“My aim is to weave for you a story that shall be like a beautiful fabric, rich and varied … the Living Story of Bradford’s Glory”. This week, meet The Book of Words of the Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931.
This huge and ambitious event took place in Peel Park, from 13-18 July. It was intended to complement the Imperial Wool Industries Fair at Olympia Hall, showcasing Bradford’s wool trade to the world. Wool was the source of the city’s growth and prosperity, but by this time, the trade was in decline, the worldwide markets badly affected by the Depression.
The story followed the conventional outline of “Briton, Roman, Saxon, Norman, Plantagenet, Stuart and the industrial Bradford of later times”. Each episode was written by a well-known author or dramatist, notably Phyllis Bentley, who contributed the Norman section. Alongside plenty of references to wool, audiences learned about vikings before their conversion to Christianity, Robin Hood and his merry men, the Bolling Hall ghost (“Pity poor Bradford!”), the cruel conditions of child labour during the 19th century, and of course the story which gave the city its coat of arms: the Bradford boar.
The Pageant must have been a wonderful sight: 7,500 performers, a chorus of 500, orchestra of 150 and a choir of 300 children, creating a “lavish spectacle” in their “gorgeous costumes”.
The Book of Words contains not only the scripts for the Pageant, but historical notes and masses of illustrations and photographs. The marvellous advertisements for shops and businesses in Bradford are particularly appealing: from dolly tubs for washing to luncheons for two shillings, Ballito ankle-clinging stockings to “Wil-be-fort” wet weather wear.
Special Collections also has other Pageant publications: the Programme and the Souvenir Book. The former gives us more detail about the Pageant, including a map of the site. The latter is full of wonderful photographs plus stories and articles by well-known local authors, such as Halliwell Sutcliffe on the aforementioned Bolling Hall ghost. Windyridge author Willie Riley contributed “The Message of the Moors” to the Souvenir and “The Volcanic Peep-show” to the Programme: his Archive includes his own copies of these documents.
Another local author also joined in: J.B. Priestley contributed a piece to the Souvenir in which his famous Bradford character Jess Oakroyd from the Good Companions talks about the Pageant: “a champion idea” which will show that although the city may seem have to grown out of nothing during the 19th century, its roots are very deep. Both Priestley and Riley emphasise the value of the event in brightening up people’s drab lives and making them feel part of something important (it’s estimated in this useful article by Jim Greenhalf in the Telegraph and Argus that 30,000 Bradford people got involved in some way!).
Want to explore further? The records held by the West Yorkshire Archives Service can tell us more about the creation of the Pageant.