Pageant of Boston, Shodfriar’s Lane Football Ground (Boston, 1951)


Historical pageants, a sort of amateur re-enactment, were incredibly popular forms of engagement with the past in the early to mid 20th century. They usually took the form of a series of chronological episodes, often starting as far back as the Romans and sometimes coming right up to the present day. The cast was almost always made up of local volunteers, and could be massive - as many as 10,000 people in some cases. You can read more about historical pageants in Britain on this website.

This sort of spectacular had arguably seen its best days in the 1920s and 1930s – and Boston had been one of many places that had held several in those years. After the Second World War, however, chronological historical re-enactment was seeming a bit outdated - especially with the rise of television. But, in 1951, the Festival of Britain – a UK-wide event that tried to inject hope and enthusiasm into a period of austerity and rationing – led to the staging of many (admittedly small) pageants.

Boston’s own effort was directed by the premier post-war ‘pageant master’: Christopher Ede. The storyline went all the way from St Botolph converting Saxons in AD654 to ‘A Glimpse of Modern Boston’ in 1951. The eighth episode, performed by the Townswomen’s Guild and Business and Professional Women’s Club, showed the Separatists (or ‘Pilgrim Fathers’) on their way to Fishtoft for their 1607 escape attempt – and being apprehended by Customs Officers.

The pageant was limply received – empty seats, criticisms of a lack of spectacle and movement, younger spectators becoming restless - and made a financial loss.


For more on this pageant, see: Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Pageant of Boston’, The Redress of the Past,