Norwich Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Newmarket Road Ground (Norwich) (Norwich, Norfolk, England)

Year: 1926

Indoors/outdoors: Unknown

Number of performances: 6


21–24 July 1926 

21, 23 July at 7.30pm; 23 July at 7.30pm; 22, 24 July at 3pm and 7.30pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Monck, Nugent
  • President: Rt. Hon. Lord Mayor
  • Chairman: D.O. Holme
  • Musical Director: C.F. Smyly
  • Leader of Orchestra: Mr. E. Weeks
  • Dances Arranged by: Mmiss E.B. Clare, Miss I. Ransom, Miss E. Merriken Smith
  • Designer and Stage Manager: Mr O.P. Smyth
  • Master of Stands: Mr. W.W. Tucker
  • Dresses: Mrs North and Mr J.H. Steward
  • General Secretary: A.E.W. Bacon

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee

  • President: The Rt. Hon. the Lord Mayor
  • Vice-President: Dr G. Stevens Pope
  • Chairman of Committee: F.W.W. Moran, Esq.
  • Vice-Chairman: H.P. Gowen
  • Hon. Treasurer: J.S. Chaundler, Esq.
  • General Secretary: W.W. Tucker
  • P.G. Back
  • Gordon Brett
  • F. Garland
  • W. Hindes
  • A.G. Howlett
  • T.H.C. Jarrold
  • P.W. Jewson
  • R.C. Larking
  • F. Leney
  • P.J. Mead
  • Wallace King 

General Committee

  • Chairman: D.O. Holme

Ladies’ Committee

  • Chairman: P.G. Back

Orchestra Committee

  • Chairman: H. Graham Goodes, Esq 

Advertising and Printing Committee

  • Chairman: P.G. Back

Stands Committee

  • Chairman: Wallace King, Edq.

Committees Committee

  • Chairman: Mrs North

Properties Committee

  • Chairman: A.W. Oxbrow, Esq. 

Transport Committee

  • Chairman: Ellis Jacobs, Esq.

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

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information


  • Stands: £588 2s 10d
  • Properties: £276 6s
  • Orchestra and Music: £106 0s 1d
  • Costumes: £122 2s 4d
  • Advertising and Printing: £291 15s 8d
  • Dismantling Expenses: £48 17s 5d
  • Salaries: £518 4s 8d
  • To General Secretary: £64 7s 1d
  • General Expenses: £304 8s 9d 
  • Total Expenditure: £2359 11s 5d


  • Bookings: £1962 6s 7d
  • Sale of Books: £200
  • Sundries: £183 8s 9d
  • Sale of Dance Tickets: £26 18s 2d
  • Bank Interest Less Charges: £0 3s 2d
  • Total Income: £2372 16s 8d.

 Profit:  £13 5s 3d.

[Taken from Account sheet for the Norwich Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/165, 505X2]

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 2000
  • Total audience: 12000 - 14000


The total audience exceeded 12000 and every performance was at capacity. [Details of audience figures from Norwich Mercury, 22 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in Scrapbook of the Norwich Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/231, 505X1.]

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s 6d–1s 3d.

[The 1s 3d seats were unavailable due to high demand. See summary for a discussion of this.]

Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode 1. Prologue Roman British, A.D. 410.

A dance by water nymphs is interrupted by a discussion between the Labourer (come to dig a drain), a youth, a tax gatherer, a woman, and a magistrate about the benefits of engineering and drainage which the Romans brought, as well as the scourge of the Saxons. The watch warns of the arrival of Saxons and there is panic, but it transpires that they are in mourning for their dead chief and thus pass the town by. Everyone leaves except the Labourer who continues to dig the drain throughout the pageant.

Episode 2. Emma and the Normans, 1076

Norwich Castle is besieged and the garrison of chiefly women, under Emma, wife of Ralf de Guader, is on the point of starvation. A priest suggests that the attackers’ best weapon will be the smell of broth and a cauldron beneath the walls causes Emma’s surrender to Roger Bigot [Bigod].

Episode 3. The Founding of the Cathedral, 1096

Two poachers discuss the perils of their job. A procession of monks enter. Some discuss whether building a cathedral in Norwich is a good idea. A Jew lends them money to build the cathedral—at an extortionate rate of interest. Bishop Herbert Losinga addresses the crowd about the continued wicked ways of the Britons and their indolence. Roger Bigot [Bigod] discusses the plans with him. The Bishop discovers that anonymous poachers have raided the park and excommunicates them. The first cathedral stone is dragged in and the penitent poachers pledge ten days’ labour to building the church.

Episode 4. Queen Philippa and the Weavers, 1336

A minstrel plays a song to an eager crowd but is then dismissed by the Mayor and Queen Phillipa who has arrived with John Kempe (a master weaver of Norwich) and Froissart, the Queen’s secretary. The Mystery Play of Abraham and Isaac is performed before the procession leaves.

Episode 5. The Black Death, 1349

There is revelry and feasting. The lover of a girl in the crowd arrives torn and travel-stained to tell of the horrors of the plague but is laughed at incredulously. The dancing goes on but the new arrival suddenly falls stricken. His lover rushes off with terrible shrieks and the crowd disperses. The dying man is left in the middle of the scene until a priest, knowing it is death to come to his aid, nonetheless helps him off.

Episode 6. Kett’s Rebellion, 1549

Kett is led to his death and makes a moving farewell speech about his rebellion and desire to help the people. The crowd moves off and the procession passes leaving the dead body of a prophet whom Warwick’s soldiers had slain. The corpse is carried away.


Ten Minutes

Episode 7. The Visit of Queen Elizabeth, 1578

The Mayor asks the Labourer what he’s doing and attempts to get him to leave before the Queen’s arrival. The Labourer insists he is merely digging the drain, an important task. Queen Elizabeth arrives on horseback and is greeted by the Mayor. The masque of Thomas Churchyard is performed. 


Kempe arrives dancing his nine days’ morris dance from London to Norwich in 1599.

Episode 8. The Pillage of the Church, 1643

Twenty Puritans enter singing a penitential psalm. Children attempt to play a game but are prevented from doing so, and told to listen respectfully. The Alderman and Sheriff are discussing what to do with the vestments; they decide to burn them. Soldiers enter wearing them in a mocking ceremony. The crowd attacks the soldiers and it transpires that the town has been set on fire. An old woman, who has been protesting throughout, is arrested and taken away. [This scene is repeated from the Peter Mancroft Pageant, 1912]

Episode 9. Charles II and Sir Thomas, 1671

A Puritan criticizes dancing children but cannot do anything. A young girl attempts to kiss the Puritan and then the small by. A chorus tells of the restoration and the King is announced to much cheering, with Queen Catherine and the Duke of York, with various other dukes and nobles. The Mayor welcomes them and the King greets him offering to make him a Knight. He initially refuses, and demands that the famous Sir Thomas Browne be knighted too. This the King does as well. The Mayoress faints because of a too-stiff dress and makes various excuses not to see the King before leaving. All dance.

Episode 10. A Thanksgiving after Rebellion, 1745

Alice, Joan and Dame Marjorie discuss the recent upheavals and the rebellion. They complain that Lady Adelaide, a local noble, only got her title through corruption and that the society their husbands saved through fighting is unjust. There is a morris dance. A herb seller, a quack and a ballad monger sell their wares. The Mayor gives thanks for the recent victory over the Scots. A minuet of local worthies is danced. Citizens decide to destroy the old houses and build a great city, though the woman warns them of vanity and greed, warning them of changing things too much.

Episode 11. Finale

Procession of Episodes with Personages of Importance to the city:

  • Boadicea
  • Ralf de Guader and Emma
  • Edward I and Queen Eleanor
  • Richard III
  • Henry VII
  • Margaret Paston
  • Catherine of Aragon, Wolsey and John Caius
  • Edward Coke

After they have gone an urchin asks the Labourer what he’s doing and the Labourer tells him that he is still digging the drain:

Don’t you realize that I’m the most characteristic person here? Kings come and go, but I represent good government. A city must have drains for ever, and ever, and ever, and…we have forgotten the beer.

God Save the King

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Bigod, Roger (I) (d. 1107) administrator
  • Ralph [called Ralph de Gael, Ralph Guader], earl (d. 1097x9) magnate
  • Losinga, Herbert de (d. 1119) abbot of Ramsey and bishop of Norwich
  • Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
  • Froissart, Jean (1337?–c.1404) historian and poet
  • Kemp [Kempe], John (1380/81–1454) administrator, cardinal, and archbishop of York and of Canterbury
  • Kett, Robert (c.1492–1549) rebel
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Catherine [Catherine of Braganza, Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança] (1638–1705) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles II
  • James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Browne, Sir Thomas (1605–1682) physician and author
  • Boudicca [Boadicea] (d. AD 60/61) queen of the Iceni
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Aquitaine], suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204), queen of France, consort of Louis VII, and queen of England, consort of Henry II
  • Richard III (1452–1485) king of England and lord of IrelandSir Thomas Tresham
  • Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Margaret Paston (1421/2–1484) Norfolk landowner
  • Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • Caius, John (1510–1573) scholar and physician
  • Coke, Sir Edward (1552–1634) lawyer, legal writer, and politician

Musical production

100-piece orchestra

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Daily Mirror
Daily Telegraph
Eastern Evening News
Illustrated London News
The Queen
The Graphic
Diss Express
Eastern Daily Press
Westminster Gazette
Norfolk News
Norfolk Mercury
Manchester Guardian
Portsmouth Evening News
Sunday Chronicle
The Times
Leicester Mail
Daily Mail
Birmingham Gazette
Morning Post
Daily Graphic
Daily News
Daily Express
Eastern Daily Press
Liverpool Courier
Norfolk Chronicle

Book of words

Norwich Pageant 21 to 24 July 1926: Programme.Norwich and London,1926. [Price 1s].

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Norfolk Record Office, Norwich.
    Norwich Pageant Programme, Reference MC 2804/4, 1010x4  Press cuttings book, 1926-1937,Reference SO7/25, 484X2 Account sheet for the Norwich Pageant, Reference SO26/165, 505X2  Scrapbook of Norwich Pageant, Reference SO26/231, 505X1
  • Pageant Film, ‘Folk Dancing and Pageant, Norwich 1926’, at the East Anglia Film Archives, accessed 25 October 2016,

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Norfolk Pageant was the second major Pageant in the city produced by Nugent Monck, fourteen years after his Peter Mancroft Pageant (1912), which had begun a long-standing interaction with the city, including his formation of the Guild of Norwich Players and the Maddermarket Theatre, who were devoted to period performances of plays.1

Tom Hulme has described how towns and cities, especially in the interwar period, used pageants as vehicles of civic boosterism, of which Norwich's pageant was an early example. The idea was that the spectacular re-enactment of scenes from the history of the place, often combined with industrial and trades exhibitions, would help raise its profile and revenue.2 Norwich, whose economy relied heavily on agriculture and the shoe-making and clothing industries, was relatively prosperous during the 1920s, and survived the worst excesses of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, its position was a precarious one in light of the continual competition from other towns and cities such as Nottingham or Northampton.3

As was traditional, the aims of the pageant were set out by the prominent locals who had organised it. F.W.W. Morgan wrote that the ‘Object of the Pageant’ was ‘To remind the Citizens of Norwich of what they owe to past generations for the gradual development of the City from its early and crude state to what we find it to-day’ and ‘To keep alive the memory of great men, from the humblest to the highest’.4 To this, the chairman D.O. Holme (who had occupied the same position in 1912), added that ‘One of the great objects of the Pageant is to attract visitors to a city which, so far as antiquities are concerned, has few, if any, equals in England, and I hope that it will bring many to Norwich and thus set the fashion for visitors of future years.’5

In the background of the general business of organising the pageant, a note of intra-class conflict was present: 1926, of course, was the year of the General Strike, in which the unionized working classes would be narrowly defeated by the government. This context is evident from the details of the pageant organizations. As the Eastern Evening News announced: ‘One aspect of the Norwich Pageant which has been very carefully studied is that of transport, a matter complicated owing to the restrictions on the railways through the present strike. As far as possible these difficulties have been overcome’.6 Whilst railway services had largely been restored (despite a general coal shortage due to the continuation of the miners’ strike), the Pageant Transport committee ensured that transport would not be an issue, organising discounted train fares for ticket-holders, special buses and trams and even Charabancs to collect people from outlying villages.

As with many other pageants, many commentators noted the strikingly uncanny sights of performers at rehearsals adopting twentieth-century modes of behaviour and transportation whilst in costume:

It might have been thought that the ancient Britons had risen from the grave in protest against the convulsions of these decadent modern times, and that in despair they had called to their aid all the panoply, valour and beauty of the late Tudors. An Elizabethan court jester was careering about on a motor bicycle. Queen Boadicea was in a car, doubtless evolved from but still far from identical with the scythed chariot of her period; and Gloriana herself sat regally at a steering wheel.7

Despite heavy rain throughout the performances, attendance was good, being helped by excellent reviews. One such review was to be found in the pages of the Eastern Daily Press, which seemed particularly struck by the appearance of some of the female performers: ‘Some of these water nymphs… might shock a generation which knows not the middle page of penny papers, but water nymphing discourages superfluous clothing anyhow.’ He (for the reviewer was almost certainly a man) also praised the portrayal of a younger Queen Elizabeth than was traditional in pageants: ‘Thank goodness for a buxom Elizabeth. Here is a horsewoman in the prime of life who has dignity and personal charm… far more like Nick Hilliard’s famous portrait than the emaciated, haggard, angular presentment we so often encounter.’8 Such exuberant (albeit somewhat lecherous) reviews prompted many to call for the Pageant to be extended beyond its run, though this proved impossible as many of the performers were going on holiday directly after the run, so making any extension impossible.9

The Pageant was one of the first of its kind to pay special attention to social history and the history of the working man. Throughout the performance a labourer is on stage, constructing a drainage ditch; this was a reference to the millennium-long project both of claiming salvageable land from the Norfolk fens and the need for decent sewerage systems to overcome waves of disease that had periodically beset the city. The Labourer’s job was thus both vital whilst being dismissed by figures in each episode as obstructing more the ‘important’ matters of state visits: the irony being that the scenes depicted in each episode are transitory, whilst the work of the common man is what has made the city great. As the Eastern Evening News put it, ‘a Pageant is not a disguise for philosophical juggling. It appeals more to the eye than the mind. But if you are amused by these spectulations you have the true continuity of history in the words of the workman at the end: – “Kings come and go, but I represent good government. A city must have drains for ever—and ever—and ever.”’10 The Norwich Mercury agreed, declaring that ‘Unlike most pageants… it did not forget that the most important character at any stage of its [Norwich’s] development is the ordinary man in the street.’11 Indeed, whilst the Pageant stressed the cooperation of classes in the wider civic project, such as the poachers pledging to work on the cathedral as penance for their sins, the scenes involving the aftermath of Kett’s rebellion and the greed of the citizens in 1745 are stark warnings that unjustified inequality will inevitably provoke justified social unrest. Many newspapers picked up on this key theme, with the Liverpool Courier stressing the continuation to the present democratic era of ‘20th century democracy as typified by the agricultural labourer at work.’12 The Daily Telegraph, whose normatively conservative instincts had made it overtly hostile to the General Strike, was astute in its own judgment of the action, in asking what the role of history was to the present:

The name of Kett is but a name to your modern trade unionist, in spite of the similarity of their purpose. And what does the pioneer work of John Kempe, the master weaver, signify to a man who has swift and relentless machinery at his command? Yet bring these incidents before the eyes of living people in ordered pageantry and the hair-spring of imagination is touched. Events and people which have been covered over with the dust of dormant memory suddenly spring into a vivid movement, and hold out hands across the gulf of years. Citizenship then becomes a thing of intense significance—a co-relation of past and present generations.13

Unfortunately, it appeared that the common man was himself largely excluded from witnessing this message of class harmony and celebration of the value of manual labour. Due to high demand and a lack of available space for seating (only around two thousand people could witness each performance), the cheap 1s 3d tickets had been withdrawn from sale, meaning that the cheapest available were 2s 6d. In the mid-1920s, this was a high price indeed for a working-class person. In 1925, the Minister of Labour, Arthur Steel-Maitland, had been forced to admit that wages of key industries had declined dramatically in the post war era, with the average weekly wage of bricklayers down from 97s 8d to 73s 6d between 1920 and 1925 and that of labourers declining from 42-46s to 28-42s over the same period.14

Thus, whilst the Norwich Pageant endeavoured to address the common man’s place in history, his place in the grandstand was dubious. Daniel Hotson Palmer wrote to the Eastern Daily Press complaining that ‘I fear that the Norwich working man was scarcely touched at all by the show. For the Norwich worker cannot afford 2s 6d for an evening’s enjoyment for himself and his wife.’ He reported having asked ‘16 men of the working class last Sunday …if they had seen the Pageant, and found that not one had done so.’15 Hotson Palmer’s letter provoked a flurry of correspondence. ‘A Working Man’ gave a poignant account of his son being unable to attend the Pageant:

I am sure the thanks of Norwich workers are due to D. Hotson Palmer for his letter in to-day’s Press; not only were adults prevented from seeing this wonderful spectacle, but the children as well. My son, aged 10 years, who takes a keen and intelligent interest in the history of this city, was anxious to go to the Pageant. My wife and I could not afford to go, but we felt our boy ought. We gave him 1s. 9d. for a half-price seat. He was refused admission, and coldly informed ‘No half-price seats.’ Perhaps the next Pageant some thought will be given to the people who lay the drains, and their children.16

There were many others who criticized Palmer, including one ‘Worker’ who suggested that the entire capitalist class should have donated money to subsidize admissions, whilst ‘BA’, suggested that that ‘our Pageants must in future be a permanent feature of our civic life. The question in the minds of many is how to bring them before the citizens as a whole, the poorer as well as the better-off’. ‘BA’ suggested that a free parade might well be more popular than a Pageant.17 One ‘HEH’, a performer in the pageant, gave an account of his appearing in the streets of Norwich in costume to encourage people to attend. On being asked what the aim of the Pageant was ‘I replied that it was to advertise Norwich with a view to getting more trade and work’, and was told in response that ‘it was the capitalist every time.’18 The hurt tone of the letter was somewhat undercut when the correspondent accused the working classes of wasting their money on horse-racing and fishing.

The lingering sense of bitterness was only exacerbated when it became apparent that the Pageant, in spite of its sizeable attendance, had made a surplus of only £13 due to the expense of the grandstands, advertising and salaries. The Norfolk News sought to put a positive spin on the lavish cost of the pageant:

Glad as we should have been to have secured a surplus from such source for assisting us in the great work we have in hand, it is a matter of considerable satisfaction to the committee that they have achieved their main object in the production of the Pageant by the enormous amount of publicity obtained… which may eventually bear fruit.19

As Barry Doyle has suggested, 1920s Norwich saw a dramatic realignment of the middle class from a progressive liberal to a Conservative outlook. This had seen the Labour party’s gains in the city undone by a Liberal-Conservative pact which effectively shut-out the working class vote until 1945.20 Thus, despite the Pageant’s attempts to present a sympathetic view of working classes’ contribution to history, the notion of Civic Boosterism—as invoked in the comments of the Norfolk News quoted above—was used to justify excluding them from seeing the pageant. Given the progressive message of the pageant, this was a pity. The Norwich Pageant of 1926 thus appears in hindsight to have been a missed opportunity for the improvement of class relations at a time of considerable social tension.


1. ^ Eric Salmon, ‘Monck, (Walter) Nugent Bligh (1878–1958)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 24 October 2016,
2. ^ Tom Hulme, ‘“A nation of town criers”: Civic Publicity and Historical Pageantry in Inter-War Britain’, Urban History (forthcoming).
3. ^ Christine Clark, ‘Work and Employment’, in Carole Rawcliffe, Richard Wilson and Christine Clark, eds., Norwich since 1550 (London, 2004), 403-6.
4. ^ F.W.W. Morgan, ‘The Object of the Pageant’, in Norwich Pageant, xiv.
5. ^ D.O. Holme, ‘An Appreciation’, in Ibid, xiii.
6. ^ Eastern Evening News, 14 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in Press Cuttings Book, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 7/25, 484X2
7. ^ Eastern Daily Press, 25 June 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
8. ^ Eastern Daily Press, 22 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
9. ^ Eastern Daily Press 26 July 1926, 5 and Ralph H. Mottram, ‘Letter’ in Eastern Daily Press, 29 July 1926, unpaginated cuttings in ibid.
10. ^ Eastern Evening News, 22 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
11. ^ Norwich Mercury, 22 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in Scrapbook of the Norwich Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference S0 26/231, 505X1
12. ^ Liverpool Courier, [July 1926], unpaginated cutting in Press Cuttings Book, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 7/25, 484X2
13. ^ Daily Telegraph, 22 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
14. ^ Hansard, Commons, 30 July 1926, volume 187, cc671-3W, accessed 25 October 2016,
15. ^ D. Hotson Palmer ‘Letter’, Eastern Daily Press, unpaginated cutting in Press Cuttings Book, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 7/25, 484X2
16. ^ ‘A Working Man’, Eastern Daily Press, 31 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
17. ^ ‘BA’, Eastern Daily Press, 31 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
18. ^ HEH, ‘Letter’, Eastern Daily Press, 30 July 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
19. ^ Norfolk News, 17 September 1926, unpaginated cutting in ibid.
20. ^ Barry M. Doyle, ‘Urban Liberalism and the “Lost Generation”: Politics and Middle Class Culture in Norwich, 1900-1935’, Historical Journal, 38 (1995), 617-34.

How to cite this entry

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