Huge Sheffield post-war pageant at City Hall was watched by thousands - including Princess Margaret in a corridor!

It seems like Sheffielders like nothing better than putting on a costume and performing in a history pageant – one was even seen by a princess and a prime minister.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 9:56 am

The ambitious Sheffield Pageant of Production featured 400 performers at Sheffield City Hall and was seen by 36,000 people over 12 nights in November 1948.

It was linked to the Sheffield on its Mettle exhibition at the Cutlers’ Hall that was opened by Princess Margaret.

The exhibition was designed to show off the city’s many manufacturers and products.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Sheffield Pageant of Production at the City Hall in November 1948 was attended by both Princess Margaret and Clement Atlee

The princess was at the opening night of the Pageant of Production, with Prime Minister Clement Attlee attending later in the week.

The pageant dealt frankly with social problems of the time, such as poor housing, a lack of goods and queues in shops, the state of the pound and the prospects of national recovery.

It then showcased the city’s industrial heritage and pride in its manufacturing strength.

In February 2002, Fred Peacock shared his hilarious memory of when he met Princess Margaret at the pageant but didn't recognise her!

A Coronation Pageant at Handsworth, June 1953

Fred was a Rover Scout helper. He recalled the late arrival of two young women: “Sorry my dears, I said, but I have instructions - strictly no admittance during the performance.

"There were no questions and suddenly my eyes were affixed on the dazzling beauty, slimline in a simple dark evening dress with a beautiful necklace and adorable features such as I had never witnessed before.

“She was a bit withdrawn, quite naturally, following my refusal to allow her to enter the hall but soon smiled adorably when I welcomed them to view the show through the porthole in each door before entering at the finale.

Sheffield Pageant makes its way past the City Hall, Sheffield on July 13, 1976

“I updated her on the run-up of the show whilst peering beside her with an occasional view of the stage. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to view her beautiful darkish blue eyes set in her lovely complexion and what a lovely profile.”

After letting them in, he said: "I returned to see the stage full of dignitaries from London, Sheffield and far and wide with our beautiful visitor in the centre approaching the microphone, just in time for me to see such a radiantly happy face, full of confidence with a clear message lovingly spoken.

“She said, ‘My sister Princess Elizabeth has just safely given birth to a baby boy to be called Charles’.”

The late Olga Bannister was a child dancer at the pageant. She recalled Princess Margaret joking to the audience: “I suppose that makes me Charlie’s Aunt!”

A pageant of the History of Sheffield in June 1931

The event was one of dozens created in the city and elsewhere by pageant master Lawrence Du Garde Peach, a Sheffield-born author and stage and screen writer. The fascinating website historicalpageants.ac.uk records some in detail.

He was also responsible for the City of Sheffield Centenary of Incorporation pageant in 1943, celebrating the founding of the city, and the Cooperative Centenary celebration in 1944. That looks at various revolutionary movements before moving on to the co-operative story.

In 1953, the entire community of Handsworth got together to create a pageant as part of their celebrations of the Queen’s coronation.

The tradition continues. In 2003, Grenoside staged its first-ever history pageant which included a Viking re-enactment, Grenoside Sword Dancers and maypole dancing.

Lord Mayor of Sheffield Coun Diane Leek with Grenoside Primary School pupils in period costume at the Grenoside History Pageant in 2003