A Pageant of College Green
Place: College Green (Bristol) (Bristol, Gloucestershire, England)
Number of performances: 13
23 June–5 July 1930
Daily at 7.30pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Director [Pageant Master]: Jones, Frederick C.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
The pageant script was written by members of the Bristol Folk House
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Enter Professor Oldlore, a white-haired woman in D.Litt. robes, with her nephew, a boy from Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, and niece, a Red Maid. She tells them about the history of College Green: ‘a little world/This confined space wherein your schools once lay,/For the world’s drama has been played herein.’1
Episode I. St Augustine Meets the Welsh Bishops on College Green, About 600 AD
British children, who are Saxon slaves, enter and begin playing games. Glyndwr, Bishop of Avalon, enters and laments their fate before the children scatter in terror. Word comes that Bishop Augustine is approaching. Six bishops enter and they begin to consult about the state of the church and whether they will accept Augustine’s mandates. A hermit enters, blessing them.
British and then Saxon onlookers enter. A Saxon woman and her blind son want Augustine to heal him. A priestly procession enters and then Augustine, borne in a litter with Bishops Mellitus and Jordan. The sceptical Bishops and Augustine confer. Augustine suggests they are wayward and haughtily orders them to keep Easter, to fulfil the rites of Baptism and keep the celibacy of the priesthood. Ultimately, the bishops relent ‘for the sake of concord’. The Bishops debate whether they should heal the blind man. They fail. Augustine tries and succeeds. The Saxon lady is converted, uttering: ‘From this day, thy faith is mine.’ The crowd proclaims the miracle, though one Bishop calls it witchcraft. Augustine implores the Britons and Saxons to become brothers united in God, though the Bishops refuse this. Augustine condemns them: ‘By the swords of these Saxons, whom ye despise, shall ye perish. Anathema! Amen!’
Professor Oldlore declares that these old Bishops were driven out, the Danes came and were repulsed by Alfred, and finally Brigstowe—‘The place above the bridge’—was built with a Roman castle and an Augustinian Abbey.
Episode II. The Carmelite Friars Present a Water Conduit to the City, About 1267 AD
Carmelite Friars enter with tools and set about clearing the ground. Two washerwomen complain about the lack of water. The town herald enters and announces the imminent arrival of the Mayor and Constable to accept the Friars’ gifts. The Rectors of St John and St Lawrence are unhappy with this, complaining about the mendicant friars who ‘have wormed their way into the city, preaching in the market, begging at our doors, and are now living on the fat of the land’. Mariners arrive with casks of wine which the Friars offer to dilute with spring water. The Mayor and Constable, followed by attendant ladies, arrive and greet the crowd. He mocks the Rector. The Bishop blesses the spring and the Mayor gratefully accepts the Friars’ gifts and leaves with the Rector.
Episode III. William Tindale Preaches on College Green, About 1522 AD
Townsfolk gather on the college green with Friars and others to hear the ‘madman [who] is like to undermine the work of the good monks and Mother Church.’ However, some dissent, saying that the Gospels are meant for all. Civic dignitaries arrive and finally a beggar rushes in announcing Tindale’s arrival. The crowd is ambivalent as to whether they wish to decapitate him, run him out of town or hear him speak. Tindale speaks, whilst being mocked by jesters and Friars, criticizing the excesses of the church. He reads from a scroll (which is the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10: Verse 30, the parable of the Good Samaritan) but before he finishes is interrupted. Tindale, thwarted, exits as the people argue amongst themselves. Tindale is followed by a few Bristolians, though most go to find the players.
Episode IV. The Last of the Abbots, 1539 AD
The scene is outside the gates of the Abbey of St Augustine with a bell ringing for vespers. Beggars knock on the doors asking for charity but no one opens, and eventually they are sent away by the monks. The monks themselves come out, Abbey Brother Giles apologising that the monks have no more to give, whilst Brother Matthias questions the Abbot’s otherworldly ways. A crowd denigrates them. One suggests that ‘There’s more than timber sold, by all accounts. There’s them as say my Lord Abbot sold his soul to the devil when he sold the vessels out o’ Holy Church.’ The Abbot, Morgan Gwilliam ap Gwilliam, arrives, and the crowd surges forward. Then the King’s Commissioner and men-at-arms arrive and the crowd half-heartedly cheer. The Abbot gives them the keys. After a small scuffle the soldiers pass into the Abbey. The Abbot bemoans his fate to the crowd and gains their sympathy. The beggars announce that the tables are turned, and the monks discuss where they will go: to Spain, to beg, or stay in Bristowe. The Clerk asks the townspeople ‘Why do you grieve? This darkness is but the darkness before the dawn. The altar lights are quenched, but they shall be relit by a purer flame. Go, go, you fosterers of lies and a false system.’ They leave and a minstrel sings a song.
Episode V. Royalist and Roundhead Consider a Treaty of Peace in Saint Augustine’s Parish
Scene I. 26 July 1643
Colonel Fiennes, the Parliamentary Governor of Bristol, stands before a table surrounded by his deputies and Major Langrish, the Mayor and various officials. Langrish exits to relieve the Essex Fort. The Mayor and Fiennes discuss their perilous position and suggest they should seek terms with the Royalist besiegers. Dorothy Hazard criticizes their lack of resolve and suggests that now the soldiers are faltering ‘the Grace of God hath entered into the women of Bristol’, stating that the women will defend the city. A messenger announces that the Royalists have breached the walls. Royalist officers and Prince Rupert enter with flags offering to negotiate terms. Fiennes and his men withdraw to consider.
Scene II. Later the Same Day
Prince Rupert presents Fiennes with terms of surrender, which Fiennes agrees upon. However, a soldier enters with angry Puritan women. He says they refuse to acknowledge the terms. Rupert admires their valour but convinces them that Bristol has surrendered.
Episode VI. Edmund Burke Celebrates His Election, 3 November 1744 [Actually 1774]
The scene is the Garden of Hannah More’s house with a number of prominent Bristolian women. A Mrs Champion enquires whether Mr Burke will ‘discourse at great length’, though Hannah More thinks he will only utter ‘a few well-chosen words of thanks’. Burke enters with a retinue of gentlemen and addresses More (at some length) with great eloquence. More congratulates him on his election. Richard Champion announces the results as follows:
Mr Cruger 3565 votes
Mr Burke 2707 votes
Mr Brickdale 2465 votes
Lord Clare 283 votes.
This means that in the two-member constituency, both Cruger and Burke are elected
Key historical figures mentioned
- Augustine [St Augustine] (d. 604) missionary and archbishop of Canterbury
- Mellitus (d. 624) archbishop of Canterbury
- Tyndale, William (c.1494–1536) translator of the Bible and religious reformer
- Fiennes, Nathaniel (1607/8–1669) politician and army officer
- Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland (1619–1682) royalist army and naval officer
- Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797) politician and author
- More, Hannah (1745–1833) writer and philanthropist
- Champion, Richard (1743–1791) merchant and porcelain manufacturer,
- Brereton, Thomas (1782–1832) army officer
Musical productionThe Folk House Orchestra performed old English music arranged by A.S. Warrell, FRCO.
Mr Lewis Horley and Miss Edna Eades also arranged a minuet. The following pieces were performed:
- Psalm 140.
- ‘Ora Pro Nobis’.
- Minstrel’s Song.
- Prince Rupert’s March.
- The Conquering Hero.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Western Daily Press
Book of words
- A Pageant of College Green. No publication details, 1930.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Bristol Central Library: Copy of the Programme. B14011.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Bristol Folk House was, and is, the oldest education centre in Bristol, established in 1887 on Deanery Road as part of a Baptist Mission in Lower College Green, a working-class area of the Bristol Docks, with the current Folk House not coming into being until 1921.2 The pageant staged in 1930 was described ‘as a Folk House Community adventure, seeking to attract a wider public to share in the many sided activities of the Folk House, and to imbue the public with a “deeper and wider civic consciousness.”’3 This was the first pageant to be held in Bristol since the 1924 Pageant, held at Aston Park, which then moved to Wembley. Though relatively successful in Bristol, the move to the Empire Fayre at Wembley proved a disaster in financial terms. Though Bristol’s pageantry tradition did not wholly resume until the 1946 Bristol Civic Pageant ‘Western Gateway’, the Pageant of College Green of 1930 was a commendable effort written, produced and performed by adult education students, many of whom were from working-class backgrounds.
The pageant was performed on College Green, which is a large triangular square in Bristol flanked by the Lord Mayor’s Chapel, the City Hall and Bristol Cathedral, and the Folk House was given permission to use the popular venue by the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral. The setting was declared to be an inspired choice, with the Western Daily Press remarking that ‘The fact of playing an historical pageant amid the mellowed ruins of the Bishop’s Palace and the handsome trees in the grounds added greatly to the effectiveness of the scenes’4 and that ‘Two at least of the incidents represented might very well have actually taken place on the spot.’5
The director of the Pageant, Frederick C. Jones, was a local historian and poet who had previously written a pageant-play on ‘Roundheads and Royalists’; this had been held in Bristol in 1925.6 It was likely that parts of this were used in Episode V. Jones would later publish a book of local history, The Glory That Was Bristol.7 Jones presented a two-hour Welsh radio broadcast of the Pageant on 23 June.8
Intriguingly, the pageant is narrated by a town spirit (a common feature in pageants) in the form of a woman in academic robes, acknowledging the significant presence of women at Bristol University College, who were admitted on the same terms as men from its foundation in 1876. The first four scenes are hardly favourable to religion in the town, with Bristol bishops presented as stick-in-the-muds opposing St Augustine’s ecumenical overtures, the rectors of local churches setting themselves in opposition to mendicant Carmelite Friars who have dug a well to provide the townspeople with safe drinking water, and William Tyndale receiving a hostile reception as he preached on the College Green. Episode IV presents the dissolution of the Augustinian Abbey, with monks displaying hostility to those who are begging for alms, only to have the situation reversed and to become themselves homeless and without wealth. Though the King’s Commissioner is presented unfavourably, there seems to be a form of rough justice wrought on the Abbot, and the townspeople rejoice that from this will emerge a better and more pure religion.
There follows the famous episode when the women of Bristol refused to accept the garrison’s surrender and vowed to fight on. Their leader, Dorothy Hazard, was a noted Bristol Puritan who went on to found an early Baptist church in the city and was unfavourably referred to as ‘like a hee-goat before the flock.’9 Significantly, the women in the sixth and seventh episodes are absent from the political sphere, with Hannah More (herself an important writer and political philosopher) and Mrs Champion excluded from the male arena of the hustings, and an Irish woman remonstrating with her rioting husband. A major theme of the pageant, perhaps naturally for a pageant by working-class authors, is the presentation of the crowd as an active and moral agent; this is perhaps best shown in episode IV, when the common people oppose the Abbot. The crowd also features in episode VI, which dealt with the famous election of Edmund Burke as MP for Bristol. Ironically, however, Burke’s election in 1774 was the occasion of his famous ‘Bristol Speech’, when he defended the right of an MP to act against the wishes of his constituents as they had elected him for his talents and better judgment. The Bristol electorate, offended by his support for Irish free trade, unceremoniously voted him out of office in 1780.10 Though Burke retrospectively became a figure of local renown, his pompous presentation in this scene treats of his reputation in a gently satirical vein.
The Bristol Riots in Queen’s Square are one of the most notable scenes of the pageant, which shows the remarkable awareness of social history that permeated adult education during this period. The Riots were caused by the rejection of the Second Reform Bill, at a time when fewer men held the vote in the town than during Burke’s days. The rioters are presented as having been motivated by, among other things, the corruption and excessive wealth of the bishops, a wider spirit of anti-clericalism, and the poor state of the town. It presents them in surprisingly nuanced terms—especially in the rioter’s conversation with Mr Ralph—that anticipate those put forward by E.P. Thompson in his 1971 essay ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’.11 Rather than presenting the riots in terms of crude class conflict, the pageant presents Colonel Brereton’s limited response to the Bristol riots not as cowardice or neglect of duty, as he was subsequently accused, but as a reluctance to use military violence against civilians. Brereton acknowledges that an otherwise peaceful protest had been stoked by overreaction on the part of the authorities. Brereton’s self-sacrifice (he died the following year, his health broken) stems from a paternalist sentiment sadly lacking among other sections of the town.
The pageant had a large audience and was well-received by the press, with the Western Daily Press remarking that ‘The whole pageant was very well done. There was individual enthusiasm, and everybody appeared determined to put their best into giving the audience a true and interesting picture of some of the outstanding events of Bristol’s history.’12 The players ‘avoided the many temptations inherent in pageant-play to automatic speech and action. They played with spirit and understanding.’13 The Pageant of College Green was a testament to the complex understanding of local history that could be achieved in a pageant as well as to the contribution of local adult education bodies.
- Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations in synopses are taken from A Pageant of College Green (no publication details, 1930).
- Information from Bristol Folk House, accessed 18 December 2015, http://www.bristolfolkhouse.co.uk/about_history.php.
- Western Daily Press, 26 June 1930, 9.
- Western Daily Press, 24 June 1930, 6.
- Western Daily Press, 31 October 1925, 3.
- Frederick C. Jones, The Glory That Was Bristol (Bristol, 1946).
- Western Daily Press, 24 June 1930, 6.
- Patrick Collinson, Elizabethans (London, 2003), 124.
- Paul Langford, ‘Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 18 December 2015, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4019?docPos=1
- E.P. Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, no. 50 (February 1971), 76-136.
- Western Daily Press, 26 June 1930, 9.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘A Pageant of College Green’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1008/