Welbeck Abbey Historical Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Welbeck Abbey (Worksop) (Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England)

Year: 1939

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


7 and 8 August 1939 at 2.30pm and 8pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Devised and Produced by [Pageant Master]: Bedford, Cicely
  • President: The Marquess of Titchfield
  • Vice Presidents: T. Warner Turner, Esq, JP; Major D.W. Turner, JP
  • Chairman: Rev. A.G. Robinson
  • General Secretary: Mr H. Pitchford
  • Clerk of the Works: Mr D. McIntyre
  • Controller of Traffic, Gates, etc.: Mr A Hamlyn
  • Preparation of Arena: Mr J. Robertson; Mr C. Harris
  • Musical Director: Mr F. Mountney
  • Choir Master: Mr H. Minchin
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs Robinson
  • Master of the Horse: Mr F. Godley
  • Publicity Secretary: Mr H. Pitchford
  • Treasurer: Mr R. Milnes (Westminster Bank, Worksop)
  • Designer of Scenery: Mr J. Lumb
  • Lighting: Mr J. Woodward
  • Tickets Secretary: Miss C. Hancock

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • Rev. A.G. Robinson
  • Miss K. Brown
  • Mr D. McIntyre
  • Mr A. Hamlyn
  • Mr H. Pitchford

General Committee:

  • Chairman: Mrs Godley

Publicity and Handbook Committee:

  • Mr A.W. Hampshire
  • Mr E.B. Tyler
  • Mr H. Pitchford

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

  • Bedford, Cicely

Names of composers

  • Farnaby, Giles
  • Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
  • Purcell, Henry
  • Bach, Johann Sebastian
  • Handel, George Frideric
  • Warlock, Peter
  • German, Edward
  • Bruch, Max
  • Fletcher, Percy
  • Williams, Ralph Vaughan
  • Bull, John
  • Dykes, John Bacchus

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised

No ostensible aim, though after a financial success on the first day it was decided to donate proceeds to Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital.


‘Monday’s presentation was so successful financially that we understand the proceeds on Tuesday are to be given to the Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital in which the Duchess takes such a keen personal interest.’1

Linked occasion

The Gold Wedding Anniversary of Lord and Lady Sandwich

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 2000
  • Total audience: 12500

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

7s. 6d.–1s.

Stands: 7s. 6d., 5s. and 2s. 6d.
Uncovered: 2s.
Standing: 1s.

Associated events


Pageant outline


Leader: Miss G. Waterhouse.

The three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, spin the web of life.

Episode I. The Marriage of Hawise, Early XII Century

Cuckney. Leader: The Rev. W.E.A. Lound.

The episode opens with a gay crowd of visitors and spectators gathering to see the fine sight. Various notabilities of the country arrive and are received by Richard le Fleming and his little son. Earl Ferrers, accompanied by the bride, Hawise, and her mother, enters with his retinue, and the wedding party enters the church. On the completion of the ceremony, the bride and bridegroom pledge each other in a loving cup, whilst the Earl inspects the deed which bestows on Hawise a piece of land for her and her heirs. This was insisted upon by Lord Ferrers as part of the wedding contract.

Episode II. The Foundation of the Premonstratensian Abbey at Welbeck, 1154

Leader: Mrs F.E. Godley.

Thomas, son of Hawise, known as Thomas of Cuckney, was brought up at the King’s court and took part in the Civil Wars. When the realm of England had been pacified in the reign of Henry II, he founded the Abbey of Welbeck upon that piece of land bequeathed to him by his mother. We see him with his wife Emma, his little daughter Isabel, Richard and Ralph Silvain his half-brothers, and many other witnesses present the deed to the Abbot Dan Berengar for his use and that of the Canons of the Premonstratensian Order. The deed is blessed by Roger, Archbishop of York, in the presence of many eminent divines and representatives of orders of monks and nuns.

Episode III. Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest

Leader: J.H. Baker

A procession of holy men wending their way through the forest is waylaid by Robin Hood and his merry men who demand a ransom. They subsequently entertain the Abbot to dinner and invite him to watch their sports. The Abbot, who is a disguised Richard Coeur de Lion, gives such good evidence of the strength of his right arm that his identity is discovered, and he wins the outlaws over to his service.

Episode IV. The Dissolution of the Abbey, 1538

Leader: Rev. W.E.C. Sternberg.

At the time of the dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII the Royal Commissioner Mr William Petre, with the notary Richard Boroger, arrived at Welbeck and confiscated the treasures of the Abbey. The Abbot Richard Bentley and fifteen canons of the Premonstratensian Order received pensions on surrendering the religious house.

Episode V. Charles I. State Visit to Welbeck (A Masque by Ben Jonson), 1633

King Charles I was entertained at Welbeck by the Earl of Newcastle and his lady. A Masque was composed for the occasion by Ben Jonson. There is a ballet.

Episode VI. King William III at Welbeck, 1695

At the end of October 1695 King William made a royal progress through Nottinghamshire. He stayed for two days at Welbeck Abbey where he was entertained with a day’s sport.

Episode VII. Fair Scene, Countess of Oxford, 1745

Leader: Miss D. Michie.

The widowed Countess of Oxford spent vast sums in reconstructing the Abbey, employing the Architect John James (successor to Wren) for the purpose. She lamented that the improvements did not go on as fast as she could wish, the many feasts and fairs retarding the work. In this episode we see a fair in progress, which to her great annoyance is attended by her workmen. Her grandson, the young Marquis of Titchfield, brings his cricket bat to be mended by one of the estate carpenters. He is accompanied by his parents, the second Duke of Portland and his wife (pretty Peggy). A messenger rides in with the news that the army of the Young Pretender is advancing into the Midlands. The fortitude of the Countess does not fail her, and she announces her intention not to be driven from her ancestral home, saying: ‘All Notts may flee with great precipitation, but I choose to remain here.’


The three fates, having relived scenes from the past, return to their labours.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Hood, Robin (supp. fl. late 12th–13th cent.) legendary outlaw hero
  • Richard I [called Richard Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart] (1157–1199) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Petre, Sir William (1505/6–1572) administrator
  • 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
  • Cavendish, William, first duke of Newcastle upon Tyne (bap. 1593, d. 1676) writer, patron, and royalist army officer
  • Cavendish, Charles (1620–1643) royalist army officer
  • William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
  • Cavendish, Henry, second duke of Newcastle upon Tyne (1630–1691) politician
  • Godolphin, Francis, second earl of Godolphin (1678–1766) politician and officer of the royal household
  • Vernon, James (bap. 1646, d. 1727) government official and politician
  • Pelham, Thomas, first Baron Pelham (c.1653–1712) politician
  • William Savile, second marquess of Halifax (1664/5–1700) landowner and politician
  • Howard, Henry, seventh duke of Norfolk (1655–1701) politician
  • Harley [née Holles], Henrietta Cavendish, countess of Oxford and Mortimer (1694–1755) patron of architecture
  • Bentinck, Margaret Cavendish [née Lady Margaret Cavendish Harley], duchess of Portland (1715–1785) collector of art and natural history specimens and patron of arts and sciences
  • Bentinck, William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-, third duke of Portland (1738–1809) prime minister

Musical production

Under the direction of Frederick and Joyce Mountney. 27 piece string orchestra and pianist for the ballet. Pieces included:

  • Farnaby. ‘Giles Farnaby’s Dream’ (Prologue).
  • Mozart. Rondo, ‘Eine Kleine Nachstuck’ (Prologue).
  • Purcell. Dances from ‘the Fairy Queen’ and ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ (Episode I).
  • Bach. ‘Gavotte and Musette in D’ (Episode I).
  • Handel. Sinfonia from ‘Jeptha’, ‘Largo’ and ‘Gregorian Chant to Jubilate’ (Episode II).
  • Warlock. ‘Pieds en l’air from Capriol Suite’ (Episode II).
  • Trad. ‘Summer Is Icumen In’ (Episode III).
  • German. ‘The Yeomen of England’ (Episode III).
  • Bach. ‘Prelude in Bb Minor’ (Episode IV).
  • Max Bruch. ‘Ave Maria’ (Episode IV).
  • Percy Fletcher. ‘Fiddle Dance’ (Episode V).
  • Vaughan Williams. ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ (Episode V).
  • German. ‘Dances from Nell Gwynn’ (Episode V).
  • Trad. ‘Hudson House’ (Episode V).
  • Bach. ‘Gavotte from 5th French Suite’ (Episode VI).
  • Trad. ‘Huntsman Chorus’ (Episode VI).
  • Trad. ‘A Medley of Old-Fashioned Airs’ and ‘Speed, Bonny Boat’ (Episode VII).
  • John Bull. ‘A Pompous Strain’ (Epilogue).
  • J.B. Dykes. Hymn, ‘Praise to the Holiest’ (Epilogue).
  • Handel. March, ‘Scipio’ (Epilogue).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Leicester Daily Mercury
Sheffield Evening Telegraph
Nottingham Evening Post
Birmingham Daily Post
Western Mail
Daily Mirror
Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Manchester Guardian

Book of words


None available

Other primary published materials

  • Welbeck Abbey Historical Pageant Souvenir Programme. Mansfield, 1939. Price: 6d.

References in secondary literature

  • ‘Part 7: Welbeck’, Whitwell Local History Group, accessed 8 April 2016. http://www.wlhg.co.uk/book/part7.htm.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • British Library: Copy of the Programme.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



According to the Historic Houses Association, ‘The Welbeck Estate covers some 15,000 acres, nestled between Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park. At its heart lies Welbeck Abbey, a stately home which dates back to 1153 when it was founded as a Premonstratensian monastery.’2 The house has been the seat of the Dukes of Portland, the Cavendishes, since the seventeenth century. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand had visited Welbeck Abbey in November 1913, narrowly escaping being killed in a hunting accident when a shotgun was accidentally discharged near him. Had he been less fortunate, some speculated (including his host, the Duke of Portland), the First World War might have been averted.3

In 1939, in the run-up to another cataclysmic European War, Welbeck Abbey played host to drama of a rather different sort, in the shape of an historical pageant. The event was held in honour of the Portland family. While one might think that forelock-tugging deference towards a local Lord and Lady had died out in the nineteenth century, the Chairman of the Welbeck Historical Pageant Committee began the Souvenir Programme by announcing that the pageant ‘has been organised by the Estate employees of Welbeck and their many friends of the neighbourhood, as a token of their deep devotion to the Duke and Duchess of Portland, on the occasion of their Golden Wedding…All have ungrudgingly given much time and labour for many weeks in the sincere hope that they may give real pleasure to their Graces. The performers have provided their own costumes and properties.’4

As one might expect from this, the pageant was an overwhelming celebration of the role played by the aristocracy in the history of the region. The Abbey itself is celebrated, though Episode IV is one of the calmest presentations of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, with the Abbot and Canons surrendering the buildings with little protest and securing a pension for their cooperation. Even the scene with Robin Hood shows how the band are brought into royal service, Robin and his men being brought into conformity with established authority through Richard’s prodigious strength: thus what was in some hands a legend of resistance becomes co-opted into the celebration of the ruling elite.

The final three scenes attest to the Dukes of Portland and their connection to Whig politics. Though Charles I is welcomed to Welbeck, the most important monarch is King William III who gained the crown by deposing his son, James II, with the help of the Cavendish family. The Countess of Oxford makes it patently clear that she is defending her land from James’ grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, a tacit indication of an aristocratic Whiggish view of English history (famously espoused in Macaulay’s History of England [1848]) which held that it was the aristocracy that was responsible for Britain’s bloodless path to a constitutional monarchy and a limited franchise based on property. This was amply reflected in the pageant’s presentation of aristocratic patronage and noblesse oblige, coupled with absolute deference from a population that trusts in their beneficence. The Cavendishes were a famous dynasty of Whig politicians who dominated British politics for much of the late seventeenth to early nineteenth century. True to form, in the sixth episode Lady Peggy Cavendish-Bentick played her ancestor, the patron of the arts and sciences, Margaret Cavendish Bentick, Duchess of Portland, whose grandson William Henry Cavendish (also present in the scene) went on to become Prime Minister.

The pageant was evidently a success, despite trepidation over the weather during a rainy summer which had already marred the Kenilworth Pageant.5 As the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald noted, ‘the pageant attracted large crowds to the site’, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of the West Indies. It added: ‘Monday’s presentation was so successful financially that we understand the proceeds on Tuesday are to be given to the Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital in which the Duchess takes such a keen personal interest.’6 A short excerpt of the event was broadcast on BBC Midland Radio on the Monday night, and a short film-reel to be shown in cinemas was made of the pageant by Gaumont.7

The pageant had been advertised by the Times in an article about holidays which noted that ‘certain people, owing to international apprehensions, have this year put off making their holiday plans until later than usual’ and recommended that reader might choose instead to holiday locally, enjoying one of the many delights that England had to offer, pageantry not least among them.8 Germany invaded Poland just over three weeks after the pageant, and the Second World War would irrevocably change the area—or rather cement longer-term shifts in property ownership and the social structure which rendered the owning of great houses impractical. The lavish country houses so fondly described in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1944) had already been disappearing. But this process was greatly accelerated during and immediately after the war by the requisitioning of properties, the conscription of groundsmen, punitive levels of taxation on both earned and unearned wealth and a socialist government which, while not as anti-elitist as some had feared, was unwilling to support or subsidise the luxury of great houses.9 The nearby village of Whitewell’s Local History Group’s parish history perfectly encapsulates the social changes wrought by the Second World War on local communities:

The Pageant is remembered by many older Whitwellians as one of the last great occasions in the old style to be held before the Second World War…Until the time of the Pageant in 1939 many Whitwellians found their livelihood ‘down at Welbeck’. It was said in the 1930's that, ‘it was like Piccadilly Circus at “knocking-off” time.’ During the war, which followed, numbers naturally fell. Many estate workers had joined the Sherwood Rangers and other regiments pre-war and of those who returned, not all went back to work at Welbeck.10

Like Brideshead, Welbeck House was used as a military hospital after 1939. After the war it continued to be leased to the Ministry of Defence, which ran the Welbeck College Army training facility there until 2005.11 The family, which had occupied the nearby Welbeck Woodhouse, reoccupied Welbeck Abbey under the present owner, William Parente, Prince of Castel Viscardo (nephew of Lady Anne Cavendish Bentinck), and the state rooms are briefly open to the public each August.12 While the aristocracy today might not command anything like the loyalty or authority that it once did, at Welbeck its position has not suffered any catastrophic fall in material prosperity. In 2013, Parente was the thirtieth richest person in Britain, with a fortune of approximately £200m and, perhaps most impressively, 62000 acres of the East Midlands, of which the Welbeck Abbey estate makes up 15000.13 Like the poor, it seems, aristocracy is always with us.


  1. ^ Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 11 August 1939, 22.
  2. ^ ‘Welbeck Abbey’, Historic Houses Association, accessed 8 April 2016, http://www.hha.org.uk/Property/266/Welbeck-Abbey.
  3. ^ Greig Watson, ‘Could Franz Ferdinand Welbeck Gun Accident Have Halted WWI?’, BBC News, accessed 8 April 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-25008184.
  4. ^ Alex G. Robinson, in Welbeck Abbey Historical Pageant Souvenir Programme (Mansfield, 1939), 2.
  5. ^ Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 7 August 1939, 13.
  6. ^ Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 11 August 1939, 22.
  7. ^ Western Mail, 7 August 1939, 13; accessed 8 April 2016, Pageant of Welbeck Abbey, British Film and Viceo Council, http://bufvc.ac.uk/newsonscreen/search/index.php/story/59391.
  8. ^ The Times, 31 July 1939, 6.
  9. ^ David Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (London, 2005).
  10. ^ ‘Part 7: Welbeck’, Whitwell Local History Group, accessed 8 April 2016. http://www.wlhg.co.uk/book/part7.htm.
  11. ^ ‘A Brief History’, Welbeck College, accessed 8 April 2016, http://www.dsfc.ac.uk/A-brief-history and ‘60th Anniversary of Welbeck Defence College,’ ITV News, 28 June 2013, http://www.itv.com/news/central/update/2013-06-28/60th-anniversary-of-welbeck-defence-college/.
  12. ^ ‘Welbeck Abbey State Room Tours’, Welbeck Abbey accessed 8 April 2016, http://www.welbeck.co.uk/experience/visit/welbeck-abbey-state-room-tours.
  13. ^ ‘Rich List 2013: William Parente (£200m), Birmingham Post, accessed 8 April 2016, http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/business/rich-list-2013-no30---3908172.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Welbeck Abbey Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1237/