Historical Pageant of Newcastle

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.

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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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