Southend and Westcliff-on-Sea Pageant

Pageant type


This entry was researched and written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s College London Undergraduate Research Fellow.

Jump to Summary


Place: Chalkwell Park (Southend-on-Sea) (Southend-On-Sea, Essex, England)

Year: 1909

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


19 and 26 June 1909, at 4pm

[A further performance seems to have taken place indoors, on 10 July 1910: ‘The performance of Southend’s Pageant came to an end on Saturday afternoon at Root’s Hall, Prittlewell’.]

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Ashdown, Charles H.
  • Master of Music: Mr C.T. Loveday
  • Artist: Mr J. Cattle
  • Master of the Horse: Major S.C. Byrne


Opened by the Lady Mayoress of London (Lady Truscott).s

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Finance, Appeal and Organisation Committee:

  • President: The Mayor of Southend-on-Sea
  • Hon. Treasurers: Mr H. Amoore and Mr. H.H. Lea
  • Hon. Auditor: Alderman H.E. Kershaw
  • Hon. Accountant: Mr H.S. Norton
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs H.H. Lea
  • Assistant Hon. Secretary: Miss Ivy Lea
  • Business manager: Mr H.J. Teakle

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

  • Ashdown, Charles H.


Ashdown was author and Dramatist of St. Albans Pageant (1907)

Names of composers

  • Loveday, C.T.
  • Russell, Kennedy
  • Wagner, Richard

Numbers of performers

Financial information

'Due to the rain marring performance, it is feared that the NSPCC will find themselves with an adverse balance'.3

Object of any funds raised

In aid of the funds of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Linked occasion


Audience information

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


The spectators were in their thousands.4

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

The Prologue

The Westcliff Amateur Orchestral Society performs ‘Merrie England’. An Essexman contemplatively walks through the district, pondering about the history which shaped it. Growing weary, he falls asleep. The Spirits of the Historical Past of Essex appear and dance round him. He awakes as the retreat and follows them.

Episode I. Offa and Ciniswintha, A.D. 707.

Ciniswintha, in Mercia, is told of the arrival of her nephew King Offa of Essex. He tells her of his love for her, and demands her hand in marriage from Cenred, King of Mercia. She is repulsed, as she is dedicated to a convent. Offa threatens the invasion of Mercia and both Kings draw their swords. They are interrupted by the Bishop of Lichfield, who orders them to cease. They renounce their crowns and in submission, travel to Rome.

Episode II. The Capture of the Duke of Exeter, A.D. 1397.

It is told that the much loved Duke of Gloucester has been overtaken in Stratford by the envious Duke of Exeter, and his corpse lay in Calais. Exeter has now fled to the Essex marches in hiding, and the crowd exit brandishing weapons with the intentions of finding him. The Duke of Exeter enters in disguise but is recognised by a Lady. He sings ‘The Song of the Free Companions’, and is seized by the villagers. They decide to execute him.

Episode III. The Visit of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn at Rochford, 1532.

Anne Boleyn and Viscount Rochford enter, and Rochford speculates that the King may visit. A retainer enters and announces that the King will visit. On Rochford’s exit he kisses Anne, then Henry VIII enters. Henry goads Anne about her brother, and grants her the Marchioness of Pembroke so she no longer has to submit to him.

Episode IV. Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury, 1588.

Elizabeth delivers her famous Tilbury speech to the populace.

Episode V. The “Battle” of Canvey, 1656, and Apotheosis of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden.

Eldery Dutchmen of the colony of Canvey Island are seated at a long table. A deputation of Erastian Elders enters. The Elders protest against the Dutch using land to build their own church.

Episode VI. An Old Dutch Fair on Canvey Island, and Apotheosis of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden.Performance of ‘Haste to the Fair’, ‘Welcome to Canvey’, and ‘The Silvery Thames’.

Final Tableau.

All performers march to ‘Tannhauser March’.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Offa (fl. 709) found in kings of the East Saxons (act. late 6th cent.–c.820), rulers in the area of modern Essex and London
  • Coenred (d. after 709) king of the Mercians [also known as Cenred]
  • Holland, John, first earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter (c.1352–1400) magnate and soldier
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Boleyn, George, Viscount Rochford (c.1504–1536) courtier and diplomat
  • Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536) queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland

Musical production

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Essex Newsman
Chelmsford Chronicle

Luton Times and Advertiser
Cambridge Independent Press

Book of words

Southend and Westcliff-on-Sea Pageant. Westcliff-on-Sea, 1910.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of Programme in the British Library.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Camden, William. Britannia.


Preparations for the Southend and Westcliff-on-Sea pageant began with a crowded meeting at King’s Hall on Friday 14 March 1909, where the main features of the show were outlined and explained. The meeting was reportedly full of energy and promise,5 with further volunteers being enlisted by Mrs Lea, the pageant secretary. The words and lyrics for the Pageant had been written by accomplished pageant master Charles H. Ashdown. Ashdown had gained prominence with his directorial debut at the St Albans Pageant in 1907, and went on to orchestrate the Hertford Millenary Pageant of 1914, among others. Not shy of hard work, Ashdown endeavoured not only to produce and direct the Pageant, but also to provide the scripts and music.6 Alongside his wife, Ashdown was a meticulous promoter of the accurate representation of local history and the author of a number of historical publications. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Southend and Westcliff-on-Sea Pageant took seriously the presentation of formative episodes in the history of the locality, using sources such as William Camden’s Britannia to inform the narrative.

The first performance in Chalkwell Park occurred on 19 June 1909, where spectators in their thousands gathered for the spectacle.7 According to the Cambridge Independent Press, Chalkwell provided an ‘admirable setting’ for the scenes. The Pageant opened with a celebration of the beauty of the Essex countryside, where an Essex man, contemplating his surroundings, falls asleep and is transported back in time by the Spirits of the Historical Past of Essex. The episodes which followed were thoughtfully paced, as the audience were taken from the dilemmas of Offa, the early medieval King of Essex, through to the unique and intriguing history of Dutch settlement on Essex’s Canvey Island. Three of the scenes dealt with female agency in an interesting way. First, we see Ciniswitha, daughter of the king of Mercia, emancipating herself from the domination of men by choosing to devote herself to a convent instead of marriage—despite a forceful proposition from King Offa of Essex. However, by Episode 3, agency is something which must be granted to Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII, as he makes her the Marchioness of Pembroke so that she no longer has to submit to her brother. This is rounded off by the Tilbury Speech of the strong-willed Elizabeth I, declaring that she is both fit to rule England and push back against the Spanish Armada.

Each episode was well received by the raucous and appreciative audience. However, the final tableau—a procession of all the performers to Richard Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser March’—could not be given on one of the two showings due to a sudden shower of rain.8 Indeed, despite the ‘admirable’ presentation of the players, according to the Chelmsford Chronicle both performances were marred by the weather. Yet it seems the pageant was re-staged again, at least once—on Saturday 10 July 1909 at Root’s Hall, Prittlewell.


  1. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 16 July 1909, 3.
  2. ^ Cambridge Independent Press, 25 June 1909, 3.
  3. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 16 July 1909, 3.
  4. ^ Essex Newsman, 26 June 1909, 3.
  5. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 21 March 1909, 8.
  6. ^ Accessed 22 August 2016).
  7. ^ Essex Newsman, 26 June 1909, 3.
  8. ^ Cambridge Independent Press, 25 June 1909, 3.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Southend and Westcliff-on-Sea Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,