Northumbrian Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Theatre Royal (Newcastle upon Tyne) (Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, England)

Year: 1923

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 6


28 May–2 June 1923

[The production took place between Monday 28 May and Saturday 2 June 1923; performances were staged in the evening.

The pageant had a second outing in the same venue in 1925 when it again had six performances over a week, this time between Monday 8 and Saturday 13 June.] 

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director [Pageant Master]: Hamilton Thompson, Amy
  • Director [Pageant Master]: Richardson, Oswald B.
  • Scenery, Costumes and properties: Mr R. J. S. Bertram


There were two pageant masters: Mrs Hamilton Thompson and Mr Oswald B. Richardson.  Mrs Hamilton Thompson was the wife Professor Alexander Hamilton Thomson—a professional historian who was also involved with the pageant; she was well known in amateur theatre and for many years was involved with Leeds University Theatre Society as a producer. Mr R.J.S. Bertram from Newcastle School of Art was in charge of scenery, costumes and properties for the production. [For obituary of Mrs Hamilton Thompson, see Yorkshire Post, 13 August 1945, 3; the obituary mentions that she directed the Northumbrian Pageant; 'Northumbrian Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 29 May 1923, 11.]

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Committee

  • President: The Lord Bishop of Newcastle
  • Hon. Organising Secretary: Mrs Hamilton Thompson
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mr B.L. Burgess       
  • Mr R. Bertram
  • Mr C.H. Hunter Blair
  • Mr R.C. Bosanquet
  • Mr W. Parker Brewis
  • Miss Helen M.Brown
  • Mr Oswin Charlton
  • The Rev. A.E. Cornibeer
  • Mr W. Ellis
  • Mrs A.H. Finch
  • Miss Hilda Harrison
  • Prof. R.G. Hatton
  • The Hon. Walter James
  • Mr W.H. Knowles
  • Mrs Knyvett
  • Mr Howard Pease
  • The Rev. W.S. Power
  • Mr O.B. Richardson
  • Alderman A.J. Robinson
  • Lt. Col. G.R.B. Spain
  • Mr A. Hamilton Thompson
  • Mr W.G. Whittaker
  • Mrs Wild
  • Mr Charles Williams


Of the 23 non-office holders on the pageant committee, only 5 were women. However, the committee appears to have been led by a woman (the director, Mrs Hamilton Thompson). Though the pageant was a church-led initiative, clergymen are not over-represented. [For names of committee members, see The Book of the Northumbrian Pageant edited by A. Hamilton Thompson, MA, FSA (Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1922), 3.]

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

  • Hamilton Thompson, Mr A.
  • Bosanquet, R.C.
  • Hunter Blair, C.
  • Spain, G.R.B.
  • Deanesly, M
  • Dixon, D.D.
  • Hamilton Thompson, Amy
  • Browne, Evelyn
  • Pease, Howard


A. Hamilton Thompson, MA, FSA edited the pageant programme; he also wrote the prologue and epilogue. In addition, he is the author of the synopses of episodes 3, 5 and 8 that are contained in the pageant handbook. It is unclear whether he wrote the episodes themselves, though this seems likely. Hamilton Thompson was a Professor of History at the University of Leeds. The synopses within the handbook of all the remaining episodes each had a different author; once again, it is unclear if these writers also contributed to the pageant script itself, but this is probable. Synopses were written by: R.C. Bosanquet (episode 1), C. Hunter Blair (episode 2), G.R.B. Spain (episodes 4 and 6), M. Deanesly (episode 7), D.D. Dixon (episode 9) and Evelyn Browne (episode 11). Finally, the author of the synopsis for episode 10 was Amy Hamilton Thompson: it seems likely that this individual was the pageant master (and wife of the handbook's editor) who in these roles was usually titled 'Mrs Hamilton Thompson'. The writer Howard Pease contributed a specially written poem to the pageant (text included in the pageant programme) entitled, 'The Lament of the Comes Britanniae'. 

[For details of Hamilton Thompson's career see Rose Graham, Alexander Hamilton Thompson 1872-1952, available online, accessed 19 October 2016 at: and Howard Pease, 'The Lament of the Comes Britanniae', Book of the Northumbrian Pageant, 10.]

Names of composers

Details of the music used are sparse, but for the most part, this was either religious or in the form of traditional folk tunes [see Musical Production].

Details of the music used are sparse, but for the most part, this was either religious or in the form of traditional folk tunes [see Musical Production].

Numbers of performers

600 - 600

Financial information


Object of any funds raised

The pageant aimed to raise money for a Church of England initiative in the diocese of Newcastle which assisted women. One newspaper report describes this initiative as being mainly 'rescue and preventative work in the thickly populated industrial centres and slum areas'.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


In 1912, the Theatre Royal in Newcastle had a seating capacity of 2256; this has been gradually reduced during many subsequent renovations. At the time of the pageant however, it was likely still over 2000. 

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

Discounted railway fairs were available from various centres to Newcastle.

Associated events


Pageant outline


This is a verse written by Mr A. Hamilton Thompson; this introduced the pageant saying that the audience would see the 'secrets of your birth-right boldly writ'. [Unless indicated otherwise, all quotations in synopses taken from Book of the Northumbrian Pageant.]

Episode 1: Hadrian's Visit to the Roman Fort and Bridge on the Site of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

The episode is described in the Book of the Northumbrian Pageant as follows:

‘The scene is a roadway leading from the Bridge to the Fort, lined by a guard of Cornovii, the local garrison. Their Prefect and other officers await Hadrian beside an altar near the bridge head. behind are the standards of the Cornovii and of detachments from other legions employed in building the wall. Others present are officers' wives in Roman dress, soldiers' wives and children from the village near by [sic], a Syrian trader and an itinerant Greek eye-doctor. Hadrian arrives, bare-headed and on foot, attended by the Governor and his staff. He offers incense on the altar and formally inaugurates the Bridge. Chiefs from the region south of the wall do obeisance, and others representing the free tribes to the north bring gifts.’

The scene was organized and performed by members of the city's cathedral parish.

The Lament of the Comes Britanniae

This is a verse. In the pageant programme the text of this is reproduced between episodes 1 and 2; it is therefore assumed that it was performed. The verse was either recited or sung while the following drama took place:

A messenger from Rome brings tidings that the Emperor Honorius has renounced the sovereignty of Britain. The Comes Britanniae [Roman commander of the field army in Britain], standing beside the Praetorium in Borcovicus camp, gazes for the last time upon the mighty barrier climbing like a serpent to Winshields height, and bids an eternal farewell to the wall.

The Lament of the Comes Britanniae

This is a verse. In the pageant programme the text of this is reproduced between episodes 1 and 2; it is therefore assumed that it was performed. The verse was either recited or sung while the following drama took place:

A messenger from Rome brings tidings that the Emperor Honorius has renounced the sovereignty of Britain. The Comes Britanniae [Roman commander of the field army in Britain], standing beside the Praetorium in Borcovicus camp, gazes for the last time upon the mighty barrier climbing like a serpent to Winshields height, and bids an eternal farewell to the wall.

Episode 2: St Oswald, King of Northumbria, at Heavenfield in 634

Oswald has 'collected a small army and marched south to meet Cadwallon'. He camps at Heavenfield [near Chollerford]. While resting, he has a 'glorious vision of St. Columba... bidding him to be of good cheer as the Lord was with him... at dawn the following day, when in a state of spiritual exultation, he raised the Cross of Christ for the first time in Northumberland'. The drama shows 'the rearing of the Cross with the added details of the flight from their homes of the few terrified dwellers in the country where the armies were gathered for the fight, and their awe-struck contemplation of Oswald's action. It closes with an alarm of battle'. The episode was organized and performed by members of Gosforth parish church.

Episode 3: Scenes from the Life of St Cuthbert

The programme provides the following description of the episode, which depicts three scenes from the life of the saint:

The scene is laid in Bede's cell where he is writing his history. As he sits, lost in contemplation of Cuthbert's life, three visions of the great saint pass successively over the stage, so that we may follow the thoughts in the historian's mind. First we see Cuthbert as a shepherd boy near Melrose, and his call by Boisil to enter the monastery there. Next we see him as a lonely hermit on one of the Farne Islands where King Ecgfrith, accompanied by Trumwine [Bishop of Abercorn], comes to offer him the bishopric of Lindisfarne. Lastly he is shown at Carlisle with Queen Ermenbeorh [sic, referring to the king's second wife -Iurminburg] and her ladies, where he shatters their hopes of Ecgfrith's success by the terrible news of the vision he has seen of the defeat and slaughter of the King and the army.

Members of St Gabriel's Parish in Heaton organized and performed in this episode.

Episode 4: William the Lion, brought as a Prisoner to Newcastle, 1174

The episode enacts the captured Scottish king being brought to Newcastle during the war fought between the Scots and English for control of the English border counties. It includes details of the rebuilding of the castle at Newcastle by Henry II. The programme describes the following drama:

In this scene we are shown the space in front of the Great Tower of Newcastle, which was at the time being built. There is a typical crowd of people gathered there, including children at play, and workmen who had just finished their day's work on the building. A messenger comes in haste bringing the news of the approach of the captive king, who with a small party of Scottish knights is brought in, weary and travel-stained by Ranulf de Glanville and his friends. The king is given by his captor into the custody of the governor of the castle, who attended by some of the garrison, comes out to receive him.

Members of All Saints' Parish at Gosforth organized and performed the episode.

Episode 5: Edward the First's Parliament at Norham in 1291

The episode is described in the programme as follows:

The scene is laid in the parish church at Norham, following the custom of the day in which a church was the usual place for such a gathering. When the curtain rises a group of people is already gathered together while active preparations for the king's coming are being directed by Roger Bigod, the Earl Marshal. Edward enters, followed by a train of nobles and bishops; among them Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham. Most of the Scottish claimants are present, of whom the most important are Bruce and Balliol. These latter show marked hostility to each other, while the rest, knowing their own chances to be less, are inclined to make common cause against them both. The whole time there is a marked lack of friendliness between the English and the Scots. The king orders the claims to be laid before him and both Bruce and Balliol wish to be the first to present his. Bigod summons Bruce, whose claim is read and carried by one of the king's pages to the table where the clerks are seated. Balliol's claim is then read and the curtain falls upon the consideration of the lesser claims. The whole scene is spectacular rather than dramatic, and is meant to convey an idea of one of the most splendid ceremonies of the kind which the country can have witnessed.

Members of St Paul's Parish in Newcastle undertook organization and performance of this episode.

Episode 6. Hotspur and Douglas, outside Newcastle, 1388 Scene I: August 1388, late afternoon

The episode is set during the reign of Richard II. Its two scenes are based on legend, most likely derived from traditional balladry, and concern a purported duel between Hotspur and Douglas in which the latter bags his opponent's pennant and taunts him that he will fly it from his castle in Scotland. The following description is given of the first scene:

Walls of Newcastle in the distance... Scottish sentry group on the Leazes. Distant trumpet is heard. Arrival of the Herald from the town. Conference arranged. Meeting between Sir Henry Percy (‘Harry Hotspur’), Warden of the English Eastern Marches, and James Earl Douglas, attended by their various Knights and notables. Arrival of the Mayor of the town, the Bailiffs, and their ladies. The quarrel. The challenge.

The curtain then falls.

Episode 6. Scene II: After the combat

When the curtain is raised, an hour is supposed to have elapsed. The scene is described in the programme as follows:

After the combat. The amusement of Douglas and his Knights. The departure of Harry Hotspur and his Staff. The withdrawal of the Mayor, the Bailiffs, and their ladies. Reposting of the Scottish sentry group by the Scottish Knight on duty. Dusk falls—a single arrow from the English side whistles across the stage from right to Left.

The curtain then falls again. The episode was organised and performed by members of St Matthew's Parish Church.

Episode 7: Margaret of Anjou and the Robber [c 1463]

The episode is set in the Northumbrian forest (described as the 'accustomed haunt of brigands') after the failure of Margaret's second Northumbrian campaign in 1463. The description in the programme is as follows:

Wounded combatants and flying peasants, driven from their homes by Lancastrian and Yorkist raiders, pass through the wood, where Margaret and her little son finally seek refuge. There they encounter a brigand who robs Margaret of her jewels, and then a second who threatens further violence, but in response to Margaret's appeal is finally convinced of the identity of the royal fugitives, and offers them succour.

A note of the parish responsible for this episode is not included in the programme.

Episode 8: Corpus Christi Day in Newcastle in the early 15th Century

The performance of a mystery play on a feast day is the subject of this episode. The following description is given in the pageant programme:

our scene shows a crowd gathered together, bent on enjoyment and ready to watch the various plays... The people are of all sorts and among them are the wealthy Newcastle merchant, Robert Thornton, and his wife... passing along the street come the members of the Mariners' Gild who perform their play... When the play is over we see a man with a barrel of beer rewarding the players with a drink'.

The episode was organized and performed by members of Benwell parish.

Episode 9: Bernard Gilpin quelling a fray in Rothbury Church [c 1570s]

This scene shows 'a conflict in Rothbury Church between members of two Coquetdale families, who were at bitter enmity'. The drama depicts Gilpin entering the church where he finds 'a glove fixed on the door'. He removes this and takes it with him to the pulpit. The two families then enter the church 'fully armed' as Gilpin preaches. When 'disturbed at last by the clashing of weapons, he came down from the pulpit, and stood between the ringleaders holding up the challenge glove'. The two groups are so amazed they promise to keep the peace so long as Gilpin is in the church. Gilpin remains and 'conflict was averted'. The episode was organized and performed by members of Jesmond parish. 

Episode 10: The Burial of Lord Derwentwater [1716]

This scene depicts the funeral journey following the execution of Derwentwater at Tower Hill in February 1716, for his adherence to the Jacobite cause. Derwentwater's body arrives at his home at Dilston; a procession made up of 'tenants, villagers, miners from Allenheads, and others from the country near at hand' follow the coffin. Lady Derwentwater, her children, servants and 'some friends and neighbours', meets the procession. The description of the episode continues as follows:

The Steward is seen watching the group anxiously as they come in, to see that no one enters who is likely to play the part of a spy, as it was a penal offence at this period to perform the Roman rites in England. Just as the ceremony begins, Charles Radcliffe, Lord Derwentwater's brother, who has escaped from imprisonment in London, makes a hurried entry, accompanied by a friend... The scene closes as the coffin is carried into the chapel.

Members of St Hilda's parish were responsible for this episode.

Episode 11: Ascension Day on the Quayside, Newcastle, 1780

This episode shows John Wesley preaching at a fair day on the quayside at Newcastle. Wesley is protected by a fishwife when some 'rude lads were hustling the preacher'. The scene shows 'a typical crowd of all sort of people on pleasure bent' as well as musicians and dancing. The scene ends with the figure of 'Time' crossing the stage. The scene was organised and performed by members of St George's parish.


The figure of 'Time'—an old man—has been watching the Ascension Day festivities on the quayside. Eventually he addresses the audience in verse on the subject of the passing of time and the events of the pageant.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Hadrian [Traianus Hadrianus] (AD 76–138) Roman emperor
  • Oswald [St Oswald] (603/4–642) king of Northumbria
  • Bede [St Bede, Bæda, known as the Venerable Bede] (673/4–735) monk, historian, and theologian
  • Cuthbert [St Cuthbert] (c.635–687) bishop of Lindisfarne
  • Ecgfrith (645/6–685) king of Northumbria
  • William I [known as William the Lion] (c.1142–1214) king of Scots
  • Glanville [Glanvill], Ranulf de (1120s?–1190) justiciar
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Bigod, Roger (IV) fifth earl of Norfolk (c.1245–1306), magnate and soldier
  • Bek, Antony (I) (c.1245–1311) bishop of Durham
  • Brus [Bruce], Robert (V) de [called Robert the Noble], lord of Annandale (c.1220-1295) magnate and claimant to the Scottish throne
  • John [John de Balliol] (c.1248x50–1314) king of Scots
  • Percy, Sir Henry [called Henry Hotspur] (1364–1403) soldier
  • Douglas, James, second earl of Douglas and earl of Mar (c.1358–1388) magnate and soldier
  • Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
  • Edward [Edward of Westminster], prince of Wales (1453–1471)
  • Gilpin, Bernard (1516–1584) Church of England clergyman and preacher
  • Radcliffe, James, styled third earl of Derwentwater (1689–1716) Jacobite army officer
  • Radcliffe, Charles, styled fifth earl of Derwentwater (1693–1746) Jacobite conspirator
  • Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism

Musical production

There was an orchestra under the direction of Dr W.G. Whittaker. The Wallsend Male Voice Choir, conducted by Mr George Danskin, also performed. Several folk songs and sea shanties were part of the choir's repertoire, though exactly where in the programme each of these was performed is not known. The songs include the following:

'Keel Row', 'Buy Brooms and Buzzems', 'The Morpeth Lassies', 'Chevy Chase', 'Up the Raw', 'Anti-Gallican Privateer', ‘Bobby Safto'. Ecclesiastical music also featured in the programme and was sung in Latin. Few details are provided of the latter, but in episode 8, 'Pange Lingua' was sung.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Yorkshire Post

The Stage

Book of words

None known

Other primary published materials

  • The Book of the Northumbrian Pageant edited by A. Hamilton Thompson, MA, FSA. Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1922.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • The Northumberland Archives hold 1 copy of the pageant programme, Ref: NRO 00493/93

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Bede. Life of Cuthbert.

Episode 3 is loosely based on Bede's Life of Cuthbert. The events depicted in episode 7 (concerning Margaret of Anjou) are acknowledged as based on the writings of Georges Chastellain (d. 1475); the specific work is not stated. There undoubtedly were documentary sources used in preparation of this pageant but unfortunately, with the exception of episodes 3 and 7, these are not explicitly stated. 


The Northumbrian Pageant was held with the express purpose of raising money for a Church of England scheme in Newcastle. The fund was aimed at women, specifically those whose status was described as being one of 'the conditions regularly hidden or overlooked beneath the prosperous surface of the life of our industrial communities'.1 This was a delicate way of referring to unmarried mothers and women at risk from what the church considered to be immorality; the fund’s aim was to ‘rescue’ such individuals. The likely initiator of the pageant was its director and organising secretary, Amy Hamilton Thompson. Mrs Thompson was well known in amateur dramatic circles, but she also had a profile as an amateur social worker.2 Her talents came together for this pageant. In addition, she had able assistance from her husband, who happened to be a historian, and at the time of the pageant was a professor of medieval history at the University of Leeds. Held in a high-profile theatre, this indoor pageant aimed to celebrate the history of the Northumbrian county and the importance of this northern territory within the English national story.

Unsurprisingly, it began with the Romans and the emperor Hadrian. The eleven episodes then moved down the years through the arrival and spread of Christianity, the turbulent medieval period, and finished in the eighteenth century before industrial transformation. The omission of the latter development was commented on in the press, the view generally being that this was an understandable oversight since, so far as more modern times were concerned, 'there is little... which lends itself to romantic and picturesque treatment'.3 Given that the pageant was a church-led initiative, an uncontroversial approach might be expected; and on the surface of things, it does seem that an idealistic view on the past was on offer here. From the wistful gaze of a Roman commander as his troops left Britain for the last time to the pensive reflections delivered by the figure of 'Time' in the prologue, the narrative presented was shot through with nostalgia. Given that the production had some supervision from a professional historian, this may seem curious, but despite the nostalgia it is clear that Professor Hamilton Thompson had real influence on the pageant content and that there was indeed more historical substance to this pageant than might be apparent. 

The pageant programme gives only brief descriptions of the drama in each episode, but alongside these summaries are short explanatory essays that contextualise the history on display with reasonable accuracy. Indeed, Hamilton Thompson wrote some of the essays himself. Where elements of legend make an incursion, for example in episode 6 with the tale of an arranged duel between Hotspur and Douglas, the background context is solid history—in this case the events that led to Scottish victory at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. The originator of the modern historical pageant movement—Louis Napoleon Parker—would certainly have approved of this technique, which exploited 'one of the most romantic events in English chivalry' in order to educate the audience about the wider context of the times. Indeed, in his foreword to the programme Hamilton Thomson was evangelical about the power of the past to educate. He acknowledged that while the historical incidents selected may have been chosen because they lent themselves to 'dramatic treatment', they also spoke 'eloquently of the past, the memory of which not only stirs Northumbrians of to-day to honest pride, but may well give them example in the present and hope for the future... The outward aspect of circumstances changes, but the resources from which we meet them are permanent possessions inherited from a long past'.4


Thought and effort clearly went into making the pageant a varied and interesting production. Lively scenes of Newcastle in days gone by were contrasted by more melancholy subject-matter, such as that in episodes depicting the life of St Cuthbert, or the funeral procession of Lord Derwentwater. Comedy was also used to good effect, as in episode 8, which featured a dramatization of a traditional mystery play by the Mariners' Guild. In this play-within-a-play, which told the story of Noah, considerable humour was injected when Noah's wife is shown taking exception to her husband's commands; a classic domestic tussle then ensued. The final episode was also, in part, played for laughs, showing a fishwife coming to the rescue of John Wesley with all the fierceness associated with the women of the maritime communities of the northeast. Further interest was added via one particularly prominent theme, running through several episodes: the notion of Northumbria as a contested territory between the separate kingdoms of Scotland and England. To its credit, this pageant’s interpretation of Anglo-Scottish relations was more even-handed than that found in other northern English pageants. Edward I, for example, is typically given a heroic treatment, his dealings with the Scots being avoided where possible in favour of his quelling of the Welsh. But in the Northumbrian pageant, in episode 5, Edward is shown making what would turn out to be an error when he tries to take control of who will rule Scotland.

All of these factors make this pageant into something more than a mere fundraising entertainment and demonstrate that pageantry which took local history as its starting point was capable of a nuanced patriotism. Although we have no note of how well the pageant performed in terms of its reception or finances, it must be assumed that it was at least moderately successful. Indeed, it may have been something of a hit, since two years later it was restaged—with only a slightly altered programme.5 Once again, Mrs Hamilton Thompson was in charge of direction and the pageant even received a favourable review in The Stage where it was praised for its stagecraft.6 Finally, the event provides a good example of how the Church of England used pageants to raise money for its good causes and create awareness of issues—in this case, ‘fallen’ women—about which it was concerned.


1. ^ The Book of the Northumbrian Pageant edited by A. Hamilton Thompson, MA, FSA (Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1922), 5.

2. ^ See obituary 'Mrs Hamilton Thompson Dead', Yorkshire Post, 13 August 1945, 3.

3. ^ 'Northumbrian Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 29 May 1925, 11.

4. ^ Book of the Northumbrian Pageant, 5.

5. ^ In 1925 the pageant had six performances over a week: see 'Northumbrian History in Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 9 June 1925, 8. It is difficult to be sure about the changes made to the programme as newspaper reviews do not necessarily mention all episodes, but it appears the episode on Margaret of Anjou was dropped. Additions to the programme the second time round included an episode on the dissolution of the monasteries and one on the Charles I and the Civil War: see 'Newcastle-on-Tyne', The Stage, 11 June 1925, 6 and 'Northumbrian History in Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 9 June 1925, 8.

6. ^ 'Newcastle-on-Tyne', The Stage, 11 June 1925, 6.

How to cite this entry

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