The Wisbech Pageant

Other names

  • Heart of the Fens

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Sibald’s Holme Park (Wisbech) (Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England)

Year: 1929

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


4-5 September 1929

September 4th and September 5th at 2.30pm and 6.30pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Bryant, Arthur
  • Dress Designer: Miss Maisie Marshall
  • Master of the Horse: Mr Bernard West

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: His Worship the Mayor, J.W.A. Ollard, Esq.
  • Mr M. Herrod, J.P.
  • Mr H. Friend
  • Mr W.C. Barry
  • Mr W.V. Fundrey
  • Secretary: Mr F.J. Smith
  • General Secretary: Capt. E.S. Clarke, M.C.
  • Capt. W.F. Whiting
  • Dr C.H. Lucas
  • Mr A.W. Collett
  • Mr G.S. Gardiner
  • Mrs E.J. Brooking
  • Mrs A. Image
  • Mrs A Poyser
  • Mrs L. Ream
  • 10 men, 4 women = 14 total

General Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr M. Herrod, J.P.
  • 48 men, 29 women = 77 total

History and Episodes Committee:

  • Chairman: Ald. H.C. Elgood
  • His Worship the Mayor
  • Mr G.M.G. Woodgate
  • Mr J.H. Dennis
  • Mr Curtis Edwards
  • Mr H.L. White
  • Mr G.S. Gardiner
  • Mr G. Pearson
  • Hon. Secretary: Mr R.V. Haddow
  • Mr A.R. Bennett
  • Canon W.T.R. Crookham
  • Dr A.E. Bullmore
  • Mr J.M. Levers
  • Mr W.R. Booth
  • Mrs F.W. Coulam
  • Mrs R. Butterworth
  • Miss Prideaux
  • Miss Skinner
  • Miss Elvidge
  • Mrs G. Pearson
  • 14 men, 6 women = 20 total

Guarantee Fund Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr F. Burdett Ward
  • Mr H. Friend
  • Mr M. Herrod, J.P.
  • Treasurer: Mr S.S. Miller
  • Mrs A. Image
  • Miss A. Clark
  • Mrs E.J. Brooking
  • Mrs L. Elgood
  • Mrs S. Matthew
  • 4 men, 5 women = 9 total

Publicity Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr G.S. Gardiner
  • Mr H. Bancroft
  • Hon Secretary: Mr W.C. Barry
  • Mr C.T. Evison
  • Mr H.J. Knights
  • Mr B.H. Rouse
  • 6 men, 0 women = 6 total

Music and Lyrics Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr M. Herrod, J.P.
  • Mr J.E. Tidnam
  • Mr J. Fletcher
  • Mrs Martin
  • Mr J. Dawbarn
  • Mr L. Teed
  • Mrs E.S. Clarke
  • Mr E.J. Brooking
  • Librarian: Mr A. Gay
  • Miss Bradley
  • Mr G. Deacon
  • Hon Secretary: Miss A.B. Thompson
  • 8 men, 4 women = 12 total

Dramatic Committee:

  • His Worship the Mayor
  • Capt. E.S. Clarke, M.C.
  • Dr G.H. Lucas
  • Mr R.V. Haddow
  • 4 men, 0 women = 4 total

Costumes Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr A.C. Sayer
  • Mr A.E. Hercock
  • Mr R.H. Osborn
  • Mr J. Friend
  • Mrs Tremaine
  • Mrs F.W. Bradley
  • Mrs L. Ream
  • Mrs E. Hickling
  • Miss Crout
  • Mrs A.E. Hercock
  • Miss A. Newling
  • Secretary: Miss I. Howell
  • Assistant Designer: Mrs A. Bryant
  • Deputy Assistant Designer: Miss Sybil Parker
  • 4 men, 10 women = 14 total

Grounds Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr E. Hickling
  • Mr H.B. Teagle
  • Mr F. Burdett Ward
  • Mr H. Foster
  • Mr G. Kidd
  • 5 men, 0 women = 5 total

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

  • Bryant, Arthur

Names of composers

  • Beethoven, Ludwig van
  • Holst, Gustav
  • Wagner, Richard
  • Handel, George Frideric
  • Purcell, Henry
  • Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus

Numbers of performers


Horses were used in the pageant.

Financial information

Dresses: £326
Seating accommodation: £200
Publicity: £128
Total Expenditure: £1345


‘over £2000’

Profit: £500

Source: Liddell Hart Archives, King’s College London: BRYANT J3, Arthur Bryant, ‘The Wisbech Pageant’, 15.

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 800
  • Total audience: 25000


Total audience: 25000-28000.

‘Huge Crowds’ (Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard, 6 September 1929, 1).

Considering the high attendance figures, the size of the Grand Stand seems small. The figure may not be correct; the only reference to the size of the stand was in an Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser article 3 months before the Pageant.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s. 6d–1s. 3d.

Grand Stand:10s. 6d. (numbered and reserved) and 5s. 9d.
Seats in Enclosures: 3s. 6d. and 2s. 4d. (Children under 14: half price). Admission only: 1s. 3d. (Children under 14: 6d.)

Associated events

A Talk on Pageant Making by Bryant at the Alexandra Theatre (Tuesday, July 16, 8pm).
Some performers went out in pageant clothes to sing in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk market places and village greens.

Pageant outline


Before the opening of the main episode of the Pageant, the Charter of Wisbech, granted by King Edward VI in 1549, was read aloud by the first Mayor of the Borough.

Song. The Silver Arrow

Main Episode. King John at Wisbech. Act I

The Stage consists of a great semi-circle of booths and tents, in various stages of completion, and the gate-house of Wisbech castle in the background. The time is early morning of an early October day in the Year of Grace 1216. There is a camp of gaily coloured booths, tents and pavilions; booths of Sutlers’ Camp; a group of tawdry tents allotted to the new East Anglian recruits of King John’s army; the English Archer’s Camp; the Quartermaster’s Store; largest of them all, the camp of the Foreign Mercenaries; the Royal Pavilion; tents for Royal aides; a platform with the banner of King John; stocks in the middle. When the scene opens, the stage is deserted save for a few peasants working in the foreground. Their clothes are worn and ragged, and their bowed backs and gnarled hands suggest servitude and ceaseless labour.1

Incident 1. The Heralds of an Army

A Herald wearing the royal livery appears with a trumpeter, at their summons the Captain and Guard of the Castle turn out to receive them. The peasants watch, as do a few curious townsmen who arrive. Royal Officers push their way through the crowds to their tents.

Incident 2. The Making of the Camp

A squad of armed men enters, followed by a troop of camp labourers, all directed by the large and imposing and pompous Camp Marshal of the King’s Army. The peasants are commandeered forcefully to help. The camp is put together, with some townsmen helping, others merely watching. Some children appear, and one is ‘soundly cuffed’ by a soldier. The Marshal threatens the peasants and workers into work.

Incident 3. The Entry of the Chief Burgesses and Townsmen

A group of burgesses enter, among them the Guildsmen of the chief trades of the town, accompanied by a crowd of townsmen and excited children. The children, joining hands, dance round one of the burgesses, one of whom tries to smack a child. The latter escapes, but a child is caught by a town constable, who bends him over the knee and smacks his behind. The others run off, making noises over their shoulders; the smacked one departs howling to his mother, who administers consolation and ‘pours obloquies’ on the constable. More townsmen and constables appear, looking around, as if anticipating a great event. Mingled with the staring, chattering crowd, pass, very wide awake, beggars and strolling priests, fortune tellers, pedlars and vendors of milk and ale, clowns and jugglers.

Incident 4. The Arrival of the King’s Army

Music and stamping of feet heralds the arrival of the King’s Army, to the excitement of the crowd, consisting of mercenaries, raw East Anglian recruits, archers, and English Knights. The King-at-arms and his officers ride on to the stage, as the Royal Banner is carried forward there is an outburst of uncontrollable cheering. As the Royal Litter is borne forward, the ‘pale, cruel face of King John’ peers out, the ‘passionate loyalty of the great crowd touches even his heart’ as he smiles. Behind him follows the Chamberlain, the Secretary, the King’s Confessor, the Royal Leech, the Jester, courtiers and ladies, the great Ralph Blundeville, Earl of Chester, Queen Isabella with her official Ladies of the State, the Papal Legate, and a train of monks. The tail of the procession is brought up by the camp followers and the Baggage and Treasure Train. “Hugging the vicinity of the latter follows a little group of Jews, whose interested appearance suggests that the Royal Treasure is not unmortgaged.”2

Incident 5. The King and the Leech

The King, speaking weakly, demands to be taken out of his litter. The Leech [his physician] tries to stop him, so the King strikes the Leech across the cheek. As the Leech retires howling, the King’s pages assist him to his chair in front of his Pavilion.

Incident 6. The Papal Legate’s Blessing

As the Papal Legate mounts the platform the monks behind him begin to chant. The Marshal and King’s Confessor urge the people to kneel, who do, though a few of the richer gentry and burgesses show some reluctance. As the Legate pronounces his blessing a deep sigh rises from the silence. Now the Army kneels, and even the King bows his head—meaning that only the King and the silent sentinel in the castle tower are standing. The Legate blesses the banner and the army. As the last words of Latin are spoken every man in the crowd leaps to his feet amid thunderous cheering.

Incident 7. The Submission of the Burgesses

The Burgesses are escorted to the King by the Marshal and Heralds, as the Wisbech crowd cheers wildly. The Burgesses kneel and offer treasure and the keys of the town. The King graciously returns the keys and takes the treasure, then rises and reads a confirmation of the freedom from tolls, granted to the town by King Richard twenty years before. A look of disappointment spreads to the faces of the Burgesses, who had been hoping for such a Charter as had been granted to their rivals at Lynn, but the populace is delighted with the King’s condescension and shouts with pleasure and loyalty. The King’s hand is then kissed by each Burgess, who then retire, as the King ‘greedily’ counts his new treasure.

Incident 8. The Review

The sentinels force the crowd back as the officers draw their troops to attention, and the King rises beneath the Royal Banner. The Troops now march in review in front of the King and the audience.

Incident 9. The Siesta

The King retires to the pavilion, as the camp generally empties. The sick King, complaining of lack of air, emerges from his Pavilion on the arms of his attendants, scowls at quarrelling card players, before sinking into a chair and demanding to be left alone. He falls into an uneasy slumber.

Interlude. A Dream of Wisbech

Episode I. The Making of the Sea Wall:

A Roman altar on the stage marks the site of a well during the Roman occupation. A gang of British slaves enters, reluctantly on their way to a day’s labour in the marshes. They are met by their employer, a Roman colonist, with his wife and daughters. His wife begs the overseer to release a couple of slaves for her garden, before picking two delighted men. A tramp of feet is heard and a company of Legionaries under a Centurion enter, marching and singing. They fling coins down the well. As the last file passes, an impudent fellow blows a kiss to the two girls, who react with anger while their father laughs.

Episode II. The Camp of Refuge—Hereward’s camp in the Fens, 11th century:

Hereward, his men, and a ‘few girls, of Amazonian appearance’ are preparing a meal around a fire, guarding two captive Norman men-at-arms roped together by a Saxon giant. They eat, throwing the bones to the starving prisoners. After a few drinks they get more boisterous, and a fight is quickly stopped by the fearful Hereward. While they are singing a spy creeps out of the background and watches the scene; gathering courage he crawls on hands on knees to the prisoners, whispers to them, then backs off into the darkness. A moment later a runner breaks into the circle and addressing Hereward delivers a breathless message. They are all on their feet and, led by Hereward, run into the Fens.

Episode III. The Great Floods of 1236:

The scene is composed of some peasants working in a field; a couple of merchants preparing a meal; and a group of pilgrims journeying through. Suddenly, from far away, the church bells are rung in alarm. A sound of galloping, then a horse covered with foam rides down the road; its rider tells the merchants ‘For your lives—the seas are over the Wall and the floods are out!’ before galloping off. The merchants follow as fast as they can, as do the pilgrims. A woman enters with a child, sobbing, followed by more children and a man. More people follow, panic-stricken racing across the stage, many shouting ‘the floods, the floods!’ Bells are heard everywhere. There is a pause—and the stage is empty—a terrific clap of thunder follows—then one last fugitive appears, a woman with flying hair and a terrified face, running for her life. She stumbles and falls with a loud shriek of terror, then, recovering her feet, races off still screaming.

King John at Wisbech. Act II

Incident 10. The Awakening

The King awakens, shouting with terror. The King’s Attendants try to calm him, before the Queen takes his hand—a gesture from which the King recoils with disgust. The whole camp once more becomes alive as the sergeants call their men out of the tents. The camp followers start to lay out wares in Sutlers’(a civilian merchant who sells provisions to an army) Camp, for the evening visit, as the courtiers and ladies gather around the King, talking and laughing, as the Jester makes fun.

Incident II. The Arrival of the Crowds

Gradually people arrive at the Camp. Pedlars, merchants, etc. The King buys something off a daring peddler. Gradually the townsfolk and country people appear, chattering with the English archers, gaping at the Mercenaries, and scattering to inspect the various wares. A roaring trade is done.

Incident 12. The Bishop’s Delegation

A monk approaches the Royal Pavilion bearing a cross, followed by a band of ecclesiastical dignitaries surrounding the litter of the Bishop of Ely, Ambassador from the Barons’ Camp. He is also followed by a squad of armed men. The King prepares to receive the delegation. The Bishop approaches his Sovereign ‘in anything but a gracious spirit’, laying before the King a document. The King reads it, frowns, and then converses with the Bishop. The King seems ready to accede to the Barons’ demands, as a large crowd watches on. The Papal Legate appears and glares at the Bishop. The Legate reads the document, and whispers to the King. After a short silence the King raises up shouting angry insults at the Bishop, tears the parchment, and turns his back on the delegation. The crowd rears forward to attack the Bishops party, joined by some soldiers. The ecclesiasts sob and cower, thought the cross bearer and Bishop stand defiant. The King sulkily emerges after the pleading of the King’s Secretary, to calm the crowd, as the Bishop’s delegation manages to retreat.

Incident 13. The Mercenary and the Girl

A girl and her lover cross the stage, half arguing and half flirting. The girl, to spite the boy, approaches a mercenary, smiling. He steps forward and kisses her, before the boy flings himself on the mercenary. They fight, gradually incorporating more townsmen and mercenaries in the hubbub. The Marshal arrives with guards and manages to calm the crowds, and secures the chief offenders, before sentencing them to the stocks. The girl tries to ask for remission of the sentence of her lover. The Marshal, taken aback by her kindness, instead ‘chucks back her chin and kisses her’! She boxes him on the ears before running into the crowd, as the Marshal hesitates then retreats to the Royal Pavilion with wounded dignity. The townsmen pelt the mercenary in the stocks, while the girl protects her fiancé from damage. In the background the fair continues.

Incident 14. The Spy

A spy approaches a sergeant and begins conversing with him, arousing the latter’s suspicion. The spy then tries to escape, chased by soldiers. The spy runs into the Camp Marshal’s stomach, sending him flying. The chase continues, with some even betting on the outcome, even the King watching the spectacle. Pots, pans and accoutrements go flying as he runs through the camp. He is finally brought to earth by a man wielding a large mallet, who strikes him on his head. A doctor is brought, who kneels beside the body, shakes his head, before the corpse is rolled unceremoniously onto a stretcher.

Incident 15. The Herbalist

The Herbalist, a strange bearded man, appears with his ‘sly’ apprentice. He lays out his potions and wares, before dispensing his drugs and reaping ‘a fine harvest of pennies in return.’ When the King’s Secretary eats one of the Herbalist’s famous herbs and is ‘violently sick’ the herbalist is given a thrashing by a Guard.

Incident 16. The Camp Revels

The trumpeters play and universal excitement reigns. A brightly clad company of dancers perform to drum beat, as many dance around the stocks. A man leading a bear appears and the bear performs antics. The men in the stocks persuade some boys to release them, before donning disguises and running into the crowd. A girl dances in front of the Queen scandalising her, to the pleasure of the King who orders her to dance for him. The bear escapes and terrifies some women by chasing them. A mummers’ play is performed, watched by the King and a crowd.

Incident 17. The Breaking of the Camp

When the mummers have been rewarded there is a general buzz of excitement. A great carpet is laid down, before the important ladies and gentlemen of the countryside ready for their dance. The dance becomes universal, and ‘both beautiful and grotesque’. A band of men wearing animals’ heads circle here and there among the dancing groups. A horseman appears frantically, delivering news to the King. A hurried consultation takes place before the Marshal sounds the trumpets and gives his orders; the soldiers then race to their tents and arms. The band strikes a march and the army moves off, to the strains of a battle hymn. The crowds take up the words and follow the army out, until the whole procession has vanished and the singing dies away. The scene is left silent and deserted.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Ranulf (III) [Ranulf de Blundeville], sixth earl of Chester and first earl of Lincoln (1170–1232) magnate
  • Isabella [Isabella of Angoulême], suo jure countess of Angoulême (c.1188–1246) queen of England, second consort of King John
  • Hereward [called Hereward the Wake] (fl. 1070–1071) rebel

Musical production

Full orchestra amplified by speakers. Pieces included:
  • God Save the King (pre-show).
  • The Silver Arrow (pre-show).
  • Song of Agincourt (Incident 2).
  • Coronation March (Incident 4).
  • Beethoven. Overture to Dream (Dream Interlude).
  • Holst. Marching Song (Episode I).
  • Wagner. Flying Dutchman (Episode III).
  • Handel. Dead March from Saul (Incident 14).
  • Giles Famaby’s Dream (Incident 15).
  • Merry Girl of Scarborough (Incident 16).
  • Green Sleeves (Incident 16).
  • Now is the month of Maying (Incident 16).
  • Purcell. Minuet (Incident 17).
  • Sellingers Round (Incident 17).
  • Song of Agincourt
  • Mozart. ‘Non Piu Andrai’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Daily Express
Daily Mail
Wisbech Standard
Stamford Mercury
Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard
Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser

Book of words

The Wisbech Pageant: The Heart of the Fens. 1929 [place of publication not shown].

Price: 1s.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College London: BRYANT J2 and BRYANT J3

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • William Watson, An Historical Account of the Town and port of Wisbeach in the Isle of Ely, ... and of the circumjacent towns and villages, the drainage of the Great Level of the Fens, the origin of the Royal Franchise of the isle of Ely (Wisbech, 1827).


The idea for a pageant in Wisbech was first mooted by the town’s Mayor, J.W.A. Ollard, in his inaugural speech in 1928, where he spoke of his ‘dream’ for a ‘monster’ pageant in the town.3 Such an event, he later argued in the pageant handbook, could inspire a popular enthusiasm in local history not gained from school lessons or public lectures, as well as ‘the happy co-operation of a thousand actors and helpers chosen irrespective of religion, class or politics, [and] the increase of corporate goodwill, the fostering of pride of Borough, and the enkindling of a great love of Fenland.4 These aims tallied with Arthur Bryant, who, tracing his thinking directly to Louis N. Parker, saw a good pageant as a ‘manifestation and expression… of a community.’5 Bryant therefore was a good choice to develop the Wisbech Pageant—he also brought with him Miss Maisie Marshall to design the dresses, with whom he had previously worked together on the Oxfordshire Pageant of 1926 and the East London Empire Pageants of 1928 and 1929.6

Bryant chose to base the pageant around the various events of a day-long medieval fair, a device he had utilised for his Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire pageants in 1924 and 1926.7 This simplicity, and the implied accusation that he was taking too long to write a complete draft, did, at first, elicit ‘a little veiled opposition from some members of the Committee’, and the straining of relationships in general.8 Upon a suggestion from the Pageant Committee, however, that Bryant incorporate a ‘future’ episode into King John’s dream scene, alongside his dreaming of two past episodes, the pageant grew to four distinct episodes.9 The locals soon got into the spirit of the pageant, the press declaring that ‘pageantitis’ had arrived, as flags, pennants, bunting and small lights were used to transform the town into a ‘veritable fairyland’.10

A distasteful continuity in Bryant’s pageantry was his crude stereotyping of Jews. In the fourth Incident, the arrival of the King’s Army, Bryant described how ‘Hugging the vicinity’ of ‘the Baggage and Treasure Train’ was ‘a little group of Jews, whose interested appearance suggests that the Royal Treasure is not unmortgaged’.11 Similar typecasting of Jews as money-grabbers had taken place in his Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire pageants, and Bryant went on to work with noted Nazi sympathiser, anti-Semite and war internee Admiral Barry Domvile on the Greenwich Night Pageant of 1932. While the extent of Bryant’s anti-Semitic leanings have been debated by historians, his representation of Jews in pageants certainly points towards more negative conclusions.12

In general the common themes of pageantry were evident at Wisbech. The dresses, for example, were made by local female volunteers, resourcefully using old material from curtains and tablecloths, and copying local historical styles and materials.13 The pageant, particularly in its organisation, was geared towards a celebration and revitalising of local culture. With the subtitle ‘the Heart of the Fens’, the local newspaper claimed the pageant educated Wisbechians to feel ‘a fresh zest’ for the town’s history, as well as make its citizens ‘appreciate more of the privileges of the present day.’14 Thus, while the actual narrative of the pageant definitely looked back and longed for the idealised community of medieval England, it did so in the service of the present:

To keep pace with the demands of the time, it [Wisbech] has difficulties to meet. Its roads, its bridges, its drains, its intensive cultivation, its educational and social progress, make big claims, and require that sturdiness of character, that individuality which has been a characteristic of the past.15

The relationship between the national and the local was also key. Bryant, undeniably, was a defender of patriotism and the English national character.16 Most obviously, the visit of the King to the locale, and his association with important events like war and the granting of charters, as well as the leisure and entertainment of the town, gave Wisbech a role in the life of the country. While the pageant was preceded by the singing of the national anthem, it was also directly followed by a reading of the Charter of Wisbech, granted by King Edward VI in 1549, by someone playing the first Mayor resulting from that legislation. This was important, since it confirmed Wisbech’s independent status as a corporate borough—a status further cemented with the arms granted to the borough a couple of months after the pageant.17 This dual celebration of the local and the national was reflected in the banners about the town that variously proclaimed ‘Success to the old town of Wisbech’ as well as ‘God Bless our King and Queen’ and ‘God Save the King’.18

Yet there were also unusual elements in Bryant’s vision of pageantry. At Wisbech, Bryant, as with his previous and future pageants, did not include spoken parts, arguing that the difficulties of audibility, direction and maintaining a ‘realistic’ representation of events were lessened without speech.19 While most pageants drew from a wide range of nationally and locally important people from all across religion, politics, royalty and the arts, he also chose to focus on the special occasion of the fair and the general populace; the only ‘famous’ characters therefore were King John, Ralph Blundeville (Earl of Chester), Queen Isabella and Hereward. As Bryant argued:

Even if one’s programme tells you that the distant crowds passing in front of one include Boudica Alfred carrying his cakes, Hereward the Wake, Richard Coeur de Lion, Henry VIII and his entire family, Good Queen Bess, Nell Gwynne and the Merry Monarch, Mr. Pepys, the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Bradlaugh… one is not very likely to be excited. One is probably unable to distinguish these individuals and it wouldn’t mean very much if one could. The most effective pageants are those in which a dramatic plan with some unity in it is pursued by the producer instead of a series of isolated episodes.20

The music, too, was consciously not historically accurate, the importance in this aspect instead being spectacle and drama. While there was an effort to ‘avoid striking any jarring note of modernity amidst… beautiful medieval scenes’, Holst, Purcell and Mozart were used to ‘to convey by voice and instrument the moral to be drawn from the various episodes.’21

Numerous people clearly came from outside Wisbech to witness the pageant, many presumably using the specially put on bus and train services for the surrounding villages. The five acres of car park provided next to the pageant ground also helped; the Stamford Mercury noted the large increase in road traffic, and reported that there 500 cars parked on the first day of the pageant, and 600 on the second.22 Cars also had other purposes; to advertise the pageant a procession of cars covered with placards and posters, and ‘crowned’ with enthusiastic actors, distributed leaflets to the residents of King’s Lynn, while Bryant ingeniously attempted to use the headlights of a hundred cars arranged around the front of the stage to provide lighting for one late-night rehearsal.23

At the end of the Pageant the celebrating Marshals hoisted Bryant shoulder high, and carried him through the arena before he addressed the celebrating crowds through his loudspeaker.24 In the following weeks the mood in Wisbech remained buoyant, and the initially frosty relationship between Bryant and the committee was quickly forgotten. Letters and gifts were sent to Bryant from the Mayor as well as the cast, and the local press was full of praise for and from both the participants and pageant master.25 Although there were 35 policemen, incorporating the whole of the Wisbech force as well as drafts from surrounding villages, ‘good spirit’ prevailed and not a single incident was reported.26 The attendance was also higher than expected, stated as being between 25000 and 28000 over the four performances. Indeed, the general consensus was that Wisbech had staged ‘a highly successful pageant which ran like clockwork.’27 Reflecting this, the pageant was ‘a great financial success’, making £500 after a £1345 cost.28 Yet, while the pageant was well attended, it was perhaps still too small to attract serious royal or political patronage; the rumoured presence of the Queen turned out to be unfounded, eliciting a fumbling non est mea culpa from the Mayor on behalf of the pageant committee. Fortunately, she graciously accepted his apology. 29 Wisbech held a further Pageant in 1949.


  1. ^ Taken verbatim from A.W. Bryant, ‘Wisbech Pageant, 1929. The Heart of the Fens. Stage Directions of Episodes and Incidents’. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  2. ^ Quoted from A.W. Bryant, ‘Wisbech Pageant, 1929. The Heart of the Fens. Stage Directions of Episodes and Incidents’. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  3. ^ ‘The Origination of the Pageant’, Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard, 6 September 1929, 1.
  4. ^ J.W.A. Ollard, ‘The Objects of the Pageant’, in The Wisbech Pageant: The Heart of the Fens ([Place of publication unknown], 1929), 5. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  5. ^ Arthur. Bryant, ‘Preface’ in The Wisbech Pageant: The Heart of the Fens ([Place of publication unknown], 1929), 16. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  6. ^ ‘Appointments by the Wisbech Pageant Committee’, Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser, 1 May 1929, no visible page number. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  7. ^ See BRYANT J1 and BRYANT C3 at Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  8. ^ Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser, 12 June 1929, no visible page number. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives; Arthur Bryant, ‘The Wisbech Pageant’, 1-2. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  9. ^ Letter from E.S. Clarke to A. Bryant, 24 May 1929. BRYANT J2, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  10. ^ Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser 24 July 1929, no visible page number; ‘The Street Decorations’, Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard, 6 September 1929, 1. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  11. ^ A.W. Bryant, ‘Wisbech Pageant, 1929. The Heart of the Fens. Stage Directions of Episodes and Incidents’. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  12. ^ A. Roberts, ‘Patriotism: The Last Refuge of Sir Arthur Bryant’ in Andrew Roberts, Eminent Churchillians (London, 1994); J. Stapleton, Sir Arthur Bryant and National History in Twentieth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005); R.N. Soffer, ‘Arthur Bryant, Appeasement, and Anti-Semitism’ in R.N. Soffer, History, Historians, and Conservatism in Britain and America: From the Great War to Thatcher and Reagan (Oxford, 2008).
  13. ^ M. Marshall, ‘Clothes’ in The Wisbech Pageant: The Heart of the Fens (1929), 5. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives; Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser, 24 July 1929, no visible page number; Arthur Bryant, ‘The Wisbech Pageant’, 6-7. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  14. ^ Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser, 24 July 1929. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  15. ^ Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser, 24 July 1929. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  16. ^ J. Stapleton, Sir Arthur Bryant and National History in Twentieth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005).
  17. ^
  18. ^ ‘The Street Decorations’, Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard, 6 September 1929, 1. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  19. ^ A.W. Bryant, ‘Wisbech Pageant, 1929. The Heart of the Fens. Stage Directions of Episodes and Incidents’. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  20. ^ Bryant, ‘Pageants’, 8-9. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  21. ^ J. Edis Tidnam, ‘Pageant Music’ in The Wisbech Pageant: The Heart of the Fens ([Place of publication unknown], 1929), 13.. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  22. ^ ‘Wisbech Pageant’, Stamford Mercury, 13 September 1929, 4.
  23. ^ Arthur Bryant, ‘The Wisbech Pageant’, 11-12. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  24. ^ ‘Rousing Finale Last Night’, Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard, 6 September 1929, 1. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  25. ^ ‘Wisbechians Praised by Mayor and Mr. A.W. Bryant’, The Wisbech Standard, 13 September 1929. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives; Letter from Bryant to Mayor, undated; Letter from Mayor to Bryant, 18 September 1929; Letter to Bryant from C.H.C. Beads(?) of the Club, Spalding, 6 September 1929. BRYANT J2, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  26. ^ ‘Huge Crowds’, Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard, 6 September 1929, 1. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  27. ^ Letter from Reg H. [surname illegible] to Bryant, 29 September 1929. BRYANT J2, Liddell Hart Military Archives; and ‘Huge Crowds’, Pageant Supplement to The Wisbech Standard, 6 September 1929, 1. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  28. ^ Letter to Bryant from [Illegible name- Walt?], 27 September 1929. BRYANT J2, Liddell Hart Military Archives; Arthur Bryant, ‘The Wisbech Pageant’, 15, BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.
  29. ^ ‘The Queen and the Wisbech Pageant’, The Wisbech Standard, 13 September 1929. BRYANT J3, Liddell Hart Military Archives.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Wisbech Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,