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Historical Pageant of Newcastle and the North

Copy of postcard showing Col Shiel as King Jmaes

Historical Pageant of Newcastle and The North, 1931

Leazes Park was the venue for the original Kynren, the Historical Pageant of Newcastle and The North in July 1931. This 1930’s extravaganza embraced musicians, choirs, horses and even oxen in historical accounts of the North.

What do you think of when you imagine Leazes Park? Well, imagine this!

Opening scenes brought the spectacle to life with children dressed in elvish costumes skipping onto the field. The character of Puck (a mischievous sprite in folklore) performed a dance. It was a windy day, throughout the performance wind blew over the park, stories began to unfold, era by era. Reports talk of onlookers strolling in the summer flower gardens. It sounds amazing!

copy postcard of Newcastle Historical Pageant of the North. The children form a tower for Northumberland.

The pageant comprised a prologue, an epilogue and eight episodes spanning AD 122 – AD1715. Episodes included Emperor Hadrian and Newcastle’s Roman Bridge, the story of St Cuthbert’s body and Durham, and Mary Queen of Scots at Cumberland.

Outdoor Theatre

In the first half of the 20th century, a form of outdoor theatre known as historical pageant became popular. Current thinking is that the movement began with a performance in Dorset in 1905. Pageants became particularly popular in large urban cities and by 1939 had been performed in fourteen of the twenty largest cities in England. Estimations suggest that hundreds of thousands of people played in pageants and that several million attended them. The premise of the pageant was that local people would perform in large scale re-enactments of scenes from local history. 

Newcastle Historical Pageant

The Newcastle Historical Pageant was held in Leazes Park between 20 and 27 July 1931. The last performance initially scheduled for 25 July 1931, however, on 27 July two additional performances played because of the popularity. The Women’s Advisory Committee of the Northern Counties Area of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations organised the pageant. Advertisements at the time stated that approximately 6000 men, women and children performed in the show with approximately 120,000 people attending. Entrance cost 11s. 6d rising to 1s.1d for the better positions. Local newspapers record that the pageant made a profit of about £3000. Three local hospitals received £1000 between them, and the Women’s Advisory Committee accepted the remaining sum of £2000. 

Newcastle Empire Fair

The pageant formed part of a more considerable Empire Fair held in the Palace of Arts (now Wylam Brewery). Other entertainment that formed part of the Fair included performances by an R.A.F. band, the Felling Male Voice Choir and the Winlaton Sword Dancers. Parking was available if you travelled to this event by car, motorcycle, bus or Charbanc! (Horse drawn vehicle or early motor coach usually open topped). Charges ranged from 2s. for larger vehicles, to 3d. for bicycles.

The Gosforth Connection

The pageant master was Lionel Lightfoot, a solicitor by profession who had a keen interest in amateur dramatics. The Executive Committee comprised seven local dignitaries chaired by the Marquis of Londonderry and including Gosforth resident Miss (later Dame) Irene Ward who served as Hon. Treasurer. 

Barness Ward formerly Dame Irene Ward who served as Hon treasurer 1931 Historical Pageant of Newcastle and the North
Baroness Ward, formerly Dame Irene Ward, one of the most active women in parliament, who died at a London nursing home on 26/04/1980, aged 85.

A series of postcards were commercially produced as pageant souvenirs. We have used some of these postcards to illustrate this blog. 

Images and text subject to copyright


  • Pageant Timeline

    Chapter 1 Ancient tribal queen and Roman Emperor Hadrian AD122

  • Chapter 2 Pilgrimage of St Cuthbert’s body AD 995

  • Chapter 3 Bishop Bek of Durham and Edward I AD 1296

  • Chapter 4 The battle of Neville’s Cross AD 1346

  • Chapter 5 James IV and Princess Margaret wedding AD 1503

  • Chapter 6 Mary Queen of Scots in Carlisle after her defeat at Langside AD 1568

  • Chapter 7 James Radclyffe 3rd Earl of Derwentwater AD 1715

  • Chapter 8 Portrayal of 18c village life


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Moving to Kenton 1948

Newcastle Libraries

Edgefield School was built in 1939 on land adjoining Tyneside Tinprinters. It was also used as a community centre, had a thriving drama group and was well supported by local residents. The school closed in 1968.” By-Gone Fawdon & Coxlodge

The Garth Kenton

Moving to Newcastle from Glasgow in 1948 was amazing to me – a house in the country – a house with a garden and fields all around – Kenton was the place. 

It was very different from living in a flat in Glasgow. Although we had no garden in Glasgow, we were not entirely without “green” because in the centre of our cul-de-sac there was a small area with grass and trees. Railings surrounded this area, and nobody was allowed in. Our house in the Garth, Kenton was also in a cul de sac; we had allotments next door. It was a great place to play. 

Wastleland

We made underground dens, dug deep into the clay, we cut steps down and made a roof from corrugated iron that we found lying around by our side fence. 

There was the Crows Nest Club too. A heap of twigs and branches, just like a big nest! It consisted of bits of wood and any garden rubbish the residents were throwing out. We made a large hollow in the middle where we could sit, just like a big nest. It was high. The woodpile in which we held our club meetings would eventually be our bonfire on November the fifth. 

I had a little allotment there too, where my father showed me how to prepare the soil. I grew carrots mainly and a few flowers, Clarkia and Godetia. I was eleven years old at this time.

This “wasteland” (as we called it), was separated from the next-door field by a Hawthorn (I think) hedge. We called this field the Bull Field. The hedge had a large hole in it, which enabled us to escape onto the “bull field.” Presumably, at one time a bull must have lived there, but we never saw it. I remember big high grass which came up to my knees. 

We played and ran through his field to the next one and then right down to the moor!

Two new houses were eventually built on the allotment, and then more houses began to be built on the field. Now there are lots of houses the shops on Arlington Avenue and of course St Andrew’s Church, in the fields where I used to play.

School

School was also an adventure. I went to Edgefield Junior School with my brother and sister. We walked to school across Kenton Lane and went down the “ash path” which ran from Kenton Lane, beside Westwood Avenue towards Fawdon. Mrs Patterson taught my brother, Mrs Oates, my sister and my teacher was Miss Walby. Eventually, my brother and I went to Eastcliffe and my sister to Heaton High. I remember happy years at Eastcliffe school. 


The Garth Kenton. Discovering Heritage
Myself on the driveway of our house in The Garth Kenton
My brother
My sister in our back garden

The Cowgate Circle

The Cowgate Circle bus route went around Gosforth, Heaton, across the bridge over the Dene, along Jesmond Road, and eventually back to Cowgate and back down Kenton Lane. My brother and I used to go on the Cowgate Circle two or three times on a Sunday to avoid going to Sunday school! Sunday School was at St George’s Church which is now Bar Luga on Gosforth High Street.

Years later, when I started work, I caught the bus from the terminus by Kenton Lane and Westwood Avenue. I remember leaning on the farmer’s wall while I waited. 

Asthma

I am asthmatic, and as a child had spells off school. I used to take Brovon from a huge inhaler. 

We went to Ireland on holiday it must have been around 1949-50. When I came home, I had a terrible Asthma attack. The doctor was called to the house, and I have a vivid memory of my father berating the doctor, saying “there must be SOMETHING you can do.” The doctor replied saying that there was, but it was not suitable for a child. Something must have happened because soon after that, I started to use an inhaler.

Poison!

The inhaler consisted of a large red rubber pump into which fitted an orange well. The well was marked with measurements into which I poured (from my little green bottle marked poison) the prescribed amount of medicine. This process relieved my Asthma and helped me to breathe. As I grew older, the inhalers got smaller and smaller.

By the time I was in my late teens, my inhalers were small enough to fit into a handbag. A modern convenience! When I went to the South Northumberland Cricket and Tennis Club dances, if I got out of breath, I used to nip to the loo and take a scoosh!

Handbag sized Athsma inhaler 1950s
Original hand bag sized inhaler with tin.

Around about this time, I can also remember going to the Toddle Inn; a coffee bar with a jukebox which was on Gosforth High Street.

I grew up and went to work at Martins Bank where I made friends that I have had for life. Anonymous


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