The Pageant of Dudley, 1951
Place: Dudley Castle Courtyard (Dudley) (Dudley, Worcestershire, England)
Number of performances: 11
13–23 June 1951
[Performances were held in the evening]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Lally, Gwen
- Manager: L. Helliwell
- Mistress of the Robes: Muriel Dudley
- Director of Music: Frank Edwards
- Script: Grace Carlton
- Chief Stage Manager: Bernard Jackson
- Mistress of the Dance: Anne Burleigh
- Producer’s Assistant and Prompter: Veronica Bayley
- Cast Assembly Officers: J. and G. Clitheroe
- Chief Electrician: Laurie Hendricks
- Make-Up Master: Reg Round
- Chief Property Master: B. Baxter
Names of executive committee or equivalent
General Purposes (Festival) Committee:
- Chairman: Alderman W. Shuttleworth
- Vice-Chairman: H.C. Whitehouse
- The Mayor, Councillor G.S. Marlow
- The Deputy Mayor, Alderman J.H. Molyneux
Pageant Executive Committee:
- Chairman: Arthur Hodgson
- Vice-Chairman: W.T. Swaithes
- Chairman: J.A.L. Jago
Box Office Committee:
- Chairman: J. Sadler
Stage Management Committee:
- Chairman: Bernard Jackson
- Chairman: Frank Edwards
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Carlton, Grace
Names of composers
- Mainwaring, James
- Edwards, F.
- Knight, V.
- Lickfold, L.A.
Numbers of performers600
- The Pageant cost £5000 to stage.
- Bad weather meant that attendances were low and the pageant lost £3000.1
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasionIn conjunction with the Festival of Britain.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 2500
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Episode I. 1069
In Dudley, Aldwyth, widow of Harold, waits with Ethilda for the return of Edwin. They are joined by Lady Godiva, fleeing before the marauding Normans. Thorgold and his Saxons, returning from the defeat, still have the heart to fight but await their Lord’s return. Edwin and they leave for Ely, just ahead of Ansculf, the Norman adventurer.
Episode II. 1173
Gervaise, son of Ralph Paganelm, decided to found a priory to St Milburga. However, Gervaise’s support of the rebellion of 1173/1174 against the King complicated this.
John Sutton, the spendthrift Lord Dudley, is ousted from the castle by his namesake John Sutton, later Earl of Warwick, who succeeded in placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne briefly. The scene imagines the Earl plotting in the castle.
Queen Elizabeth visits Dudley with the Earl of Leicester, son of John Dudley and usurper. Her Majesty is amused at his haste to rebuild the castle, which rightfully is not really his.
Episode V. 1639.
Edward, Lord Dudley, last of the Suttons (and a spendthrift), lives his life to the full. Although mortgaged to the hilt, he has at least managed to marry his granddaughter to wealth. We see the exploits of his natural son, Dud Dudley, in smelting iron and coal, which would create the industrial wealth of the Black Country. A wedding takes place, but there are also menacing warlike sounds and horses galloping heralding the coming Civil War.
Episode VI. 10 May 1646
Dudley Castle has held out during the Civil War as it was too strong to fall except by major assault. Discipline is weak, and few are committed to the cause. There is still dancing, though this is ended by the threat to the castle. Lord Ward decides discretion to be the better course and surrenders to Sir William Brereton, while Dud Dudley and Littleton fight their way to Worcester and the Royalist forces.
This episode deals with the fire which broke out mysteriously on 24 July 1750.
Dudley after the first reform act—the first time the town has sent members to Parliament since 1295. We witness the election of Henry Brinsley Sheridan.
The castle is now a playground for the townspeople who celebrate a yearly fete there. ‘It is fitting that the pageant should conclude on this happy note. The long and sometimes turbulent history of Dudley town and castle brought to a peaceful conclusion, with the town and the noble family, both bearing the name of Dudley, meeting in amity in the ancient castle, which, powerless now, once gave both town and family their importance and renown.’
Procession and ‘Song of Dudley’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Godgifu [Godiva] (d. 1067?) noblewoman, was the wife of Leofric, earl of Mercia
- Paynel, Gervase (d. 1194) baron [also known as Paganel, Gervase]
- Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate [also known as Sutton, Lord]
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Walsingham, Sir Francis (c.1532–1590) principal secretary
- Sutton [Dudley], Edward, fourth Baron Dudley (c.1515–1586) soldier and landowner
- Dudley, Dud (1600?–1684) ironmaster
- Brereton, Thomas (1782–1832) army officer
- Ward, William Humble, second earl of Dudley (1867–1932) lord lieutenant of Ireland and governor-general of Australia
- Sheridan, Richard Brinsley (1751–1816) playwright and politician
- Full orchestra under Frank Edwards and James Mainwaring.
- Opening overture, ‘Song of Dudley’, and incidental music composed by Dr Mainwaring.
Newspaper coverage of pageantStaffordshire Advertiser
Book of words
- The Pageant of Dudley. Dudley, 1951.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Curthoys, Mark. ‘Black Country Lives in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’. History of the West Midlands Magazine, January 2014, accessed 6 May 2016, http://www.historywm.com/wp-content/uploads/Mark_Curthoys_ODNB_Article.pdf.
- Pearson, Michael. The Little Book of the Black Country. Stroud, 2014. At 125.
- Shaw, Dan. ‘Remembering the Dudley Pageant of 1951’, Black Country Bugle, 29 September 2011, accessed 6 May 2016, http://www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk/Remembering-Dudley-Pageant-1951/story-20146659-detail/story.html.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Wolverhampton Archives: Film and photographic records. VT/34.
- Bodleian Library, Oxford: Copy of programme.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Dudley had previously held a pageant in 1908, staged by children on the same site as the 1951 pageant. This had been a great success seen by thousands. Although a small place often eclipsed by nearby Birmingham, Dudley was fiercely proud of its heritage. For better or worse, the 1951 pageant must be compared to its illustrious forebear. In fact, unlike a number of other pageants that consciously recalled their former iterations (for example, the 1930 Spirit of Warwickshire and 1953 Warwick Coronation pageants, which evoked the famous 1906 Warwick Pageant), this pageant differed significantly. Only Elizabeth I’s visit in 1576 took the same form as in the 1908 performance, although many characters such as the illustrious and colourful Dud Dudley—the only, albeit bastard, son of the Earl, a Royalist escapee from Roundhead jails and inventor of iron smelting processes—featured in both in different ways.
The 1951 Festival of Britain, which above all sought to revive the mood of a Britain dogged by seemingly never-ending post-war austerity, was a late hurrah for the spirit of pageantry in a world in which pageantry appeared increasingly outmoded when competing with cinema, theatre and, most of all, television. Although based on the south bank of the Thames in London, home of the famous ‘Skylon’, the Festival—which celebrated modernity while also honouring the past—attempted to replicate the spirit of a new, communal Britain across the regions through local exhibitions, concerts and events. In the words of the grudging Daily Mail (which, like much of the right-wing press, saw the celebrations as expensive socialist propaganda), there was a ‘wildfire response to the festival’, with 1595 local authorities taking part and only 18 refusing.2
Pageants were one important means through which the Festival sought to foster a spirit of communalism. These ranged from relatively large affairs such as the Three Towns Pageant at Hampton Court to relatively small village pageants such as those at East Grinstead in Sussex, Rushden in Northampton, and Todmorden in West Yorkshire.
At Dudley, the pageant master was the veteran Gwen Lally (who also produced the Malvern Pageant during the Festival of Britain). Dudley was to be her penultimate pageant (her last was in Poole in 1952), and she was appointed an OBE in 1954.3 In the words of the Mayor of Dudley, George Marlow, who had sponsored the pageant, ‘This Pageant story which is told to-night is more than a few pages of history. It is an epitome of the very life of Dudley and its people—its lords and ladies, its priests and monks, its tradesmen and manufacturers, and the craftsmen and workers who make up the pattern of humanity.’4 The pageant had adopted a common post-war technique of being narrated by a Common Man figure: in Dudley’s case a Blacksmith, encapsulating Dudley’s iron and steel industries. The smith was vital for the performance. It is particularly fitting that, just as the lord of Dudley Castle appears in every scene, so too does the smith of Dudley town for, though ‘the colour and spectacle of pageantry is built on noble names, it is the townsman, quiet, industrious, yet sometimes rebellious, who provides the continuity and upon whose labours and skill the industrial wealth of the town has been created.’5
Bad weather and a general overestimation of the popularity of pageants meant that attendances were low and the pageant lost £3000. As the sympathetic Staffordshire Advertiser delcared, 'The weather could hardly have been more unkind...A cold wind whipped the drapings over the scarred walls, was aggressive with the loudspeakers and chilled the scantily clad young dancers performing before a small but enthusiastic crowd’.6 The cheery optimism of the Festival of Britain struggled to revive pageants which, for a variety of reasons, declined sharply in popularity and success in the post-1945 period. Dudley council, like so many other local councils (generally the only source of the amount of money needed to stage a pageant), proved reluctant after such a loss to contemplate a further pageant any time in the future.
- Michael Pearson, The Little Book of the Black Country (Stroud, 2014), 125.
- Daily Mail, 13 June 1951, 23.
- Deborah Sugg Ryan, ‘Lally, Gwen [Real Name Gwendolin Rosalie Lally Tollandal Speck] (1882–1963), Pageant Master and Theatre Producer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 6 May 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/59378.
- The Pageant of Dudley (Dudley, 1951), np.
- Michael Pearson, The Little Book of the Black Country (Stroud, 2014), 125; Staffordshire Advertiser, 15 June 1951, 5.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Dudley, 1951’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1054/