Until a few years ago, Bradford Central Library had a small but flourishing publications unit. Among the local history groups it supported was the East Bowling History Workshop, founded in September 1978, which used to meet every Monday afternoon and evening at Fairfax Community School.

Its first publication, Bowling Tidings was published in 1979 and reprinted the following year. Mrs J Marsden, of Saltaire, kindly sent us a copy. The last article in the 30-page booklet, above the name of Lily Crossland, describes Bradford Historical Pageant, which took place in Peel Park from July 13-18, 1931.

“Apart from the value of the pageant as a means of gaining publicity for the city, and in conjunction with the Imperial Wool Industries Fair, it also had an education aspect,” she wrote.

True enough. The Bradford Telegraph & Argus estimated that 30,000 people, a tenth of the city’s population in 1931, had a direct hand in the event over the six months of its planning and execution, including the making, largely at home, of 7,500 costumes.

However, history as personal reminiscence, fascinating though it may be, has a limited value. What is missing from the article in Bowling Tidings is the larger context in which the the Pageant, a costume display of British history with other entertainments, took place.

The news pages of the paper reveal that at the time there was a bad trade slump in wool textiles, a serious industrial dispute in Bradford involving thousands of workers, and an international banking crisis in Germany. The crises that beset Bradford and the wider world today are prefigured in those events 81 years ago in a summer of, like now, changeable weather. On Saturday, July 11, it was so hot that at least half-a-dozen people among crowds of 30,000 watching the Pageant’s “colourful cavalcade” of charioteers and mounted Saxons, Crusaders, Knights, Roundheads, Cavaliers and Pageant Queen Miss Freda Shepherd and attendants, collapsed and needed treatment by ambulancemen. But by Thursday afternoon of July 16, when David Lloyd George walked to the microphone set up in front of the royal box, evidently there had been enough rain for the former Liberal Prime Minister to regale the 12,000 people in Peel Park with a meteorological metaphor.

“In Central Europe the clouds are getting denser and darker, and you might have a cloudburst there. Never mind, the waters will subside. It will be all right,” the man known as the Welsh Wizard said, towards the end of his speech. The day before had been St Swithin’s Day, so the reference to “cloudburst” and the trouble brewing in Germany was apposite.

Following the financial crash of 1929 and the worldwide Depression that followed, Germany was having grave difficulty in meeting its reparation payments imposed by the Allies after the 1914-18 War. As European and American politicians met to discuss loaning Germany £100m, the T&A reported that Communists and ‘Nazis’ were fighting in the streets of Berlin. The Depression, of course, backwashed into Bradford, which then was a world-wide textile trading city. The Pageant was first suggested in the Yorkshire Observer as an adjunct to another great event taking place that July in the city, which Lily Crossland mentions in her Bowling Tidings article.

The prestigious Imperial Wool Industries Fair – textile machinery on display, samples of cloth, show booths and unemployed people acting as mannequins to display 50 shilling suits and the like – ran for two weeks from July 6 at Olympia Hall, a large venue at 111 Thornton Road (on the site of the current Renault dealership) which existed from 1854 to 1970.

The Historical Pageant dovetailed into this, opening on July 13 with a visit from Prince George. Both events ended on July 18. The Fair concluded with a dinner and dance at the New Victoria, organised by one Sam Weller. The Pageant’s last day was attended by 18 MPs. The hope was that the publicity generated by both events would boost business.

That was why the Bradford Telegraph & Argus and the Lord Mayor of the day, Alderman Alfred Pickles, were expressly anxious that the local dispute involving some 9,000 textile workers and factory owners, should be suspended until after the two big shows were over.

Some employers had responded to the slump in trade by withdrawing bonuses and then by posting notices warning of wage reductions. By Friday, July 10, strike action by 9,000 woolcombers was proposed for the Monday, the start of the Pageant.

The T&A carried an “earnest appeal” on its back page, which in 1931 was the broadsheet newspaper’s front page (except on Saturdays, when it was the main sports page). It declared: “The Pageant is a genuine effort to advertise Bradford to bring more trade to the city. For six months thousands of people of all classes and all shades of political opinion have been working enthusiastically for this event. Articles relating to the Pageant have appeared in over 600 newspapers in Great Britain, the Colonies and beyond. Thousands of visitors are expected in the city next week, and it will be little short of disaster if this great event is marred by any industrial dispute.”

The following day the paper followed up with an editorial pointing out that the Lord Mayor himself had appealed to employers for “a short postponement of reduction notices”.

Evidently, the appeal was heeded. The Pageant, organised by Frances Lascelles, the ‘Pageant Master’, went ahead. The Lord Mayor, Alderman Pickles, said: “And now, when we have got to the last day of the Pageant week, I for one have no hesitation in declaring that the event has fully justified itself (applause). And further, I want to claim that my team has proved itself to be as good as any in the United Kingdom.”

Admission for the week’s events totalled more than £11,000. After costs and expenses of £9,000, that left a handsome sum to be distributed among charities.