The Conway Pageant: Tableaux Vivant
Place: Unknown, outdoor (Conwy) (Conwy, Carnarvonshire, Wales)
Number of performances: 6
12–17 September 1927, 2.30pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Tableaux Master [Pageant Master]: Russell, William
- Assistant: Mr R. Hugh Mellor, Misses Mair Bushnell and Josie Craven
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: His Worship the Mayor (L. Chetwynd Atkinson, Esq., JP)
- Vice-Chairman: Councillor D.J. Roberts (Deputy Mayor)
- Secretary: Hugh Parry, Town Clerk
- Assistant Secretary: Arthur L. Ralphes
- Historical and Scenario Adviser: Rev. A.E. Jones, BA (Cynan)
- Director of Folk Dancing: R. Hugh Mellor
- Assistant Pageant Director: William Russell
- Assistant Tattoo Director: Geo. Ridgwell
- Musical Director: W. Matthews Williams, FRCO
- Local Choirmaster: R.O. Prichard
- Pageant Play Directors: Rev. W.E. Sangster, BA; Gwilym Hughes
- Advertising: C.E. Wells
- Booking: S. Wells
- Assistant Tattoo Master: Sergt. Major Wilde
Members of Committees and Stewards:
- 71 women, 101 men
Centenary Celebrations Executive Committee
Extensive list of 26 patrons, including Rt. Hon. Lord Mostyn; Rt Hon. Lord Aberconway, Rt. Hon. Lord Colwyn; Rt. Hon. Lord Glanusk; The Rt. Rev. The Bishop of Bangor; David Lloyd George; Mayor of Chester; High Sheriff of Caernarvonshire; etc
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
- Grieg, Edvard
- Meyerbeer, Giacomo
- Handel, George Frideric
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasion100 years since the construction of the Conway Suspension Bridge.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
8000 present for opening pageant afternoon.
‘Over 100000 people visited the town during the week and the total number who braved the odd mixture of weather must have exceeded 150000.’1
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Associated events‘Daily Programme:
- The Rocket—Opens from 11am to 6pm in LM&S Goods Yard
- Old Time Vehicles Procession preceded by Carnival Activities—1.30pm Daily
- Historical Pageant (2000 Costumes) 2.30pm Daily
- Pageant Play in Conway Castle, 5pm Daily
- Brass Band Contest, 7.30pm Daily
- Display by Army Physical Training Team (Aldershot Command), 8.10pm Daily
- Grand Military Searchlight Tattoo 830pm to 1030pm Daily
- God Save the King
- Welsh Folk Dancing
- Brass Band Contest
- Wonderful Combined Singing with Lighting Effects
- Conway Castle in Flames
- Grand Firework Spectacle by Pain’s of London
- Magnificent Lighting Effects
- Castle, Bridge, River and Town Illuminations. Yachting and Shipping Illuminations
Civic Services Sunday, 11 September 1927
- Divine Service at St Mary’s Parish Church, Conway, at 11.15 am. Preacher: The Right Rev. The Lord Bishop of Bangor
- Divine Service at Carmel Welsh Presbyterian Church, Conway, at 6pm. Preacher: The Rev. Sidney O. Morgan, BD. Soloist: Miss Gwen Price (National Eisteddfod Winner).
- Civic Procession: Starts at Guild Hall, Conway at 11am, for the Sunday Morning Service, and at 5.45pm from the Guild Hall for the Evening Service.
- A Sacred Concert will be held in the Arena (Benarth Field) at 8.30pm. Solos will be rendered by Miss Gwen Price (National Eisteddfod Winner) and the Band of HM Grenadier Guards will play.’Band of H.M. Grenadier Guards
Conductor: Captain G. Miller, LRAM
Nantlle Vale Royal Silver Band
Conductor: H. Heyes, Esq.
Famous Welsh Massed Bands
Massed Welsh Choirs
Conductor: Mr W. Matthews Williams, FRCO
Episode I. A Prologue
A bevy of dancing maidens with chains of oak leaves, led by a solo dancer enters. Then the Queen of the Pageant, representing the Spirit of Wales, enters, followed by the choir in white gowns. Massed singing of the Welsh Processional Hymn of Praise, in which the audience is encouraged to join.
Episode II. AD 60
‘Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman Governor of Britain, has determined to crush the powerful British tribes of North Wales by conquering Mona (Anglesey), the stronghold of Druidism, where the ancient rites were practices undisturbed in the sacred groves. He rightly judged that the stubborn resistance of the natives was inspired from this source and that a blow struck here would have a great moral effect. The Tableau shows Suetonius fighting his way towards Mona, and leading the Twentieth Legion against a British earthwork thrown across his path near Conway by the powerful Decanti Tribe. A party of Druids enters the groves behind the British lines to offer human sacrifice and to pray for victory. Other representatives of the Druid bands recklessly expose themselves before the earthwork, calling on their gods to avenge them on the invaders. For a while the legionaries are awe-struck at this spectacle: but their practised valour soon asserts itself, and in spite of the desperate British defence, the Romans capture the position.’
Episode III. The Coronation of Maelgwn Gwynedd, 6th Century
After the withdrawal of the Roman garrisons from Britain, the history of our land is lost for a time in a mist of legends and traditions. The ‘Arthurian’ legends have gathered round some British ruler of this period who stemmed the tide of the Saxon advance at the Battle of Mount Badon, about the year 500. His wars were probably waged in the south and east of the island, as the defence of the north-west of Britain was entrusted to another ‘Gwledig’ or ruler. This latter region does not seem to have been much troubled by the Saxon marauders until far on in the sixth century. About that time a clearly defined figure of flesh and blood emerges out of the mist of tradition in the north-west. He is Maglocunos, more popularly known as Maelgwn Gwynedd. Maelgwn, son of Cadwallon of the Long Hand, was called Maelgwn Hir, as he was taller than most of the chieftains of Britain. He seems also to have overtopped them in power. His especial home was probably the rock of Degannway, the ancient hold of the Decanti, where ‘in the court of Rhos,’ on seeing the Yellow Plague, he slept to awake no more. Tradition says that his advent to power was the result of a competition, not of arms but of constructive skill. In this competition, held in the Estuary of the Dyfi, he alone was able to keep his structure standing and to continue building when his rivals had fled before the incoming tide… his contemporary, Gildas, describes him as a man of violence, urged on by ruthless ambition; yet with a certain tincture of nobleness. He was a liberal giver and a great patron of the bards. The tableau represents his Coronation, when as a raw youth he had usurped his uncle’s Crown and overthrown his valiant troops.
Episode IV. Harold and Gruffydd Ap Llywelyn, 5 August 1063
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, through his brilliant leadership and indomitable prowess, became King over all the Welsh race. He married Earl Aelfgar’s daughter, Ealdgyth, and when, through the influence of Earl Godwin, his father-in-law was banished by Edward the Confessor, Gruffydd’s forces helped to re-instate him. In 1602, after Earl Aelfgar’s death, Harold, the son of Godwin, obtained the King’s leave to march against Gruffydd and overthrow him. The campaign is vividly described in Lytton’s ‘Harold.’ The Welsh King was driven by Harold’s light infantry to take refuge in the wild mountains of Arvon—possibly on Penmaenmawr, as Lytton suggests. Here he held out until, in the words of the ancient chronicler, ‘the man who had been hitherto invincible, the shield and defender of the Britons, was now left in the glens of desolation’, and was treacherously slain by some of his own men. In this scene, two treacherous princes are shown taking his head in a sack to Harold at Aberconwy, as the price of peace. Harold showed great kindness to the widow, the beautiful Ealdgyth, whom later he married.
Episode V. Gruffydd Ap Cynan Raids Degannwy, 1088
Gruffydd Ap Cynan, Prince of North Wales, has now regained health and strength, and is once more leading his countrymen against the Norman oppressors. He and his men have raided Degannwy, which is in the Lordship of Earl Hugh’s cousin—Robert of Rhuddlan (reputed to be the cruellest of all the Lord Marchers).The Welsh are seen returning towards their ships with their plunder and prisoners. Robert awakes from his mid-day sleep in the Castle, with no thought of danger, when he suddenly beholds the daring marauders. He is unarmed, but in his wrath he snatches up sword and shield, begs his few unarmed retainers to follow him in a sortie, and, when they decline, he throws prudence to the winds, and attended by a single knight, rushes down on the raiders. Instantly the darts and arrows of the whole troop are directed against the two, and, as they wear no armour, they soon sink to the ground in death. The Welsh cut off Robert’s head, while their Prince cries ‘So perish all the tyrants and oppressors of Wales!’ The raiders drive off their spoils to the boats and fix Robert’s head on the mast. But the infuriated Normans, by now fully armed, prepare to follow with other boats. Seeing this, the Welsh, acting on a counsel of discretion, throw the head overboard and make good their escape.
Episode VI. Ednyfed Fychan’s Return, Thirteenth Century
Ednyfed Fychan was Llywelyn the Great’s General and Chief Counsellor. He married Gwenllian, daughter of Rhys, Prince of South Wales. Among his mansions was that of llys Euryn, near Conway. His shield bore the device of three Englishman’s heads. Tradition tells that he went on a crusade and, on leaving his wife, play her the air, ‘Farewell to Gwenlllian.’ He was absent so long that his wife, believing he had fallen in the Holy Land, gave her hand to another lord. This scene depicts how on the night of the wedding there came to the door a beggar, craving a night’s lodging. When he beheld the revelry, he begged the loan of ‘the harp that was formerly there,’ so that he might entertain the company.’ Having repaired the harp, he struck up the air ‘Farewell to Gwenllian,’ and with a cry of amazement they recognised him as the Lord Ednyfed. With his eyes blazing, he turned Gwenllian and her new lord out of his court in anger, while keeping his faithful children and harp.
Episode VII. The Translation of the Abbey from Aberconwy to Maenan, 1284
The Cistercian Abbey of Aberconwy was endowed by Llewellyn the Great in 1198. It was naturally in sympathy with the Welsh Princes, and for this it had to suffer at the hands of the invader. In 1245 it was pillaged even of its chalices and books by the troops of King Henry III. Many Welsh Princes were buried here, including Gruffydd ap Cynan the Second and Llywelyn the Great. It kept one of the most famous Welsh chronicles. After the conquest of Wales, Edward I thought this Welsh Abbey too dangerously near his English Colony of Conway, and accordingly he ordered the monks to remove to Maenan, near Llandrwyst, where he endowed a new Abbey for them in 1824. Before us we see the Cistercian Monks in a sad procession leaving their old religious house of Aberconwy for the last time, and wending their way to their new home at Maenan, chanting Psalm 46 as they go.
Episode VIII. The Ambush of Penmaen Rhos, 1399
King Richard II is seen riding on dejectedly by Northumberland’s side. They are followed by all that remains of the Royal Bodyguard (about 20 people) and Northumberland’s five retainers. Suddenly a large armed party leaps up before them from behind a rock. The King weeps, realising he is trapped. Northumberland claims that the ambush is in fact a strong guard for the wild regions, but the King realises he has been betrayed. He compares his fate to the betrayal of Jesus, and allows himself to be led on to Bolingroke as a prisoner.
Episode IX. The Wars of the Roses
During this period Conway was the scene of much contention. The whole country around was laid waste by William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (Yorkist). An old Welsh rhyme tells how ‘the Vale of Conwy was reduced to embers in the year of our Lord 1468.’ Sir John Wynne, in his ‘History of the Gwydir Family’ records that in 1466 ‘Thomas ap Robin of Cochwillan was beheaded near the Castle, by Lord Pembroke’s orders, on account of his staunch adherence to the Lancastrians, and that his wife, Gwenhywfar, carried away his head in her apron. She prophesised to the Earl that his pitiless head should soon be severed in the same manner. Not long after this William Hebert was taken prisoner at the Battle of Danesmoor and was beheaded.
Episode X. In days Gone by Conway was Famed for its Pearl Fishery
Sir Richard Wynne, of Gwydir, Chamberlain to Catherine, Queen of Charles II, is shown at a Court Ball presenting a fine specimen of Conway pearl to Her Majesty. This pearl is said to have adorned the regal crown.
Final Tableau. Enter All Pageant Performers Singing ‘Ar hyd y Nos’ (‘All through the night’). Followed by the Welsh National Anthem, and then God Save the King.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Maelgwn Gwynedd (d. 547/549) king of Gwynedd
- Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (c.1010–1063) king of Wales
- Gruffydd Ap Cynan (c. 1055–1137) king of Gwynedd
- Robert of Rhuddlan
- Ednyfed Fychan (d. 1246) dynast and administrator
- Richard II (1367–1400) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Herbert, William, first earl of Pembroke (c.1423–1469) soldier and administrator
- Wynn, Sir Richard, second baronet (1588–1649) courtier
- Catherine [Catherine of Braganza, Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança] (1638–1705) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles II
Musical productionOrchestra/bands and massed choir:
- Band of H.M. Grenadier Guards
- Conductor: Captain G. Miller, LRAM
- Nantlle Vale Royal Silver Band
- Conductor: H. Heyes, Esq.
- Famous Welsh Massed Bands
- Massed Welsh Choirs
- Conductor: Mr W. Matthews Williams, FRCO
Pieces performed included:
- Grieg. ‘Morning’, ‘Anitra’s Song’.
- ‘War March of the Priests (Athalie).
- Meyerbeer. ‘Coronation March’.
- Handel. ‘Largo’.
- ‘Forth to Battle’.
- Dance Music by Local Orchestra and Professional Harpists.
- Vocal Singing by Monk’s Choir.
- ‘David of the White Rock’.
- ‘Black Monk’.
- Dance and Music by Local Orchestra and Professional Harpists.
- Singing by all performers of: ‘All through the Night’; Kipling’s ‘Recessional’ (‘Lest we Forget’); Welsh National Anthem; ‘God Save the King’.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
North Wales Weekly News
Liverpool Post and Mercury
Liverpool Daily Courier
Light Car and Cyclecar
Daily News (London)
Evening Standard (London)
Daily Dispatch (Manchester)
Western Morning News
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Book of words
- The Book of Words of the Conway Pageant. Conway, 1927.
Other primary published materials
- Conway Bridge Centenary Celebrations: Official Programme. Conway, 1927. Price 6d.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Miscellaneous Pageants, Durrant's press cuttings, 1895x1939, National Library of Wales.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Tableaux Vivant was part of the more general Conway celebrations in 1927. For an analysis of both, see entry for Conway Pageant: Pageant Plays
- ‘Conway’s Talented Amateurs’, Liverpool Post and Mercury, 19 September 1927, in Miscellaneous Pageants, Durrant's press cuttings, 1895x1939, National Library of Wales.
- Conway Bridge Centenary Celebrations: Official Programme (Conway, 1926), 29.
- The Book of Words of the Conway Pageant (1927).
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Conway Pageant: Tableaux Vivant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1040/