Festival of Britain Pageant of Chippenham
Place: Grounds of Monkton Park (Chippenham) (Chippenham, Wiltshire, England)
Number of performances: 2
2 June 1951
[Performances at 3 and 7pm]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: King, Grant
- Master of Ceremonies: J.A. Chamberlain
- Assistant Producer: Elizabeth Jessop
- Producer: Miss Veronica Biscoe
- Producer: Mrs J.S. Beale
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- King, Grant
Names of composers
Numbers of performers200 - 300
Object of any funds raised
Proceeds to the Homes for the Aged Fund
Festival of Britain
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 3500 - 4000
2000 attended the afternoon performance. The figure is an estimate.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
5s. to 2s.
(2s was the price of admission to the Park, which included a standing view of the Pageant.)
The Festival of Britain in Chippenham saw a horse Show, Gymkhanas, a Festival Cricket Match, a Bowls Match with New Zealand team, and Art and Business Exhibitions.
Prologue. King Arthur’s Knights
Sir Gareth, the kitchen knight, rescues a damsel in distress in Chippenham forest.
Scene 1. The Foundation of Saxon Chippenham
Cippa and his family start the first village industries, but their activities are broken up by the arrival of the dance.
Scene 2. King Alfred defeats the Danish Guthrum
After the battle and a treaty, Alfred presented the Manor of Chippenham to his daughter, Aethelswitha.
Scene 3. The Making of the Domesday Book
The Kings’ commissioners are surprised that the 12 mills and 23 swine represent more than a quarter of the county’s total and levy a nights’ entertainment of the King when he passed through.
Scene 4. The Chippenham Fair
Includes a procession including the various guilds.
Scene 5. The Visit of Queen Elizabeth to Chippenham
Scene 6. The Restoration of Charles II
Despite the festivities at the Restoration, a religious sect—the Muggletonians—attempt to break up the celebrations. The scene includes a play and madrigals.
Scene 7. The Visit of John Wesley
Scene 8. A Highway Robbery
A stagecoach is robbed by Wiltshire’s most famous highwayman, Thomas Boulter.
Scene 9. Final Tableau with the singing of “Land of Hope and Glory”
Key historical figures mentioned
- Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of
the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of
England and Ireland
- Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church
of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
Music performed by the Chippenham Town Band
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser
Book of words
- None known
Other primary published materials
- Festival of Britain 1951. Chippenham Pageant: Programme. Np, 1951. [Price 6d.]
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Photographs of the Pageant in Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Though based on London’s Southbank, home of the famous ‘Skylon’, the 1951 Festival of Britain sought to have an impact across the regions through local exhibitions, concerts and events.1 The Festival—which embraced technological modernity but also harked back to the Great Exhibition of 1851—sought to foster a spirit of communalism created by the shared experience of war and the development of the welfare state; it was thus well served by historical pageants. The Chippenham Pageant was one of hundreds held across the country to celebrate the Festival, which were held in a wide variety of places—ranging from villages such as East Grinstead, to towns and cities such as Boston, Dartford and Richmond-upon-Thames (the latter playing host to the massive Three Towns Pageant at Hampton Court). Whilst nearby Bath was one of twenty-three regional Festival centres given central government funding,2 that town’s plans for a pageant, drawn up by Lawrence du Garde Peach, failed to gain much support from the local council and the venture was dropped after acrimonious argument.3
Chippenham’s pageant, while on a decidedly small-scale, was a creditable part of an ‘ambitious Festival of Britain programme’, about which the somewhat sceptical Wiltshire Times was to remark: ‘Never before has anything like it been attempted, and it must be said at once it was well worth while.’4 The pageant, which began the festivities, was opened by the local MP, David Eccles, and the Mayor of Chippenham, H.A. Cruse. In his speech, Cruse alluded to the concerns that had been raised by the Conservative party and some newspapers about the cost of such celebrations at a time of protracted austerity: ‘For a long time there had been much disquiet throughout the country as to whether a Festival should be held. Now the Festival was in full swing, and it was up to them to make it a success and enjoy themselves.’5
Many organisations in the town and surrounding area took part in the Pageant including the Westbury White Horse Morris Dancers, Swindon Falcon Fencing Club, Corsham Players, Marlborough Madrigal Club, Shaw Hill Strolling Players, Bath Academy of Art, and the local Maypole Dancers. In an attempt to defray the expense of costumes, an appeal had gone out in March for ‘old felt hats, old curtains, fabrics, clothes, beads and necklaces…lampshades, old rope’ and so one, which produced surprisingly creditable costumes.6 Unfortunately, those for the scene involving King Alfred went astray and ‘those used were masterpieces of improvisation at short notice.’7
Such setbacks, however, were minor, and the pageant seems to have been a success. Two years later, in 1953, it was followed up with a children’s empire pageant—held for the Coronation of Elizabeth II (there had previously been an earlier School Pageant in May 1938).8 Indeed, the Chippenham pageant was part of a nationwide celebration—the Festival of Britain—that overall must be judged to have been successful. Despite its many critics, the Festival was a moment that displayed the vitality of local communities in an uncertain post-war world. In October 2016, an exhibition celebrating the Festival was opened at the Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre.9 As the Mayor declared, neatly encapsulating the ‘Festival Spirit’: ‘Let us go forward to the future proud of our glorious history, and with full confidence in the future.’10
Becky Conekin, The Autobiography of a Nation: The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester, 2003), 88-104. See also Mark Freeman, ‘“Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle”: Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Social History, 38 (2013), 423-55.
Conekin, “Autobiography of a Nation”, 89.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 21 October 1950, 1 and 16 December 1950, 5.
Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser, 9 June 1951, 5.
Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser, 31 March 1951, 4.
Ibid., 9 June 1951, 5.
Ibid., 4 July 1953, 4.
Stefan Mackley, ‘Exhibition revisits Festival of Britain in Chippenham 65 years on’: http://www.gazetteandherald.co.uk/news/headlines/nostalgia/14797003.Exhibition_revisits_Festival_of_Britain_in_Chippenham_65_years_on/?ref=rl&lp=1, accessed 16 December 2016; ‘Current Exhibition
Chippenham Pageant ProgrammeCostume! Drama!! Thrills!!! – Chippenham and the Festival of Britain’, Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre: http://www.chippenham.gov.uk/chippenham-museum-heritage-centre/current-exhibition/, accessed 16 December 2016.
Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser, 9 June 1951, 5.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Festival of Britain Pageant of Chippenham’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1367/