Leeds Tercentenary Children’s Pageant
- Leeds Tercentenary Celebrations
Performed by Leeds Schoolchildren.
Place: Roundhay Park (Roundhay, Leeds) (Roundhay, Leeds, Yorkshire, West Riding, England)
Number of performances: 2
16 July 1926 at 4.30pm, and 17 July at 3pm, 1926
The original planned date of performance was 9 July 1926 at 4.30pm, but the pageant was postponed due to inclement weather to 16 July at 4.30pm and 17 July at 3pm.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Shires, A.L.
- Assistant Pageant Master: Jarman, R.
- Assistant Pageant Master: Hilton, H.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: James Graham (Leeds Director of Education)
- Deputy-Chairman: W.J. Bees (Deputy-Director of Education)
- Vice-Chairmen: M.C. Yyvyan; Hedley Gray
- Pageant Master: A.L Shires
- Assistant Pageant Masters: R. Jarman; H. Hilton
- Hon Treasurer: J.H. Leuty
- Hon. Secretary: R. Jarman
- Assistant Hon. Secretary: H.L. Fletcher
- A. Thonrton (Leeds Elementary Schools Athletic Association)
- F.G. Harmer (Leeds Schools Music and Drama League)
- Miss Kaye (Leeds Head Teachers’ Association)
- Chairman Episode I: J.W. Moody
- Chairman Episode II: E. Sykes
- Chairman Episode III: John Edes
- Chairman Episode IV: C. Vyvyan
- Chairman Episode V: T. Curzon
- Chairman Episode VI: H. Foster
- Chairman Episode VII: F. Barraclough
- Chairman Episode VIII: J.H. Atha
- Chairman Episode IX: G.K. Sanderson
- Chairman Episode X: P. Sayer
- Chairman Episode XI: R. Gawthorpe
- Chairman Episode XII: W. Parsons
- Chairman Episode XIII: T.V. Harrison
- Chairman Episode XIV: G. Abrams
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers2000
A grant of £100 was made from the Tercentenary Executive Committee.
The total expenditure was £1871. 9s. 11d. This included £600 on materials and £372 on meals. The pageant made a small loss, though this was anticipated.1 Overall, the festivities of which the pageant was a part made a significant profit.
Object of any funds raised
Profits distributed to local charities.
Linked occasionThree-hundredth anniversary of granting of the Leeds town charter.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 75000
The total figure is an approximation. It was expected that Roundhay Park could accommodate 50000–60000 spectators. 10000 were reported to have assembled at the pageant on 9 July before it was cancelled.2 29000 visited the Old Leeds Exhibition and 10000 the Industrial Exhibition.3
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
- Events included Inaugural Day, Citizen’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Bargain Day, Charter Day, Civic Day, Industrial Day, Charity Day and Carnival Day.
- There was an Industrial Exhibition and Exhibition of Old Leeds, a play about the town, dances at Roundhay Park, and a military tattoo by the Leeds rifles.
Episode I. The Distant Past
Scene I. Ancient Britons
Children are playing games whilst women gossip outside their huts as they spin, grind corn, etc. A child returns from fishing, a hunting horn is heard and the men return with a prisoner. Druids perform a ceremony and then cross-examine the prisoner and sentence him. The court breaks up and the village resumes its occupations.
Scene II. The Romans
Roman soldiers approach a British village. The headman comes forward and pays homage to the commander and gives a tribute of corn and men to serve the legions (after a discussion). The recruits, some joyful, some less so, fall in, and the Romans march off.
Scene III. The Saxon Invaders
King Cerdic and his followers are seen coming into the arena. The king sits on the throne, and a messenger alerts the group to a strange army approaching. They prepare for battle. Edwin enters, accusing Cerdic of the death of his kinsman Hererir (who had been poisoned). The latter denies the charge. After an altercation between the two, Cerdic’s followers realise the numerical superiority of the Saxons. Cerdic is made prisoner, and Edwin takes his place on the vacant throne.
Episode II. The Norman Occupation
Scene I. The Harrying of the North
Villagers assemble to hear Saxon gleemen. Ilbert de Lacy’s bailiff enters and demands labour for the manor. Refugees arrive from surrounding villages followed by Norman horsemen. The bailiff takes these people under the protection of the manor, thus saving them.
Scene II. Domesday Survey, 1086
The entrance of the Commissioners. The spokesman of the villagers, a priest, gives evidence to them. As the proceedings draw to a close, Grim the swineherd mistakenly brings all his stock to be examined, full of fear and excuses.
Scene III. The Charter of 1207
The arrival of Maurice Paganel and his bailiff to answer the burgesses and give them the charter, which is read out and favourably received. Paganel stays for the usual festivities.
Episode III. The Monks at Kirkstall
Scene I. The Foundation of Kirkstall Abbey, 1152
Seleth and the hermits enter, followed by more monks. Alexander and Henry de Laci inspect the site. Seleth tells of the heavenly voice which bade him find this place where he and his companions might devote themselves to prayer and contemplation. Alexander points out that they should join his own community, which they agree to do. De Laci measures the site for a new church, after which all depart.
Scene II. William of Leeds Elected Abbot, 1275
Monks enter in procession and the prior announces the election of William of Leeds. The choir monks vest the Abbot-Elect and the ceremony is prepared. The Archbishop of York enters singing ‘Ecce Sacerdos Magnus’, and the abbot is presented to the archbishop and given symbols of office: a rule book, ring and crozier. There is a blessing by the abbot, a ‘Te Deum’ is sung, and the bells are rung.
Episode IV. The Knights Templars at Temple Newsam
Scene I. The Tournament
There are crowds including men-at-arms, yeoman, artisans, serfs, and also Jews. There is laughter and jokes, cries of vendors, etc. Some of the crowd take part in archery and wrestling contests. Two jesters perform a mimic joust on hobby horses. The nobility positions itself ready for the Queen of Beauty. Preliminaries take place and then a combat between Gilbert de Laci and Robert de Hastings, the former being declared the winner.
Scene II. The Departure for the Crusades
The crowd surges over the field until halted by a trumpet blast. Four riders arrive announcing their readiness to join the crusade. A call to arms is sounded, and there is much to and fro from knights, squires, etc. There is initially jubilation, followed by silence as the knights depart. Monks sing a solemn song, and the crowd disperses.
Episode V. The Dissolution of the Monasteries of Kirkstall Abbey
Scene I. The Pilgrimage of Grace
The King’s Commissioners, Dr Layton, Dr Legh and Blythman, arrive at the abbey and estimate its wealth hurriedly. The abbot pleads with them, but though they find little wrong with his rule they ignore him and remind him they are doing the king’s will. The Cistercian brethren are openly hostile as the commissioners leave. The abbot mollifies them by saying ‘It is the will of God!’ A rabble of men and women enter with Lord D’Arcy—the pilgrimage of grace. The monks and abbot greet them but do not join the uprising. They return to the abbey to sing a ‘Miserere’.
Scene II. The Suppression of Kirkstall
The work of the monastery is proceeding when a monk enters in panic to announce the approach of the king’s officers. The abbot bids his followers to collect their goods and leave the monastery. Soldiers despoil the altar. All exit and then the abbot re-enters in prayer. The psalm ‘Super Flumina Babylonis’ is heard as he leaves.
Episode VI. The Cloth Trade
Apprentices set up stalls in Lower Briggate with children playing games. ‘Sir’ William Sheafield tells the children stories from the Bible, and informs people of his intention to teach children to read, which receives a mixed response. The Lord of the Manor backs Sheafield, and the boys go off to their first reading lesson. The pack horse train arrives and townsfolk gather to hear news. Weavers from outlying districts sell their wares. A dishonest merchant is put in the stocks. The bell gives notice that the market is closed. There is a dance, and eventually Sheafield releases the merchant from the stocks.
Episode VII. The Granting of the Charter, 1626
Scene I. The Proclamation
A crowd gathers and a procession enters headed by Sir John Saville and burgesses. They halt before the Moot Hall and make a proclamation. There is a celebration.
Scene II. A Stuart Holiday
The people begin enjoying the day, with much rough-play from apprentices, country dancing, Morris dancing, hobby-horsebound fools, etc. The party of burgesses join, and there is a great dance before the crowd disperses.
Episode VIII. Leeds in the Civil War
Scene I. Fight in Briggate
People are arguing as a Royalist force approaches led by William Saville, who addresses the townsfolk, telling them to remain loyal to the king. Soldiers dig fortifications and erect a barricade. The Parliamentarian force under Thomas Fairfax approaches and demands that the town surrender. Fairfax attacks Leeds, joined by Captain Maitland’s force. The Parliamentarians climb the barricades and advance up the street, forcing the troops to surrender as their commanders flee. A Puritan minister sings the 68th Psalm, ‘Let God Arise’. Townspeople cheer Fairfax, who leaves with the prisoners.
Episode IX. The Royal Prisoner in Leeds
Scene I. Arrival of Charles I
Townsfolk gather before the moot hall. Royalists and Parliamentarians are still in hot debate when the Royal party arrives and is received by John Harrison and John Metcalf. Some cheer the king.
Scene II. The King Departs for London
The crowd is still there to see the king, who bears his misfortune gallantly. Arguing factions are broken up by the Civic Guard. Harrison and other aldermen appear followed by the royal party who thank Harrison for his hospitality and honesty. Mistress Metcalf’s waiting-maid throws herself at the king’s feet in tears. The party moves off followed by crowds.
Episode X. The Days of Queen Anne
Scene I. Peace Celebrations
A large crowd of the usual suspects. Local toughs give the beadles trouble. Trumpets announce the arrival of a civic procession, and the mayor, William Cookson, reads the Proclamation of the Peace of Utrecht. The statue of Queen Anne is unveiled by the Vicar of Leeds. The mayor gives thanks and the procession retires.
Scene II. Thoresby Makes a Journey
A street scene. Lady Betty enters in a sedan chair and is greeted by friends. A rider arrives with copies of the first ever Mercury newssheet. A couch prepares to depart, with preparation of pistols for the departure. Ralph Thoresby boards, and the coach is cheered off.
Episode XI. General Wade and the Jacobite Rebellion
Scene I. Leeds Prepares for the ‘Pretender’
Children make a bonfire. Soldiers march into Briggate and are dismissed. Townspeople discuss the advance of the rebel army. General Wade rides into the town and speaks with the mayor. Messengers arrive to give news of the rebels’ position. John Wesley arrives and speaks to General Wade. He announces to the relived town that the rebels have marched past the Aire Gap southwards. Townsmen cheer George II and Wesley.
Scene I. The Attack on the Toll-Bar
Rioters from Halton Dial advance towards Beeston Bar, which is destroyed, although three rioters are arrested. A cart arrives and, seeing the toll-bar destroyed, the driver refuses to pay the toll. He is seized by the soldiers but then released by the mob.
Scene II. The Riot of 1753
Rioters gather in front of Moot Hall to demand the release of the prisoners. The mayor tries to get the crowd to disperse, which fails. The constables are reinforced by the army from York. The mayor proclaims the riot act, and the soldiers are ordered to fire on the mob. The first volley of blanks has no effect, so a shot is fired at the crowd. People fall, including innocent spectators. The crowd scatters and order is restored.
Episode XIII. Engineering in Leeds—the First Locomotive
Scene. The Blenkinsop Locomotive
Children dance and play games. Workmen lay rails, and Murray and Blenkinsop inspect the scene. The Lord Mayor and a crowd of citizens arrives to watch, and the children stop their games. There then comes an iron horse, the puffing engine, amid excitement and cheering as the Leeds–London stagecoach is setting out on its journey. The passengers of the coach mock the engine, ‘which is a portent signalising the end of the flying horses, the stage coach, and the tootling horn and heralding the opening of a new era—the era of the locomotive and modern travel.’
Episode XIV. The First Reformed Parliament
Scene I. The Nomination
A large crowd arrives on 10 December 1832 to witness candidates nominated by the mayor and aldermen. The Tory Thomas Michael Sadler is proposed to cheering and booing alternately. Thomas Babington Macaulay is proposed by John Marshall (also a candidate). There is a clamour, and a banner raised by Tory supporters claims that the conditions in John Marshall’s mill are inhuman. Whigs dash the banner down. Tories attack the Whigs with cudgels and order is restored. Macaulay is finally seconded. The vote is by a show of hands, and the Whigs are overwhelmingly elected, though Alderman Hall demands a poll the following Wednesday.
Scene II. The Election of the First Members
On the following Friday, the townspeople crowd Cloth Yard Hall to hear the declaration. Whigs outnumber Tories, but this time an iron fence, lined with constables, separates the two camps. The mayor reads the results: 2012 for Marshall, 1984 for Macaulay and 1596 for Sadler. An uproar ensues, and the successful candidates are chaired and carried onto a carriage.
Final Tableau and Procession
All the characters appear with the current mayor and mayoress. Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is sung by all. Athlete schoolboys representing Leeds of the future assemble in the shape of ‘Pro Rege et Lege’ [the city’s motto]. The National Anthem is sung, and a procession of all characters files out.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Lacy, Henry de, fifth earl of Lincoln (1249–1311) magnate
- Lacy, Gilbert de (fl. 1133–1163) baron
- Layton, Richard (c.1498–1544) dean of York and agent in the suppression of the monasteries
- Sir William Savile, (1612–1644) baronet
- Fairfax, Thomas, third Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1612–1671) parliamentarian army officer
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Wade, George (1673–1748) army officer and road builder
- Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
- Murray, Matthew (1765–1826) mechanical engineer
- Blenkinsop, John (1783–1831) developer of the steam locomotive
- Sadler, Michael Thomas (1780–1835) social reformer and political economist
- Macaulay, Thomas Babington, Baron Macaulay (1800–1859) historian, essayist, and poet
- Marshall, John (1765–1845) flax spinner and politician
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Hull Daily Mail
Book of words
- Leeds Tercentenary Celebrations, July 1926. Leeds, 1926.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Thornton, David. The Story of Leeds. Stroud, 2013. At 163.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Book of Words. RDP44/130.
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds
- Cuttings book and Yorkshire Post supplement. LC/LM/3/22–3.
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds
- Film of Pageant, British Pathé, accessed 24 May 2016, available at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/300-years-of-city-history.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Happy is the country which has no history, says a celebrated epigram; but there has never been a community, big or little, which was willing to congratulate itself on this kind of felicity. The saying may be a wise one; but it does not accord with human nature. No nation, no town, no village, can be happy as a community without taking some pride in the past…The past can never die, it is for ever incarnate in the present. Happy is the society which knows its own history…that is the purpose of a pageant; to make the past appear before our eyes not merely in vivid and picturesque fashion, but as something in which we all have an intimate concern.4
These were the words of the pageant master (and also Headmaster of the Beeston Hill Council School), A.L. Shires, in the book of words that accompanied the Leeds Tercentenary Pageant. More apologetically, he added, ‘although Leeds has held no great place in national events, it was made evident that there were incidents in its past that were worth recalling’.5 This was certainly a sentiment echoed by much of the national, and even local, press in the days before Leeds gave the world Alan Bennett, disc jockeys in the person of Jimmy Saville, and Cluedo.6 The Times reported: ‘One objection to a pageant for Leeds is that the city, unlike York or Warwick, is not rich in history.’ The paper magnanimously granted that ‘Leeds could probably find episodes sufficiently numerous and varied to provide a picturesque display’, suggesting a restaging of the Luddite riots.7 The Manchester Guardian, always keen to score a further point in the ongoing struggle between Yorkists and Lancastrians, presented the headline ‘City Embarrassed: Eager but Vain Search for Colourful Episodes’. After noting that ‘the pageant people are hard to shake’, it suggested ‘something illustrating the quiet, orderly evolution of an industrial town will be found the most fitting central point of the celebration.’8 The newspaper would subsequently add: ‘At best Leeds has a dark and mottled face… the Town Hall, fronting a miserable row of little shops and refreshment-houses, is much like a great Falstaff addressing his half-starved rag and bobtail… it is expected that the pageant will give the city more fitly than any other symbolism some picture of the sort of things that Leeds has been.’9
Between the first proposal for a series of events and the tercentenary year itself, the planned celebrations were (quite literally) scaled down, with the decision to perform the civic pageant using children from local schools. The pageant was presented as part of the recently established Leeds Children’s Day, which had been established in 1921 and had quickly become a major civic event.10 Sir Edward Brotherton, the industrialist and Leeds benefactor, gave each of the 70000 children in the city a shilling, deposited in a savings account.11 One benefit of holding the pageant with schoolchildren was that there would be no problem with volunteers. Furthermore, most of the organisational structures already existed in the Leeds Educational Authority, which took over the pageants’ organisation. The pageant was to take pride of place in the week of celebrations for which the council had set aside £5500.12 In fact, the proposed military tattoo, which was to have involved significant numbers from the Yorkshire Regiment, was also scaled back dramatically after problems over expenses and a general unwillingness of the army to hold an event in Leeds rather than the regiment’s home in York.13 Its finale, the great election of 1832 and Marshall and Macaulay’s victory over Sadler, looked forward to the great age of democracy, whilst acknowledging the tumult and random violence of the Parliamentary hustings.
Despite the many obstacles that befell the pageant (more of which later), and the wider sense of scorn, the organisers remained optimistic, with the Yorkshire Evening Post conjecturing a 16-episode account of Leeds history.14 The mayor extended ‘an official invitation to Leeds people wherever they may now be to pay a visit to their old home town to participate in our rejoicings, to renew friendships, and to re-visit old scenes.’15 The Yorkshire Evening Post, doubtless aware of condescending critics who sneered at what was essentially a jumped-up industrial mill town, was remarkably phlegmatic in its characterisation of the town:
Homilies are not popular at a time of merry-making, yet the Tercentenary should not be allowed to pass without a sober survey of the centuries that have passed, and a hopeful looking forward…To-day Leeds can look back on its achievements with modest pride, kept within bounds by the knowledge that much remains to be done. Poverty, disease and ignorance are still with us, but Leeds is doing more to combat them than at any previous time. Mistakes have been made in the city’s development, and with twentieth century knowledge it is easy to show what our forerunners might have done. But in this year of goodwill it is surely better to remember those men of vision who served the city well…16
The newspaper went on to add: ‘Even the cynic admits that the city might be worse. He should couple that grudged admission with a Tercentenary resolve to make it better.’17
Civic pageants in the inter-war era were generally a form of boasting about an illustrious past that often had only a tenuous grasp on historical accuracy, or else they proclaimed events whose merits or significance might seem dubious to anyone from further afield. Bristol made the foolhardy decision to transplant its Bristol Cradle of Empire Pageant (1924) to the Festival of Empire at Wembley Stadium—and suffered a dramatic deflation of its civic ego, as well as financial embarrassment. In the case of pageants held in some other towns and cities (for example, Winchester and St Albans), the national importance of the early scenes meant that the places’ later slide into genteel obscurity rendered the later episodes of the pageant something of an anti-climax. However, Leeds’ Tercentenary Pageant appeared to represent the exact opposite of this, acknowledging the city’s flaws and its somewhat lacklustre past as something which might be embraced.
Problems continued apace which threatened to overwhelm the celebrations, with the General Strike of May, which had shut down all transport and newspapers, continuing in key industries.18 If nothing else, many workers remained wholly embittered at the authorities and were hardly in the mood to celebrate a tercentenary. Ironically, the call for volunteers to drive cars and lorries in the initial pageant procession to Roundhay Park directly echoed the actions of the volunteers who had driven trams, lorries and omnibuses in an attempt to break the strike.19
Worse was to follow. Shortly before the pageant, the Yorkshire Evening Post published its ‘Yorkshireman’s Diary’, noting the changing weather conditions which had followed an unseasonably hot (at least for Yorkshire) start to July: ‘This week will be a week of barometer tapping in Leeds…The outlook to-day is not as good as it has been, but this week Leeds must think fine weather…Put your flag out and risk it.’20 At half past three on 9 July, an hour before the start of the pageant, ‘one of the most severe thunderstorms experienced in Leeds in recent years broke over the city’.21 A half hour of ferocious rain and hail fell, with lighting striking a number of trams and houses; part of the Town Hall was flooded and one man was killed.22 The Yorkshire Post, whilst calling the event a ‘tragedy’, stressed that the destruction of the mock-up scale replica of Leeds’ Moot Hall ‘need not be regarded as a bad omen for the Centenary.’23 The pageant had to be postponed until the following Friday, when crowds again gathered apprehensively to see whether the fates really did hate Leeds.
In fact, the following Friday was far more clement, with the heatwave (which had caused a number of people to succumb to heatstroke in the park over the weekend)24 finally breaking. In its classically understated tone, the Yorkshire Post wrote of the pageant: ‘If for nothing else, the Children’s Pageant in Roundhay Park last evening will be remembered as a wonderful feast of colour… As the pageant went on colour was added to colour, until all varieties of shades were seen.’25 The newspaper praised the acting, particularly the boisterous scenes: ‘Whenever there was fighting to be done, or cudgelling at an election, the boys showed a plentiful spirit and understanding, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, to our enjoyment.’26 In summing up, it remarked:
It was a fine pageant…A little long, perhaps, since it lasted three-and-a-half hours, but on such an occasion, and with only two performances, there was perhaps anxiety that nothing should be overlooked. And it was a little uneven in places, since some of the episodes could not speak for themselves and demanded too close an attention to the book. But it was a resourceful summary of Leeds history.27
The Tercentenary Festival overall was a great success, raising over a thousand pounds for local charities.28 The pageant made a small loss but was deemed to have been a great success.29 A small amount of the surplus was put towards organising a Civic Week, which happened in July 1928, though with the omission of the proposed pageant.30 Although the pageant and civic week did not seem to cure Leeds of its lack of self-esteem, the tercentenary was a celebration of the city on its own terms. To borrow the popular Yorkshire expression, it could have been worse.
- Yorkshire Post, 2 October 1926, 10.
- Lancashire Evening Post, 10 July 1926, 4.
- Yorkshire Post, 1 October 1926, 12.
- Leeds Tercentenary Celebrations, July 1926 (Leeds, 1926), np.
- ’40 Things you probably don’t know about Leeds’, Leeds List, accessed 24 May 2016, http://leeds-list.com/culture/things-you-probably-dont-know-about-leeds/.
- The Times, 2 January 1925, 12.
- Manchester Guardian, 7 May 1925, 5.
- Manchester Guardian, 8 July 1926, 18.
- For an excellent discussion of childhood in Leeds, see ‘Andrew C’, ‘Children and Childhood in the Inter-War Years: The Leeds Experience, 1918–39’, accessed 24 May 2016, http://interwarleedschildhood.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/children-and-childhood-in-inter-war.html.
- David Thornton, The Story of Leeds (Stroud, 2013), 163.
- Manchester Guardian, 7 January 1926, 4.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 8 February 1926, 7; Sheffield Independent, 22 April 1926, 7.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 26 January 1926, 7.
- The Times, 5 June 1926, 10.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 2 June 1926, 8.
- T. Woodhouse, ‘The General Strike in Leeds’, Northern History 18 (1982): 252–262.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 16 June 1926, 3.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 5 July 1926, 6.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 9 July 1926, 16; The Times, 10 July 1926, 12.
- Lancashire Evening Post, 10 July 1926, 4.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 10 July 1926, 9.
- Lancashire Evening Post, 12 July 1926, 4.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 July 1926, 8.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 2 October 1926, 10.
- It was at first mistakenly reported that it had made a profit; see Yorkshire Evening Post, 1 October 1926, 12.
- Yorkshire Evening Post, 6 November 1926, 7.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Leeds Tercentenary Children’s Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1117/