3 September 2020 / News

Performing the Pilgrim Fathers: Re-living the Past through Popular Culture

Bursting onto the social stage in 1905, ‘historical pageants’ were an amazingly popular form of amateur engagement with the past. Amateur casts of up to 10,000 people were brought together by ingenious ‘pageant-masters’ to perform their local history, and audiences of up to 100,000 packed themselves into outdoor arenas and fields to watch. These romantic re-enactments told a story of local and national progress: the setting of historical foundations for great power in the present.

At the same time the pageant movement was gathering steam, so too was popular interest in the story of the Mayflower. Already, ten years before the 300th commemoration of the voyage in 1920, there were episodes about the Pilgrims in great events like the Pageant of London. When the auspicious anniversary finally arrived, ‘Mayflower Pageants’ were staged across Britain – from small villages to great cities. In this talk Dr Tom Hulme will start with the earliest depictions of the Mayflower in historical pageants, and trace their rise and fall across the 20th century.