A Pageant of Bishopsgate Ward
The pageant told the history of Bishopsgate Ward, in the City of London, but was staged in association with the bicentenary of the Central Foundation Girls' School. We are grateful to Susannah Wright for drawing our attention to this pageant.
Place: Central Foundation Girls' School (Bishopsgate) (Bishopsgate, London, England)
Number of performances: 8
13 to 23 July 1926
Five performances were in the afternoon and three in the evening. There was also a dress rehearsal, 'practically a performance'.
Two of the performances were staged in the school hall due to the weather; the others were in the playground.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
Master of the Pageant [Pageant Master]: Jay, Miss
Master of the Pageant [Pageant Master]: Carter, Miss
Master of the Pageant [Pageant Master]: Green, Miss
Master of the Pageant [Pageant Master]: Rosenberg, Miss
Costumier: Lenn, Miss
Four women were named as 'Masters of the Pageant'.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Gwen Clear wrote the prologues of the scenes.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers300
300 costumes were made for the pageant.
The actual cost of the pageant is not clear. The expenses were met by money raised as part of the bicentenary celebrations.
Object of any funds raised
£11 collected in the 'Babies Box' at the pageant was shared between the Metropolitan Hospital, the Bird in the Bush Welfare Centre, and the Mary Mouniryeh Cot at the Edinburgh Medical Mission Hospital in Nazareth.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
There is no reliable information on audiences. The dress rehearsal was attended by around 250 boys from the boys' school.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
The pageant was one of a series of events to mark the bicentenary of the Central Foundation Girls' School. Others included a bazaar on 30 June and 1 July 1926, arranged by the Old Girls' Association, and a service of commemoration at the church of St-Botolph-without-Bishopgate, at 7pm on 6 July 1926.
Scene I: A Roman Wedding, c.150 AD
The bride and bridegroom are accompanied by their parents, attendants, household slaves, flautists and torch-bearers. The wedding ceremony is performed, and the groom carries the bride over the threshold.
Scene II: The Miracle of St Ethelburga, c.700 AD
There is no detail of the content of this scene, which is based on Bede's account of Ethelburga.
Scene III: Street Life in Medieval Bishopsgate, c.1420 AD
This scene depicted many stock characters from the medieval period, including skittle-players, Canterbury pilgrims, a performing bear, a fishwife and a pardoner. A crowd shouts at a group of unpopular Lombard merchants, and strolling players present part of a mystery play featuring Noah and his family.
Scene IV: A Day in St Helen's Priory, 1471 AD
The nuns are working in the priory, and the poor come for doles of bread and herrings. The great alderman Sir John Crosby and the Dean of St Paul's both visit.
This seems to have featured Bishopsgate merchant and lord mayor Sir Thomas Gresham, and also William Shakespeare, who 'was a parishioner of St Helen's, and probably was present at masques, etc., given at Crosby Hall'.
Scene V: A Reception in the Grounds of Pindar House, 1620 AD
This scene features Sir Paul Pindar, Bishopsgate merchant and ambassador to Turkey. He is seen receiving other Bishopsgate merchants (including Master Alderman Hugh Hammersley), as well as merchants from the European continent. The Countess of Pembroke (Sidney's sister), Edward Alleyn (founder of Dulwich College) and various other scholars are also in attendance.
Scene VI: Anniversary Service Day in the Bishopsgate Ward School, 18th Century
This scene recalls the time when the London charity schools participated in an annual service on Holy Thursday. The occurrences in this scene were all recorded in the school's minute books during this period.
Scene VII: The Central Foundation Girls' School, 1926 AD
The pageanteers process to form a school assembly; the commemoration of the benefactors is read; 'O God Our Help in Ages Past' is sung.
The pageant ends with 'God Save the King' and the 'Children's Hymn'
Key historical figures mentioned
- Æthelburh [St Æthelburh, Ethelburga] (fl. 664) abbess of Barking
- Earconwald [St Earconwald, Erkenwald] (d. 693) abbot of Chertsey and bishop of the East Saxons
- Crosby, Sir John (d. 1476) merchant and diplomat
- Gresham, Sir Thomas (c.1518–1579) mercer, merchant adventurer, and founder of the Royal Exchange and Gresham College
- Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet
- Pindar, Sir Paul (1565/6–1650) merchant and diplomat
- Alleyn, Edward (1566–1626) actor, theatre entrepreneur, and founder of Dulwich College
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Times Educational Supplement
'and many local suburban papers'
Book of words
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The 'Pageant of Bishopsgate Ward' was performed as part of the bicentenary celebrations of the Central Foundation Girls' School, formerly known as the Bishopsgate Ward School. The school had presented a pageant before, in connection with the peace celebrations of 1919, and many of the adults involved in 1926 had taken part in the earlier event. The school was one of many charity schools in the City of London, and its history was recounted in the official programme of the bicentenary celebrations, which is available online. All quotations and details in this entry are taken from this document.
The pageant involved the whole school, with 300 costumes being made and a series of rehearsals, which were apparently disturbed by the general strike in May, two months before the eight performances of the pageant. In an all-girls' school, one would expect some difficulties in casting male parts, but in fact the opposite turned out to be the case. The school captain recalled that so many girls had followed the fashion for 'bobbed and shingled' hair that it was 'extremely difficult to find enough girls with long hair to play women's parts' (official souvenir, p. 36). The pageant was timed to take place after the examinations had finished in June, and preparations took around six months, starting in January 1926.
There were seven scenes, showing various events and periods in the history of Bishopsgate Ward, going back in time well before the foundation of the school. The earliest scene depicted Roman times. Each scene was introduced with a verse prologue, written by Gwen Clear, but much if not most of the action appears to have been in mime.
Writing in the official souvenir of the bicentenary (p. 54), Frederick Hansford (contributor to The Drama in Adult Education, a 1926 Board of Education Report), explained what he saw as the educational value of the pageant:
Most of the memories of the pageant and the associated bicentenary events, however, centred on the fun and excitement, rather than the educational value, of the event. The school captain remembered that 'we never tired of acting, as our audiences were so appreciative', and expected to look back on the school bicentenary as 'one of the most wonderful years of my life'.
it may truthfully be said that, until very recent years, history was one of the worst taught subjects in the curriculum of our schools, very largely because events long past were depicted as a series of dull facts accompanied by meaningless dates. History taught in the pageant way becomes alive and vivid, for both the actors and the audience see the historical personages as alive and human, and feel that their joys and hopes, griefs and fears, their ambitions and temptations, exaltations and abasements are not, after all, dissimilar from our own.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘A Pageant of Bishopsgate Ward’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1550/