Tamworth Millenary Celebrations and Tableaux

Pageant type


With thanks to David Biggs of the Tamworth and District Civic Society for much valuable further information about this pageant, and for correcting some errors in the original entry.

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Place: Tamworth Castle Grounds (Tamworth) (Tamworth, Staffordshire, England)

Year: 1913

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


10 July 1913 at 3pm and 7pm. Tamworth Castle Grounds were originally in Warwickshire, but transferred to Staffordshire in 1889.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Rodway, Alfred
  • Producer, Episode I-II, V: Mr. F.H. Argyle
  • Producer, Episode III: Mr A. Spencer
  • Producer, Episode IV: Rev. H.D. Yeo
  • Producer, Episode VI: Mr T.J. Barford
  • Producer, Episode VII: Mr HJ.C. Goostry
  • Producer, Episode VIII: Miss Richards

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee

  • Chairman: Mayor, Councillor H.W. Harston
  • Vice-Chairman: Mr MacGregor
  • Hon. Treasurer: Dr. Sculthorpe
  • Hon. Secretary: Mr Morton

Entertainments Committee

  • Chairman: F.H. Argyle
  • Hon. Secretary: H.V. Argyle

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

Morton, William

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information


  • Subscriptions £443 10s 11d
  • Refreshments: £17 2s 6d
  • Medal Sales: £4 1s 11d
  • Tableaux Tickets: £68 14s 6d
  • Luncheon Tickets: £34 19s 0d
  • Cinematograph Rights £5
  • Lamps and Candles Donations: £3 5s 0d
  • Bank Interest: £1 7s 11d.

Total Receipts: £587 15s 4d.

Total Cost: £587 15s 4d.

The pageant appeared to break even; presumably the total cost included donations towards the proposed statue.

Object of any funds raised

Funds towards a statue of Ethelfleda and Athelstan

Linked occasion

Thousandth Anniversary of the construction of Tamworth Castle by Ethelfleda

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 10000


The figure of 10000 is an estimate.1

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

Not known, but there was a charge.

Associated events

10 July 1913 was a public holiday for schoolchildren and many workers. There was a luncheon reception at the Town Hall held by the Mayor and Mayoress for guests including Lord and Lady Ferrers, the Bishop of Birmingham and various MPs, as well as ticket holders. This was followed by a procession to the Castle for the unveiling of the statue of Aethelstan followed by the tableaux. Other events included a programme of music and a performance by the Polesworth Morris Dancers.

Pageant outline

Episode I. Ethelfleda, ‘The Lady of the Mercians’, and Athelstan

All episodes took the form of tableaux, without any dialogue. Episode I opens with Ethelfleda accompanied by her nephew and her daughter, Elfwinna, accompanied by monks, nobles and Saxon soldiers (one of whom is holding the banner of Mercia). The procession is escorting a prisoner, the King of North Wales and Powis, Jeothwell. An engineer submits a plan of the castle to Ethelfleda, while the master mason explains the model. There are two other workmen with appropriate tools.

Episode II. St. Editha and her Nuns

No information

Episode III. William the Conqueror Granting to Robert of Marmion-le-Fontenaye, His Dispensator, the Castle of Tamworth

The King is pointing to the castle and handing a parchment with the Royal seal to Robert of Marmion. A Norman noble stands to the Conqueror’s right, his sword drawn, while other Normans come on in a procession, bearing pennants.

Episode IV. Henry II and Thomas a’ Becket

The King is seated at a table, flanked by a noble with the sword of the state, along with Beckett, Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury and various lesser bishops. Monks and the Abbot of Merridale kneel before the King and receive a charter from him. They retreat in a procession, carrying various croziers.

Episode V. Edward IV. and the Tanner of Tamworth

The King in full hunting costume, with a falcon on his wrist and hunting hound, is bartering with the Tanner for the latter’s back and cow skin, with horns and hoofs complete.

Episode VI. James I and Prince Charles.

The royals, seated on chairs, are greeted by Humphrey Ferrers and other nobles. Bailiffs introduce the Headmaster of the Grammar School who introduces a pupil who recites Drayton’s lines from ‘Polyolbion’. A Pavane and a Galliard are then performed.

Episode VII. The Surrender of the Castle.

Nine Royalist soldiers enter, some wounded and one with lowered colours. They stack weapons at their feet and the officer breaks his sword. They are faced by twelve Cromwellian troops, headed by Colonel William Purefoy. The Royalist Colonel Scudamore takes off his hat and surrenders.

Episode VIII. Finale.

Tamworth, a lady in white, holding a long purple iris and wearing a castellated crown, is seated. The New South Wales Tamworth coat of arms is represented with Australian flowers. The Tamworth, Ontario is shown, with representatives from the country doing homage. Characters from other episodes process. Singing of Australian, Canadian and British National Anthems.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Æthelstan [Athelstan] (893/4–939) king of England
  • Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
  • Marmion, Robert (d. 1144) baron and soldier
  • William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Edward IV (1442–1483) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Purefoy, William (c.1580–1659) politician and regicide
  • Scudamore, John, first Viscount Scudamore (1601–1671) diplomat and politician

Musical production

  • Incidental Music by the Wimperis Orchestra

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Tamworth Herald
Staffordshire Advertiser
Birmingham Daily Post
Lichfield Mercury
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
Nottingham Evening Post
Leamington Spa Courier

Book of words


Other primary published materials


Morton, William. The Castle and Town of Tamworth, 913-1913 A.D. [With illustrations and a plan.] Tamworth, 1913. [This is a souvenir programme with an outline of the tableaux]

References in secondary literature

  • ‘Have we forgotten a big anniversary?’, Tamworth Herald, 18 January 2013, accessed 15 September 2016, http://www.tamworthherald.co.uk/forgotten-big-anniversary/story-17892962-detail/story.html

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of Programme in the British Library

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Drayton, Michael. Polyolbion. London, first published 1612.


A letter to the Tamworth Herald in February 1911 reminded readers that the town was coming up to the millennium of the founding of the castle by Ethelfleda, Queen of the Mercians in 913:

Sir, - In two years’ time Tamworth Castle will celebrate its 1000th birthday… What a link with the past we Tamworth people have in that venerable pile; and how full of incident and historic association the tale of the thousand years ‘twixt now and then! What a subject for an Historic Pageant and the site—green, terrace, and river—there is none better in the Midlands.2

The writer went on in no uncertain terms to outline the benefits that holding a pageant would afford to the town: ‘Other towns with less to boast of have of late years, revived the almost forgotten art of pageantry… A Tamworth Pageant happily conceived and well organised, would do much to advertise the town and district, draw town and district closer together, and stimulate local patriotism.’3 However, by February 1913, little had been done, prompting a former Tamworth resident, John R. Willington, who now lived in Leamington Spa (some thirty miles away) to write, again agitating for a pageant and comparing it to the spectacle of the Warwick Pageant of 1906 and asking ‘can even Warwick shew so long and so interesting a history, as can the ancient town of Tamworth’?4 Ethelfleda had been quite busy that year, founding fortified ‘burghs’ in Stafford, which celebrated its millennium from 30 July to 4 August 1913 in a grand pageant attracting 22000 visitors at a time when the town’s population was only 26000.5 However, in response to Willington’s letter, the Celebrations Committee, formed to decide on how the celebrations ought to take place, informed the newspaper that ‘With regard to the above letter it was considered that the expense of holding a pageant would be too great’, and instead recommended a civic procession from the town hall to the castle grounds at a predicted cost of around £100 or £150.6

Why, when Stafford went ahead with its own pageant in impressive form, was Tamworth so unwilling to commemorate its own significant history, or to keep up with its local rival at a time when the Edwardian Pageant craze was at its zenith? The years immediately before the First World War saw major difficulties in heavy industries and strikes were prevalent in the coal, steel, and transport industries, which were Tamworth’s major employers. Indeed, a strike from May to July 1913 in the nearby Black Country involved 50000 tube and metal workers, amounting to the equivalent loss of 1.4 million working days.7

Despite the unsettled labour relations across the West Midlands as a whole at this tide, Tamworth’s parsimonious attitude towards its celebrations attracted enough complaint to spur the Council into expanding their plans to include the erection of a statue of the illustrious founder Ethelfleda and her nephew, King Athelstan (by public subscription). This met with great success, raising £150 by March, over £385 by May 1913, and ultimately over £443 (significantly beyond what was initially envisaged).8 Furthermore Alfred Rodway, who had designed costumes for the Winchester Pageant (1908) and who had written scenes for the Army Pageant (1910) was engaged to produce a series of tableaux or mini pageant depicting the town’s history in eight scenes. Despite this, the Tamworth Herald warned readers that ‘It may be as well to state here that the Committee is not producing a Pageant such as those big functions which took place at Warwick, Chester, and elsewhere…It would be a very great pity if the public were led to expect a greater affair than that which the Entertainments Committee have set out to accomplish.’ It nevertheless stressed that ‘the Tableaux will be well done and really worth seeing, we are quite convinced.’9

Self-effacement seems to have characterized much of the preparations, with officials fearing that too-great a celebration would overstretch the resources available to the town and end in humiliation. While local patriotism was particularly strong during this period, an aversion to lavish spending and a fear of bankruptcy haunted the patrician classes of the time—an attitude memorably evoked in the character of the miserly Mr Tellwright in Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns (1902).

Wednesday 10 July was given as a public holiday to all schoolchildren. Many of them, along with other townspeople, were presented with commemorative medals. The day was celebrated by a public ox-roast in Corporation Street by the Assembly Rooms, and a luncheon reception in the town hall, where the guests of honour included Lord and Lady Ferrers (whose ancestors had owned the castle) as well as Robert Peel, Bart. whose father and grandfather had served as MPs for Tamworth for much of the nineteenth century. After the luncheon there was a procession to the castle grounds for the unveiling of the 19-foot octagonal pillar ‘of white Hollington stone with a seat of unpolished grey Cornish granite, built upon octagonal steps of Ethelfleda and Athelstan’ upon which was mounted the statue of Ethelfleda and Athelstan, designed by the sculptors Edward George Bramwell and H.C. Mitchell.10

This was followed by the tableau, described by a number of newspapers as a pageant.11 This was warmly praised by all, with the Lichfield Mercury describing it as ‘a simple and brief reminder, touching in its sincerity and aptitude’ and a ‘very fine spectacle…Nothing was lacking either from the point of view of stagecraft or effectiveness of costumes in the various episodes.’12 The Tamworth Herald, with a palpable sense of relief, noted the ‘large and highly appreciative audiences’, which, despite poor weather, attended the two performances. The reporter wrote that ‘The tableaux were a distinct success, and were the subject of general admiration.’13 This was fortunate, as the pageant contained a number of clear factual errors: the third episode, depicting William the Conqueror granting the castle in person, had never actually happened, though this might be put down to poetical licence. The scene in which Edward IV accosts the tanner of Tamworth in full hunting garb was a little-more far-fetched, since the King had never visited the town. Tamworth chose to depict the Civil War which had divided the county, something that many pageants, particularly those directed by Louis Napoleon Parker, had sought to avoid. The Tamworth pageant avoided controversy by presenting the honourable surrender of the Royalist garrison to magnanimous Parliamentarians. However, the seventh scene in which Colonel John Scudamore surrendered to William Purefoy was factually inaccurate: Scudamore had, in fact, surrendered to William Waller at Hereford in April 1643.14 Tamworth Castle fell after a brief siege on 23 June 1643, although its Royalist governor William Comberford managed to escape and laid siege to it in again 1644, without success: hardly the honourable surrender and the healing of faction suggested by the tableaux!15 In any case, no one seems to have noticed and over 10000 people attended the celebrations.16 A film of the tableaux was shown subsequently at the Palladium over the summer, and the celebrations ultimately managed to pay for themselves.17   

One is left wondering whether Tamworth council could perhaps have been more ambitious. Similar pageants in small towns attracted large audiences and relatively few made losses. Tamworth might well have been more ambitious in terms of its chronological scope, perhaps including scenes of the town in the nineteenth century, and especially of its famous MP—Sir Robert Peel—whose Tamworth Manifesto has been seen by many as the foundational moment of the modern Conservative Party. Indeed, arguably the Finale, which depicted Tamworths from Australia and Canada doing homage to the spirit of the original town, would have seemed less incongruous in a pageant which continued its narrative up to modern times. Tamworth did in fact plan a full-scale pageant from 1923, but this was delayed and ultimately cancelled.18 It did not hold another until 1942.19 More recently, a reporter for the Tamworth Herald wrote an article on the Millennial Celebrations, lamenting that the town was planning nothing for its 1100th anniversary in 2013, and suggesting that the death of Ethelfleda, either in 918 or 920 might be an appropriate date to celebrate.20 As it happens, however, the reporter wasn't quite correct: as David Biggs has told the project team, the town did mark the anniversary with 'a small ceremony at the Millenary Memorial to Ethelfleda (Aethelflaed) and Athelstan, an inscription added to the monument for 2013, and a small tableaux of people in costume'. Furthermore, the limited celebrations of 2013 have been followed up by very much larger-scale events in 2018, with Tamworth being the focus for the national commemoration of the 1100th anniversary of the death of Aethelflaed (the 'Ethelfleda' of 1913). Held over the course of several months, these celebrations were significantly more varied than those staged a century ago. Highlights include a National Service of Commemoration attended by HRH the Earl of Wessex and other VIPs (among them the Danish ambassador), various artworks (not least a 6.5 metre sculpture of the Lady of the Mercians, by Tamworth Railway Station), a four-day 'Aethelfest' and the brewing of an Aethelflaed Ale. It's worth noting that this programme of commemoration, in contrast to that of 1913, did not centre primarily on an historical pageant—although, perhaps significantly, it has featured Anglo-Saxon re-enactors, as well as Tamworth's own official 'Aethelflaed' in costume.


  1. ^ ‘Have we forgotten a big anniversary?’, Tamworth Herald, 18 January 2013, accessed 15 September 2016, http://www.tamworthherald.co.uk/forgotten-big-anniversary/story-17892962-detail/story.html
  2. ^ H.C.M., ‘Correspondence’ in Tamworth Herald, 11 February 1911, 8.
  3. ^ Ibid.
  4. ^ John R. Willington, ‘Correspondence’, Tamworth Herald, 22 February 1913, 8. The venue where the pageant would be staged—the grounds of Tamworth Castlewas in Staffordshire, but had been in Warwickshire until 1889.
  5. ^ ‘Summer of Celebrations to Mark Stafford’s 1100 Milestone’, Staffordshire Newsletter, http://www.staffordshirenewsletter.co.uk/Summer-celebrations-mark-Staffords-1100-milestone/story-20157200-detail/story.html. Accessed 10 November 2015.
  6. ^ Tamworth Herald, 22 February 1913, 8.
  7. ^ Paul Fantom, ‘Industry, Labour and Patriotism in the Black Country’, in Nick Mansfield and Craig Horner, eds. The Great War: Localities and Regional Identities (Cambridge, 2014), 55-7; William G. Staples and Clifford L. Staples, Power, Profits, and Patriarchy: The Social Organization of Work at a British Metal Trades Firm, 1791-1922 (Oxford, 2001), 149.
  8. ^ Staffordshire Advertiser, 22 March 1913, 7; Tamworth Herald, 17 May 1913, 5.
  9. ^ Tamworth Herald, 7 June 1913, 8.
  10. ^ Leamington Spa Courier, 11 July 1913, 3. Bramwell (1865-1944) was a sculptor of some national repute, being responsible for a number of statues and stone carvings across Britain. Notable commissions included work for the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and the new Assize Courts in Birmingham. A Londoner, he was employed by the London County Council for a time, and regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts.
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Lichfield Mercury, 11 July 1913, 5, 8.
  13. ^ Tamworth Herald, 12 July 1913, 8.
  14. ^ Ian Atherton, ‘Scudamore, John, first Viscount Scudamore (1601–1671)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entry, accessed 15 September 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24975/?back=,71878
  15. ^ ‘Tamworth Castle During the English Civil War—1642-1649’, Tamworth Castle, accessed 15 September 2016, http://www.tamworthcastle.co.uk/stuart
  16. ^ ‘Have we forgotten a big anniversary?’, Tamworth Herald, 18 January 2013, accessed 15 September 2016, http://www.tamworthherald.co.uk/forgotten-big-anniversary/story-17892962-detail/story.html
  17. ^ Lichfield Mercury, 1 August 1913, 4.
  18. ^ Tamworth Herald, 14 July 1923, 2.
  19. ^ Tamworth Herald, 25 July 1942, 3.
  20. ^ ‘Have we forgotten a big anniversary?’, Tamworth Herald, 18 January 2013, accessed 15 September 2016, http://www.tamworthherald.co.uk/forgotten-big-anniversary/story-17892962-detail/story.html

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Tamworth Millenary Celebrations and Tableaux’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1320/