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Pageant of Birmingham 1938

April 29, 2009

In 1938 Birmingham had been a Borough for 100 years.  The city was determined to celebrate in style and set about staging an ambitious Pageant telling the story of the city.  On 11-16 July 1938 at Aston Park, the Pageant came to life.  Over 8,000 people took part and the whole project was pulled together conceptually by a council committee.  So who was a member of this type of committee in 1938 – much the same likely souls as today it would seem: Councillor Rigby as chairman (sic) was joined by 34 others including the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress (1 of 4 women), 8 Aldermen, 2 professors, 1 Colonel, 2 Doctors and 1 “Sir”.  so who were the women?  Well, as well as the Lady Mayoress were Miss Barling and Mrs GP Achurch.  But the key player was Gwen Lally, described as the Pageant Master (!), I’m prepared to guess that means she’s the one who really made it happen.

In the supplement to the Official Programme – 9d (old pence) for a programme –  is the text of the Prologue.  You can trace the Birmingham spirit tracking back through those words:


To be spoken by Mrs Frank Forrest

From far off ages and from many lands, for visions of the future that shall be

Stepping along the silver centuries she comes to you – Spirit of Pageantry!

Failed in the mists of ceaseless years of time wherein is held in fee each rainbow hue

Ready to balzon forth in banners bright at the first call that there is need of you;

She comes to bless your purpose. She will bring swift inspiration, that shall worthily build once again your far famed history;

The benison of true sincerity shall, both in pomp and and splendid panoply or in the soft light of simplicity, imbue your living pictures –

You shall see the true story of your happy heritage spring into being, decked with heraldry.

She conjures in your hearts, and in your homes, your history to life – may these things be.

And so, Great City, prove your enterprise: Pageant of Birmingham! I bid you rise!

written by Phyllis Philip Rodway

21st May 1938

The writer of this prologue also wrote the rest of the story.  The whole event concluded with a raft of floats in a parade.

I have only seen a few photos, but what an impressive production.  Take a look at these Birmingham City Library photos of the event.

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