THESE days, York prides itself on being one of the best cities to visit anywhere in the UK. OK, scrap that: the best city to visit anywhere in the UK.

That sense of pride goes back a long way, as our first couple of photos this week reveal. In July 1909 the city staged a major historical pageant that was York’s attempt to sell itself to the rest of Britain as a major cultural and historic centre second only to London. 

No expense was spared. The pageant, held in Museum Gardens, was designed as a celebration of 1900 years of York’s history, and was said to have involved between 2,500 and 3,000 performers. And no less a figure than Louis Napoleon Parker was recruited as pageant master. Mr Parker was, according to Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton and Paul Readman in their paper ‘The York Pageant: The Redress of the Past’ on the Historical Pageants in Britain website, the ‘acknowledged inventor of modern historical pageant’. 

Performances took place each day at 3pm from July 26 to July 31 1909, and were preceded by a week of dress rehearsals. 

Intended very much as a tourist event, the publicity machine for the pageant started early: the ‘book of words’ was published and ready for sale by early April 1909. ‘All Roads Lead to York’ declared a publicity pamphlet distributed in railway stations. In the distant past, publicity asserted, it had been a ‘matter of uncertainty which was to become the metropolis of the country, London or York’. 

Our first two photos today show preparations for the pageant. They, like all the others images on these pages today, come from Explore York’s wonderful Imagine York website...

1. Some of the 40 men employed by Mr Bellerby of Hungate Saw Mills to construct the 100 foot long stand for the pageant. The stand was designed by city surveyor Mr F. W. Spurr and took just over two months to complete. 

2. The completed stand, with Louis Napoleon Parker’s crow’s nest perched on top. Mr Parker directed the movements of the performers from here. His crow’s nest was equipped with nine electric buttons which worked as cues during the three and a half hour programme.

3. A view from outside the Retreat looking north to Heworth taken in 1912 by Tempest Anderson, the medical doctor, explorer and volcanologist who was also no mean photographer. Heworth Church and spire are just visible on the horizon in his photo. The buildings on the left are the back of Plantation Tannery on Hull Road, identified by the chimney on its engine house. In the 1930s this site became the Plantation Engineering Works, then the Co-operative (Co-op) Dairy. The football pitch in the foreground of the photograph may have been the home venue of Fishergate Old Boys.

4. The West Esplanade and Lendal Bridge as seen from Scarborough Railway Bridge in 1912, in another Tempest Anderson photograph. In the background, from left to right, are several York landmarks of the day: the waterworks tower, the Guildhall, St Martin Le Grand church, Rowntrees Cocoa works, Walker’s Horse Repository and the spire of All Saints Church on North Street. 

5. The view from Museum Gardens towards Tanner’s Moat in the early 1900s. 

6. Harker’s Hotel, seen in 1928. The hotel acquired its name when Christopher Harker became the landlord in 1850 and continued to be known as Harker’s after his death in 1870. Betty’s now stands on this site. The building which is presently called Harker’s is 30 yards away on the other side of the street.

7. The Haxby Road entrance to Rowntree’s, probably in about 1950. The central building is the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library. The No 12 bus will have been heading for Huntington and Strensall.

Stephen Lewis

All the photos on these pages, and thousands mo re, are held on Explore York’s Imagine York archive. You can browse it yourself at