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The Black Knight Pageant

The Black Knight
The Black Knight in Penny Meadow, 2001.

One of the local curiosities of Ashton under Lyne was the Black Knight Pageant. This page explains the history of the tradition and shows photographs of recent Black Knight pageants in Ashton under Lyne.

This custom is more than 200 years old and was revived recently after an absence of around 45 years, although this brief revival seems to have died out again.

The "Black Knight" is usually thought to be based on the character of Sir Ralph de Assheton, who for a time resided at Ashton Old Hall in the fifteenth century. He was said to have been a cruel tyrant and the local inhabitants feared the sight of him riding around the area, on his black horse, looking for hapless peasants to persecute.

It is said that he was shot dead one Easter Monday by a relative. His death was celebrated by a custom called Riding the Black Lad, where his effigy was paraded around the town on horseback, had lumps of earth thrown at it and then possibly burnt.

The Black Knight
The Black Knight in the Market, 1999.

The first written account of the Riding of the Black Lad was not until 1795, although an earlier record, the Court Leet accounts for 1758, refers to the usual five shillings for making the Black Lad.

During the nineteenth century, the custom became rather chaotic, with rival Black Lads and processions that stopped for refreshment at every public house. It wasn't until 1909 that it developed into the Black Knight Pageant, where a horseman dressed up as the knight and was accompanied by a Pageant Queen and other figures. the pageant was traditionally held on Easter Monday and attracted crowds of up to 100,000.

After the war, the dates of the pageant moved around between Easter and September. Fewer people were prepared to undertake the organisation and the pageant stopped suddenly after 1954.

The Black Knight was resurrected in 1995 to celebrate the opening of The Arcades shopping centre in Ashton and became the focus of Ashton's carnival organised by the Tameside Lions Club for charity.

In recent years the fair has been replaced by street festival and the proceeds from the collection during the parade go to Willow Wood Hospice.

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Visit the Traditions index page to find out about more local traditions around Ashton.