Historic pictorial of town’s great pageant

The huge wooden grandstand erected in the grounds of Scarborough Castle for the 1912 pageant.
The huge wooden grandstand erected in the grounds of Scarborough Castle for the 1912 pageant.

What a remarkable summer it must have been in Scarborough in 1912.

That was the year of the great Scarborough pageant, a re-enactment of episodes from the town’s history in 14 episodes, from prehistoric to the late 1700s, bookended by a prologue and an epilogue, the latter featuring the Song of Scarborough, selected from competition entries and opening with the rousing words:

“Now for Scarborough, our Scarborough, and the glory of her days,

For the wonder, beauty, passion, give we humble thanks and praise.”

Staged twice between 9 and 13 July, and 28 and 31 August, the pageant was the result of many weeks of work by around 1,300 amateur performers, supported by a ‘backstage’ crew of around 500.

An elaborate wooden grandstand was built in the grounds of Scarborough Castle especially for the event, and it was described in its publicity as ‘admittedly the best dressed pageant ever held’ – perhaps little wonder, then, that it ended up making a financial loss, with the Scarborough Mercury of 6 September commenting: “The verdict upon Scarborough’s Historical Pageant will be that financially it might have been a greater success; in every other respect it could not have been.”

Our exhibit from the Scarborough Collections today is a beautiful and comprehensive album of black and white pictures of the event – studio portraits of the actors in costume, actions shots of the performances, and some extraordinarily modern-feeling reportage, including a photo entitled ‘The snappers snapped’, showing costumed characters photographing each other.

The huge album also has a beautiful hand-painted title page depicting a town crier displaying a sign telling us the book is ‘A Pictorial Record of the Scarborough Historical Pageant 1912’. The artist was Richard E Clarke, a name regular readers of this column will be familiar with: Richard was a prolific local artist, several of whose pictures are held in the Scarborough Collections, while his brother William was a leading local naturalist and folklorist – his collections were featured in the exhibition Fears, Foes and Faeries at Scarborough Art Gallery in 2012.

We can obviously only show you a very small selection of pictures from the pageant album here today, but the whole book will be on display at Scarborough Art Gallery from Monday 12 September to Sunday 9 October as part of an exhibition about the pageant.

And you can read an extremely thorough and detailed account of the event by local historian Keith Johnston on the website of the historical pageants project The Redress of the Past here: http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/featured-pageants/scarborough-historical-pageant-and-play-1912/

Keith will also be giving a lunchtime talk about the pageant and others, entitled Edwardian Pageants, at the Art Gallery at 12.30pm on Wednesday 28 September. Tickets are free, due to funding from The Arts and Humanities Research Council via The Redress of the Past.

The pageant album is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.