The Three Towns Pageants
<p>Entry researched and written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s College London Undergraduate Research Fellow.</p>
Place: Hampton Court Palace (Kingston Upon Thames) (Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England)
Number of performances: 18
14–28 July 1951, at 8pm
Matinees on Saturdays at 3pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Ede, Christopher
- Co-ordinating Officer: Alfred W. Forsdike
- Production Managers: John Geden and Frances Whitton
- Musical Director: John Cook
- Historical Advisers: H. Cross, Gilbert Turner, and T.V. Roberts
- Dances arranged by: Daphne de Lisle
- Assistant to producer: Judy Mannock
- General Manager: Archibald Potter Press Representative: W. Macqueen-Pope
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Pageant Finance, Appeal and Organisation Committee:
- Chairmen of the Pageant: Councillor C.E. Hastings, Alderman P.H. Keene and Councillor C.L. Sinclair
- The Worshipful the Mayor, Councillor C.L. Sinclair
- Alderman E.R. Canham
- Alderman W.G. Eggleton
- Councillor D.A. McDonald
- The Worshipful the Mayor, Councillor H.C. Cooper
- Alderman P.H. Keene
- Alderman J.W. Maycock
- Councillor H. Courlander
- The Worshipful the Mayor, Councillor J.W. Nicholls
- Alderman Mrs. E.A. Jamieson
- Alderman J.H. Knaggs
- Councillor C.E. Hastings
- Councillor H.F. Inkpen
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Ede, Christopher
Names of composers
- Cook, James
Numbers of performers2500
Estimate of numbers based on newspaper reports.Most performers came from amateur dramatic and operatic companies in the three boroughs.
- Erection of stands - £3,818
- Preparing, levelling and re-instatement of site - £600
- Chestnut Fencing - £250
- Screening - £138
- Huts, tents and lavatories - £1265
- Signposting - £168
- Scavenging and litter baskets - £180
- Lighting - £968
- Amplification - £284
- Orchestra and Music - £719
- Publicity - £1255
- Costumes - £1710
- Printing and Stationary - £482
- Properties - £746
- Producer’s fee - £1000
- Miscellaneous - £265
- Police and Car Park attendants - £92
- Initial report - £100
- Official Entertainment £734
- Subsistence Allowances and Travelling expenses - £586
- Insurances - £424
- Water Supply & Fire Extinguishers - £53
Total Expenditure: £15866
- Gross ticket sales - £13,740
- Net proceedings from programmes - £495
- Net income from car parks - £86
- Claim on Insurance Company for lost costumes - £106
Total loss: £1450
Object of any funds raised
Collectors on the grounds for the United Appeal for the Blind.
Linked occasion1951 Festival of Britain
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
[Covered seats: 15s., 10s. 6d., 7s. 6d., 5s.
Uncovered seats: 5s., 3s. 6d., 2s. 6d.
In connection with the Opening Ceremony, it was understood that the 10s. 6d. and 15s. seats in the King’s Stand were not selling very well, and so they were withdrawn and given to the three Town Clerks for free distribution.]
Associated eventsChurch service at 3.15pm on Sunday 15 July 1951 conducted by Rev. Prebendary Harris, address by Archdeacon of London, O.H. Gibbs-Smith, prayers led by Rev. H.A. Cupples and the Pageant Master Christopher Ede reading the Lesson. Amassed choir of 450.
Father Thames is summoned from the Long Water to tell of the scenes he has witnessed.2
Scene Two. The Coronation of Athelstan – A.D. 924
The people assemble to witness the crowning of Great Alfred’s grandson at Kingston. The Clergy are led by Aldhelm, Archbishop of Canterbury, and we hear the historic oath.
Scene Three. The Carthusian Monastery at Shene – 1414
Lay brothers of the order are seen returning from a fishing expedition while chanting is heard in the distance from the white robed monks, and sisters of St. Bridget. In the Arena the English soldiers rest before the battle of Agincourt and King Henry V is seen among his troops as he prays for the success of coming battle.
Scene Four. A Joust – 15th century.
A Joust – 15th Century. An excited crowd assemble to watch the erection of the lists while the Heralds and poursuivants busy themselves with the elaborate ceremony. The Knights assemble and are sworn in by the Chief Marshall, before returning to their tents to await their turn in the lists. The Scene ends with the crowning of the victor by the Queen of Love and Beauty.
Scene Five. The Marriage of Margaret Tudor and James IV of Scotland – 1502.
At Richmond Palace, the Princess Margaret at the age of thirteen is married to James IV of Scotland, the Earl of Bothwell acting proxy for the King. The ceremony is on a small scale owing to the delicate health of the Queen. The dance that follows symbolises the marriage of the Rose and Thistle which eventually led to the union of the Kingdoms.
Scene Six. The Fair – 1550.
The stalls are brought on to the arena, while people flock from all corners to buy and sell In the midst of this activity we see the apprehension of a “forestaller” (the contemporary “spiv”) his trial in the Court of Pie Powder, a corruption of the French pied pouldre, or dusty feet. All crimes in the Fair are dealt with on the spot by the Guild Masters who hear the case and send the man to the pillory. Folk dancing and the collection of Hock tide dues and finally the punishment of a scold are high lights in this busy scene.
Scene Seven. Hampton Court, 1514–1529.
Wolsey’s legal representatives, accompanied by doctors of medicine who approve the air as wholesome, discuss the terms of the lease with Sir Thomas Docura, prior of Order of St. John.
Craftsmen assemble to start building and are visited by the Cardinal himself who discusses the bringing of drinking water lead pipes from Coombe Hill.
The Building is far enough advanced for the Cardinal to entertain the King, who arrives by water. The King’s party comes disguised and the Cardinal cannot recognise his sovereign at once. The King is persuaded to sing and the scene ends in a dance, though before the King withdraws, his envy of the Cardinal’s magnificence comes out in his well known question.
Building continues but the craftsmen sense the tension as the Cardinal walks slowly in his beloved park, a few days before he moves to Esher – never to return to Hampton Court.
Scene Eight. Anne Boleyn’s Death – 1536.
The King and his friends, with Mistress Anne Boleyn, seek recreation in the park. Cavendish, Wolsey’s gentleman usher, approaches, but does not dare to interrupt the shooting. The King, however, sees him and hears his news – the Cardinal is dead.
The King is still building at Hampton Court. Anne Boleyn’s short reign ended in the Tower, and all traces of her existence must be obliterated from the King’s mind and the King’s Palace. Stonemasons are hastily summoned to alter the letters “A” wherever they are carved in the Palace to the “J” of Jane Seymour, Anne’s successor.
Scene Nine. Visit of the Duke of Alencon to Queen Elizabeth – 1581
A Masque is being prepared in honour of the Queen and her suitor. At the last minute news comes that the Queen’s betrothal is broken. Before the Masque can be altered, the Queen and Duke enter and the Masque starts. The Court watch with apprehension, knowing that the storm must break. The Masque is taken from a contemporary entertainment, and is typical of its time before the form was perfected at the end of the reign by Ben Johnson.
Scene Ten. Gunpowder and Long Ditton – 1555
A local industry to supplement the supply of powder imported from Holland is started by John Evelyn. The Scene illustrated a visit of inspection by the Navy.
Scene Eleven. Charles I at Hampton Court – 1647.
The King is visited by his loyal supporters who plan and execute his escape to the Isle of Wight.
The scene has been compiled from Colonel Whalley’s account given in the House of Commons.
Scene Twelve. Civil War Skirmish – 1648
The Royalists meet and their scouts report the approach of Colonel Livesey’s troops. A small action ensues, typical of many during the Civil War. Lord Villiers is unhorsed and killed. The clash of beliefs is emphasised by the musical background to the scene.
Scene Thirteen Pope’s Villa – 1726.
Alexander Pope and Dean Swift are joined by John Gay two years before the Beggars’ Opera was produced. The bustle and excitement of final rehearsals is interrupted by a visit of the author and his friends. Dr Pepusch, who arranged the original music, is in charge.
Scene Fourteen. Fete Champetre – 18th Century.
An interlude of 18th century charm, in an age when life was leisurely.
Scene Fifteen. John Lewis and Richmond Park – 1758.
We see the privileged ticket holders entering the Park gates, while the people led by John Lewis argue with the gate keeper. In the background, John Lewis is seen outside the Court waiting for news of his action against Princess Amelia, the Ranger of the Park. The Scene ends in rejoicing as John Lewis leads the people into the Park – their ancient rights restored.
Scene Sixteen. Politics – 1826.
The crowd in Whig and Tory factions assemble to hear C.N. Pallmer, who is visited Kingston after his election.
Scene Seventeen. Leisure – 1851.
A family sets off to visit the Exhibition in Hyde Park.
Scene Eighteen. FINALE – 1951.
A glimpse of some of the activities of the Boroughs to-day. The rush of modern life is stopped by Father Thames to remind us of figures of the Past. Father Thames summons his barge and taking with him the outstanding characters of History, glides out of sight along the river.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Æthelstan [Athelstan] (893/4–939) king of England
- Aldhelm [St Aldhelm] (d. 709/10) abbot of Malmesbury, bishop of Sherborne, and scholar
- Henry V (1386–1422) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Margaret [Margaret Tudor] (1489–1541) queen of Scots, consort of James IV
- Hepburn, Patrick, first earl of Bothwell (c.1455–1508) magnate and administrator
- Docwra, Sir Thomas (d. 1527) prior of the hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England and diplomat [also known as Docwra, Sir ]
- Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
- Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
- Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536) queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII
- Cavendish, George (b. 1494, d. in or before 1562?) biographer and poet
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Livesay [Livesey], Sir Michael, first baronet (1614–1665?) politician and regicide
- Pope, Alexander (1688–1744) poet
- Swift, Jonathan (1667–1745) writer and dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
- Gay, John (1685–1732) poet and playwright
- Lewis, John (bap. 1713, d. 1792) brewer and public access campaigner
- Amelia [Emily], Princess (1711–1786) daughter of George II
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- The Three Towns Pageant. London, 1951.
The Pageant Publications compiled, printed and published by W.R. Masters, 33 Furnival Street, London, E.C.4.
References in secondary literature
- Details of a semi-amateur film made of the ‘Three Towns Pageant’, London Screen Archives, accessed 26 August 2016, https://www.londonsscreenarchives.org.uk/public/details.php?id=438&searchId=
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Photographs: K1 0962 – 1040, K1 1245 – 1246.
- Kingston History Centre, Greater London, programme, correspondence and committee minutes.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Festival of Britain 1951 was the key cultural event of the period.3 Nationwide, a programme of events was skilfully planned with the aim of embracing modernist influences on British culture whilst also clinging nostalgically to the universal success of the Great Exhibition of the Work of All Nations in 1851. These events included pageants. Indeed, a large number of pageants were organised in the Festival year, for example at Rushden, East Grinstead, Dartford, Headley, Ipswich, Rochester, Brighton, Coventry, Boston, Dudley, Colne, South Norwood, and Carlisle.
Introduced by ‘Father Thames’, the episodes staged at the Three Towns Pageant included Aethelstan’s coronation at Kingston, a jovial fair with interweaving crowds depicting a multitude of tomfoolery, and the pleasant outing of a family to the Great Exhibition in 1851. Fred Randall, whose local Boys’ Brigade group took part in the crowd scenes, remembered particularly the jousting knights, played by mounted police from Imber Court, and ‘the brave lady who was ducked in the ducking stool (twice nightly) as a scold.4 The strong sense of national unity which the Festival of Britain endeavoured to foster came through in episodes such as the marriage of Princess Margaret Tudor to King James IV of Scotland, followed with a dance symbolising the marriage of the Rose and the Thistle. However, the pageant raced forward from the Great Exhibition of 1851 to its close in the modern-day, perhaps consciously ignoring all that occurred in between. Certainly, it was typical of post-war pageants to negate material relating to the Second World War, in the focused attempt to build a brighter and optimistic future.
The idea for a pageant originated in the borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. The Town Clerk of Kingston Alfred W. Forsdike then took the initiative to link the pageant with the neighbouring Corporations of Richmond-upon-Thames and Twickenham—this with a view to organising a large-scale event.5 The pageant that resulted was one of the largest held during the Festival of Britain, being performed for two weeks in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. The committee enlisted Christopher Ede as their Pageant Master. Ede had a reputation which preceded him, and indeed his capabilities were evident as his participation in the Three Towns Pageant ran alongside his production of the Festival revival of the Chester Miracle plays in Chester Cathedral.6 At Richmond, Ede managed his material well and provided a pacey flight through the history of the locality. His ‘admirable’ deployment of colour in the costumes drew particular praise, as did his and the use of the Long Water to show Henry VIII’s barge arriving at the Palace.7
However, the boundless praise was met with as much criticism. Readers of The Times, for example, were told that ‘As the programme admirably explains, there is any amount of interesting material to draw on’ and that ‘The many fascinating possibilities before the producers have not been overlooked’. Yet at the same time ‘it cannot be said that they have all been realized. The arena is too big, the action occurs too far away, the dialogue is only intermittently intelligible, there is, in effect, a needless gulf between actors and spectators’.8 This was matched by the Manchester Guardian, who followed their praise with concern: ‘Nightfall, however, seemed to outpace him [Ede] last evening so that one wished for an earlier electric illumination of his players or for the stage to be a little less remote. There might also be a bigger amplification of voices, but no doubt Mr Ede will see to it that audiences over the next fortnight will have no complaints on these scores.’9 Despite this, there was a bittersweet optimism reported by The Times, who reflected on the technical faults as ‘accidental realism’. They spoke poetically of the phantasmal effect created by the simple lighting, switched on too late, as Cavaliers were pursued into the woods by musketeers; then the theatrical intensity of the lights being switched on at the end of The Beggar’s Opera, where ‘the phantoms, as remote in their knee breeches or on their penny farthing bicycles as any that have preceded them, enter from time to time the few fixed beams of the lights, where they appear like so many pastel-coloured moths.’10 The sound failures were likened to a ghostly ripple, as the Tudor courtiers wound across the arena, creating the upmost commendation from The Times as it seemed though the audience were in fact eavesdropping on the scenario.11
The desire to see good in these technical faults is a testament to the positive reception received by the Festival of Britain and its associated events. The Festival was enjoyed by the people of Britain, with residents of Kingston attending the events being held on London’s Southbank, and also in government. Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary at the time, attended the Three Towns Pageant —admittedly on a night where the poor acoustics had been greatly improved, and was delighted with the entertainment.12 Immediately as the pageant ended, Eden hurried across the arena to congratulate ‘Father Thames’, before walking through the dressing tents to chat ‘with many of the artists’.13 Queen Mary also visited the pageant (on 21 July), where she was received by the Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex, Lord Latham, accompanied by the Mayors and Mayoresses of Kingston, Richmond and Twickenham.14
- The Times, 10 May 1951, 3.
- Text of synopses taken verbatim from the pageant programme.
- Mark Freeman, ‘”Splendid display; pompous spectacle’: historical pageants in twentieth-century Britain’, Social History, 38 (2013), 3.
- Shaan Butters, That Famous Place: A History of Kingston Upon Thames (Rushden, 2013), 442.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 10 May 1951, 2.
- Times, 10 May 1951, 3.
- Manchester Guardian, 16 July 1951, 6.
- Times, 16 July 1951, 2.
- Manchester Guardian, 16 July 1951, 6.
- Times, 16 July 1951, 2.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 18 July 1951, 4.
- The Guardian, 22 July, 1951, 5.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Three Towns Pageants’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1324/