Chilham Castle Pageant
Place: Chilham Castle Grounds (Chilham) (Chilham, Kent, England)
Number of performances: 4
5–6 July 1946
5 and 6 July 1946 at 2.30pm and 6.30pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Craig, Edith
- Voluntary Secretary and Assistant: Miss T. Congdon
- Chief Steward: Mr E. Clifford-Smith
- Narrated by: Edward Percy Smith, MP
- Property Master and Art Director: Miss C. Attwood
- Assistant: Miss V. Holme
- Property Advisor: F.A. Matthews
- Costumes: Miss M. Gibson and Miss Carrick
- Distribution of Programmes: Miss K. Faulder
- Assistant: Miss Carmen Bowen
- Mistress of the Dance: Miss Margaret Giles
- Director of Music: Mr A. Vaughan
- Box Office: Mr D.G. Evans and Mr A. Verrall
- Electrical Supervisor: Mr W. Spinner
- Supervisor of Fights: Mr C.F. Black
- Patron: HRH Duchess of Kent
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- E.J. Colthup
- Somerset de Chair
- W.F. Gaskain
- Robert Tritton
Pageant Finance, Appeal and Organisation Committee:
- Chairman: Somerset de Chair
- Hon. Treasurer: R.W. Clifford-Smith
- Vice-President: Mrs Somerset de Chair
- Hon. Secretary: D.G. Evans
- Chairman: Mr J.J. Costen
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- de Chair, Somerset
Names of composers
Numbers of performers600
The pageant made a profit of £2717. 2s. 4d.1
Object of any funds raised
In aid of the Kent Appeals for the National Association of Boys’ Clubs and the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 10000
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
The local MP, Geoffrey Chaucer, on his way from Westminster to Canterbury, finds himself delayed for a little time while his horse is being watered and fed. He talks with the ostler about the history of Chilham. They provide an interlude to each scene.
Episode I. Julius Caesar and the Britons
Before the Britons’ stronghold at Chilham, involving early Britons, King Casivellaunus, Julius Caesar and members of his staff, etc.
Episode II. King Henry II and Fair Rosamund
Fair Rosamund lives in seclusion in the country. King Henry keeps her closely guarded and in ignorance of his real identity. Rosamund is discovered waiting for her lover whom she knows as Baron X. During a brief love scene a page comes to warn King Henry of the Queen’s unexpected arrival. Through the disloyalty of a servant in Rosamund’s household, the Queen buys the information she is seeking and comes in bitter anger to confront Henry with her knowledge. Rosamund, in amazement and fear at the realization that the King is her lover and in awe of the impending royal quarrel, retires; on the advice of her priest, she eventually seeks refuge in a nunnery. Queen Eleanor (of Aquitaine) calls on her sons to come to her support. The scene ends in anger and the evil promise of civil war to come.
Episodes III. King John and Archbishop Langton
King John and Langton, whom he met at Chilham Castle. John is forced by the Pope to accept Langton, which he does with difficulty; repressing his rage, he receives his blessing.
Episode IV. The Invasion of Britain in King John’s Reign by the Dauphin of France, AD 1216
King John is faced by an invasion from France after rejecting Magna Carta. Predictably, the Barons are annoyed at this and encourage the Dauphin of France to invade, which he does. However, John dies suddenly, and the Barons decide to resist the invader.
Episode V. Richard Fitzroy and the Rose of Dover
In this scene we see Richard Fitzroy wooing the petulant Rose of Dover, who succumbs to his embraces more from a desire to recover the family place than out of any deep affection for Fitzroy. To celebrate the betrothal, the villagers come out and dance an ancient sword dance.
Episode VI. The Canterbury Pilgrims
A mime introducing the individual characters from the Canterbury Tales, accompanied to lines from the prologue.
Episode VII. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Henry, Anne, and Thomas Cromwell at Court.
Episode VIII. Sir Dudley and Inigo Jones
Episode IX. Funeral of Sir Dudley Digges
Episode X. Smuggling Scene
Episodes XI and XII. Garden Party for Jane Austen
A march past of all the characters, including a representation of Montgomery’s defence of the Home Island.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Caesar [Gaius Julius Caesar] (100–44 BC) politician, author, and military commander
- Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340–1400) poet and administrator
- Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Eleanor [Eleanor of Aquitaine], suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204) queen of France, consort of Louis VII, and queen of England, consort of Henry II
- John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Langton, Stephen (c.1150–1228) archbishop of Canterbury
- Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
- Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536) queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII
- Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540) royal minister
- Erasmus, Desiderius (c.1467–1536) humanist scholar and reformer
- Cheyne, Sir Thomas (c.1485–1558) administrator and diplomat [also known as Cheney, Sir Thomas]
- Jones, Inigo (1573–1652) architect and theatre designer
- Digges, Sir Dudley (1582/3–1639) politician and diplomat
- Austen, Jane (1775–1817) novelist
- Montgomery, Bernard Law [known as Monty], first Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887–1976) army officer
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald
Sarasota Herald Tribune
Look and Learn
Bury Free Press
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Chilham Castle Pageant. Canterbury, 1946.
References in secondary literature
- Collis, Rose. Portraits to the Wall: Historic Lesbian Lives Unveiled. London, 1994. At 66.
- de Chair, Somerset. Buried Pleasure. London, 1985. At 128–131.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Bodleian Library, Oxford, John Johnson Collection: Copy of programme.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales.
- Kipling, Rudyard. ‘A Smuggler’s Song’.
The pageants that were held immediately after 1945 were suffused with the weight of the war just past. Chilham Castle is a large Tudor-style manor house that lies between Ashford and Canterbury in Kent. Like many stately homes, it had been occupied by the army during the Second World War and had been bought in 1944 by the colourfully named Somerset de Chair, a politician, author and soldier.2 De Chair had lost his seat for South West Norfolk in 1945, losing by 53 votes, and was at something of a loose end. In his own words: ‘I felt sorely treated by the election and other disappointments’.3 De Chair attended a Kentish appeal for the National Association of Boys’ Clubs ‘and rashly offered to hold a pageant at Chilham. I had no idea what I was in for’.4 A local producer, Edie Craig, who was a daughter of the famous Edwardian actress Ellen Terry, was recruited; she ‘agreed to produce the pageant for the cost of re-thatching the barn, which in those days was £100’.5 Craig was well-versed in pageantry, going back to the Suffragette Pageant of Great Women (1910) and was one of the models the character of Miss La Trobe in Virginia Woolf's novel Between the Acts (1941). As de Chair recounted: ‘It was a nightmare getting ten or a dozen villages to act ten or a dozen episodes. But they did it; and the long loft over the still disused cow byre abandoned by the army, was turned into a dressmaking establishment’.6
The pageant was striking for the heavy involvement of Conservative party figures who, in general, stayed aloof or were even opposed to pageantry in the post-war period, castigating it as either an unnecessary expense or a trick of socialist propaganda. The local MP, Edward Percy Smith, acted as the narrator, Geoffrey Chaucer, with de Chair playing the ribald ostler who conversed with him between each episode.7 Ken Hardy, Chairman of the Kent County Council, played Sir Dudley Digges, the former owner of the castle.8 Smith, who stood down at the 1950 election, may well have been presenting de Chair as his potential successor. In fact, the local Conservative Association bought 55 shilling tickets for the opening performance, with the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald announcing: ‘It is learned that this outing is expected to be the forerunner of others in the Conservative Association’s new drive to increase membership’.9
De Chair had enjoyed a stellar political career, becoming an MP at the age of 24 having published books predicting the Second World War and the spread of communism; he became Parliamentary Private Secretary in 1942 after distinguished service in the Middle East.10 The post-war period saw de Chair, an avid historian and art collector, at something of a loose end, with his meteoric rise momentarily arrested. One can very much view the pageant as a device for taking his mind off things. The pageant, which he wrote, was a classic account of the place’s importance in wider history, experiencing a myriad of invasions and royal visitations. A significant device was the deployment of two narrators, Geoffrey Chaucer (local MP), and the ostler of a local tavern, who presented all the dialogue. This is one of the earliest uses of a narrator, a dramaturgical device which became widespread in post-war pageantry. The inclusion of Chaucer, the scene adapted from the Canterbury Tales, the scene featuring Jane Austen, and the reading of Kipling’s A Smuggler’s Song (‘If You Wake at Midnight…’), were nods to de Chair’s literary pretensions (he also wrote novels).
One of the biggest coups of the pageant was the patronage of the Duchess of Kent, who opened the pageant and drew wide newspaper coverage (particularly from the Times).11 The Bury Free Press praised de Chair’s script, fondly recalling the recently dismissed local MP.12 The pageant was widely praised, with the Times calling it ‘outstandingly successful not only as an excellent entertainment but also as a means of aiding the Kent appeal’ and commenting on the ‘ideal setting for a pageant of Kentish history’.13 The newspaper, generally rather sniffy about local pageants, praised the performers themselves: ‘One felt indeed that this pageant was as much an enjoyment to these performers as it was to those who watched them.’ It noted ‘the obvious pride in the place that Chilham can claim in our island history’.14 The Dover Express noted that the pageant was ‘mimed with a perfection which reflected the greatest credit not only on the members of the cast, but also upon those in whose hands had been entrusted the difficult task of production and rehearsals.’15
The scene which got the greatest applause was the final scene in which Lieutenant M.E. Clifton-James played Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. In fact, Clifton-James had acted as Montgomery’s double shortly before D-Day in Operation Copperhead where the pay-clerk was farcically employed by David Niven to impersonate the Field Marshal to divert German attention during the weeks before the Allied landings in Normandy.16 Clifton-James’ book I Was Monty’s Double (1954), which was turned into a film in 1958, detailed these exploits. While it was generally rare to portray a major living figure in a pageant, the scene obviously appealed to the audience for whom the war was still fresh in their memories. When promoting the film, Clifton-James’ wrongly told the Sarasota Herald that the audience at the pageant had believed that Clifton-James was the real Montgomery.17
The pageant was a great success, attracting 10000 attendees and making £2717 profit, which was divided equally between the National Association of Boys’ Clubs and the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association.18 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Fisher, visited the pageant ‘in full canonicals’, being mistaken for one of the performers.19 The Pageant was a testament to the powers of pageantry to evoke ‘Our Island Story’ in post-war austerity conditions.
De Chair’s career was far less successful than the pageant. Despite much gratuitous sucking up to both Edward Smith and the local Conservative association, William Deedes, a local architect, was instead selected to fight for the Ashford Constituency when Smith stood down at the next election.20 This might have had something to do with de Chair’s private life. Despite being elected as MP for Paddington in 1950, his divorce and remarriage—along with the emergence of details of his scores of extramarital affairs and liaisons with prostitutes (which he recounted at length in his memoirs)—destroyed his political career. Already at the pageant, de Chair was up to his antics, employing ‘beautiful medieval maidens wearing wimples’ and judging a contest of the ‘fleetest maid’, which was ‘won by the head gardener’s beautiful daughter Rosemary Verral amid general acclaim’ (de Chair suggested that he might exact his seigniorial duties upon her).21 The Conservative party went on to deselect de Chair as a candidate, and he stood down at the 1951 General Election.22 De Chair sold the house in 1949, moving to Bourne Park near Canterbury where he continued to pursue his various eclectic (and some downright perverse) hobbies. The house is currently owned by Stuart Wheeler, the spread-betting millionaire who was the Treasurer of UKIP from 2011–2014.23
- The Times, 14 November 1946, 7.
- ‘Somerset de Chair’, Chilham Castle, accessed 3 May 2016, http://www.chilham-castle.co.uk/somerset-de-chair/.
- Somerset de Chair, Buried Pleasure (London, 1985), 127; ‘Death of a Self-Confessed Heterosexual’, Independent, 15 January 1995, accessed 3 May 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/death-of-a-self-confessed-heterosexual-1568079.html.
- de Chair, Buried Pleasure, 128.
- Ibid, 128.
- , 128.
- Ibid, 128.
- Ibid, 128–129.
- Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, 22 June 1946, 5.
- ‘Death of a Self-Confessed Heterosexual’.
- The Times, 6 June 1947, 7.
- Bury Free Press, 7 June 1946, 4.
- The Times, 6 July 1946, 2.
- Dover Express, 12 July 1946, 9.
- ‘The Impersonation of General Montgomery’, Spokesman Magazine, January 2005, accessed 3 May 2016, https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-135759761.html.
- Sarasota Herald Tribune, 23 November 1958, 68.
- The Times, 14 November 1946, 7; ‘St Albans 1948: An Austerity Pageant’, accessed 3 May 2016, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/featured-pageants/st-albans-1948-austerity-pageant/. The article also discusses Chilham.
- de Chair, Buried Pleasure, 130.
- ‘Somerset de Chair’.
- de Chair, Buried Pleasure, 129.
- ‘Death of a Self-Confessed Heterosexual’.
- Tessa and Stuart Wheeler, ‘The History of Chilham Castle’, Chilham Castle, accessed 3 May 2016, http://www.chilham-castle.co.uk/the-history-of-chilham-castle/.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Chilham Castle Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1031/