The Greenwich Night Pageant
Place: Old Royal Naval College (Greenwich) (Greenwich, Kent, England)
Number of performances: 9
16-24 June 1933
June 16 to 24 1933 (except for Sunday), 10pm till Midnight.
Extra days due to demand and two cancelled days due to rain (‘Extension of Greenwich pageant’, The Times, 24 June 1933, 12; ‘No Money Back’, Manchester Guardian, 28June 1934).
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Bryant, Arthur
- Assistant Producers: Elizabeth Addison and Winifred Thorne
- Musical Director: Dr. Malcolm Sargent
- Conductor: Captain P.S.G. O’Donnell
- Dress Designer: Maisie Marshall, MA
- Costume Manager: Peggy Church
- Lighting Director: Nancy Hewins
- Assistant: Constance Allen
- Engineer Director: Professor B.P. Haigh
- Assistant Engineer:T.S. Robertson
- Silhouette Designer: Sylvia Bryant
- Ship Stencils Cut by: J. Lipscombe and the South Metropolitan Gas Co., Ltd.
- Sound Effect Manager: Lieut-Commander J. Cuthbert, R.N.
- Assistant: Lieut-Commander J. Wright, R.N.
- Property Manager: R.T. Ellis and T.H. Arundel
- Assistant Rehearser:T.M. Gill
- Timekeeper and controls: A.E. Jeffries
- Orchestral Secretary: Keith Skeil
- Accompanist: Molly Blandford
- Organist:John Meux
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- President: Vice-Admiral Barry Domvile, C.B., C.M.G (President of the Royal Naval College)
- Vice-President: Colonel H.A. Newington, C.S.O., J.P. (Mayor of Greenwich)
- Pageant Master: Arthur Bryant
Board of Directors
- Chairman: Colonel M.C. Matthews
- F.J. Simpson Esq.
- W.C. Chaffey Esq.
- A. Backhouse, Esq.
- A.H. Andrews, Esq.
- A. Cathles, Esq.
- H.H. Icough Esq.
- Mrs Domvile
- Organising secretary: Captain Edwin Clarke, M.C.
- Hon. Gen. Sec.: Mrs. Barry Domvile
- Treasurer: C.E. Borrie, Esq.
- Ground arrangements: Captain R. Leatham, R.N.
- Traffic Arrangements: Captain W.S. Chalmers, D.S.C. R.N.
- River Traffic: Captain A.F.E. Paliser, D.S.C.
- Hon Ticket Manager: Commander W. Ross (R.N. Retired)
- Publicist: Holmes Waghorn
While most of the performers were civilians, most of the marshals and lower-level organisers were military personnel.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Bryant, Arthur
Names of composers
- Bowling, Tom
- Wood, Henry
Numbers of performers2500
Men, Women, ChildrenAge from 8 to 84
A total of £4273. 14s. 5d. was available for distribution to be spent on the Pageant. Entertainment tax amounted to £2587. 15s. 5d., suggesting that the Pageant took a significant amount in revenue.
Extract from Bryant’s contract: ‘…the sum of £400 including expenses and in addition thereto the sum of £400 including expenses in addition thereto ten per cent on the first £3000 of profits available… and in further addition thereto five percent on any further profits up to but not exceeding a total of £1000 to include the said sum of £400’ (Greenwich Night Pageant Limited and Arthur Bryant Esq., Draft Agreement for Service as Producer 1933. BRYANT C22, file 1, Liddell Hart Archives, King’s College London). In the event Bryant was paid just the £400 (Letter from the Secretary of the Pageant Committee to Bryant, 4 July 1933. BRYANT C22, file 2).
Car and coach parking space in the College grounds and Greenwich Park. Prices for parking, Cars: 2s. 6d. and 5/- (reserved); Coaches 5s.; Motor Cycles 1s.
Object of any funds raised
Royal Navy benevolent Trust, £750; Dreadnought Hospital, £820; Miller Green Hospital, £770; St John’s Hospital, £440; Blackheath and Charlton Hospital, £220 (‘Greenwich Night Pageant’, The Times, 12 October 1933), 10).
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 100000
Around 100000 (‘Greenwich Night Pageant’, The Times, 27 June 1933, 11)
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
£1. 1s. 0d.–1s. 6d.
The nightly figure for available seats was 484 Seats at 1s. 6d., 2836 at 2s. 6d., 3738 at 5s., 3025 at 7s. 6d., 972 at 10s. 6d., 504 at 12s. 6d., and 88 at £1. 1s. 0d.
Loose document of ticket prices, BRYANT C22, file 1.
Associated events‘A congregation numbering about 8000 attended the Great United Service of Witness held in the grounds of the Royal Naval College on Sunday in connexion with the Greenwich naval pageant. The service was conducted by the Rev. J. Bartlett Lang, president of the Greenwich Council of the Christian Churches, from the lawns adjacent to the William and Mary Buildings. Vice-Admiral Barry Domvile, President of the College, read the Lessons, and an address was given by the Bishop of Southwark. Among those present were the Mayor of Greenwich, Mr. E.M. Dence, chairman of the LCC, members of the Greenwich Borough Council, and companies of local branches of the British Legion, the Old Contemptibles, the Marines Old Comrades Association, the St. John Ambulance, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Boys Brigades, naval Brigade, and other local organizations. A part of the collection will be devoted to the work of the Greenwich centre for unemployed.’ (‘Greenwich Service of Witness’, The Times, 20 June 1933, 13. Other events included:
- Industrial Exhibition in the Royal Hospital School.
- Empire Shopping Week
Prelude. The Sailors’ Palace
A number of Naval Pensioners in the blue and gold uniform of the 18th century Greenwich Hospital hobble along the stage, jesting and gossiping, before sitting on stages either side of the stage. They fall asleep, with the pageant that follows being their dream.
Act I. Queen Bess
Scene I. The Christening of Princess Elizabeth, 1533:
Four days after the birth of Elizabeth, country dancers frolic and sing at the Royal Palace of Greenwich. They leave the stage. Ushers appear, pompously, followed by a company of singing choristers, chanting Te Deum; a company of London citizens in civic regalia; merchants and citizens in pairs; the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and officers; and a company of gentlemen, esquires and chaplains. Finally, the royal infant in the arms of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, wrapped in purple and beneath a canopy of gold held up by Earls. The procession goes towards the Convent of the Grey Friars for the christening, as the announcer tells of the ‘love and fear’ that Elizabeth engendered, and the success of her reign. A procession of Yeomen of the Guard reappear, leading trumpeters, gentlemen at arms, and the Princess, borne before the King. The Garter-King-of-Arms strides to the centre and heralds a call to God to give Elizabeth a long and prosperous life. The crowd cheers as the lights fade away. Lights come back on, as a crowd of Aldermen appear ‘swaying somewhat as though they had refreshed themselves over-liberally in the royal cellar’, as they make their way to the barges on the river. The Bishop of London appears, and takes a seat at the side of the stage, and falls asleep dreaming of the Princess he has just christened.
Scene II. The Golden Hind, April 4 1581:
The light comes on to reveal ‘self-important looking’ officers moving around with excitement, as visitors of all types (tradesmen, artisans, apprentices, yeomen, farmers, peasants, local gentry, beggars, strolling players, fortune tellers, pedlars and vendors, clowns, and jugglers). The sound of guns down the river brings quiet to the crowd, who run to the back stage wall. The river gates fling open and two files of Yeomen of the Guard form an avenue between the crowd, through which trumpeters file—signalling the cheers and waving of the crowds. The Golden Hind appears behind the river wall, as the lights fade and the announcer heralds Sir Francis Drake. Lights come back on. The Queen makes her way down to the bank; lights then fade. When the lights come back on Francis Drake steps forward, presumably from the Golden Hind, and kneels to salute the Queen. She takes a sword from her Chamberlain, and knights ‘her kneeling pirate Admiral.’
Scene III. England’s Delivery, 1588:
The announcer speaks of ‘noble England’s praise’ in the face of the Spanish Armada. Darkness is broken by lighting and the sound of waves and cannons. A shop at the back of the stage goes down the river with singing and shouting men. Darkness again before the sound of drums and of calling men. The air is filled with the sound of a battle, before silence, and a light reveals a waiting crowd below a balcony, awed by news of the destruction of the Armada, waiting for a sight of the Queen. The Queen emerges onto the balcony, with shouts of God Save your Majesty over and over, to which she replies ‘God bless you all, my good people’. The Queen enters a golden carriage and exits, smiling to her people through the window.
Act II. The Makers of the Palace
Scene I. The Tragic King, 1633-49:
Two processions approach each other on a formerly silent and deserted stage. One is headed by King Charles I and is Queen, with a group of twenty Lords and Ladies, the other smaller procession is a child with a great dog and ladies and nurses, one of whom also carries an infant. The King steps forward and holds out his arms as the child runs towards his father and mother. The procession reforms as one and continues its way to Lawes’ March, the prince playing happily beside his father as the light fades. When the lights fade back in the King and Queen are seated watching a ‘dimly-lit group of maskers.’ The Masque proceeds with Prospero, his daughter Miranda and her lover Ferdinand. Prospero addresses the King. The lights fade to darkness, before trumpets and cannon and men shouting, and the date 1659 is thrown on to the back screen. The sound of a Cavalier song contents with the Psalm ‘Let God Arise’ till the latter predominates and then there is silence. Following the tolling of a bell, the Announcer speaks of the execution of Charles. A crowd of citizens cry out as the news of the execution spreads. Darkness fades, as silhouettes move around. As the light improves it becomes clear the soldiers and others have looted the fallen royal palace—carrying away pictures, hangings, doorways and panelling. The popular Royalist song ‘Hey, boys, and up we go’ is heard, before a Cavalier song continues victorious. The figures 1660 appear on the back screen.
Scene II. King Charles II at Blackheath, May 29 1660:
‘Hey, Boys, and Up we Go’ is heard again, as the restored King Charles II passes across Blackheath on his way from Rochester to the Capital. A group of important London citizens marching under the emblems of their trades, surrounded by excitable children, are led by the City Watchmen through the crowd. One alderman is surrounded by children. Upon seeing this a watchman grabs a child, puts across his lap and smacks his bottom. The child runs off howling to his mother, who ‘emerges to pour shrill obloquies on the Watchman.’ The stage fills with soldiers and a vast chattering crowd, as General Monk enters to cries of ‘God save General Monk!’ who acknowledges its salute. The soldiers parade for Monk. Enter a party of Morris dancers, who dance for a minute or two to the delight of the audience. After a mighty sound of thunder breaks on the air, the Morris dancers vanish. Enter a company of apprentices of the City followed by rich merchants, a squadron of soldiers, the aldermen and City companies in gold with banners; and the Lord Mayor and General Monk riding bareheaded before the King. The crowd breaks into delirium, as the King rides bareheaded through the crowd, bowing, and ‘smiling with especial approval at a company of “proper maids all alike in white garments.”’ The crowd follows him as the lights and sounds dim.
Scene III. The Flight of Mary Modena, December 10 1688:
An elderly watchmen watches a dark, silent and deserted stage. An outrider appears on a horse, looking a bit lost, followed by a coach. A frightened woman emerges from the coach. The watchman shouts out a challenge, to which the outrider calls ‘The Queen.’ The watchmen shouts. The fugitive Queen of England faints into her female attendants’ arms, as angry men and women with torches, rakes and pokers appear, looking around enquiringly. Someone strikes up the revolutionary song ‘Lillibullero’ as the whole angry crowd surges towards the alarmed travellers. The crowd is just too late as the coach escapes.
Act III. Pudding Time
Scene I. The landing of George I at Greenwich, 1714:
The light rises on the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, on September 10 1714. Two groups—one Whig Nobles and one High Tory leaders—congregate at the side of the river bank. As trumpets are heard, the King’s barge arrives carrying King George I and his son, the Prince Royal. The King leaves the barge, and distributes favours to his subjects. He is warm towards the Whigs but cold towards the Tories, turning his back on Ormonde after he kisses the King’s hand. The King greets Marlborough especially warmly. The King waves away the sedans, and walks towards his lodgings at Queen’s House, followed by ladies and German courtiers.
Scene II. Fete Galante, The King’s Birthday, 1728:
A firework illuminates the stage, as groups of ladies and gentlemen in graceful court dress chat together. A small military band plays noisily. More fireworks, and polite applause. Two companies of ballet dancers dressed as swans enter, and perform for the small crowd. The lights dim and fade along with the music.
Interlude. Wolfe and Quebec
Scene I. Greenwich’s Hero Takes his Farewell, 1759:
Mr Wolfe hobbles along with his son, General Wolfe, on the eve of the latter’s departure for Canada. They talk earnestly, broken occasionally by acquaintances approaching to greet the young general. Wolfe bids farewell to his father and descends towards the audience, as the lights fade.
Scene II.The Heights of Abraham, September 13 1759:
Outlines of sails cross the white screen at the back of the stage, as old French-Canadian songs are played faintly, eventually drowned out by drums and a Handel March, in turn drowned out by more drums. A light falls on the roadway, as a long line of red-coated English infantry move in silence. Suddenly there is a French challenge and shots ring out. The light fades. When it comes back a line of English infantry face the French. The English await, and then raise their muskets and fire. Men are seen falling as the French quiver and break. A battle continues between the French and English, the French seemingly losing. General Wolfe is seen centre stage. Struck by a French sharpshooter’s bullet, he falls in the arms of his officers. The light lands on his dying figure, before moving to highlight the Flag of British Canada.
ACT IV. Nelson Goes Home, 1806
Scene I. The Crowd Assembles:
A vast crowd is waiting outside the Painted Chamber, where the body of Nelson is lying in state, jostling and moving about. On the left side of the stage the Church doors open, as a crowd of Greenwich Hospital functionaries file out with local worshippers, followed by the pensioners and then the vergers and officiating clergymen, and ignored by the crowd. The doors to the Painted Chamber are opened, and there is a wild rush as the crowd tries to get in. Solemn music is heard. The light changes to signify a lapse in time; the crowd is now in an orderly line passing through the Chamber.
Scene II. The Funeral Procession (‘Dead march in Saul’):
A great crowd stands outside the Painted Chamber, forming a lined route to the bank, where a barge draped in black awaits the coming of Nelson. The Funeral Procession appears with the draped coffin, and goes down to the waterfront. Fade to darkness. When the lights shine again all can be seen is the audience at the riverside, and slow music and the boom of minute guns, as the admiral makes his last voyage.
Epilogue. The Freedom of the Seas
When the light rises, it reveals a company of English seamen singing a shanty. As they sing the words of their songs are reflected in actions—a drunken sailor rolls among them; the ladies of Spain bid farewell. Over the horizon passes first sail ships; then a stately clipper; then an early steamship; and finally a modern liner. As the last ship passes, the orchestra repeats the final shanty and the sea darkens. Then the sound of a tolling bell is heard, the movement of the dark waters increases and weird noises, suggesting tempest, and far voices calling, break the silence. Gradually these increase, lighting and thunder are joined with them, and, as the sea vanishes into darkness, the back screen is half lit by ominous flames and shadows. Then the noises die away, to be succeeded by a strange and haunting march, and a beam of light reveals a company of armed men marching across the top of the steps. Their helmets are of steel and their faces are pointed and phosphorescent, while their uniforms gleam with slime. Their motions are not those of humans, but of rigid automata. At first the light picks out only them; then another beam reveals their leader, who is Death, with a skull head and white floating robe and riding a horse. So they pass across the stage, till the light suddenly leaves them. For one second there is darkness; then in one blinding flash of light, the whole stage seems to shake with sound. Amid the thunder of artillery and the rattle of machine guns, and the shrieking sound of flying steel, screen, colonnades and buildings are lit by running flame. For some thirty seconds, all Hell seems to have broken loose, as sirens add to the inferno of noise; then the flames grow quieter and the sound of battle with them, till a ray of light illumines a single figure standing erect at the top of the steps. He is in naval uniform and is blowing a bugle, and as he blows, the notes of his call strike high across the din and banish it. Then notes and figure are dimmed and the roadway below is flooded with light, and filled with a crowd in the clothes of August, 1914. They pass across the stage, surrounding and following a company of Naval Reservists, led by the Town Band, marching to the station on Sunday, 2 August. The cheerful strains of brass band and the cheering, confident crowd provide a complete contrast to the previous scene…. A drum begins to beat, growing in intensity. A beam of light illuminates a group of ghostly figures—in the middle, Drake, commanding his officers. The light fades out then comes back to highlight another small group, with Nelson in the middle, also giving orders. The light fades again, with the back screen faintly illuminated and filled with rolling waters.
The announcer states:
Admirals all, they said their say
The echoes are ringing still;
Admirals all, they went their way
To the haven under the hill.
But they left us a Kingdom none can take,
The realm of the circling sea,
To be ruled by the rightful sons of Blake
And the Rodneys yet to be.
The light on the screen grows brighter, as a long line of grey warships pass across the screen. Long parallel columns of men also pass across the stage, as Rule Britannia plays in the background. Total darkness, until a beam of light illuminates the announcer, who states:
All the past proclaims her future: Shakespeare’s voice and Nelson’s hand,
Milton’s faith and Wordsworth’s trust in this our chosen, chainless land.
Bear us witness: Come the world against her, England yet shall stand.
Grand Finale: National Anthem.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Henry VIII (1491-1547) king of England and Ireland
- Howard [née Tilney], Agnes (b. in or before 1477, d. 1545) noblewoman
- Stokesley, John (1475-1539) %bishop of London
- Elizabeth I (1533-1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554-1618) courtier, explorer, and author [also known as Raleigh, Sir Walter]
- Drake, Sir Francis (1540-1596) pirate, sea captain, and explorer
- Charles I (1600-1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609-1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
- Monck [Monk], George, first duke of Albemarle (1608-1670) army officer and naval officer [also known as Monk, George]
- Charles II (1630-1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Mary [Mary of Modena] (1658-1718) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of James II and VII
- Churchill, John, first duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) army officer and politician
- George I (1660-1727) king of Great Britain and Ireland and elector of Hanover
- Wolfe, James (1727-1759) army officer
- Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758-1805) naval officer
- George [St George] (d. c.303?) patron saint of England
Musical productionFull band of the First (or Chatham) Division of H.M. Royal Marines directed by Capt P.S.G. O’Donnell.
‘The necessary music was provided by a military band, an orchestra, a male-voice choir, and, in the last act, by the strains of the chapel organ, which played for Nelson’s funeral in 1806. This blended from time to time with crowd noises, the sound of drums, trumpets, and pealing bells, and the occasional din of battle or the roar of the sea.’ (‘The Rise of a Nation’, The Times 17 June 1933, 9.) Music performed included the following:
- Tom Bowling (Prelude).
- Greensleaves (Act I Scene I).
- Never Love thee More (Act I Scene I).
- Bull. “A Pompous Strain” (Act I Scene I).
- Hunsdon House (Act I Scene I).
- The Merry, Merry Milkmaids (Act I Scene II).
- Maids, where are your hearts? (Act I Scene II).
- Glorious Devon (Act I Scene II).
- Drake’s Drum (Act I Scene III).
- Air: Lord Zouche’s March (Act II Scene I).
- Tempest Ballet Music (Act II Scene I).
- Hey, Boys, and Up We Go (Act II Scene II).
- Maid in the Moon (Act II Scene II).
- Braganza (Act II Scene II).
- Lancashire Morris Dance (Act II Scene II).
- Here’s a Health Unto His Majesty (Act II Scene II).
- Lillbullero (Act II Scene III).
- Sir Henry Wood. Fantasia on British Sea Songs (throughout).
- National Anthem.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
The Manchester Guardian
Derby Daily Telegraph
Hull Daily Mail
Western Daily Press
Western Morning News [Devon]
Yorkshire Evening Post
Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror
Nottingham Evening Post
Evening Telegraph [Angus]
Book of words
- Book of the Pageant, Greenwich, 1933. London, 1933.
Other primary published materials
- Pictures of the Greenwich Night Pageant (London, 1933).
See the Sphere (May 20 1933)] and the Sketch (21 June 1933) for souvenir photographs [BRYANT J6].
References in secondary literature
- Bryant, A. The Lion and the Unicorn: a Historian’s Testament. London, 1970. , at 42, 117.
- Dobson, M. Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History. Cambridge, 2011. At 171, 195.
- Roberts, Andrew. Eminent Churchillians (London, 1995), at 289, 303.
- Stapleton, Julia. Sir Arthur Bryant and National History in Twentieth-Century Britain. Oxford, 2005. At 54.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- BRYANT: J6—Greenwich Night Pageant: scripts, newspaper reports, programmes etc.
- BRYANT: C22—Greenwich Night Pageant Related Material
- Substantial holdings in Liddell Hart Military Archive at KCL.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Taking place against the backdrop of economic depression, the Greenwich Night Pageant partly aimed to stimulate the new ‘important industries’ that had sprung up along the Thames, and, during the run of the pageant, there was thus an accompanying Industrial Exhibition in the Royal Hospital School. Bearing in mind the borough’s ‘peculiar associations with the Empire’, there was also an Empire Shopping Week displaying empire products. 1 President of the Pageant, Admiral Barry Domvile, and pageant-master Arthur Bryant also hoped that the potential for social instability, a by-product of a prolonged downturn in the economy, would be offset by the fun and ‘common endeavour’ of a pageant. As Bryant stated in the souvenir booklet, a pageant could ‘take the mind off the worries of everyday life’, ‘kindle enthusiasm and knit up a community’ and enable ‘differences of creed and politics’ to be laid aside.2 In his letter to all the performers following the pageant, published in the press, Bryant returned to these themes hoping that something of the co-operation and fellowship ‘may survive to lighten the dark days which all too many are passing, and to bring nearer those better ones which we and all Englishmen pray may return to our country.’3 For Bryant these feelings were very real; as his biographer Julia Stapleton has argued, spectacle was not a means to be paid or an end in itself, but a servant in the awakening of a higher and more powerful patriotism.4
In terms of production the pageant was particularly novel. Using high-powered floodlighting and cutouts, shadows of the sea and ships were thrown onto a large black screen, which also displayed the dates of the coming episodes, or was illuminated in emotive colouring.5 This design attracted interest in the press and further afield—the English editor of the Canadian and US magazine Popular Mechanics and Science, for example, wrote to Bryant requesting further information on the techniques used.6 The pageant was also very fast paced, containing no dialogue, and depending on the announcer to explain and link the episodes together. Taking place after dark, the use of floodlighting meant that the importance of certain characters could be clearly shown to the audience. At times the dramatic presentation of events seemed to achieve its aim; the Times noted that during the presentation of Nelson’s funeral many of the men in the audience removed their hats.7 This pace and symbolism however was not appreciated by all spectators; a reviewer from Punch advised ‘to take a torch with you and with its aid make frequent reference to the detailed “scenario” provided for your enlightenment’ due to some scenes being ‘so short and cryptic that it is almost impossible to discover by the simple light of reason what is occurring, let alone distinguish which important personage is which.’8
One commentator not impressed with the choice of episodes was the MP Isaac Foot, at one point the head of the Cromwell Association, who took particular umbrage with the Pageant’s exclusion of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, and thus ‘the decade which includes the work of Cromwell, Vane, and Blake.’9 Complaining first in the House of Commons, the debate went public with Bryant and Foot trading terse letters to the editor in the Times, debating the difficulty of balancing the importance of historical figures with successful dramatic production.10 His protest did not, however, enliven others—other members of the House of Commons seemingly found his obsession with Cromwell amusing rather than just.11 Other displeased spectators wrote directly to Bryant, asking for explanations for the exclusion of other historical figures.12
The theme of sacrifice ran clearly throughout the episodes of the pageant, reaching its zenith in the terrifying and novel visualisation of the horror of WWI. As reported in the press, the part of Nelson was taken by a stockbroker who had lost an arm in the First World War. The theme of military might and sacrifice was clearly forefront in Domvile’s mind. Giving his approval of Bryant’s plans for the epilogue, he expressed his ‘unpleasant feeling that anything martial is not popular in Greenwich.’ This, he believed, was a bad thing: ‘the sooner they learn to become a bit more martial again, the better.’13 Bryant seemingly agreed; as Stapleton has argued, Bryant’s commitment to the Pageant was ‘rooted in his conviction that the heritage of military—particularly naval—strength remained a legitimate, indeed crucial object of British national pride, notwithstanding the contemporary disdain for arms.’14 The naval connections were apparent not just in the episodes of the pageant, but also its organisation. Many of the various groups taking part were marshalled by various majors, captains and lieutenants, and the guarantor list was made up predominately of important naval figures. As with most pageants, local women made the costumes.
One could speculate about why it was that Domvile approached Bryant specifically to produce the Greenwich pageant. Certainly, both shared a heartfelt patriotism and love for national history.15 More worrying was their seeming predilection towards anti-semitism—particularly overt in the Admiral’s case.16 Certainly, there is no evidence that Domvile had seen Bryant’s earlier pageants in Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Wisbech—all of which had minor elements of the stereotyping of Jews—and there did not seem to be any direct anti-semitism in the Greenwich Night Pageant.17 With the forming of the British Union of Fascists in the previous year to the pageant, however, the graphic portrayal of martial organisation in the WWI episode seems particularly sinister.
While the two men may have shared these tendencies, during the organisation of the pageant their relationship was nonetheless fraught. Bryant, for his part, demanded total control of the production. At first this was given but, gradually, the Admiral more and more asserted his wishes. Various issues of discontent included the choice of Bryant’s brother as one of the announcers, the traffic arrangements surrounding the pageant grounds, and the setting of ticket prices without Bryant’s knowledge.18 The relationship reached breaking point when, after one fraught and worrisome letter from Bryant, an exasperated Domvile claimed:
…my only reward is a pistol held at my head. This has already occurred many times, and on this occasion I am afraid I must let you fire. So, ‘shoot father, I am not afraid’ because you must admit that your powder is very damp!19
Following the success of the pageant the two men resolved their differences, Domvile accepting Bryant’s ‘kind sentiments’ and simultaneously suggesting that ‘anything said or done was only said or done in the interests of the Pageant’.20 In the following pre-WWII years the men again worked together through the publishing house ran by Bryant, the National Book Association, as both sailed close to Nazi appeasement—Domvile eventually going well over the line leading to his internment during the War.
At least in the background the pageant reflected the contemporaneous problems of depression. Shopkeepers in neighbouring Blackheath, especially in the poorer parts of the locality, declared that their takings were at the lowest point they could remember due to people saving on food in order to see the pageant.21 In the six months leading up to and including the pageant, the source of (unpaid) work ‘proved a real source of comfort’ to the ‘scores of unemployed’ men in Greenwich and Deptford—though presumably not as much as a job would.22 There was only one professional performer: Henry Ainley, who gave the poetical introduction to each episode.23 In the opening scene of the pageant the Greenwich pensioners were played by the Old Contemptibles association of ex-Servicemen, some of whom were ‘experiencing hard times through unemployment.’24 The pageant however also provided opportunities for enterprising fraudsters to capitalise on the crowds; Alfred George Everett, a clerk, and John Green, a textile worker, were charged with the intent to cheat and defraud through the selling of an unofficial programme of the Pageant for sums of sixpence and threepence.25
The pageant was especially well patronised by royalty and elites; Domvile arranged for special guests to be brought by barge down the Thames, and the attendees included almost the complete Cabinet, the Queen, King Feisal of Iraq, King Alonso and the Duke of Gloucester.26 Different nights of the pageant were themed by these guests. The first was ‘Government’ night, with the Cabinet; another was ‘Ladies’ night, honoured by the Princess Royal with members of nursing associations and Girl Guides; and another was ‘Civic’ night, with the Lord Mayor and members of the City Corporation.27 On the Saturday Night of the performance, the Queen, accompanied by Feisal, Alfonso, and the Duke of Gloucester, walked up the stairs to the stage to congratulate Domvile and Bryant, as well as chat to some of the performers.28
As was fairly common with pageants in this period, the press also declared the pageant a success in stimulating co-operation and cohesion, the Times gushing how ‘an army of people drawn from every walk of life’ worked ‘together in the most enthusiastic harmony and cooperation.’29 Following the pageant Bryant received widespread praise both publically and privately. Spectators wrote to him proclaiming the pageant to be perfection and him a ‘genius’;30 complimenting his admirable marshalling of the actors;31 and expressing their joy at having taken part.32 One performer in Group 10 even wrote Bryant a poem to express their appreciation of the ‘memories wakened by our Pageantry!’33 At times the organisation of the pageant had been less successful. On occasion Bryant complained of the difficulty to compel many of the performers to attend rehearsals.34 Yet some performers were clearly engaged. One actor wrote to Bryant to suggest a change to the death scene of Woolfe, based on his own research of history books.35
The Greenwich Night Pageant was perhaps unique in this period. As well as utilising modern technologies to a great extent, it also tackled the issue of the Great War head-on to devastating effect. Praised almost universally in the press, impressively attended, and making a profit, the Greenwich Night Pageant was also the most successful—and also the last—of Arthur Bryant’s experiments with the pageantry form.
- Book of the Pageant, Greenwich, 1933 (London, 1933), 4.
- Pictures of the Greenwich Night Pageant (London, 1933), 2.
- ‘Greenwich Pageant Master’s “Good-Bye”’, Kentish Mercury, 14 July 1933, no page number. BRYANT J6, file 1.
- Julia Stapleton, Sir Arthur Bryant and National History in Twentieth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005), 49.
- ‘The Rise of a Nation’, The Times, 17 June 1933, 9.
- Letter from the English editor of the Canadian and US Magazine Popular Mechanics and Science, 9 July 1933. BRYANT C22, file 2.
- ‘Greenwich Pageant’, The Times, 23 June 1933, 12.
- ‘Greenwich Night Pageant’, Punch, or the London Charivari, 21 June 1933, 680. BRYANT J6, file 3.
- ‘Greenwich Pageant’, The Times, 22 July 1933, 8.
- See ‘Greenwich Pageant’, House of Commons Debate 18 July 1933, vol. 280, cc1681-2; ‘The Greenwich Pageant’, The Times, 21 July 1933, 12; ‘Greenwich Pageant’, The Times, 22 July 1933, 8; ‘Greenwich Pageant’, The Times, July 26 1933, 8.
- ‘Mr Foot and Cromwell and Blake’, Newquay Express, 27 July 1933, no page number. BRYANT J6, file 1.
- Letter from Oswald Tuck and E.H.[? illegible]) Keale to Bryant 8 July 1933. BRYANT C22, file 2.
- Letter from Domvile to Bryant, 8 February 1933. BRYANT C22, file 1.
- Stapleton, Sir Arthur Bryant, 54.
- Ibid., 3-7.
- Andrew Roberts has been particularly damning of both Bryant and Domvile, describing the former as ‘far from being the patriot he so long and loudly proclaimed himself, Bryant was in fact a Nazi sympathizer and fascist fellow-traveller, who only narrowly escaped internment as a potential traitor in 1940’. See Andrew Roberts, Eminent Churchillians (London, 1995), 288. Julia Stapleton has been kinder to Bryant, seeing his sympathy for the Nazi cause, and basic anti-semitism, as certainly evident, but indicative of his desire to avoid international conflict through appeasement, and his belief in the aspects of Nazism that supported traditional patriotism at the expense of modernism. See Stapleton, Sir Arthur Bryant, 126-153.
- See pageant summaries for these pageants on Confluence.
- For a detailed explanation from Bryant of how he thought a pageant was best organized in terms of roles, see Letter from Bryant to Domvile, 9 February 1933. BRYANT C22, file 1. For the ticket prices dispute, see Letter from Bryant to Mayor on 5 March 1933. BRYANT C22, file 1. For the issues surrounding the employment of Bryant’s brother, see Domvile’s criticism in Letter from Admiral Domvile to Pageant Master, 10 June 1933; and Bryant’s reply, Letter from Bryant to Domvile, 11 June 1933. Both BRYANT C22, file 2.
- Letter from Domvile to Bryant, 15 May 1933. BRYANT C22, file 1. For the melodramatic letter from Bryant that prompted this outburst, see Letter from Bryant to Domvile, 13 May 1933, in ibid.
- Letter from Domvile to Bryant 28 July 1933. BRYANT C22, file 2.
- ‘Pinched by a pageant’, Nottingham Evening Post, 27 June 1933, 6.
- ‘The Greenwich Pageant’, The Observer, 18 June 1933, 19.
- ‘Scenes from Four Centuries of Naval History’, Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 17 June 1933, no page number. BRYANT J6, file 1.
- Ibid., no page number. BRYANT J6, file 1.
- ‘Romance of Greenwich History’, Lewisham Journal, 23 June 1933, no page number. BRYANT J6, file 1.
- ‘Pilots Undaunted by Rain’, Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 26 June 1933; ‘Admiral’s Barges’, Gloucestershire Echo, 20 May 1933, 4.
- ‘Princes and Greenwich Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 24 April 1933.
- ‘Greenwich Pageant Ends in Triumph’, The Mercury Pictorial, 27 June 1933, 3. BRYANT J6, file 1.
- ‘Greenwich Night Pageant’, The Times, 20 June 1933, 13.
- Letter from John Chanddon (? Illegible) to Bryant, June 20 1933. BRYANT C22, file 2.
- Letter from Lord Stonehaven to Bryant, 17 July 1933. BRYANT C22, file 2.
- Letter from Mrs Janet F. Rogers to Arthur Bryant (undated). BRYANT C22, file 2.
- Letter from Ralph S. Martin on behalf of Group 10, 23 June 1933. BRYANT C22, file 2.
- Letter from Bryant to Domvile, 20 April 1933. BRYANT C22, file 1.
- Letter from ‘One of Woolfe’s Soldiers’ to Bryant, 12 June 1933. BRYANT C22, file 1.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Greenwich Night Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1076/