A Pageant of Bristol and the West

Pageant type

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Place: Pageant Ground of the Bristol Exhibition (Ashton Park, Bristol) (Ashton Park, Bristol, Somerset, England)

Year: 1914

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 16


29 June–11 July 1914, at 8pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Invented, Written and Produced by [Pageant Master]: Henderson, John
  • General Stage Manager: Bertram C. Wynn
  • Stage Managers: J.L. Coggins, A.C. Gildon, John Exton, Arthur Gilmore
  • Conductor of Exhibition Band: John Wilson
  • Music Arranged and Composed by: Carl Hamlin
  • Electrical Effects: G.J.T.J. Parfitt and Assistants
  • Costumes and Wigs: William Clarkson, Costumier and Perruquier to the King
  • Property Master: W. Brunsdon
  • Secretary: B. Beatrice Barber
  • Press and Publicity Director: W.H. Jones

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Henderson, John
  • Weatherley, Fred E.

Names of composers

  • Hamlin, Carl

Numbers of performers


The promotional literature claimed 2000 performers, but this was an exaggeration.

Financial information

The pageant itself probably made a profit, though the Exhibition lost £27 617 overall.

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 4000
  • Total audience: n/a


Large audiences were reported.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s 6d–1s

Associated events

A part of the major Bristol International Exhibition, 1914. 

Pageant outline

Prologue: The ancient Brythonic site of Caer Oder, 350 BC till 32 AD with Druidic Temple.

Death of King Donawallo. Druid Sacrifice, Roman Invasion and the Introduction of Christianity

Epoch I. 875-1373

Episode 1: Caedma the Goatherd’s Hut

The days of King Alfred the Great. The fight for the Standard, and the defeat of the Danes.

Episode 2. The Wlwarde Gate, Brightstone

The quarrel of Lord Brictric with King William I.

Episode 3. The Robber Barons.

Fitzroy and the rescue of Lady Mabel Fitzhaymo. Death of the Ape-man.

Episode 4. The Alwarde Gate of Bristowe

How King Henry finds a daughter-in-law in Lady Fitzhaymo.

Episode 5. St. John’s Gate and Ancient Quay

Riot of the ‘Cockpit Tax’; Burgesses and Soldiers. Edward III’s proclamation of Bristowe ‘a county’.

Epoch II. 1486-1663

Episode 6. St John’s Gate and Olde Quay

The visit of Henry VII. The Knights at Tournay, and the sailing of the Cabots

Episode 7. St John’s Gate and the City Cross.

The Plague and surprise visit of Henry VIII.

Episode 8. St John’s Gate and the City Cross

The joyous visit of Good Queen Bess to Bristowe, 1575. Drill of the famous Harquebusears.

Episode 9. The Newgate of Bristole, and the Castle, 1645.

Days of the Civil War. The siege of Bristole. The treachery of the Mayor’s wife.

Episode 10. The Newgate and City Cross in 1663.

The Restoration and visit of King Charles II.

Epoch III. 1764-1831

Episode 11. Queen’s Square, 1764

The Days of Chatterton and Edmund Burke.

Episode 12. Queen’s Square, 1831

The Bristol Riots and the Burning of the Square. Charge of the Dragoons, firing on the mob.

Epilogue: A Woodland Near Bristol 1914

Grand ensemble of all the Pageant and finale, with Bristolians from across the empire

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons [also known as Aelfred, the Great]
  • Cuthbert [St Cuthbert] (c.635–687) bishop of Lindisfarne
  • William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Cabot, John [Zuan Caboto] (c.1451–1498) navigator
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Drake, Sir Francis (1540–1596) pirate, sea captain, and explorer
  • Cecil, William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598) royal minister [Baron Burleigh]
  • Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate
  • Frobisher, Sir Martin (1535?–1594) privateer, explorer, and naval commander
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author
  • Fairfax, Ferdinando, second Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1584–1648) parliamentarian army officer
  • Ireton, Henry (bap. 1611, d. 1651) parliamentarian army officer and regicide
  • Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Rainborowe [Rainborow], Thomas (d. 1648) parliamentarian army officer and Leveller [also known as Rainsborough, Thomas]
  • 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
  • Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland (1619–1682) royalist army and naval officer
  • Maurice, prince palatine of the Rhine (1621–1652) royalist army officer and naval officer [also known as Maurice, Prince]
  • James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Mary [Mary of Modena] (1658–1718) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of James II and VII
  • Scott [formerly Crofts], James, duke of Monmouth and first duke of Buccleuch (1649–1685) politician
  • Chatterton, Thomas (1752–1770) poet
  • Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797) politician and author [also known as Burke]

Musical production

Band of the Royal Engineers and the R.A.M.C.T. Bandmasters: E.T. Stephens and George Harding.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Manchester Guardian
Cheltenham Looker-on
The Times
Western Daily Press
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Western Mail
Liverpool Daily Post

Book of words

None noted.

Other primary published materials

  • Pageant Programme: Pageant of Bristol and the West: Synopsis of Scenic Events, Incidents and Characters. London, 1914.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of Programme in Bristol Central Library, Reference: Pr2pb Exhibitions I B14511

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Bristol’s was the last major pageant held before the First World War and there was a distinct feeling that the place had come late to the party—after major West Country pageants at Sherborne, Bath, and Cheltenham. A pageant had been mooted in 1910, although the proposal had been rejected by a committee due to a lack of local enthusiasm and financial guarantees.1 The pageant, when it finally came to fruition in 1914, was to be the centre of the great Bristol Exhibition of that year, a huge extravaganza which echoed both the Paris World Fair of 1900 and the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Exhibition was a massive event showcasing industries from across the world complete with a zoo and rollercoaster, and highlighting Bristol’s role in imperial trade in particular.2 The Manchester Guardian noted that it was expected that the Exhibition Company would spend some £150000 on festivities, and that ‘the exhibitors may be expected to spend an equal amount’, a sum equating an eye-watering £31.7 million in today’s terms.3

The Pageant opened the second month of the festival, featuring—among other things—an exact replica of Bristol Castle, which had been demolished by Oliver Cromwell. Referring to the cast of 1200 performers (a figure of 2000 had been erroneously given by promotional literature), Pageant Master John Henderson told the audience that ‘Here you had, for the first time in the history of the city of Bristol, the well-to-do lady and gentleman arm-in-arm with the factory girl and boy. This was a democratic affair, and they did not look upon it in any other way.’4 In a city with a history of inter-class violence going back to the Bristol riots of 1831 (portrayed in the pageant), this can be seen a significant statement of intent.

Whether or not the audience picked up on this democratic message, however, the pageant was warmly received, with the Western Chronicle noting that ‘The scenic effects and lighting are well managed, and that the Pageant was appreciated was apparent from the many outbursts of applause with which it was greeted.’5 The Cheltenham Looker-On deemed the pageant ‘superb’, noting that the cast—‘all amateurs, and of all classes of society’—had ‘entered heart and soul into the work they have undertaken… The whole pageant is beautifully produced, and its actors perfectly trained. It is full of life, go, and colour, and should on no account be missed.’6 The Pageant was extremely well-attended, boasting a number of capacity performances. On 15 July the Taunton Courier announced that: ‘So great has been the talk about the Pageant that everybody has expressed a wish to see it, and in order that this beautiful production by amateur performers shall be placed within the reach of all citizens of Bristol and the visitors of the district’ ticket prices would be reduced.7 Despite some poor weather, the Pageant’s run continued to great acclaim, with the Western Daily Press suggesting that it threatened to eclipse the rest of the Exhibition.8

Despite remarkable attendances throughout, the Pageant was unable to guarantee the success of the rest of the Exhibition. Matters were not helped by the rapidly deteriorating international situation and the declaration of war on 1 August 1914, which prompted the Exhibition to close around 12 August. Even leaving out of account this early closure, however, it was clear the exhibition had been far from a success, having failed to attract sufficient numbers of visitors. The Bristol International Exhibition Company was wound up with large outstanding unsecured liabilities, after assets were discounted, of £27 617 16s 7d, or £2.92 million in 2016 terms.9 The reasons for this given by the exhibition secretary, Mr P. Jefferies, were ‘the failure to obtain the support of prominent Bristol citizens, insufficient capital, heavy commissions and premiums for the guarantee fund, extra cost of labour, and inclement weather after the opening.’10

There followed an awkward period of uncertainty, which went largely un-noted by the Bristolian press, with advertisements for the grandstand, costumes, and replica HMS Victory distributed  as far afield as Birmingham.11 Unfortunately, however, the demand for such items had collapsed with the onset of war, which had put an end to the Edwardian pageant fever (indeed, no large-scale pageants would be staged during the Great War). Rumours abounded that the Ministry of War was willing to buy the Exhibition ground, and these were helpfully spread by local newspapers, who commented on the efficacy of the site for hospitals, barracks, with a railway connection.12 After the army had initially scotched these reports, the war office acquired the site in late September to headquarter and barrack the Bristol Battalion, with the Western Daily Press asking if there ‘could… be a finer ground for drilling than the excellent and spacious greensward where the pageant was held?’13 Tragically then, what was meant to be a symbol of Bristol moving forward into an open and more democratic twentieth century ended in bankruptcy and war. Of the 60000 Bristol men who enlisted, 4400 died during the conflict—and indeed a good number of the men who had performed in the pageant only months before were drilled on the pageant ground before being sent to die in Flanders.14

A subsequent large-scale pageant was held in Ashton Park in 1924, which was likewise a failure, losing £13000; but despite this the city went on to hold smaller pageants in 1930 and 1946. Whilst the 1914 pageant was largely forgotten (there was no mention of it in any newspaper reports relating to the 1924 pageant), the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in Bristol prompted a number of newspaper articles on the exhibition, as well as a Virtual Reality reconstruction of the exhibition site created by Stephen Gray, a PhD student from Bristol University.15


1. ^ Western Daily Press, 6 April 1910, 10.
2. ^ ‘Bristol's much heralded “White City” which became a white elephant’, Bristol Post, 14 October 2014, accessed 7 March 2017, http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/bristol-s-heralded-white-city-white-elephant/story-23146344-detail/story.html
3. ^ Manchester Guardian, 14 April 1914, 4.
4. ^ Western Chronicle, 3 July 1914, 4.
5. ^ Ibid.
6. ^ Cheltenham Looker-On, 4 July 1914, 7.
7. ^ Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 15 July 1914, 8.                                                                 
8. ^ Western Daily Press, 17 July 1914, 3. For similar commentary, see Gloucester Journal, 18 July 1914, 4.
9. ^ Wells Journal, 14 August 1914, 2.
10. ^ Ibid.
11. ^ Birmingham Daily Post, 29 August 1914, 1.
12. ^ Cheltenham Looker-on, 22 August 1914, 8.
13. ^ Western Daily Press, 21 September 1914, 5; ‘Bristol's much heralded 'White City’, Bristol Post.
14. ^ Jacqueline Wadsworth, Bristol in the Great War (Barnsley, 2014), unpaginated.
15. ^ Amie Marshall, ‘Bristol postgrad creates virtual reality 1914’, October 15, 2014, Epigram, accessed 7 March 2017, http://epigram.org.uk/news/2014/10/bristol-postgrad-creates-virtual-reality-1914

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘A Pageant of Bristol and the West’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1510/