The Axbridge Pageant
Place: Town centre, Axbridge (Axbridge) (Axbridge, Somerset, England)
Number of performances: 1
19 September 1970, 3pm
1 dress rehearsal, 12 September 1970
The pageant was partly processional.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Director of Pageant [Pageant Master]: Gibson, Jocelynn
- Co-Director [Pagant Master]: Cannon, Anne
- Costume Mistress: Rosemary Blomfield
- Chief Marshal: Maurice Bendle
- Sound Effects: Ron Holmes
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Cowap, Chris
The same script from 1967 was used, which had been written by Miss Chris Cowap
Names of composers
Numbers of performers250
Men, women, children. 20 horses.
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasionTwinning with Houlgate (France).
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 2000
‘More than 2000 people’.1
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
- Medieval banquet for Houlgate (France) twinning delegation (Friday 18 September evening) for 120 people.
- Lunch for Houlgate (France) twinning delegation in the Oak House Restaurant with the chairman of Axbridge Rural Council, Councillor John Walter.
- Twinning contract signed in the square at 2.30pm 19 September 1970.
- Grand Pageant Dance at the Town Hall on the evening of the pageant.
Scene I. The Roman Conquerors, 55 AD (Axbridge Youth Club)
In 43 AD the Emperor Claudius invaded Britain. Within six years his troops were shipping lead from Charterhouse-on-Mendip. The conquered Britons were forced to labour in the mines, whence it [the lead] was taken to Rackley and on by barge to Uphill to swell the wealth of the Roman Empire.
Scene II. King and Saint, 943 AD (Rotary)
Dunstan, a Benedictine monk, was for a time in high favour with King Edmund. Then jealous courtiers influenced the King to dismiss Dunstan from court. Three days later Edmund, having narrowly escaped death while hunting in Cheddar Gorge, vowed, in gratitude to God, to recall Dunstan. King and monk met, an old chronicle says, in Axbridge, and Edmund [was] made Dunstan Abbot of Glastonbury.
Scene III. King John Hunting, c. 1207 AD (Mendip Round Table)
King John, as everybody knows, ‘was not a good man’, but no King has worked harder at the business of government. Like many of our Saxon, Norman and Plantagenet Kings, he relaxed by hunting in the Royal Forest of Mendip. Our fine old ‘King John’s Hunting Lodge’ is actually Tudor, but may be on the site of a building used by King John.
Scene IV. Elizabethan Charter, 1599 AD (Axbridge Town Trust)
Many monarchs have conferred charters on the Royal Borough of Axbridge, giving special rights to its citizens. That of Henry III (1229) is in our Museum. In 1599 Elizabeth I granted the charter under which, basically, Axbridge was governed until 1883. Members of the present-day Town Trust are the administrative descendants of the Mayor and other officers designated in the Elizabethan charter.
Scene V, A Queen’s Visit, 1644 AD (Axbridge Ladies’ Evening Out)
During the Civil War opinion in Axbridge was sharply divided between Cavalier and Roundhead. We know from our Church Records that in 1644 twelve shillings were paid to ‘Richard Stroude for beere for the Ringers at the cominge of the Queene to Axbridge.’ Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s French wife, was probably on her way to Exeter to join the King.
Scene VI. Sedgemoor, 1685 AD (‘Red Lion’ Group)
In 1685 Charles II was succeeded by his Roman Catholic brother, James II. Charles’ illegitimate but Protestant son, the Duke of Monmouth, claimed the throne and raised rebellion in the West Country. Seven Axbridge men went to fight for Monmouth, but scythes and pitchforks were no match for guns, and at Sedgemoor Monmouth was routed. Five of the Axbridge men were brutally executed.
Scene VII. The Hiring Fair, Mid-18th Century (Axbridge Women’s Institute, British Legion and Girl Guides)
In the days before Labour Exchanges, a Hiring Fair was held annually in Axbridge Square. Here prospective workers and employers would meet, each worker identified by a symbol of his trade. When a worker was hired, his new master gave him a ‘fasten-penny’ to show that he was bound from Michaelmas to Michaelmas.
Scene VIII. Hannah More’s Picnic, 1891 AD (Brownies, Parents, and Brothers)
In the late 18th century there was great ignorance and poverty in the Mendip region. Hannah More, a well-to-do and cultured lady, was so shocked by conditions that she set up schools in several parishes, including Axbridge, where she found the drunken Rector a grave stumbling-block. In 1791 she and her helpers gave a great ‘Feast’ on Callow Hill for children of the area.
Scene IX. The Iron Horse, 1869 AD (Axbridge Ladies’ Guild)
For untold ages Axbridge folk relied on foot and horse for transportation, but just under a century ago the railway reached the town. At the same time strawberry-growing was developing, and crops could now be quickly marketed. The woman-folk were also happy, no doubt, to go shopping in Wells and Bristol.
Scene X. Horseless Carriage, 1900–1930 AD (Axbridge Mothers’ Union)
When cars first appeared, little did anyone foresee the problems of the motor age, or that the car would oust the train. In 1963 our century-old railway died. Through our ancient street the traffic roared, or inextricably jammed. Then, in 1967, we won our By-pass, and once again we can stroll in our lovely old town.
Scene XI. The Signing of the Axbridge Rural District’s Twinning with the French Town of Houlgate, 19 September 1970, 2.30pm.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Edmund I (920/21-946) king of England
- Dunstan [St Dunstan] (d. 988) archbishop of Canterbury
- John (1167-1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609-1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
- More, Hannah (1745-1833) writer and philanthropist
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Cheddar Valley Gazette
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Digitised leaflet. Accessed 3 June 2014. http://220.127.116.11/beewhizz.co.uk/Pageant/Minibooklet.gif.
References in secondary literature
- Mottram, Harry. ‘The Axbridge Pageant’. Somerset Magazine 10, August 2000, 28-29.
Bartie, Angela, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme and Paul Readman. 'Performing the Past: Identity, Civic Culture and Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Small Towns'. In Small Towns in Europe and Beyond: 20th-21st Century, edited by Luda Klusakova. Prague, forthcoming.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Dedicated pageant website. Accessed 8 September 2015, http://www.axbridgepageant.org.uk/.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- 15th Century Axbridge Chronicle.
The Axbridge Pageant of 1970 was the second performance of the same event staged three years previously, seemingly spurred on by its success. It was timed to coincide with the signing of the town’s twinning with Houlgate, France.3 As with 1967 it was directed by Jocelynn Gibson, this time aided by Anne Cannon—though, on the day of the pageant, Gibson was prevented from taking part due to being bedridden by jaundice.4 In terms of the pageant’s narrative and themes, it was a direct replica of the 1967 event (see the 1967 proforma), the only difference being an attempt by the directors to increase visibility by bringing more of the action onto the stage set up in the town square.5 The number of performers grew, however, from 175 in 1967 to 250 in 1970.6 It is unclear, from the programmes of both 1967 and 1970, to what extent or where there was actual dialogue. There was, however, a 3000 word script – so there must have been at least some dialogue at points.
In the programme, the history of the fabric of the town was given particular attention, a case being made for the lasting architectural importance of the town. ‘In our streets and buildings’, it argued, ‘our history is visible. The lay-out of the town is still essentially medieval’. Axbridge was, therefore, ‘a living community not a museum. But in an age of sprawling housing estates and shopping-centres all looking much alike, we are fortunate to have retained the individuality and coherence of a little Somerset town that was old when the Normans came.’7 The pageant would bring to life the historical importance of the town, against the backdrop of this architectural heritage. The use of ‘ye old England’ was apparent not just in the pageant, but in the civic rituals leading up to the signing of the twinning contract. Upon arrival, after a delayed ferry journey, the seventeen French representatives were ‘greeted with a thoroughly Merrie English ovation from the worthy mayor, knights, squires, yeomen, and ladies of Axbridge’. They were then given a medieval banquet, where they ‘tucked in’—‘bare-handed and using a dagger to assist the fingers’. After toasting, with mead, the Queen of England and the President of France, ‘the feast was concluded with songs from Lady Jenny and Lady Sue of Cheddar, and the Burnham Consort madrigal group.’8 Beyond this revelry, however, the twinning had a purpose and was treated seriously; as the Cheddar Valley Gazette described, it was ‘a time of hope for the future, with a pledge to develop understanding between the people of France and great Britain, and all nations. It was also a time for reflection, the French visitors afterwards laying a wreath on the War Memorial.’9
It was, like the 1967 event, again a success, with over 2000 turning up to watch. The memory of the event was also given a boost with the production of a half-hour colour film, available for hire at £2, with a reduction for schools and charitable organizations.10 The Cheddar Valley Gazette was, of course, supportive and complimentary about the pageant describing it as ‘spectacular’, with ‘vivid colour and bold action.’11 Particularly lively were the newly added sound effects for the battle in Scene VI, recorded by Ron Holmes.12 While perhaps slightly less popular than the 1967 event, it seemingly again captured the attention of the town, with ‘every family in Axbridge’ represented in its production.13 After a surprising beginning in 1967, therefore, pageantry in Axbridge continued—and, unsurprisingly, the pageant was again to be performed in 1980.
- ‘History created and recreated in Axbridge Pageant’, The Cheddar Valley Gazette, 25 September 1970, 1.
- ‘Highlights from the History of an Ancient Royal Borough Presented by the People of Axbridge and District’, Axbridge, 1967, Somerset Heritage Centre, PAM 89.
- Harry Mottram, ‘The Axbridge Pageant’, Somerset Magazine 10, August 2000, 28-29.
- ‘Axbridge Prepares for an Historic Weekend: Pageant and Twinning’, Cheddar Valley Gazette, 18 September 1970, 1.
- Ibid., 1.
- ‘History created and recreated in Axbridge Pageant’, 1.
- Digitised leaflet, accessed 3 June 2014, http://18.104.22.168/beewhizz.co.uk/Pageant/Minibooklet.gif.
- ‘History Created and Recreated in Axbridge Pageant’, The Cheddar Valley Gazette, 25 September 1970, 1.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., 1.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Axbridge Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/974/