Pageant Fever! St Albans performs its past

One of Boudica’s ‘wild women’ at the 1907 Pageant.
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Pageant Fever!, an exhibition by St Albans Museums + Gallery on the pageants of 1907, 1948 and 1953, finishes its run on 23 February 2020.

The St Albans pageants of 1907, 1948 and 1953 were typical of the outbreaks of ‘pageant fever’ that afflicted communities across Britain at various times during the twentieth century. Hundreds of residents donned historical costumes to re-enact scenes from the city’s history, ranging from Boudica’s revolt to the Wars of the Roses, from the Civil War to the nineteenth century. Many more helped with costumes and props, lighting and sound, crowd management, set-building, catering, and so on.

As in many other towns, civic pride and historical consciousness came together in spectacular performed versions of key moments in the story of St Albans. A new exhibition, at St Albans Museum + Gallery, tells the story of the pageants, using film, sound, image, text and objects. It opens in the East and West Keeper’s Galleries on Friday 15 November, and runs until Sunday 23 February.

Boudicca’s ‘wild women’

Highlights include a costume worn by one of Boudicca’s ‘wild women’ in 1907, a new recording of the post-war pageant hymn celebrating St Albans, and some of the many souvenirs that were produced to remind visitors of their day at the pageant. Alongside the exhibition, several events will showcase the history of pageants. On Thursday 5 December, there will be short talks on pageant history in the museum assembly room, and on Wednesday 22 January Peter Swinson, son of the post-war ‘pageant-master’ Cyril Swinson, will show restored colour film footage of the 1948 and 1953 pageants.

Performance of pageant scenes

Finally, a re-performance of scenes and music from the pageants is planned for the spring half-term week (beginning Monday 17 February). The exhibition and activities are organised by The Redress of the Past (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council), in collaboration with the museum and Trestle Theatre Co. We hope that other local organisations will be involved as ‘pageant fever’ gathers momentum again. For details see www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk. You can learn more about The Redress of the Past at www.historicalpageants.ac.uk.


You may also be interested in a project exploring the twentieth-century phenomenon of historical pageants in Britain. Presenting large-scale theatrical re-creations of scenes from local history, they brought the past to life as never before. Tens of thousands of people performed in these vivid extravaganzas of drama, music and dance; millions more watched them. You can find out more at www.historicalpageants.ac.uk. There will be a free “Historical Pageants Day and Evening” at Cecil Sharp House, London, on Saturday 21 March 2020, involving performances of pageant scene, talks, music, film screenings and dance. It begins at 11am but you can stay for as long or as short a time you want. For further details, and to register, please click here.

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