Performing the Pilgrim Fathers: Re-living the past through popular theatre

A photo of a man in 17th-century Puritan dress.
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Discover how enormously popular historical pageants shaped British understandings of the Mayflower myth in Britain in the 20th century.

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.


Dr Tom Hulme is the Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded project Voyaging through history: the Mayflower in Britain, 1620-2020. He is a lecturer in modern British history at Queen’s University Belfast, with research interests spanning urban history and ideas of belonging, and the place of the past in modern British culture.

Organised by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

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Name: Performing the Pilgrim Fathers: Re-living the past through popular theatre
Where: Online
When: -
Price: Free Event: £0.00
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546
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