The Pageant of Bedford
Entry written and researched by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s College London Undergraduate Research Fellow. Additional information drawn from 'Survey of Historical Pageants' undertaken by Mick Wallis; with thanks to Barry Stephenson of Bedford Central Library.
Place: Bedford Park (Bedford) (Bedford, Bedfordshire, England)
Number of performances: 6
27 June–2 July 1966
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Williams, Dorian
- Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs. V. S. Thorpe
- Staging co-ordinator: J.R. Mills
- Sound recording, effects & distribution: Carlow Radio Ltd. (in association with Wilson, Ampthill)
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: W.J. Martin
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Glyn Evans, Marion
- Coley, Susan
- Philp, Ann
- Miller, Tricia
- Cambers, C.E.F.
- Waddington, Peter
- Jones, Ceiriog
- Barford, J.
- Suggett, Mr G.W.
- Suggett, Mrs G.W.
- Read, Nancy
Names of composers
- Marsh, Mr
- Nichols, Mr
- Kelly, Mr
Numbers of performers106
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasion800th anniversary of the granting of the town charter
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Episode I: The Coming of the Danes
In the year 921 groups of Saxons relax on the riverbanks near the burh of Bedanford. A thane wanders from group to group and converses with an old warrior. Two village girls join the soldiers, but their visit is cut short by the sight of a Danish ship approaching. The Saxons prepare to defend the burh, while the Danes swarm up the banks into position to form their bordweall. As the battle rages, the Saxons soon have to give way to the superior strength of the Danes. Meanwhile the two girls have raced to the village for help, and soon return with the women of Bedanford. They save the day as they fanatically enter the battle to help their menfolk and defend their homeland.
Episode II: The Delivery of the Charter
Now in 1166, a group of children skip and play games. They are joined by a second group who attack the game of the first, and the skirmish ends in a game of horses and a dance. The citizens of Bedford observe the children playing. A distance sound is heard and a dancing bear and its owner enters. The crowd gathers around the animal and a blind man almost collides with it but a mall boy runs to help him. A group of the King’s heralds enters and forms a guard of honour. After the sounding of a fanfare, the court enters followed by the King on his horse. The senior burgess recalls the troubles of 1135 and the King delivers the Charter. The King and his entourage depart in a grand procession to a piper playing a tune.
Episode III: The Siege of Bedford Castle
Townspeople gather at the walls of Bedford Castle in 1224. They listen as a minstrel brings news of King Henry III and his army, and watch as Faulkes de Breauté rides off for help, leaving his brother William to defend the castle. A herald demands the surrender of the Castle but as there is no response Archbishop Stephen Langton excommunicates all those within. The, the siege begins. The outer walls are breached and the remainder of the fighting takes place within the castle walls. Finally, the survivors are forced to surrender. The archbishop absolves the prisoners from excommunication.
Episode IV: Catherine of Aragon
The town crier enters and meets a local family with the intention of keeping civic peace. A procession appears and crosses the arena in silence, except for the occasional chanting of the choir. The procession consists of clerics, soldiers, mounted nobles, pages, and choirboys. At the centre of it all is Catherine of Aragon. Behind is a wagon bearing her ladies in waiting. Catherine is making her journey from Ampthill to Buckden after the passing of the Bill of Divorcement. A local friar runs out and calls a curse on Ann Boleyn which the former Queen answers. The friar is left standing while the procession passes on.
Episode V: Sir William Harpur
Children play on the green in 1566. Two well-known local worthies enter with a stranger. The children leave their game and follow them, curious as to the stranger’s identity. We now realise that the stranger is Sir William Harpur. He is escorted by the Mayor and aldermen to a dais where senior burgesses greet this renowned Bedfordian and announces his Deed of Gift for the furtherance of education in the town of his birth, and amidst the cheers of the people he leaves the arena of the first stage of his return to London.
Episode VI: Roundheads and Cavaliers
It is 1645. A small party of women and children enter the arena to be accosted by a Roundhead sergeant in command of a party of mounted Roundheads. Suddenly a party of Cavaliers enters and engages the Roundheads who are vanquished then flee. King Charles now enters with an escort, and rides with the Cavaliers before leaving the arena on his way to Woburn.
Episode VII: The Arming of Christian
In ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ John Bunyan tells the story portrayed in this episode: how Christian was armed in the armoury of the House Beautiful, and of his passage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, on his way to the Celestial City. Houghton House is believed to have been Bunyan’s original House Beautiful. It lay off the main road from Bedford to Ampthill, and was approached by a road so steep that it became Hill Difficulty. It is possible that Bunyan remembered the armoury from an occasion when his father had done some work at Houghton House. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is believed to have been suggested by Millbrook Gorge, near Ampthill, but it is also probably that the open ditches and “kennels” around Bedford, that were full of filth, also had their effect.
Episode VIII: The Dedication of the Bells
This episode opens with a peal of bells, and some young women discussing them. A procession enters the arena, the choir chanting, followed by the Vicar, the Officiating Priest, and the Mayor of Bedford. They approach the dais. The priests and the Mayor ascend. The mayor speaks, and then the Vicar. The Officiating Priest moves towards the altar and kneels. All then kneel. He rises and turns towards the audience, raises his arms and blesses the bells. After another peal of bells the procession reforms and leaves the arena.
Episode IX: The ‘Bedford Times’ Coach
It is market day in 1825. Stalls are erected near the inn outside which a group is singing. In the hustle and bustle of the town, the first stagecoach to London departs. The town crier announces the departure of the coach and two gentlemen express their astonishment at the short time the journey will take. The coach departs but is immediately stopped by a highwayman but it is a mock hold-up, and after a kiss for the ladies, the coach is escorted on its way.
Episode X: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
This episode depicts a scene in Bedford in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. The area is thronged with people, pedlars and sideshows. A group of children dance to the music. A peal of bells is heard and a salute of guns booms in the distance. Mr and Mrs Everyman join in the festivities with their family. A party of dignitaries, including the Mayor and Mayoress, is escorted to the dais. The Mayor then addresses the crowd. At the conclusion of his speech, all the characters who have taken part in the Pageant assemble in the arena for the Finale.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Bréauté, Sir Falkes de (d. 1226) soldier and royal favourite
- Langton, Stephen (c.1150–1228) archbishop of Canterbury
- Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII
- Harper [Harpur], Sir William (1496–1574) mayor of London
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Bunyan, John (bap. 1628, d. 1688) author
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
- The Pageant of Bedford 1966. Bedford, 1966.
Illustrations by Brenda Bowker and Pageant symbol by Joan Freeman.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Photograph - Z50/142/332
Bedfordshire Archives and Records
- Book of words - Z160/773
Bedfordshire Archives and Records
- Newspaper cuttings- Z644/2
Bedfordshire Archives and Records
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress.
This pageant was staged to commemorate the eight hundredth year of the granting of a charter by Henry II in 1166. It aimed to show in dramatic form the history of Bedford from the year 921. Preparations for the pageant were by all accounts energetic, with inhabitants of the village of Sharnbrook taking a leading role. Individual contributions to the preparations were impressive. Twenty-one year old John Waghorn, for example, fashioned his own 10-foot high siege engine in an exact emulation of the ones used in the siege of Bedford Castle in 1124—and it was used to great effect in Episode III. Mrs Ann Philp utilised her experience with Sharnbrook Amateur Dramatics to construct a 10-foot high castle wall using scaffolding and 188 feet of hessian, which was declared a task of ‘heroic proportions’ by the Bedfordshire Times.1 Each member of the cast had their own special costume, with wardrobe mistress Mary Saville and her assistant Ruth Muirhead doing painstaking research in designing the outfits. Across the village of Sharnbrook, ladies engaged busily in sewing, cutting, stitching and embroidering to ensure that there were one hundred and six costumes.
Two rehearsals were held a week to guarantee a smooth run when the pageant week begun. The script was pre-recorded alongside sound effects by Mr F. Jameson Lilley, and on the day it was mimed by participants. The re-enactment of the siege of Bedford Castle drew particular praise, being considered by the Bedfordshire Times to be the zenith of the Pageant from the point of view of scenery, costumes, and synchronisation with sound effects.
Entry written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow
- Bedfordshire Times, 1966, nd., unpaginated, cutting in Bedfordshire Archives, Z644/2
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Bedford’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1322/