St. Albans Pageant, 1907: Queen Elizabeth at Gorhambury.

Courtesy of St. Albans Museums.

A Visit to Kynren

By Mark Freeman

On Saturday 9 July 2016, several members of the ‘Redress of the Past’ team set out for Bishop Auckland, County Durham, to see an event called ‘Kynren’. Subtitled ‘An Epic Tale of England’, this event was not billed as a historical pageant, but it carries many echoes of the pageant tradition.

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Above: A scene from Kynren

Kynen runs for much of the summer, on Friday and Saturday nights, starting at 9.30pm. It is a spectacular floodlit event, performed in front of a large grandstand – just like the pageants of old. We were told that around 5,700 spectators saw the performance that we attended.

The pageant is ‘narrated’ by Hensley Henson, who was bishop of Durham from 1920 to 1939. He guides a young boy, Arthur, through the ‘Gatehouse of Time’, which leads him on a journey though the history of England, much – though not all – told through a local, north-eastern perspective. Arthur is told about King Arthur, the Norman conquest, the civil war, the Stockton and Darlington railway, the First World War Christmas truce, and many other notable events. Involving around 1,000 volunteers, this was historical pageantry on a large scale.

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Above: The 'Gatehouse of Time' arising from the water

Kynren is produced by Eleven Arches, the creation of Jonathan Ruffer, an investment manager and philanthropist. It is part of a larger project to promote tourism in Bishop Auckland – and in this respect, it can be compared with Edwardian historical pageants. Ayako Yoshino’s book Pageant Fever (2011), emphasises the importance of pageants in bringing visitors to many towns and cities across the country. Future blog posts will consider other similarities – and differences – between Kynren and the historical pageant tradition.

We explored the town of Bishop Auckland before the pageant, enjoying dinner in the Spice Lounge curry house, which has 80 different types of gin, as well as a good selection of malt whiskies and very large naan breads. The local brewery, Black Paw, had established a pop-up bar in the town, selling a good range of its own beers for £3 a pint.

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Above: Members of the project team, all suffering from ‘pageantitis’

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