Wallingford Charter Celebrations Pageant

Other names

  • Pageant Depicting the History of the Borough of Wallingford

Pageant type

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Place: The Precincts of Wallingford Castle (Wallingford) (Wallingford, Berkshire, England)

Year: 1955

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


25-27 June 1955

[25 and 26 June 1955 at 7.45pm; 27 June afternoon and 7.45pm. Wallingford was transferred from Berkshire to Oxfordshire in 1974.]

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer and Pageant Director [Pageant Master]: Curtis, Frances
  • Personal Assistant to Frances Curtis: J.C. Atwell
  • Script By: Adrienne Hawtrey
  • Wardrobe Mistresses: J. King and V. Drew
  • Director of Music: Guy Severn
  • Business Manager: E.W. Tappin
  • Box Office Manager: H.G. Hempson
  • Stage Manager: F. Green
  • Lighting and Sound: R.H. Richards and S. Holden
  • Technical Adviser: P. Chadd
  • Master of the Horse: H. Braband-Holbrook
  • Programmes: J. Page
  • Roundhead Costumes: Chas H. Fox of London

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Hawtrey, Adrienne

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised

The celebration of the 800th anniversary of the town.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events

Part of wider celebrations including a tea party, a bonfire, fireworks and a river pageant. The local RAF Band played before the performance from 6.45 to 7.45pm. A licensed bar was open 6.30 to 11pm daily.

Pageant outline

Episode I. 1810

Wallingford, a peaceful country town, where not much now happens. The coming-of-age of the heir to the castle is a great event in the town, and the grandson of the great Mr Justice Blackstone is one of the most important guests present.

Episode II. 1688

William III, when Prince of Orange, waited at Wallingford to hear if London would receive him peaceably as King. With his general, the Duc de Schomberg, he looked at the castle ruins to see if they could be used in case of need.

Episode III. 1646

Wallingford Castle was held for the King by Colonel Blagge for 64 days. He surrendered on honourable terms and left with his colours flying and his drums beating. The castle was afterwards demolished by the Parliamentarians.

Interval of 20 minutes

Episode IV. 1307

Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall and favourite of Edward II, held a tournament at Wallingford Castle where he so insulted the Queen and her nobles that he was afterwards banished to Normandy.

Episode V. 1141

Queen Matilda escaped from Oxford and fled to Wallingford Castle, which was held by her adherent Brian Fitzcount.

Episode VI. 1153

A meeting to discuss terms for a peace treaty between King Stephen and Queen Matilda’s followers took place at Wallingford.

Episode VII. 1155

As a result of Wallingford’s loyalty to his mother, Queen Matilda, Henry II granted a Royal Charter to the town of Wallingford.

Episode VIII. 1066

William the Conqueror crossed the Thames at Wallingford on his way to London and ordered the building of the castle and a bridge over the river.

Episode IX. 1006

The Danes came up the Thames in their long-boats and sacked Wallingford among other settlements on the river.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
  • Schomberg, [ von Schönberg] Charles de, second duke of Schomberg (1645–1693) army officer
  • Schomberg, [ von Schönberg] Charles de, second duke of Schomberg (1645–1693) army officer
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Gaveston, Piers, earl of Cornwall (d. 1312) royal favourite
  • Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
  • Duke of Pembroke
  • Henry of Lancaster, third earl of Lancaster and third earl of Leicester (c.1280–1345) magnate
  • Beauchamp, Guy de, tenth earl of Warwick (c.1272–1315) magnate
  • Bohun, Margaret de [née Margaret of Gloucester] (c.1121–1196/7)
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Matilda [Matilda of England] (1102–1167) empress, consort of Heinrich V Click here to see image
  • Theobald (c.1090–1161) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Stephen (c.1092–1154) king of England
  • Eustace, count of Boulogne (c.1129–1153) claimant to the English throne
  • Aubigny, William d' [William de Albini; known as William d'Aubigny Pincerna], first earl of Arundel (d. 1176) magnate
  • Stigand (d. 1072) archbishop of Canterbury
  • William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

Country Life
Manchester Guardian

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Wallingford Charter Celebrations Pageant, 1155–1955: Souvenir Programme. Wallingford, 1955.

References in secondary literature

  • Twentyman, Trevor. A Personal Memory of the Sinodun Players Amateur Dramatic Society. 1948–2008, accessed 17January 2016, http://www.sinodunplayers.org.uk/w2011/docs/SinodunPlayersHistory.pdf. At 9.
  • Beasley, David. Wallingford Through Time. Stroud, 2013.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Reading Central Library Local History Collection: Copy of the Programme.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Wallingford lies roughly equidistant on the road between Reading and Oxford, just on the western edge of the Chiltern Hills. Though in 1951 its population was only 3514, it was able to celebrate a rich and important history stretching back much longer than the 800 years since the town had been granted its borough status.1 The Manchester Guardian, which covered the octocentenary, noted the incongruity of Wallingford’s ancient setting against a rapidly modernising part of Britain: ‘Wallingford, deep in the atomic research belt, boasts that it still makes wattle hurdles in exactly the same way as the Saxons. This puts the eight centuries which the borough is celebrating to-day into the upstart class, and the eyes of the several American Wallingfords which are turned on the town will be agog.’2 Given its proximity to Oxford University, Wallingford was close to many nuclear research facilities (such as Aldermaston) which had proliferated in the late 1940s and 1950s. The 1950 Oscar-winning film, Seven Days to Noon, which dealt with the theft of a nuclear device, was set in the fictional Wallingford Research Centre.3 The small ancient town that forms the backdrop to C.P. Snow’s novel The New Men (1954) about Britain’s nuclear programme could well have been based on Wallingford. The Manchester Guardian further emphasized the disjuncture between ancient and modern in rural Berkshire and Oxfordshire:

Wallingford, which has forgotten more history than most towns ever knew, certainly looks as peaceful to-day as the Thames Valley traffic will allow. Settled deep in its barley fields amid a whir of light industry and a rumbling road bombardment from Oxford on one side and Reading on the other, it basks in sunlight and limelight.4

The paper noted that Wallingford had managed to go without—or misplace—both a Coat of Arms and an original deed of founding, and ‘these omissions might have made to-day’s festivities like a diamond wedding at the highest possible level, but without a marriage certificate or a wedding ring.’5

For a pageant situated in the historical location of the ruins of Wallingford Castle in a place beset by the anxieties of the atomic age, it seemed necessary to adopt a radical approach to pageantry by presenting the scenes in reverse chronological order so that each episode went back in time. This may well have been a tacit acknowledgment that Wallingford’s glory days were largely behind it, with the first scene set in 1810 stating that Wallingford was ‘a peaceful country town, where not much now happens’, and where the grandson of the great judicial writer Blackstone could be considered a celebrity.6 The following two scenes depicted Wallingford’s turbulent history: William of Orange waiting in the town to see whether he would have to fight for London, and the siege of Wallingford Castle in 1646. In fact, the siege of Wallingford Castle, which was resolved peaceably, continued for a month after the official surrender of Charles I at Oxford on 24 June 1646.7

After a short interval the final six scenes of the pageant were presented, which covered the town’s eventful early years before it was decimated during the Black Death and abandoned as a royal residence. These included: a tournament held by Edward II at the castle (tournaments held by Edward II were a relative staple of pageants, including at the Stafford Millenary Pageant of 1913 and the Pageant of Shropshire of 1934); the events of the war between Matilda and Stephen in the twelfth century; and the town’s founding by Henry II in 1155. Episodes V–VII, which presented this period, were displayed chronologically, before the pageant moved on to the history of Wallingford prior to its founding in the eleventh century.

Wallingford benefited from an active dramatic society, ‘the Sinodun Players’, which had put on a masque and historical scenes for the 1951 Festival of Britain and the Coronation in 1953 . The pageant master, Frances Curtis, was the head of this society, as well as a member of the Women’s Institute, the Mothers Union and the Red Cross and a governor at Brightwell Church School.’8 The pageant stemmed from her indomitable commitment to local dramatics, with a member of the group recalling that these events during the 1950s ‘all provided opportunities of pageants which today would seem impossible to stage, yet it never occurred to her to hesitate.’9 The pageant, which drew on amateur dramatic society from miles around (members of the Oxfordshire Hunt loaned horses for the performance), appeared to largely stem from ‘Miss C.’s’ unwavering commitment to local dramatics.

The pageant was evidently a success with a ‘dramatic and poignant ending [being] achieved with the lights slowly fading upon the live camp fire which flicked and then died’.10 The late start of 7.45pm may have been to accommodate the commuting nuclear scientists who apparently had colonised the town in recent years. Excerpts of the pageant were broadcast on the BBC Light Programme on the regular feature Out and About, which reported on the matinee performance on Saturday 27 August.11 Two months after the pageant, the celebrations were completed by a visit by the Queen to the town to unveil a plaque commemorating the anniversary.12


  1. ^ GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Wallingford MB Through Time, Population Statistics, Total Population, A Vision of Britain Through Time, accessed 9 January 2016, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10135825/cube/TOT_POP.
  2. ^ Manchester Guardian, 26 August 1955, 5.
  3. ^ ‘Seven Days to Noon (1950)’, BFI, accessed 9 January 2016, http://explore.bfi.org.uk/4ce2b6b5865ea/.
  4. ^ Manchester Guardian, 26 August 1955, 5.
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^ Wallingford Charter Celebrations Pageant, 1155–1955: Souvenir Programme (Wallingford, 1955), np.
  7. ^ ‘A Brief History of Wallingford’, Wallingford Museum, accessed 9 January 2016, http://www.wallingfordmuseum.org.uk/wallingfords-history.html.
  8. ^ Trevor Twentyman, A Personal Memory of the Sinodun Players Amateur Dramatic Society. 1948–2008, 9 January 2016, http://www.sinodunplayers.org.uk/w2011/docs/SinodunPlayersHistory.pdf, np.
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ ‘A Visit to Wallingford Pageant’, BBC, accessed 9 January 2016, http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/751b56d291c8403f9c7bdc5d8efef580.
  12. ^ Berkshire Archaeological Society, Report of the Council for the Year 1956, 70, accessed 9 January 2016, http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-787-1/dissemination/pdf/BAJ056_PDFs/BAJ056_A08_bas1956.pdf There is a film of the royal visit, British Pathé, accessed 9 January 2016, http://www.britishpathe.com/video/special-the-royal-visit.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Wallingford Charter Celebrations Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1228/