The 1951 Boston Pageant

Boston Pageant programme cover

Boston Pageant programme cover (Courtesy of Andy Butler)

Advert for the Boston Pageant 1951

The football ground hasn't been used exclusively for football matches. One of the biggest events staged at the ground was the Boston Pageant as part of the Festival of Britain. The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition and fair in the summer of 1951. The Festival's centrepiece was in London on the South Bank of the Thames at the newly opened Royal Festival Hall, alongside the Skylon and the Dome of Discovery. However, festival celebrations also took place around the UK and included a variety of historical pageants. Whilst most previous pageants had tended to focus on the prominent events of a place, generally featuring Kings, Dukes and other prominent or aristocratic people, the pageants held during the Festival of Britain often focused on the activities of ordinary people, presenting pageants as a form of social history. Such a pageant was held in Boston on Saturday 2nd June 1951 at Boston United's Shodfriars Lane Football Ground.

There were two performances of the Pageant, each lasting two hours - at 3:30pm and 7:30pm. Both were well attended with 4,300 at the afternoon performance and 4,700 in the evening. Admission prices varied from 2s 6d to 5s. There were 700 performers. The Pageant covered the history of Boston from A.D. 654 to 1951. Three characters - Father Witham, Heron and Swan, as personifications of the nature of the Fens, act as commentators throughout the pageant. A Prologue was followed by twelve Scenes enacted by various community groups from the town. These covered events such as the sacking of the Boston monastery by Vikings despite the efforts to defend it by the local Saxons; a Fair Scene from 1365 celebrating St Botolph's Feast Day; the capture of pirates in the 1560s; the apprehension of the Puritan congregation of Scrooby in 1607; and the riot of 1768 when soldiers were called upon to subdue the Fen Slodgers.

Music was provided by the RAF Band of Cranwell College. There were choirs from the Boston Townswomen's Guild, Kitwood Girl's School and the Boston Male Voice Choir. Costumes were designed by Mrs G.M. Brough and Mrs Joan Clark. Mr J. Bland was the Master of Horses. A railway engine required for Scene XI showing the ceremony when the first train reached Boston from London in 1848 was designed by Mr L.H. Brown and its coaches were built by members of the Wyberton Theatrical Society. Wigs were by "Bert". The stewards were provided by the Boston United Football Supporters' Club.

The pageant was written by E. George Porter and orchestrated by Christopher Ede who was Pageant Master for the much larger Hampton Court Pageant for the Festival and had produced or acted as Pageant Master for the 1934 Pageant of Parliament, the 1936 Newark Pageant and the 1947 Bradford Centenary Pageant. Preparations began at the start of the year, with interest building gradually. Ede declared, on visiting Boston in February, that the script was 'inspired' and the pageant possessed 'one of the most original opening scenes he had ever seen for any pageant'.

E. George Porter

The report on the Pageant in the Lincolnshire Standard the following week had much praise. It noted that the pessimists who had doubted Boston's ability to present a pageant worthy of the name could not have been more wrong. That everyone who contributed to the memorable performance could be happy in the knowledge that their efforts produced a spectacle which was both outstandingly successful and a truly magnificent send-off for the town's Festival celebrations. In the general smoothness of its running, its cohesion, and its colourfulness, it paid eloquent testimony to the many hours of devoted work its numerous helpers and players had given. One of the best staged scenes saw a most realistic train arrive and its gaily clad passengers alight to receive a civic welcome by the Mayor and the Chairman of the Great Northern Railway. Another scene which really riveted the attention of the audience was some contrasting aspects of modern education - school children from the town and districts demonstrating P.T. exercises, singing the "Lincolnshire Poacher", staging Morris and sword dances and so on. Here for a brief spell was action, variety and life. The actions spoke for themselves; no words were needed. Here was true pageantry.

Not everything went quite to plan as backstage notes revealed. Some real injuries occurred in the fights between the Saxons and Danes performed by the boys from North Sea Camp; a Redcoat firearm went off ahead of time before the confrontation with the Fen Slodgers performed by the Boston Grammar School; and in the evening an aircraft due to circle over the ground arrived ten minutes early and drowned out the recital of Jean Ingelow's famous poem "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire".

A Paramount Newsreel film of the Pageant was shown at the Odeon Cinema the following week. There is also a 16 minute 16mm b/w film called "A Boston Story" that includes coverage of the Pageant in the Lincolnshire Film Archive.

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