Hinchingbrooke Pageant

Pageant type


With thanks to Roger Mitchell for correcting some errors in the original entry.

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Place: Hinchingbrooke House (Huntingdon) (Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, England)

Year: 1912

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


6 July 1912, afternoon and evening

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Benson, Gertrude Constance
  • Assistant: Mr Murray Carrington
  • Musical Director: Frank Clark
  • Stage Manager: Rt. Hon. Earl of Sandwich
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs Kenneth Bruce
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs Scott-Gatty


(Gertrude) Constance Benson was the wife of F.R. Benson.

Names of executive committee or equivalent


Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Davies, W.H.

Names of composers

  • Sullivan, Arthur
  • Hook, James
  • German, James
  • Godfrey, John
  • Weber, Carl Maria Von
  • Cowen, Frederic Hymen
  • Elgar, Edward
  • Thompson, James

Numbers of performers


Financial information

The Hunts Post estimated that a profit of £200–300 had been made.1

Object of any funds raised

In aid of the Huntingdonshire County Hospital.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 10000

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode I. The Granting of the Charter to the Town of Huntingdon by King John, AD 1206

The King’s messenger reads out a proclamation declaring the freedoms of the borough of Huntingdon, and the crowd declares ‘Long Live the King’.

Episode II. The Expulsion of the Nuns from the Priory at Hinchingbrooke, AD 1535

The nuns are expelled at the reformation, with the convent given to Richard Cromwell.

Episode III. The Visit of Queen Elizabeth to Hinchingbrooke, AD 1598

Elizabeth speaks to the people of Huntingdon and proceeds to knight Henry Cromwell.

Episode IV. King James at Hinchingbrooke, AD 1603

King James, coming from the North to London, staged two nights at Hinchingbrooke and was entertained lavishly by Sir Oliver Cromwell. His son, who attended the Grammar School, played with the young Prince Charles but soon quarrelled and came to blows.

Episode V. Return of the First Earl of Sandwich after the Restoration, AD 1660

Miss Olga Montagu awaits the return of her husband. Samuel Pepys arrives in a coach along with a pretty actress. Pepys’s wife scolds him and carries him away by coach before Lord Sandwich arrives and is welcomed by his family. They drink to the health of the King.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Cromwell, Henry (1628–1674) soldier, politician, and lord lieutenant of Ireland
  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
  • Anne [Anna, Anne of Denmark] (1574–1619) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of James VI and I
  • Elizabeth, Princess [Elizabeth Stuart] (1596–1662) queen of Bohemia and electress palatine, consort of Frederick V
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Montagu [Mountagu], Edward, first earl of Sandwich (1625–1672) army and naval officer and diplomat
  • Pepys, Samuel (1633–1703) naval official and diarist

Musical production

Band of the 1st Life Guards. Performed pieces included:
  • Sullivan. March from ‘Iolanthe’. 
  • Hook. Children’s Dance. 
  • German. Cortege, Incidental Music to ‘Henry VIII’.
  • German. Selection from ‘Merrie England’. 
  • Sullivan. ‘Youth Must Needs’. 
  • Godfrey. ‘Reminiscences of England’. 
  • Weber. Hunting Song, ‘Away, Hark, Away’. 
  • Trad. ‘Here’s a Health unto His Majesty’.
  • Cowen. Old English Dances. 
  • Trad. Children’s Dance.
  • Elgar. ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ March. 
  • Thompson. Empire Song, ‘All Hail, Fair Land of England’. 

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Hunts Post
The Hunts County News
Northern Whig (Belfast)
Daily Mail
The Times
Cambridge Independent Press
Evening Times
Daily Graphic
Westminster Gazette
Daily Mirror
Lady Field
Cambridge Chronicle
Daily News
Birmingham Times
New York Herald
Christian Science Monitor
Hertfordshire Express
The Gentleman
Daily Sketch
Weekly Despatch
Sunday Times
Morning Post
Manchester Guardian

Book of words


No book of words.

Other primary published materials

  • Hinchingbrooke Pageant. Official Programme. Huntingdon, 1912.

References in secondary literature

  • Carruthers, Robert. The History of Huntingdon, from the Earliest to the Present Times. Huntingdon, 1824
  • Montagu, Edward George Henry. Hinchingbrooke. London, 1910
  • Carlyle, Thomas. The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, 4 volumes (1845).

  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • British Library: Contains the ‘Pedlars Scrapbook’, containing photographs and newspaper cuttings. Cup.1247.s.13.
  • Huntingdon Archives: Copy of Programme and Press Cuttings. Acc. 817; 2544/2–3; and 3615.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Hinchingbrooke was a country house a mile or so to the west of Huntingdon, which was, until 1974 (when the county as a whole was assimilated into Cambridgeshire), the county town of Huntingdonshire. The house itself was on the site of an old priory, which was given to Richard Cromwell during the reformation.2 In five relatively short scenes, the pageant told the story of the house and the town of Huntingdon. It was impressive that the town, whose population was only 4464 in 1911, was able to stage a large-scale pageant with 800 performers, aged ‘five months to 86 summers’, although many performers also came from the nearby villages and towns of Godmanchester, St Ives, Houghton, Hartford, the Stukeleys, the Hemingfords and Brampton.3 As the Hunts Post reported, ‘many marvelled that Huntingdon as a district could have produced such a brilliant entertainment’.4 While the pageant master was Constance Benson, wife of F.R. Benson (who had done the huge pageant at Winchester in 1908), she appears to have had relatively little to do with the form the pageant took. The author was the leading British and American playwright, Hubert Henry Davies.5

The most significant scene of the pageant was the fourth scene, involving James I’s visit to Hinchingbrooke on his way to assume the English crown in 1603. Huntingdonshire has always been a fiercely Tory area (it was John Major’s constituency), yet it retained a strong affinity with its most famous citizen, Oliver Cromwell, who was born at the Old Friary (now Cromwell House) in 1599. As it happened, Sir Oliver Cromwell (uncle of his more famous namesake) sold the Hinchingbrooke Estate before the English Civil War, in 1627, to Sidney Montagu—whose son Edward Montagu was made Earl of Sandwich in 1660.

Given the association with Cromwell, it was unlikely that the locals would accept a derogatory portrait of their native regicide. The scene largely follows Louis Napoleon Parker’s proscription against including Civil War scenes in pageants due to the slightly preposterous claim that the events would open up old conflicts.6 In fact, a number of Edwardian pageants including Bath (1909) and Colchester (1909) included Civil War scenes. Davies chose instead to allude to the Civil War through retelling the almost certainly apocryphal story (Thomas Carlyle, for instance, does not mention it and the event is widely discredited in all modern biographies) of the future Charles I and Oliver Cromwell playing together and coming to blows during the visit of James VI (soon to be James I). By doing this, the pageant was able to simultaneously celebrate royalty (without denigrating a local hero) and allude to the Civil War and the reasons why the present owners had taken possession of the house, without forcing the audience to take sides—even if the allusion was perhaps too heavy-handed. This was, in the words of the Birmingham Times, ‘an invention by some romantic and pious Puritan who deemed it necessary to show that from boyhood upwards the regicide had an instinctive aversion to princes’.7  Whilst it is likely that those in the know would have dismissed the story outright, there is nothing in the book of words or any published material to suggest that the scene was played as a fantasy, meaning that many who witnessed the Pageant, which was after all a supposedly-truthful account of history, would have believed the story.

The rehearsals were overshadowed by rain, with many worrying that the pageant would be a wash-out. The reverse was in fact true, with the Hunts County News noting that ‘although the heat was somewhat trying at first, both the afternoon and the evening performances were carried out under absolutely ideal conditions’.8 Every ticket ‘had been sold before the first performance. A special train brought a hundred well-known society people from London’, including Lord Huntly, Lord and Lady Montagu, Lady Nevill, Lord Northcliffe, and Archdeacon Vesey.9 Indeed, the Hunts Post reported that there was a large queue of people hoping in vain for tickets, a feat for such a small town. There were talks of the pageant being restaged for the benefit of those who had missed out.10 Visitors came from London and as far north as Lincolnshire, including, the paper presumed, ‘a number of Stamford people coming to obtain hints for the Stamford Pageant which is in the making’.11 It was estimated that many thousands of photographs were taken. The pageant was ‘a success which must have far exceeded the most sanguine anticipations’, witnessed by ten thousand spectators.12 Indeed, the success and splendour of the pageant seems to have genuinely surprised spectators and performers alike:

Everybody was… surprised at the magnificence of the pageant, many marvelling how it could have been organised on such a large scale. A roar of cheers greeted the hunting scene and other specially popular events were the Nuns, Queen Elizabeth, the return of Lord Sandwich, Pepys and his dalliance with the actress, and the dancing by children. The concluding tableaux of the grand finale drew forth a hurricane of cheers.13

The Times, which was generally dismissive of smaller pageants, called it a ‘very charming’ performance of just over two hours which, the reporter decided, was ‘just the right length, in fact, on an afternoon that achieved an accessory distinction by being fine and very hot’.14 Altogether ‘the Huntingdon Pageant was a complete success. Mr Hubert Henry Davies’s dialogue was exactly the thing for the occasion, brief and to the point; there were plenty of horses and a fine little burst of hunting… there was plenty of time for tea in the tent before strolling back to the railway station’15—a perfect Edwardian afternoon. Other reports concurred: ‘exceedingly fine’ (Cambridge Press) and ‘a pageant of no little charm’ (the Christian Science Monitor from as far away as Boston, Massachusetts).16

The pageant was staged again in July 1914, though with far smaller crowds and very little attention from the press. A further Pageant of Huntingdonshire, was held at Hinchingbrooke House in 1953, which was much more open about the Civil War, portraying Charles I’s sacking of the town in 1644. The then Mayor of Godmanchester, J.P.L.D. Stables, published the following poem in the Hunts Post to commemorate the Hinchingbrooke pageant:

In Memoriam: Hinchingbrooke Pageant

The rustic with his creaking wain,
The Bailiff in his sombre gown,
The Nuns, the Soldiers, seek again
Their quiet country town
Great Gloriana, Faerie Queene,
—Queen Bess, as men remember thee—
The glories of thy Court have been,
And never more may be.
Most learned and mysterious King,
Who spake the wisest words we know:
There is an end to everything
Which happens here below
Which quiverful, and coachful too,
They wait a welcoming cheer to give:
Good rest, great-hearted Montagu
Long may thy memory live!
So passed our Episodes away,
And all too swiftly sped the sun
The twilight breezes of a summer’s day
Whispered ‘The work is done’.17


  1. ^ Hunts Post, 12 July 1912, 5.
  2. ^ 'Houses of Benedictine Monks: The Priory of Hinchinbrook', in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, ed. William Page, Granville Proby and H E Norris (London, 1926), 389–390, British History Online, accessed 16 June 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hunts/vol1/pp389-390.
  3. ^ Hunts Post, 12 July 1912, 5.
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ Hugh Walpole, ‘Hubert Henry Davies’, The Times, 29 August 1917, 9.
  6. ^ Ayako Yoshino, Pageant Fever: Local History and Consumerism in Edwardian England (Tokyo, 2011), 145–147.
  7. ^ Birmingham Times, 8 July 1912; cutting in ‘Hinchingbrooke Pageant 1912’, [Pedlars Book], British Library.
  8. ^ Hunts. County News, [8] July 1912, cutting, Huntingdon Archives. Acc. 817.
  9. ^ Hunts Post, 12 July 1912, 5.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ The Times, 8 July 1912, 9.
  15. ^ Ibid.
  16. ^ Both cuttings, nd, [July 2016], in Pedlar’s Scrapbook, British Library.
  17. ^ Cutting, nd, in Diary of Mr J.P.L.D. Stables, Huntingdon Archives. 2573/F1.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Hinchingbrooke Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1094/