Our 25th story and halfway marker features a lavish celebration of aspects of Kirkcaldy's history in the form of an ambitious community pageant and bazaar in Dysart Park (now Ravenscraig) in summer 1911.
To mark its centenary and to raise funds for an organ, St Peter's Episcopal Church presented 'Caer Caledon' with a cast of some 500 - mostly children, featuring 'appearances' by the likes of Oliver Cromwell, Mary Queen of Scots, Adam Smith, Robert Adam and Thomas Carlyle.
In its own way, 50 Objects also seeks to present 'Dramatic Scenes from the History of Kirkcaldy' and some of the episodes have already been covered in our project.
So strike up the band as we look at the context as well as the content of 'Caer Caledon'.
Dramatic Scenes From Kirkcaldy's Past
This month sees the project reach its halfway stage and our chosen ‘object’ is something possibly very few readers will have heard of, never mind being familiar with! In all honestly, in the initial planning stages, Caer Caledon was never considered for inclusion – principally, as the team had never heard of it!
It was stumbled on by a happy accident, but the story encapsulates so many aspects of Kirkcaldy’s history, personalities and heritage, that it almost demands inclusion in the series. In today’s parlance it was holistic.
So, what exactly is Caer Caledon and why has it appeared from nowhere to secure inclusion at this landmark stage?
The seed of the story lies with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and the celebration of its centenary in 1911.
In 1906 the Reverend H.T.J. Waring had arrived as the Minister and he was apparently a talented musician. At the time, St Peter’s music was provided by a converted barrel organ which had been in service through almost all of the Church’s history. Mr Waring agitated for and secured a new organ in 1909 at a cost of £435.00.
St Peter’s had excellent connections with many of the local landowners and gentry. It has been suggested that these classes tended to send their sons to English public schools for their education and while there they enjoyed the more relaxed and different style of religious service. This it is claimed led to many families establishing connections with the Episcopal Church.
This was certainly true in Kirkcaldy and many local landowners were connected to St. Peter’s and some contributed in part to the organ’s cost. These included the Oswald family, along with the Ferguson, Wemyss and Rosslyn families.
In fact, by 1911 four generations of the Oswald family had sustained connections with St Peter’s.
1911 also saw the Coronation of George V and Queen Mary and many celebrations, processions and pageants, had been planned to mark the occasion. Caer Caledon was a pageant, but it was not sparked into life by the Coronation – it had been in the planning since July 1910 – when Edward V11 had just passed away.
The notion of a pageant had been promoted by the Reverend Waring with two purposes in mind. The first was designed to celebrate the centenary, with the second to eliminate the remaining debt on the cost and installation of the organ. A very impressive list of local personalities and members of the congregation served on the main and sub committees.
By any stretch of the imagination the event was a massive undertaking involving an army of volunteers from the congregation and beyond. The pageant was to be, in the main, a children’s event involving over 450 young people. Most were drawn from St Peter’s and its two satellite churches; St Michael’s, which served the Pathhead area, and St Columba’s which looked after the spiritual needs of the Links area.
The event, with the kind permission of Michael Nairn, took place in the grounds of Dysart House in an area which is now part of Ravenscraig Park. The church had approached Mr Lachlan MacBean, a high profile figure in the town, to write the pageant’s story. The plan was to stage important scenes from the history of Kirkcaldy over ten episodes. These ranged from 500 AD through to the early stages of the 19th century. MacBean was the ideal man; he was the editor of the Fifeshire Advertiser, an author of books on local history, and also wrote and translated Gaelic hymns and psalms.
His libretto delivered the story and, over the next ten months, phenomenal amounts of work were carried out in training, rehearsals, and in the production of costumes and accessories. It was estimated that, at one stage, 100 costumes were being produced each month by the volunteers.
The majority of the work was carried out by members of the congregation, but Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society and the local Operatic Society were deeply involved with the provision of the singing and music. A specialist, Mr J. Brewster, was brought in as pageant manager and organiser. He had experience in managing many works by the town’s Operatic Society and he was an ideal candidate for the important post.
The pageant was performed on two days – once on the 28th June 1911 and twice on the 1st July. On the first occasion, a bazaar was arranged to add to the fundraising activities. Admission prices ranged from 4/6d down to 6d with under 12s half price.
The park provided a stunning backdrop and a huge grandstand had been erected. Both days enjoyed favourable weather and the bazaar was certainly very popular and raised the sum of £58.00 – that is over £12,000 today!
Reports of the event showed that the scenes were well performed and covered a period from the founding of the town – through being granted its Charter – to attacks by Cromwell, the Jacobites, and beyond. It featured many of the town’s famous and enduring figures such as Robert Adam, the Reverend Shirra, and Adam Smith. The iconic, Mary, Queen of Scots, was also featured astride a pony.
Kirkcaldy was celebrated in words, music and song, and the local press gave lavish praise in terms of the costumes, performance and music. Most certainly it reflected well on everyone concerned that such a huge undertaking, involving so many children, should run without a hitch.
The performances ended with a procession of ladies and children representing Kirkcaldy’s sister towns in Fife (those having Episcopalian Churches). Again, the costumes garnered much praise.
Although the event failed to raise a ripple in the national press it certainly created a stir in the local area. Sadly, it has never been repeated – although there was a brief, but unsuccessful, attempt to resurrect it as part of the celebrations of the 1951 Festival of Britain.
At the time it was the most colourful and well attended entertainment extravaganza in Kirkcaldy’s history. It was well received and well patronised. The pageant book still exists complete with the libretto – the stage directions and the songs. If an opportunity arises in the future – then perhaps Kirkcaldy’s story can be recounted – in full or part.
Not every town has such a glorious but spectacularly well-hidden past as the Lang Toun. Why is this? – Kirkcaldy has every reason for the celebration of its history and heritage.
The fully researched story of the preparations and the event itself is reached via the icon below. It is worth a visit – the sheer scale of the undertaking is breath-taking and you can even discover the meaning of Caer Caledon!