The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 6 - October 1991

A Little Horse Play

Recollections of the Nottingham & Notts Historical Pageant 1935
by Ken Bamford

The Pageant that Ken Bamford has chosen to recall took place from the 10th to the 15th of June 1935 in the area beside the stable block at Wollaton Hall. Not quite Lenton but almost, because until just before the Second World War the parish boundary ran up to the southwest corner of the Hall.

Photograph courtesy of Ken BamfordSee in Lightbox
Ken Bamford as 'Merrie Man'
in his back garden at Highbury
Vale - 1935.

The full title of the event that I am going to tell you about was 'The Nottingham & Notts. Historical Pageant and Industrial Exhibition'; the pageant being on a very large scale including a prologue, nine episodes and a grand finale. It covered a long time scale, too, from Roman days up to Goose Fair, and including, of course, Robin Hood and his men. I know nothing of the industrial exhibition but also included in the programme was a grand Carnival procession on Friday June 14th followed by a Fancy Dress Ball at the Palais de Danse that night.

After the whole programme was over the Lord Mayor held a reception on the Castle Green to which every performer was invited, preferably in costume, and since by good luck I had struck up a friendship with another young man among the 'outlaws' who just happened to live on Park Terrace, and handy for the Castle, I was able to change there and attend with him. How many of the several thousand participants still survive today, 56 years later, it is impossible to say but one other that I know for certain is my wife Jean who danced in the school childrens episode.

The event was publicised in the local newspapers well in advance, and volunteers were invited to come forward and register at the Pageant office and this I did one Thursday teatime when I was in the Empire Cafe having a sticky bun and a cup of tea between visits to the Elite and Scala cinemas. The girl at the office noted my name and address, age and sex and said they would be in touch. So that was that.

A few days later I received a letter thanking me for my interest and informing me that I had been allocated a role as a member of Robin Hood's band of outlaws. They also enclosed two paper patterns, one for a tunic and cowled hood and the other for something to camouflage my twentieth century footwear. I was expected to bear the costs of my own costume and would find suitable materials on sale at Messrs Farmers on the corner of Exchange Walk. Farmers also had in stock another essential part of my costume, theatrical tights, price 3s.11d., and the whole lot required dyeing Lincoln green so why not buy a 'Jiffy' dye as well. My mother had an old hand operated 'Singer' sewing machine and, using the patterns supplied, duly produced the required items and dyed them along with the tights. One Sunday afternoon I tried everything on and paraded in our back garden for photographs to be taken and these photographs and, surprisingly, the costume itself are still in existence today, so my mother did a jolly good job.

The date for the dress rehearsal arrived and every 'outlaw' presented himself at the special marquee for make-up to be applied and a squad of young ladies liberally powder-puffed each face with brown powder to make us appear tanned. Then we were shepherded back to the arena where the Pageant Director was waiting to give us all a final inspection before directing us here there and everywhere until he was satisfied with our grouping. Our costumes were reasonably uniform considering how many different hands had done the sewing and we rehearsed our Act. The leading role of Robin Hood was to be played by a professional actor from the Nottingham Playhouse, which was then situated in a former cinema at the corner of Talbot and Goldsmith Streets but unfortunately he was performing at a matinee and could not be with us. His place was therefore taken by an amateur understudy who had to enter the arena from the stables on a white horse.

Courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library ServiceSee in Lightbox
Not Robin Hood and his Merrie Men but the arrival of Boadicea (Mrs. Popkis).
Robin's steed, however, appears to have found his way into the picture.
Photograph courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service.

I had never imagined Robin Hood on a horse, white or any other colour, but someone had kindly offered to lend this animal for the pageant and the Director decided to use it in this way to add to the dramatic effect of Robin's first entrance. (Little did he realise that its presence would add immeasurably to the natural hazards that we merry men would have to overcome).

The horse behaved impeccably during the dress rehearsal and we all left for home afterwards sure of our part in the proceedings. I do not know if the presence of the crowd affected the horse during the actual performances but it formed the habit of relieving itself within two minutes of entering the arena. This by itself was bad enough for the jetstream of urine caused much splashing and several merry men were caught unaware and had to step back in haste. And, worse still, further activity would be heralded by the emission of stomach gases which pervaded anywhere within a twenty foot radius of the animal. This caused even more stepping back as every man made certain that he was standing at a safe distance to avoid the pungent and invisible cloud and Robin Hood had every appearance of suffering from B.O. However even worse was to come for, later in the act every man was expected to gather round his valiant leader, still mounted, to listen to his speech of defiance to the Sheriff of Nottingham. This meant approaching the horse's steaming pile, which we were all very reluctant to do and it strained our amateur acting ability to overcome our distaste for the manoeuvre. (One outlaw whose father was a keen gardener took to bringing a bucket with him to collect the welcome although odiferous windfall and regularly bore it home in triumph on his bicycle handlebars). Additionally there was also the fact that whilst professional actors might be quite accustomed to swashbuckling around wearing theatrical tights it calls for a certain brio that I, as an amateur actor, never fully mastered. To add even further to my problems there always seemed to be a far from balmy breeze blowing round the arena during the 8pm performance and although I did not know from where it was coming I was absolutely certain where it was going and I wished Mother had made my tunic rather longer.

Because of my job I was never able to appear at a matinee performance although this raised no problem regarding numbers as the Pageant Committee had offered roles as outlaws to far more young men than were expected to actually turn up. I appeared at least four evenings and the number of outlaws varied widely.

My brief experience of appearing in tights as one of Robin Hood's men has left me with strong reservations as to whether the adjective 'merry' is an apt one and although it is many years ago since they roamed Sherwood Forest I can only offer them my very belated sympathy. Perhaps in years to come, when I have gone, my grandson will come across my valueless home-made costume and will, I hope, smile fondly as it reminds him of a time back in 1935 when his Granddad was windblown and made a spectacle of himself.

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