Boddington Manor Pageant
Organized by the Gloucestershire Rural County Council and the County Women’s Institute.
Place: Boddington Manor (Boddington) (Boddington, Gloucestershire, England)
Number of performances: 4
3 and 4 June 1932
Two performances were held on both days, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. A Thursday afternoon free dress rehearsal was also put on for schoolchildren; one thousand attended.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant
Master]: Seeley, Violet
- General Secretary: Miss Diana Buckle
- Acting Treasurer: Mr Blunt
- Wardrobe Mistresses: Mrs Prew, Mrs Craig,
Miss Patience Healing
- Property Masters: Mrs R.E.
Grice-Hutchinson, the Rev W.J. Prew, Mr R.F. Waller, Mr V.B. Fergusson
- Master of the Horse: Mr W.F. Holman
- Secretary to Master of the Horse: Mrs A.
- Stage Managers: Miss Diana Buckle and Mr
Paul R. Class
- Dress Designers: Miss M. Pownoll Williams,
Mrs Fielding, Mrs Graham
- Poster Designer: Miss P. Chellingworth
- Scenic Artists: Rev. Hubert Jones and Mr
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Mrs Seeley
- Patrons: Duke and Duchess of Beaufort; Earl Batrhurst; Earl Ducie; Sir Percival Marling, Bart. (High Sheriff of
Gloucestershire); Sir Francis Hyett; Rear-Admiral Marten; Sir Stanley
Tubbs; the Chairman of the Gloucestershire County Council; Vice Chancellor of
Bristol University; the Mayors of Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury
Mrs Seeley was chairman of the General Committee of the pageant.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers500
Approximately 500 human performers took part, as well as 60-70 horses.
The pageant made a healthy profit of £266 5s 1d.
Object of any funds raised
Gloucestershire Rural Community Council
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 4000 - 5000
Audiences of +1000 were reported for each of the four performances.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Puck attended by England’s forest trees and their ‘leaves’ plots mischief and summons the four winds, who blow in mounted on ‘Pegasus’ with their ‘breezes’ (small children on ponies). The trees quarrel about their supremacy before being silenced by the oak, the ‘head of England’s forest trees’. The oak tells a tale of past happenings beneath the boughs: two lovers, who lost each other, passed many centuries until they were reunited.
Act I. Ancient Sacrifices
Druids chant and make sacrifices, and the lovers are separated.
Act II. A Royalist Stronghold, 1643
The Earl of Essex, marching through Prestbury, decides to capture the royalist stronghold at Boddington Manor on his way to relieve Massey at Gloucester. A spectacular engagement follows, with the lovers again separated.
Puck tires of mischief and the South and West winds put their companions from the other compass points to flight, making the weather mild and beneficent.
Act III. A Thrilling Race
A horse race in Victorian times including acrobatic dancing. The hero wins the race and is finally reunited with the heroine. The pageant then ends.
Key historical figures mentioned
Devereux, Robert, third earl of Essex (1591–1646) parliamentarian army officer
Miss Dapple’s Orchestra directed by Mr Harold Chipp.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Leamington Spa Courier
Book of words
A book of words was produced but has not been recovered.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Boddington Manor Pageant of 1932 was a classic evocation of a perennial, bucolic rural England. It was written and organized by Violet Seeley, who had been instrumental in the staging of the Tewkesbury Pageant the previous year, although she admitted that she had been writing the pageant for two years.
In February 1932, Seeley had organized a reunion meeting of actors from the Tewkesbury Pageant where she launched the idea for a Boddington Pageant to be held that June. She ‘emphasised the need of keeping a tight hand on expenditure’, noting that the ‘Tewkesbury Pageant was a success in everything but finance’. With this experience in mind, she stressed that the committee would only help with the expenses of large groups. She also asked for guarantors of sums between 5s and £5.1
Seeley was one of many upper-class women (her father was the owner of Boddington Manor) who were instrumental in the running of interwar organizations and local government. Before her marriage, Seeley had toured her own plays and musical comedies in an amateur troupe; she had also volunteered as a nurse during the First World War. She had served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Gloucestershire Women’s Institute between 1922 and 1931, as well as organizing the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council Village Drama Festival. She had become a JP on the Tewkesbury County bench in 1933.2
In short, Seeley was one of few people with sufficient connections to stage a pageant almost entirely single-handedly, drawing help largely from the County Women’s Institute, and having learned the basics of historical pageantry at Tewkesbury the previous year from the famous Pageant Master, Gwen Lally. As the Gloucestershire Echo declared: ‘Mrs. Seeley has suffered from “pageantitis” sorely since she played such a splendid part in the production of Tewkesbury Pageant last summer, and she has infected every member of her company with the enchanting mania’, adding that ‘Her pageant play is largely the fruit of her own ingenuity and piquant pen. Around an old and gnarled oak she has woven an enchanting drama, a magnificent spectacle, a thrilling romance, and an appealing tissue of imagery.’3
The pageant was both artful and relatively short. Eschewing the exhaustive depiction of the history of the community it conveyed a nostalgic impression of bygone England through vignettes. The characters of the Oak (whose real-life manifestation, though dead, was in the centre of the meadow in which the pageant took place), Puck, and the lovers who are reunited in the final scene after millennia apart, displayed a conviction that audiences preferred characters and impressionistic narrative over historical realism.
Such a conviction seemed well justified, as the pageant met with enthusiastic reviews. The Gloucester Journal remarked that ‘A sunny June afternoon, a picturesque English garden, and a charming old manor in the background created a first-rate atmosphere in which to weave an historical tale of the ambitions and passions of our ancestors in bygone days.’4 The only complaint was that a number of the schoolchildren who attended the free dress rehearsal on Thursday had left copious amounts of litter, prompting Squire Gibbons (Seeley’s father, who owned the Manor) to call for several teachers’ wages to be docked.5
Overall, the pageant was a great success, with Seeley telling a meeting of the Boddington Women’s Institute (whose members arrived at Boddington Manor in their pageant costumes) that ‘she would never have dared to make the effort at all had she not had the women’s institute behind her.’6 The show raised £266 5s 1d for the cash-strapped Gloucestershire Rural Community Council, with which—assisted by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and a number of subscriptions—the council managed to balance its books for the year and reduce its debts by £60.7
The following year, Seeley and the County Women’s Institute held a further historical pageant, a comedy entitled ‘Dragon! Dragon!’, which was premiered at Boddington Manor on 23 June before being repeated at Wotton-under-Edge on 20 July, Painswick on 2 August, and Newnham-on-Severn on 10 August.8 In an era in which pageantry was becoming increasingly spectacular and large-scale, with huge pageants held in industrial cities, Boddington Manor showed how well-meaning and well-connected individuals such as Violet Seeley could organize impressive and successful events in the heart of rural England.
FootnotesCheltenham Chronicle, 27 February 1932, 8.
Gloucester Journal, 8 January 1938, 12.
Gloucestershire Echo, 4 June 1932, 8.
Gloucester Journal, 4 June 1932, 9.
Gloucestershire Echo, 10 June 1932, 4.
Cheltenham Chronicle, 25 June 1932, p. 2.
Gloucestershire Echo, 16 August 1932, 1; Gloucestershire Echo, 5 July 1933, 4.
Cheltenham Chronicle, 24 June 1933, 6.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Boddington Manor Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1616/