Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 2005
Place: Arbroath Abbey (Arbroath) (Arbroath, Angus, Scotland)
Number of performances: 6
22–27 August 2005
The pageant took place nightly between Monday 22 August and Saturday 27 August; the performance commenced at 9.30 pm. The pageant took place within the ruins of the medieval Arbroath Abbey, which has long been roofless and open to the elements. A new visitor centre attached to the Abbey had been built and opened by the time of the 2005 pageant.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant
Master]: Kerr, Fiona
- Director: Fiona Kerr
- Director: Maggie Innes
- Sound: Paul Smith
- Lighting Operator:
- Spot Operators: Grant
Ewart, Robert O'Hara, Andrew Wilbourn and Michael Wilbourn
- Effects: Sheena Seaton,
Robert Seaton, Vina Smith and Jill Smith
- Make-up: Brenda McLeod
and Heather Ritchie
- Wardrobe Mistress: Lex
- Stage Crew: Douglas
Middleton, Tam McGowan, Vina Smith and Jill Smith
Fiona Kerr was producer and co-director and, it is presumed, in overall charge of the pageant; she had been a co-producer for the pageant held in 2000. Kerr directed the main Declaration scene; the co-director Maggie Innes wrote and directed a new episode in 2005 entitled Shadows from the Past. Women were much more involved with pageant organization than in most of the previous Arbroath pageants. In addition to the named staff outlined there was a large team (11 men and 2 women) involved with stage construction; a team responsible for make-up (13 women), for costumes (unspecified number of women called 'sewing ladies') and 6 ushers/programme sellers. For details, see Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 2005 (Arbroath, 2005).
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society
- President: Anita Walker
- Vice-president: Harry Ritchie
- Secretary/Treasurer: David Langlands
- Other members: Richard Balbirnie, Annemarie Bray, Mick Fairweather, frank Ferguson, Richard Irvine, Fiona Kerr, Ken Lownie, Martin McLeod, Angus Nairn, Lex Sawley, Bill Smith, Donna Smith, Vina Smith, David Smith, Lawrence Tait, Michael Walker
Many of the personnel involved with the committee had also been committee members in 2000, including the president, Anita Walker.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Milne, J. Crawford
- Mackenzie, Agnes Mure
- Thornton, F.W.A.
- Innes, Maggie
The poet J. Crawford Milne wrote the prologue; it was first used for the second Arbroath pageant staged in 1948; although this did not feature in all of the Arbroath pageants, it was a regular part of them and was performed in all of the pageants held after 1980 (including those that took place in 1981, 1999 and 2000). The commentary given during the Declaration scene had been written by the former pageant producer Frank Thornton in 1947, and with small adaptations this text had been used in every Abbey pageant since this time; it is assumed that it was again used in 2005, although Thornton’s authorship is not detailed in the pageant programme. A further part of this scene was a recitation, in English translation, of the text of the Declaration of Scottish Independence. This translation was by the popular historian Agnes Mure Mackenzie and had been used at every performance of this scene since 1948. Mackenzie was a great supporter of the pageant until her death in 1955. [See entry by Joan Morrison Noble, in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 229.] A new episode was performed in 2005 called 'Shadows from the Past'; the pageant co-director, Maggie Innes, scripted this.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers150 - 200
It is likely that the number of players in performing roles was around 130. Some players took part in both episodes.
Expenditure Outlined re Pageant
- Costumes and props:
- Lighting: £10107
- Grandstand: £8231
- Sound system: £1274
- Fee to Historic
- Advertising: £5179
- Printing: £2074
- Security: £2428
- Video production: £500
- Overall cost: £35000
Expenditure Outlined re Pageant Society
- Rent of Pageant Centre:
- Electricity: £125
- Insurance: £368
- Sundries: £622
Income to Society, 2000
- Ticket sales: £7279
- Programme sales: £2150
- Advertising revenue (in
- Membership subscriptions:
- Donations: £7627
- Fundraising and sundry income:
- From 'declaration of
- Grant from Angus
- Grant from Dundas Trust:
- Grant from Aberbrothock
- Grant from Arbroath
- Grant from Any Barnet
Skea Trust: £1000
- Grant from 'EventScotland': £8000
Carried over from previous year: £8241
Balance in account: c£8000
[The Pageant made a slight loss of around £250]
The sums reported in the
accounts for 2005 suggest a loss of income incurred by the pageant, despite the
generous grants received. This was chiefly due to poor audience numbers. The
balance in the Society’s bank account following the pageant is described as
just short of £8000. The income derived from 'declaration of support' appears
to have been in the form of temporary membership subscriptions made to the pageant
Society. For financial details, see 'Pageant Society Disappointed but Not
Downhearted', Arbroath Herald, 24
Object of any funds raised
Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
The grandstand capacity and overall audience figure are not recorded but it is known that audience numbers were disappointing. Press reports of the Pageant Society’s AGM revealed that ‘audience numbers ranged from 26% to 82%’ and that ‘there were no full houses this year’; the overall average attendance stood at 48 percent (Arbroath Herald, 24 November 2005).
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Standard-price tickets were £9; concessions (over 60s and under 16s) were £6 (Arbroath Herald, 12 August 2005, 9).
A narrator dressed as a herald delivered a short general welcome. Following this, a verse written by the local poet, J. Crawford Milne was spoken; it had been performed many times as a prologue to the pageant. Up until 1970 the former pageant producer, F.W.A. Thornton, had narrated the prologue, initially live but from the mid-1950s onwards as a pre-recorded reading, to which an actor in the guise of an old warrior mimed. In 1999, Ewan Stewart, who was the son of the popular entertainer Andy Stewart, delivered the recorded narration of Milne's poem. Stewart's recording was used in again in 2000 and in 2005. The verse, which is purported to be the words of the ancient Scots soldier, extols the beauty of Scotland and praises the Scots of long ago and their fortitude. The poem then moves on to describe the start of the Wars of Independence and the emergence of Wallace as a heroic figure:
Yet was England's hammer made to know
That one Scot lived who held his manhood sure.
Within the heart of Wallace freedom stirred
And quickened to his country's need...
The figure of the old warrior is spot-lit throughout and stands on the walls of the abbey.
[Synopses and quotes taken from 'Scene Set for Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4 and Arbroath Abbey Pageant: A Millennium Production (Arbroath, 2000), 5, and Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 2005 (Arbroath, 2005), np.]
Shadows from the Past
This specially-commissioned episode was performed for the first time in 2005. It is designed to illustrate some of 'the events that led up to the signing of the Declaration'. A man tells a story to his granddaughter while the northern lights dance in the sky. The combination of lights and narration conjures 'shadows from the past', which are represented by five figures in different coloured cloaks. Several short tableaux are then enacted. These portray the course of history from Roman times through to the accession of Robert the Bruce to the Scottish throne, accompanied by narration in verse by the grandfather. This narration was pre-recorded and the actors mimed. The events dramatized include a brief representation of Romans; the arrival of St Columba to Scotland; the arrival of St Margaret in Scotland; the death of Alexander III; the theft of the Stone of Scone by Edward I; and the selection of John Balliol as heir to the Scottish throne. There follows dramatizations of the challenge made by William Wallace, the accession of the Bruce, and the ill-treatment of female members of Bruce's family (his second wife Elizabeth and his daughter from his first marriage, Marjorie) and of his supporter, the Countess of Buchan. The latter tableau features the (pre-recorded) voice of a vengeful Edward I. The performance involved around 60 male and female players.
The Scene of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence at Arbroath Abbey, 6 April 1320
This episode had been performed at every Arbroath pageant since 1947. Although small adjustments had been made over the years, it remained largely unchanged in terms of the drama presented. The episode opens with the commentator setting the scene; following this, the Abbot and monks process into the arena. While they are engaged in their devotions, King Robert the Bruce and an entourage of bishops, barons and soldiers arrive at the abbey gates. The signing of the Declaration then takes place with much ceremony, during which time the words of the Declaration are proclaimed. In 2000, an additional piece of drama had been included: while the signing of the Declaration proceeds a 'group of waifs and strays appeared under a spotlight'. This tableau was meant to represent 'the real victim of the invaders' aggression, Scotland's future'. In 2005, this tableau was once again presented. In addition, a further new tableau of English figures including King Edward (played by Alan Mowatt) the Earl of Pembroke (Geoff Bray) and three soldiers, all look on silently as the Declaration is signed.
In the majority of previous performances, the narration had been pre-recorded. It is unclear if this was again the case in 2005 or if it was delivered live; but there were new narrators—Alan Patterson delivered commentary on the drama and Alan Mowatt spoke the words of the Declaration (a pre-recorded narration done by the late pageant producer, Frank Thornton, had previously been used). At the conclusion of this ceremony, the Abbot blesses King Robert, after which he and his associates leave. The scene ends with the Abbot and the monks making their way out of the arena as a beacon is lit in front of one of the abbey's uncovered windows. Religious music accompanies this drama. The main characters in the piece are Robert the Bruce (played by Lawrence Tait), Lord Randolph (Harry Ritchie), Lord Douglas (George Laidlaw) and Abbot Bernard (Michael Walker). Around seventy players took part in the episode; the majority of these were men.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Columba [St Columba, Colum Cille] (c.521–597) monastic founder
- Margaret [St Margaret] (d. 1093) queen of Scots,
consort of Malcolm III
- Alexander III (1241–1286) king of Scots
- Yolande (d. in
or after 1324) queen of Scots and second consort of Alexander III,
subsequently duchess of Brittany
- Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305) patriot and guardian of
- Robert I [Robert Bruce] (1274–1329) king of
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and
lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Buchan [née Macduff], Isabel, countess
of Buchan (b. c.1270, d. after 1313) noblewoman
- Marjorie Bruce (c.1296–1316)
- Bernard (d. 1330/31) administrator and bishop of Sodor
- Douglas, Sir James [called the Black Douglas] (d. 1330)
- Randolph, Thomas, first earl of Moray (d. 1332)
soldier and guardian of Scotland
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and
lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Valence, Aymer de, eleventh earl of Pembroke (d. 1324)
All music was original and a recording was used. Unfortunately, there is no information in the pageant programme about the composer(s) of the music used in 2005. However, most of this is likely to have been the work of a local composer, William Glover, who prepared original music for the 1980 pageant; this was subsequently reused for the pageants performed in 1981, 1999 and 2000. An assortment of fanfares and religious music including a vocal performance of plainsong chanting had been a feature of the main scene in all previous Arbroath pageants, and this was again the case in 2005. Medieval-style music played on percussion and wind instruments featured in the Shadows from the Past episode. Information about the music has been obtained from a video recording of the pageant held in 2005; the Redress of the Past team wish to acknowledge their thanks to the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society for access to this recording.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Arbroath HeraldThe Times
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 2005. Arbroath, 2005.
- Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 2005. On Video Productions: filmed, edited and produced by Clint Beattie, 2005.
References in secondary literature
- Gladstone-Millar, Rev. W.E. 'The Abbey Pageant'. In The Third Statistical Account of Scotland: The County of Angus, edited by William Allen Illsley. Arbroath, 1977. At 525.
- Hutchison, Isobel Wylie. 'Poets' Voices Linger in Scottish Shrines'. National Geographic Magazine CXII, October 1957, 437–87. The 1956 Arbroath pageant was featured in this travel article around literary shrines in Scotland.
- Ritchie, J. N. Graham. 'Images of the Declaration: The Arbroath Pageant.' In The Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting, edited by Geoffrey Barrow. Edinburgh, 2003. At 86–107.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Mackenzie, Agnes Mure. Translation of the Declaration.
At the time of writing (January 2017), the programme for this pageant does not appear to have been catalogued in any library or archive in Scotland. The Redress of the Past project is grateful to the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society for allowing access to the copy held by them and for loan of a copy of the DVD recording. The Declaration of Scottish Independence has been translated many times. The version used at all of the Arbroath pageants was that prepared by the popular historian Agnes Mure Mckenzie in the 1940s; McKenzie was a supporter of the pageant and likely did this translation specifically for use by the Arbroath Pageant Society. The Saltire Society later published it as a booklet. [the Declaration of Arbroath by Agnes Mure Mackenzie (Edinburgh, 1951).]
The pageant held in 2005 was the eighteenth in a long-running series that had begun with a pageant held in 1947. As it has turned out, the event was perhaps the final instalment of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant. Its immediate predecessor, held in 2000, met with some success; however the expense and effort required meant that the old idea of holding one annually was never considered seriously by pageant organizers. Instead, the pageant society set their sights on holding the next presentation in 2005, and probably to the relief of all concerned they managed to realize this ambition. Considerable help was needed to make this a reality, and here the pageant society was both lucky and unlucky. It did, for example, manage to obtain sizeable chunks of money from the likes of EventScotland1 and from Angus Council, but other promised assistance from ‘expected sources’ did not materialise.2 These sources were local businesses. In a resignation speech made at the AGM of the Pageant Society held in November 2005, the outgoing vice-president, Harry Ritchie, criticized the low level of support from the town:
The managers of all the 27 retail branches of multiples, including banks, operating in Arbroath, were each sent a letter, outlining the activities of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society, and informing them of the forthcoming main pageant in August. They were asked to send our request for funding to their head office with a strong recommendation for support. Only two companies—Lothian Borders and Angus Co-op and Strathtay Buses—supported our cause, and I thank them. 16 other companies were also written to in a similar vein, and again only two responded... One other company, Balcraig Properties Limited of Dundee, gave us a donation of £1,000. Their managing director is Roddy Oliphant, the younger brother of Richard Oliphant of that Ilk and chieftain of Clan Oliphant, who attended our pageant along with 60 of his clan members on the Friday. All other local companies, both retail and commercial, were asked for funding via the press, both local and national. The Arbroath Herald were good enough to print an open standing order for use by persons and companies, and only a few individual people completed them. To those people I thank you. No other business in Arbroath gave us any support.3
Mr Ritchie may have been disappointed, but he should not have been surprised. In the days when the pageant had been an annual event in the late 1940s through to the mid 1950s, this same pattern of diminishing local support—both financial and practical—had been apparent. The reasons for this problem always included a combination of factors made up of weariness with the sameness of the pageant’s content year-on-year, anxiety about the perceived nature of the pageant’s underlying politics, and the hard times that had come to business interests in Scottish towns such as Arbroath. This was a toxic combination that led to local apathy. In an article published in the Scotsman in 1993, the extent of the town's economic woes was outlined, and the pageant was mentioned as one means of giving people back some local pride.4 Yet while older Arbroathians had probably never lost this pride, the problem was communicating it to the younger generation who had no personal recollection of the town when it was thriving. By 2005, the difficulties faced by the pageant also included the fact that many of the organizers were aging, and, it seems, so too was the audience for the performance. However enthusiastic organizers were about their pageant tradition, and however aware they were of the need for innovation, it was hard to persuade new blood to come forward. This difficulty was also reflected in the audience. A survey undertaken in 2005 revealed that eighty per cent of the spectators were over 50 years of age.5
Aware that some change was needed in order to encourage larger and more diverse audiences, a new episode had been commissioned in 2005. The prologue remained unchanged (a verse by a well-known local poet) and of course, the main scene proceeded as it always had with a re-enactment of the arrival of the Bruce and his entourage at Arbroath Abbey, and the subsequent ceremonial signing of the Declaration. For organizers, this latter element was sacrosanct and the raison d’être of the whole show—it would have been unthinkable to change it. The new episode was designed using a traditional trope of pageantry: in this, the past is recalled through a series of stories told by an older narrator to a young person. These tales give rise to dramatic vignettes in which famous characters are displayed in well-known events. In the Arbroath pageant, the sketches performed began with a drama common to many Scottish pageants. This was the arrival of Christianity, in this instance embodied in the person of St Columba. The death of Alexander III in 1286 was also included. This was directly relevant to the extended tale of the Declaration—for it was the calamity of Alexander's death that gave rise to the struggle for the Scottish succession and ultimately the conflict that arose between Scotland and England. Further tableaux contained in this episode were in the same vein, featuring notable persons or events that fuelled the Wars of Independence. Although this innovation did represent a significant change and was well executed—making good use of the relatively small cast, and including many more women performers that was usual—it was possibly too little, too late to save the Arbroath pageant, especially given that the great heyday of historical pageantry was decades past.
The new episode displaced an earlier piece that over the years, in different presentations written by different authors, had dramatized the death of Wallace. This episode had always courted controversy since, in whatever guise it appeared, it tended to paint the English king and his nobles in a very unflattering light. Consequently, it was one of the reasons that the pageant was regularly accused of xenophobia. Yet the status of Wallace as a defender of Scottish freedom was integral to the tale of the Declaration, and thus an appearance by the great warrior was essential in the new episode. This might have been an opportunity to depict Wallace in a different light and perhaps with less virulent hostility towards England in tow; it could have been a chance to show some recognition that Wallace's nemesis Edward I—however reviled in Scotland—was viewed rather differently in England. Certainly English pageants tell quite a different tale about this king! However, no such attempts were made. Although the Wallace tableau was rather more subdued than was usual at Arbroath, Edward I was once again depicted as a tyrant. Indeed, his portrayal in 2005 was maybe even more damning, for in a subsequent tableau the victims of Edward's violent hatred of the Scots are this time women, all of which indicates that innovation appears only to have been acceptable within certain parameters at Arbroath: vitriolic dislike of Edward I was unmoveable, as indeed was the narrative of the Declaration scene itself.
Compared with other Scottish pageants, Arbroath always had unique qualities in its approach to Scottish history. While, like all pageants, it was patriotic to the core, Arbroath made few concessions to British identity and those obvious examples that did appear—such as the singing of the national anthem—were eventually dropped.6 Moreover, kitsch ideas of Scottishness commonly recognized across the UK and elsewhere—such as kilts, bagpipes, shortbread and Scottie Dogs—had not been a feature of the Abbey pageants. There was never any danger that comic Jacobites would turn up in Arbroath! Here, history was always treated with veneration and an awareness that the pageant had an educational role to play; the performance delivered was solemn and stately and produced in such a way that the abbey itself became a part of the drama. All of the pageant's focus was on one famous aspect of local history: the association of the historic abbey that overlooks the town with the Declaration of Scottish Independence. Even when attempts were made to market the pageant as a commemoration for all Scots during the 1950s (when it was branded as 'The Scots Pageant'), this foundational focus never really shifted. The dedication to the cause of the pageant shown by its organizers was driven foremost by local loyalties and the belief that this momentous occasion in their town's past had national and international significance.
It might be imagined that the rapidly changing complexion of Scottish politics since the establishment of a devolved parliament in 1999 would have been of some assistance to the Arbroath pageant. Certainly, there had been a rise in interest in the Declaration by academic historians; this culminated in a conference organised by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland held in Arbroath in October 2001.7 At this, leading exponents of Scottish medieval history delivered lectures on the document's origins and the significance of its sentiments. This event was widely reported in the Scottish press, though its discussions seem to have had little effect on local feelings about the Declaration: in the pageant the declaration missive is still signed with a quill pen. Suggesting that what Arbroathians feel about the authenticity of their pageant is perfectly able to resist expert opinion. Yet, expectations of success could never be guaranteed for this pageant, despite its long-running nature.
Audience attendance was extremely disappointing in 2005, with the grandstand only a quarter full at some performances. The weather cannot be blamed: rain held off throughout the week. The poor turnout must have been demoralizing for all concerned, though once again this was hardly a new experience at Arbroath. Over the years, the pageant was always hailed as a great artistic success that was enthusiastically played by all involved, even when audience figures were low and finances left depleted. The collection of audience statistics in 2005 did reveal, however, that of those who came along, slightly more than half were from Angus—perhaps a reason to believe that not everyone in the local area had deserted the pageant. Moreover, among the audience attending were a number of high-profile invited guests. These were purported to be direct descendants of signatories to the Declaration in 1320,8 and their attendance does suggest the pageant retained some public significance.
There have been no subsequent pageants held at Arbroath Abbey. However, the Society remains energetic, though the number of active members is diminishing. In 2008, performers turned out to re-enact the Declaration scene as a grand culmination to 'Tartan Day' celebrations.9 This was, perhaps, an ironic choice of presentation since the Arbroath pageant had consistently avoided any hint of tartanry in their pageants. And in most years since 2005, the Declaration scene is presented at the abbey on 6 April—the date of creation stated on the great document itself.10 Volunteer work is also conducted in schools in efforts to educate local pupils about their heritage.
The decline of the Arbroath Abbey pageant is instructive in many ways for understanding the decline of historical pageantry generally. While interest in Scottish history is far from being out of favour, the appetite for this may no longer be fuelled by such live performances, being much more easily accessible via multiple types of media. Moreover, for younger generations, the commitment of time required for pageant involvement may be a commitment too far. This is especially pertinent to towns such as Arbroath, which have an aging population and declining job opportunities due to de-industrialization. Highly pertinent too are the mechanisms now essential to funding such events; these are various, very competitive, and almost all require high levels of time and commitment if enough money is to be assured—usually via application to multiple funding streams. In addition, for a pageant such as Arbroath, there is the hurdle of gaining permission to use an important example of built heritage. In 2005, Historic Scotland charged the pageant almost £1500. The stringency of health and safety measures for events involving volunteers and the public also proved to be a running issue that increased costs as the years went by at Arbroath, and this too is a major factor inhibiting the possibility of a future performance. Meantime, at the time of writing, the year 2020 looms ahead and the 700th anniversary of the Declaration is on the minds of some people in Arbroath. Will there be a pageant? We shall have to wait and see if all of these considerable obstacles can be overcome, or if 2005 really was the end of an era.11
EventScotland provides funding streams for events that bolster the Scottish tourist industry; it is an arm of the Scottish tourist organization VisitScotland, see http://www.eventscotland.org/ accessed 30 January 2017.
'Pageant Society Disappointed but Not Downhearted', Arbroath Herald 24 November 2005.
'Arbroath Has Fallen on Hard Times', Scotsman, 8 October 1993.
'Pageant Society Disappointed but Not Downhearted', Arbroath Herald, 24 November 2005.
Singing of the national anthem was a feature of the pageant up until 1966; it did not take place thereafter.
The conference culminated in a publication: Geoffrey Barrow (ed.), The Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting (Edinburgh, 2003). This volume includes a chapter which discusses the Arbroath pageants.
Five guests were invited including a representative of Clan Wallace, Richard Oliphant (a descendant of William Olifaunt), the local MSP, Brian Montieth (descendant of John de Mentieth), Lady Saltoun, and the earl of Dalhousie. See Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 2005 (Arbroath, 2005), np.
'Pageant Society Plans for Tartan Day', Arbroath Herald 28 February 2008, accessed online 1 February 2017 at: http://www.arbroathherald.co.uk/news/pageant-society-plans-for-tartan-day-1-189272#ixzz3yR8RQCQ9 Tartan Day is celebrated in many parts of the world to which Scots have immigrated, including Canada and the USA, usually on 6 April each year. In the 1980s several towns in Scotland, including Arbroath, attempted to develop its potential as a tourist attraction.
See the blog piece covering this event in 2016 at the Redress of the Past website, accessed 1 February 2017 at: http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/still-going-pageantry-arbroath/
The Redress of the Past team wish to acknowledge their gratitude to Anita Walker and Bill Smith for consenting to give recorded interviews in 2016 about their experiences of being involved with the pageant over many years. We are greatly indebted to them for the valuable insights they have provided.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 2005’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1446/