The Pageant of Shawls

August Bank Holiday 1943

Document typed by Jackie Embury from Miss Hislop's handwritten green book owned by Janet Chennells


There are in many of our homes old shawls, lovingly preserved which seldom see the light of day.  On one occasion during the war these old shawls had “one more hour of glorious life” when they were brought out of their secret places and were seen in a Pageant of Shawls held in the Bury Garden on August Bank Holiday 1943.

Amongst the most beautiful of old shawls are the soft woollen shawls of Kashmir.  These are often embroidered with a design representing the pine.  In the East the date palm was one of the first necessities of life, indeed it was known as the Tree of Life.  The Hindu being essentially a mystic wove the symbol of the pine, signifying fertility, abundance and reproduction into the work of his hands.

The introduction of shawls into this country was greatly encouraged by young soldiers and builders of Empire who sent lovely Indian shawls home as presents. 

It was the Kashmir shawl embroidered in pine designs which the Scottish weavers of Paisley imitated so successfully on their looms and which led to the popularity of the Paisley shawl. 

Queen Victoria was much interested in the Paisley shawls made during the early years of her reign.  In 1842 she purchased seventeen of these shawls, and there is a letter from the Queen’s secretary written from Windsor, which says “Her Majesty will wear one of the chosen shawls at the Royal Christening,” that of the infant Prince of Wales later King Edward VII. 

One writer says “Out of the travail of drudgery was born the patient industry of workers, the intellectual strength and cultivated taste, the love of beauty and colour which is characteristic of the work of the Paisley Weavers.”

Many of these beautiful old shawls were worn by their proud owners.  A tableau was shown – a company of Ashwell ladies in early Victorian dress.

Mrs Wallace wore the purple silk dress and beautiful black lace shawl of her great grandmother.  By her side was a girl wearing the Victorian dress of a young girl of the period with a lovely white silk scarf shawl richly embroidered.  Mrs Wallace was seated on a chair made, worked in tapestry and presented to the original wearer of the purple dress as a wedding gift.

A very handsome exhibit was the Beresford Bearing Robe made of bright red satin edged with gold lace.  This shawl has been worn by all the babies of this branch of the Beresford family since the middle of the seventeenth century at their christening.

Miss Wylie showed a number of Scottish shawls and plaids, and sang with great feeling “O wert thou in the cauld blast”.

Miss Christine Angell in Welsh national dress with long grey shawl did a Welsh dance.

Then there was the lass Fra Lancashire and the Irish colleen in bright green shawl to do an Irish jig.

The Cockney girl in feathered hat and big shawl did the Lambeth Walk, and the Spanish lady in black mantilla danced to the sound of her castanets.

Country shawls included many warm shawls worn at wedding, christening and funeral a hundred years ago.

To the silk Indian shawls was accorded a special place for they had belonged to the late Mrs Critchely.

“Twas just on seventy years agoTthat brave and handsome General Snow
To India went to serve his Queen.
And in this village chanced to dwell
A niece of his whom he loved well
And to the girl he held so dear
He sent the shawls that you see here”

The wearers of these Indian shawls were grouped on the flat roof of the drawing-room extension and were most colourful.

Priscilla the Puritan maiden beloved of Captain Miles Standish and equally beloved by the humble poet John Alden was represented by Mrs Raven in Quaker dress and taking the hand of a young American Solider from the camp at Bassingbourne, she made the centrepiece of the last tableau.

Mrs Whitby spoke the epilogue which she had composed:-

So ends our Pageant and Parade of Shawls
Each one a thing of beauty rare and fine
A single thread, a minute in the history of its time,
Conjoining with each other stand upon the loom

Of destiny making a pattern ineffaceable.
Along the centuries.
Off has the loom of peaceful progress
Been crossed and warped by hateful war.

But soon shall come the
Master Weaver
With skilful hands to join the broken threads
Bringing peace to every nation.
For all the centuries.

This page was added on 15/07/2011.

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