾a political preference that the Scotsman did not share. Around the time of the pageant, Wilson had founded the Edinburgh People's Theatre, which was an amateur drama group for workers who had not been called away from the city because of war.4
The Co-operative Cavalcade provides an interesting example of the divergent nature of Scottish historical pageantry: although this phenomenon began in England, in many ways Scottish pageants did go on to develop an independent spirit. This spirit reflected the fact that overall, Scottish pageant-writers were keen to highlight that Scotland had its own history to tell.
FootnotesSee Co-operative century: a Pageant Play of the People, which took place in Burntisland 31st January and Thursday 1st February 1945 and in Lochgelly 7th and 8th March 1945.
See National Library of Scotland website, accessed 2 March 2017 at: http://www.nls.uk/learning-zone/politics-and-society/labour-history/fenwick-weavers
'Co-operative Centenary Pageant', Scotsman, 13 July 1944, 3.
See website of the Edinburgh People's Theatre, accessed 2 March 2017 at: https://www.ept.org.uk/aboutus/history.html
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Co-operative Cavalcade’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1514/