Bridport Royal Charter Pageant

Other names

  • The Bridport Pageant
  • Bridport Through the Ages

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Local field (Bridport) (Bridport, Dorset, England)

Year: 1953

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 6


24–27 June 1953

June 24th, 3pm and 7.30pm; June 25th, 7.30pm; June 26th, 7.30pm; June 27th, 3pm and 7.30pm

The performance ran for two hours.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Fear, William C.
  • President: Colonel the Right Hon. The Lord Digby, DSo, MC, JP (Lord Lieutenant of Dorset)
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs P. Tansey
  • Master of the Arena: Lt. Col L.F.A. Maddocks
  • Master of the Properties: Mr F. Roberts
  • Liaison Officer: Mr R.A. Inkpen
  • Master of the Music: Mr R.W.J. Tarring
  • Mistress of the Dance: Miss. D. Gibbs
  • Master of the Horse: Councillor J.C.S. Cooper
  • Master of the Make-up: Councillor F.L. Trevett
  • Box Office Manager: Councillor J.B. Edwards
  • Press Officer: Mr L. Hebert Bruce
Episode I
  • Sub Producers: Mr W.M. Chapman-Andrews; Mr F.H. Brown
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs H Eglan
  • Property Master: Mr R.V. Collins
Episode II
  • Sub Producer: Mr W Bayne Cole
  • Wardrobe Mistresses: Mrs W Bayne; Miss Mervyn
Episode III
  • Sub Producers: Mrs White; Mr J.R. Newman
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs G. Attfield
  • Property Master: Mr F. Sweet
Episode IV
  • Sub Producers: Messrs R. Fish; A.E.C. Wylde
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Miss H. Creagh
  • Property Master: Mr D. Thomas
Episode V
  • Sub Producer: Mrs L.A. Candy
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Miss G. Clarke
  • Property Master: Mr G.L. Bacon
Episode VI
  • Sub Producer: Mr J. Vernon Payne
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs E. Tarring
  • Property Master: Mr A. Cresswell
Episode VII
  • Sub Producer: Brigadier A. Pemberton
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs P. Davies
  • Property Mistress: Mrs A.L. Pemberton
Episode VIII
  • Sub-Producer: Lt-Col. A.W. Shirley
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Miss K.M. Rowe
  • Property Master: Mr W.W. Taylor

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: Alderman S.J. Gale
  • Vice-Chairman: Alderman H.R.C. Palmer, Mayor
  • 11 men, 1 woman = 12 total

Publicity Committee:

  • Joint Chairmen: Councillor J.B. Edwards; Miss K.M. Reynolds
  • 9 men, 1 woman = 10 total

Reception Committee:

  • Chairman: Alderman S.J. Gale
  • 5 men, 1 woman = 6 total

Pageant Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr L.A. Candy
  • 6 men, 3 women = 9 total

Drumhead Service and Car Park Torchlight Procession Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor W.J. Spencer
  • 9 men, 0 women = 9 total

Box Office Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor J.B. Edwards
  • 4 men, 1 woman = 5 total

Public Address Committee:

  • Chairman: Alderman E.J. Rees
  • 5 men, 0 women = 5 total

Grounds and Staging Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor E.P. Lambert
  • 5 men, 0 women = 5 total

Housing Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor J.C.S. Cooper
  • 6 men, 0 women = 6 total


Vice Presidents: Mix of civic figures—lots of mayors of surrounding towns, as well as nobility, military figures, and MPs.

47 men, 5 women = 52 total.

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

  • Tarbat, A.C.
  • Sutton, E.L.
  • Whitham, G.I.
  • Hedgeman, L.C.


  • Mr A.C. Tarbat (Prologue).
  • Miss E.L. Sutton (Episode I).
  • Miss G.I. Whitham (Episode II).
  • Mr L.C. Hedgeman (Episode III).
  • Miss G.I. Whitham (Episode IV).
  • Miss G.I. Whitham (Episode V).
  • Miss G.I. Whitham (Episode VI).
  • Miss. G.I. Whitham Episode VII).
  • Miss E.G. Newnham (Episode VIII).

Names of composers

  • Moussorgsky, Modest
  • Elgar, Edward

Numbers of performers


28 horses and 2 donkeys

Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

700th anniversary of Borough Charter

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 1800
  • Total audience: n/a


Wednesday night performance: about 900.1

For final day’s performances: ‘The few seats that had not been booked for Saturday’s performances were quickly snapped up, the Pageant box office having had calls for tickets from all over the south-west. Every seat was sold.’2

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

21s.–2s. 6d.

Opening performance: 21s., 15s., 10s. 6d., 7s. 6d., 5s., 3s. 6d.

Other performances: 15s., 10s. 6d., 7s. 6d., 5s., 3s. 6d., 2s. 6d.

Associated events

  • Final performance followed by a torchlit procession of all performers through town.
  • Bridport Chamber of Commerce organised a window dressing competition, theme of Then and Now (contrasting old items with new items, such as quills with modern pens). £5 prize for winner of window dressing. 
  • Exhibition of 13th–19th century documents from the Borough Archives at the Borough Art Gallery (22–27 June, 12–8pm daily).Sherry party for the Society of Dorset Men and foreign civic dignitaries held by the Mayor.
  • Special thanksgiving service (originally to be held in the pageant field but moved to St. Mary’s Parish Church due to rain) on Sunday 21 June, 3pm, with singing led by the Cambrai Staff Band Royal Tank Regiment. Service conducted by the Rector of Bridport, Canon G.C. Clare, and the address given by the Bishop of Salisbury, Rt. Rev. Dr W.L. Anderson. Before the service there was a civic parade from town hall to church—including council figures and Mayor in regalia; battalions and regiments; the National Fire Service; the special Dorset Constabulary; men’s and women’s sections of the British Legion; Bridport ACF; detachment of Red Cross; West Bay Sea Scouts; Scouts; Girls Life Brigade; Brownies; Girl Guides.

Pageant outline


The characters ‘Bridport’, ‘Time’ and a Herald gather to announce the beginning of the pageant, calling attention to the ‘British dwellers in our early home/Who, though but rude In culture, duly laid the firm foundation of this act that’s played’, and how ‘Each century achieves a further glory’, calling upon the spectators to ‘Honour anew with us this Dorset name/For share of which both king and peasant claim’.

Episode I. Issue of Coinage at Saxon Bridport, AD 937

Saxon Bridport was one of the four Dorset towns of that time to issue its own coinage, and the Mints, during the reign of Athelstan, were largely administered by the Church and often set up in the Church porch or nearby. After his victory over the Celts and Danes at Brunanburgh in 937 AD, Athelstan was enjoying a well-earned rest at his hunting lodge in Allington when he visited the Mint at Bridport. The chorus heralds the arrival of the King, arrived to ‘breathe [the] sweetness of our Dorset air’. In this scene, the townspeople have gathered outside the Church to greet the King of Wessex. They are joined by the Seneschal, Reeve and other leading citizens, who are assured that all is in readiness. Singing is heard from within the Church, and the Bishop’s procession enters. A trumpet sounds, and Athelstan, accompanied by his sisters Eadgitha and Ethelreda, and Haakon his adopted son, enters with followers and receives a warm welcome. The workmen at the Mint present coins which have been specially minted in his honour. After the King’s speech of thanks the royal guests depart with the crowd’s cheers ringing in their ears.

Episode II. King John at Bridport, AD 1204

King John was a frequent visitor to Wessex, where he hunted in the forest around Powerstock, and it is recorded that he visited Bridport in 1201 and again in 1204. The chorus tells of John’s unpopularity, but ends by wishing him a ‘long and peaceful reign! By “Bridport Dagger” may he ne’ever be slain!’ An incident connected with John’s second visit is dealt with in this scene which opens with the citizens being summoned to welcome John; but enthusiasm is lacking because of the King’s unpopularity and the fear of what his demands may be. The royal party arrives and receives a half-hearted greeting: for a time the crowd is amused by the antics of the Fool, but, when John makes his speech ordering that all rope made in Bridport is to be supplied to his ships, the townsfolk become suspicious, thinking that he does not intend to make payment. When it is made clear that the rope is wanted because it is the best in the world, and also that it will be paid for, the citizens are happy again, and the King departs amid the cheering of the throng.

Episode III. The Granting of the Charter by King Henry III, June AD 1253

By the year 1253, Bridport had become a prosperous shipping and trading centre, and, due to the enterprise of its citizens, was one of the chief centres of industry in the county. A great honour was bestowed in June, 1253, when Henry III granted its earliest Charter whereby Bridport became a ‘Royal Borough.’ The chorus announces ‘Behold each year a newer triumph bring!’ and ‘by this Charter, aptly penned and scrolled/Their liberties for aye our heirs shall hold.’ It is assumed in this Episode that Henry III and his Queen, Eleanor, were present for the event, and, as the scene opens, we see the people assembling to welcome them—the fiddler, the jolly miller, the shepherd and baker, each followed by a merry throng of children and townsfolk. The King and Queen are warmly greeted on their arrival, and there is great rejoicing when the Charter is duly presented. Following the ‘revels’ arranged in their honour, the visitors, accompanied by the happy townspeople, leave for the Guildhall to be further entertained.

Episode IV. The Dues of Port Bredy, 13th Century

The tolls collected on boats coming to land in the Borough proved a source of much revenue during the 13th century; it is not surprising that there were constant disputes as to who had the right to levy these tolls. The Chorus reminds the spectator that ‘Yet goodwill doth at length divide the fee/A moral, friends, lies here for all to see.’ The Abbot of Cerne and the Prior of Frampton each claimed this privilege, and in return yearly performed the ceremony of blessing the ships in the Harbour. When the townspeople have gathered to participate in the ceremony, they are joined by the Harbour Master, who has the unhappy task of paying the tolls to the proper authorities. The Harbour Master has been recently appointed to the office and is not fully aware of his duties, and in consequence is not certain to whom the money is due. First comes the Prior of Frampton in procession on his way to the Harbour. His official demands the money in order that it may be sent to the Abbey of Bec, in Normandy, and eventually receives it. At this point the Abbot of Cerne appears to collect the money before proceeding to the Harbour. The Harbour Master is most uncomfortable at the situation, and the townspeople are divided as to who shall have the money. But finally the matter is settled amicably, and in the end we see both the Abbot of Cerne and the Prior of Frampton on their way to perform the ceremony.

Episode V. The Visit of Queen Joan of Navarre, AD 1403

After an uneventful crossing from Brittany, Joan of Navarre, wed by proxy to Henry IV, landed on these shores in 1403 and, accompanied by her three children, visited the Borough while on her journey to join the King. The chorus tells of her visit and draws attention to Bridport crafts. As the scene opens, we see preparations being made to welcome the foreign visitors, and immediately on their arrival all are captivated by the gracious manner of the Queen and the winsome young Prince and Princesses. Queen Joan shows great interest in the chief crafts of the Borough, and representative groups of rope and net makers, shipwrights, master mariners, sailors etc. are each presented in turn. The young visitors are highly amused as acrobats and tumblers perform on the Green and the townsfolk join in the country-dancing. Following the merriment the Royal party is taken to the Guildhall to partake of refreshment.

Episode VI. Queen Elizabeth’s Charter, AD 1594

The Saturday Market for the sale of cattle and livestock was established by the Charter in the 36th year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Under this Charter the old days for the Fairs were the Feast of Annunciation (1 day), the Feast of the Ascension (3 days) and the Feast of St Michael the Archangel (1 day). The chorus tells how ‘A market every week shall be our right, Henceforth for Bridport’s profit and delight.’ Groups of excited children open this scene, and efforts to curb their enthusiasm prove futile. The townspeople keep assembling, and the Borough Officials, with their wives, enter shortly before the Lord Lieutenant and Sheriff with their respective wives and daughters. Now all is in readiness for the Queen’s representative, and, when the party arrives, it is welcomed most cordially. The Charter is riotously received, the children dancing round the maypoles and the people making merry. The celebration is brought to a close with the Pavane, after which the Commissioner takes his leave followed by the townsfolk.

Episode VII. God Save the King, AD 1653

During the Civil War, Bridport was alternately occupied by both Cavaliers and Ironsides after the skirmishes in the neighbourhood, and many are the accounts of the adventures of Charles II in these parts, following the decisive battle of Worcester. This scene shows his escape from the town, after a visit, disguised as a Groom. The chorus tells how, in this respect, Bridport succeeded in helping the King where Charmouth failed. The street is over-run with Cromwell’s soldiers when Charles, accompanied by Mistress Juliana Coningsby, Lord Wilmot and Colonel Wyndham, arrives at the George Inn on his way from Charmouth. A reward has been offered for the King’s apprehension, and, thinking he has been recognised, Charles decides to leave and sends for his horse. While he is waiting, a small boy approaches and asks: ‘Are you the King?’ It transpires that the boy’s father had fought for the King at Naseby; and he gives useful information which will enable the King to avoid capture if pursued. The Colonel returns with the horses, Charles mounts, and they ride quietly down the street—a gentleman and his groom—but none too soon, because the King has been recognised. The alarm is given, and suddenly the soldiers are off in pursuit.

Episode VIII. AD 1879 to Present

There have been many changes during the past hundred years, and two interesting events during that period bring the story of Bridport up to the present. The chorus tells of how ‘though no vessels more shall builded be/Undaunted lies our zeal and industry/And, though our ships we yield to Portsmouth town/Prosperity shall still remain our own.’ Shipbuilding was an important industry up to 1879. The evolution of the modern fire-fighting apparatus from that employed before the turn of the century was also worthy of note. The scene opens with the townsfolk greeting the sailors from the ship bringing timber for the building of the Lilian, the last ship to be launched in Bridport Harbour. There is great merriment until a fire is discovered and all assist in extinguishing it. Following this is shown the first steps taken a generation later towards mechanized equipment, and the scene closes with a display of one of the highly efficient units of the modern day.

Epilogue. The final chorus

The final chorus details how ‘What Time began, his cycle shall complete/New glories shall be scattered at my feet’ and implores ‘townsfolk, neighbours, comrades from afar/Take Bridport’s lead to follow England’s star/And honour go, as hone aye hath been/To England—and Elizabeth her Queen!’

Grand Finale—Land of Hope and Glory is sang by the entire cast of pageant actors. The crowd are then asked to stand and join in the singing of a hymn, the final verse finishing ‘O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come. Be thou our guard while troubles last, And our eternal home.’

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Æthelstan [Athelstan] (893/4–939) king of England
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Henry III (1207–1272) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Provence] (c.1223–1291) queen of England, consort of Henry III
  • Joan [Joan of Navarre] (1368–1437) queen of England, second consort of Henry IV
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Wilmot, Sir Charles, first Viscount Wilmot of Athlone (1570/71–1644) army officer and administrator
  • Wyndham, Sir Hugh (1624–1671) politician

Musical production

St. Swithun’s Band, bandmaster C.G. Little performed live music including the following:

  • Mussorgsky. Night on the Bare Mountain (Prologue).
  • Elgar. Land of Hope and Glory (Finale).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Dorset Daily Echo
Bridport News
Yorkshire Evening Post

Book of words

Bridport Royal Charter Pageant Souvenir Programme. Bridport, 1953.

Price 1s.

Copy in Dorset History Centre.

Other primary published materials

  • Guide to the Episodes and the Cast of ‘Bridport through the Ages’. Price 6d. D/BTM: G1/3.
  • Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953. Leaflet. D.2089/5.
  • ‘Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953 Drum Head Service’. D/BTB/PQ20.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • All in Dorset History Centre.
  • Guide to the Episodes and the Cast of ‘Bridport through the Ages’. Price 6d. D/BTM: G1/3.
  • Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953. Leaflet. D.2089/5.
  • ‘Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953 Drum Head Service’. D/BTB/PQ20.
  • Letter from Princess Margaret to Bridport following Pageant. D/BTB/PQ20.
  • Royal Charter Pageant Bridport Luncheon. D/BTB/PQ20.
  • Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953. Cine film. D.1861/1.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Bridport Pageant, or ‘Bridport Through the Ages’, was a medium-sized event, consisting of eight episodes, 1300 performers and six performances—impressive considering Bridport was only a small town of about 6200 inhabitants at this time.5 Its pageant master was William C. Fear, a Canadian from Nova Scotia who had first come to England in 1941 with the armed forces. After returning to North America in 1944 he came back to Britain in 1946 because, as he told the Dorset Daily Echo, ‘the stage generally is so much more advanced in England than in his own country.’ He moved to the West Country in 1947 and produced the City of Wells Pageant of 1951. He was seemingly an Anglophile or, at least, maintained this impression to the press; asked if he liked England, he replied, ‘I don’t just like it, I love it; there is something wonderful in the English way of life.’6 While showing many of the common themes of pageantry in the first half of the twentieth century, the Bridport Pageant was notable for its simplicity and humour—losing much of the moralising edge, and some of the historical accuracy, that had accompanied Louis Parker’s original vision.

To many contemporaries the main draw of the pageant was the visit of Princess Margaret on the opening night, scheduled long before the first performance took place. It is unsurprising that this was exciting to the inhabitants of Bridport; it was seemingly the first ‘official’ royal visit in the town’s history.7 To show their gratitude a ‘beautifully leather-bound blue souvenir programme’, tooled in gold and printed on art paper—and lacking the advertisements of the normal souvenir—was presented to the Princess.8 Considering the fanfare that was consequently given, and the fact that the pageant was commemorating the anniversary of the granting of a royal charter in 1253, the pageant narrative was naturally dominated by the visitations of royals. As the Dorset Daily Echo pointed out, the history of Bridport was also the history of the Princesses own ancestors, ‘brought richly to life before her as she and her suite watched from the Royal Box.’9 Each royal figure had their own compliment to give to Bridport and Dorset, repaid in cheers from assembled townsfolk. King Athelstan, for example, said he had come to ‘breathe the sweetness of our Dorset air’; King John made it clear that he wished to procure Bridport rope as it was ‘the best in the world’; Queen Joan of Navarre was fascinated by the crafts of the town and amused by the acrobats and tumblers dancing on the Green. Indeed, in the case of King John, a figure usually disparaged in pageants for his heavy taxation, his visit to Bridport redeemed himself in the eyes of the citizens who, after initially viewing him with suspicion, cheered upon his purchase of Bridport rope. This was partly derived from fact; in 1211 the town’s ropes were royally endorsed in a letter from King John to the Sheriffs of Dorset and Somerset, where he commanded the people of Bridport to work day and night to supply the navy with ropes, cables and twisted yarns.10

Indeed Bridport rope, as the most famous industry of the town, was a frequent element of the pageant. In Queen Joan’s visit she declared ‘Welcome, rope-makers. Your strong cordage weathered the storms from Brittany to Britain. Sorely we were buffeted. Already—n’est-ce pas—I owe you my life.’ The symbolic figure of Mother Bridport in the prologue was also adorned with a hemp loaded distaff and a girdle of rope—‘reminders of the town’s staple industry.’ As was common with Dorset pageants throughout the first half of the twentieth century, an effort was made to draw attention to local customs and vernacular. In the second episode, for example, to be stabbed with a ‘Bridport dagger’, was an old euphemism meaning ‘to be hanged’—originating from the town’s reputation for producing hangman’s ropes.11In the church service for the pageant there was even thanks given ‘for the industries which have made Bridport famous.’12 In the more general decoration of the town, lots of rope and netting was used to ‘emphasise the town’s staple industry’ even further.13 This stimulation of the town economy was further apparent in the souvenir, which was chock full of advertisements.

Many of the features prevalent in earlier pageants were just as evident at Bridport. Societies and local people, especially women and school children, made the vast proportion of the dresses and properties. As usual the pageant also connected the past with the present. In the prologue the characters of Bridport and Time called attention to the early British dwellers and how ‘Each century achieves a further glory’, calling upon the spectators to ‘Honour anew with us this Dorset name/For share of which both King and peasant claim’.14 This theme was continued in the Epilogue chorus, which sang of the ‘New glories’ that Bridport would experience. Perhaps most interesting however was how the past was not just something of which to be proud, a common theme in pageantry, but also something with aspects that had been vastly improved by modernity. Unlike earlier pageants, which finished several centuries before the present, Bridport’s final episode went up to the present day. Beginning in 1879 with the tale of the decline of the Bridport shipyard, the Victorian characters spotted a fire. Unable to extinguish it with their outdated contemporary equipment, a modern day ‘stream lined red fire engine’ appeared, with ladders quickly detached to save a screaming woman from a building.15 As the Dorset Daily Echo observed, the ‘ancient horse-drawn engine’ ‘raised such a laugh’ in comparison with the ‘businesslike thoroughness [of] a modern brigade’.16 This contrasting was also present in the town decorations, the Chamber of Commerce, for example, staging a window dressing competition themed as ‘Then and Now’, with items like quills juxtaposed with modern pens.17

As with other pageants, the episodes concentrated in particular on cementing the notion of Bridport as a place in charge of its own destiny, given independent rights from the higher power of the Crown. The first episode, for example, detailed Bridport’s minting of its own coins; the third episode detailed the giving of the Charter in 1253 that made the town a Royal Borough, the chorus announcing how ‘by this Charter, aptly penned and scrolled, Their liberties for aye our heirs shall hold’; and the sixth episode detailed the Charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1594 that gave the town its market rights, the chorus reminding how ‘A market every week shall be our right, Henceforth for Bridport’s profit and delight’—reflecting the continuing importance of the market to Bridport.18 As with most pageants, civic and national pride co-existed and reinforced each other; as the Bridport News stated, ‘it made one proud of town heritage and, because it was essentially so English, prouder still of our deep roots in this island.’19

As a departure from pageants earlier in the century however, some episodes seemed more concerned with entertainment and humour than making any great claim about tradition, modernity or patriotism. This was the case in the farcical fourth episode, in which various officials wrangled over harbour dues, and the seventh episode especially, in which Charles II managed to evade capture in the town during the Civil War. His predicament in this episode was due to the failings of a Captain Dendry, who was meant to be helping Charles escape, but had inadvertently been locked up by his wife, who also hid his breeches, because, she said, ‘she knew plenty about “Gentlemen” who wanted to go to France. It meant trouble.’ In general this scene seemed to hit the correct note; during the King’s escape ‘Children in the audience were standing up with excitement and cheering the King.’20 In general the dialogue was simple, easy to follow, mildly humorous or farcical rather than serious, and not long. While Royal figures featured prominently, more of the dialogue was taken up by locals, some of whom made funny predictions: in the final episode, for example, the first Shipwright exclaimed: ‘Why man, one of these days we’ll be building ships to sail in the air’ to which his friend replied ‘Pigs might fly! I suppose you’ll be saying next they’ll be building ships to sail under the sea.’

In terms of production the pageant was fairly generic, perhaps the most interesting aspect being the opening prologue, accompanied by Moussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain, in which Father Time commanded the opening of a giant book, ‘bound in red, lettered in gold and more than the height of a man’, Ancient Britons consequently tumbling out.21 Of course there was a reminder that it was the Coronation year; during the finale there was a ‘seven foot crown, gleaming like gold, lighted with 100 coloured electric lights shining bright as the Crown jewels’.22 Further prompts of the Coronation were apparent in the pageant service, where thanks were given for the recent crowning, as well as future prayers for the future of the Queen’s reign.23

The Bridport News was unsurprisingly highly complimentary of the pageant, stating ‘only a colour camera can hope faithfully to reproduce all its beauty, its streng [sic] and, at times, its magnificence.’24 The Princess seemingly enjoyed the pageant too; the Bridport News reported that her final words when she left the Mayor were ‘Please thank everybody for the wonderful welcome given to me. I congratulate all who took part in the Pageant.’25 These sentiments were reinforced in a letter the Princess’s lady in waiting sent to the Mayor following the pageant.26 The Dorset Daily Echo was equally gushing in its praise, somewhat exaggeratedly stating that ‘It is probably the most ambitious project ever tackled by so small a town in the whole country’27 and expressing its confidence that ‘in years to come the boys and girls who appeared in this production will be able to say with pride that they too helped to share Bridport’s greatest day’.28 Sir William Appleton, a visiting former Lord Mayor of Wellington, also heaped on the praise, stating that he was ‘frankly amazed that such a small town with a little over 6000 inhabitants could produce such a show of such overwhelming excellence.’29 The Bridport News further reported that the pageant had ‘revitalised the life of the town with results which may be evident for some time to come’—perhaps a slightly pre-emptive conclusion considering the pageant had only just ended.30 Part of this was apparently due to the way that the pageant had given ‘a new valuation of the merits of some of our fellow-Bridportians, a new respect and a new understanding’, as well as uniting ‘in common effort so many people with such widely varying outlooks. In recent weeks the town has seemed to take as its motto that slogan of the war days, ‘We’re all in it together.’31 Indeed, as the Dorset Daily Echo pointed out, Bridport was such a small town that, with a cast of 1300, there were ‘very few households in the entire town which did not have at least one member of the family actively concerned in the pageant.’32 This could only make for better citizens:

the Pageant Spirit reflects team spirit plus real pride in local heritage and tradition and what more could any town need to ensure a sound future than an appreciation of those qualities by a large number of its citizens? It could revolutionise the ideas of so many about the responsibilities of citizenship of this ancient, but very much alive and enterprising borough.33

At the time at least the crowds seemingly agreed with the praise, giving the performers a standing ovation and throwing their hats into the air.34 When the Mayor called for the pageant master to come forward and take a bow, the ‘cheering rose in volume until it sounded like a cup-final roar.’35 Unlike other pageant-masters, such as Arthur Bryant or Louis N. Parker, Fear was reluctant to take much of the limelight; he didn’t write a foreword in the pageant book of words, as was common, and when the ‘deafening’ cheering and singing of ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ managed to entice him into the arena following the final performance, he held ‘the microphone for a few seconds’ before handing it ‘hurriedly to the Mayor’ and returning to ‘the sanctuary of the control box high above the stands’, later telling the press that he had been ‘overcome with emotion’.36

The pageant seemingly garnered more widespread attention as well. Footage was shown on BBC news, and in general the radio and newspaper publicity was supposedly ‘on a scale such as Bridport has never known’.37 In a sense this was the point of the pageant, since it seems unlikely, or at least unclear, whether it made a direct profit. As the Mayor said ‘It has cost an awful lot of money, but what we have achieved in the way of advertising cannot be measured in money.’38 Above all the Bridport pageant was an exercise in self-promotion that, as a piece of dramatic theatre, did not take itself too seriously. While it seems likely that it made a loss in direct terms, both the press and the Mayor thought it worthwhile both for advertising the town’s industries, especially rope-making, and creating a sense of small-town civic spirit. Above all the Bridport Pageant showed the mass enthusiasm the visit of Royals to small towns still had in this period; about 10000 people, not far off double the population, lined the streets to witness the occasion, and the press and promotional material did not fail to make reference to Margaret as the star of the event.39 In a sense, then, the Bridport pageant was the performed version of the town Chaplain’s opening statement at the pageant church service: ‘We give thanks also for the right heritage of this Borough during the past seven hundred years, with its contacts with Kings and Queens, as well as with the life and work of their peoples, on land and sea, and for the industries which have made Bridport famous.’40


  1. ^ ‘Royal Welcome for a Royal Visitor’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 1.
  2. ^ ‘Bridport Pageant Ends in Blaze of Glory’, Dorset Daily Echo, 29 June 1953, 5.
  3. ^ ‘Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953 Drum Head Service’. Dorset History Centre, D/BTB/PQ20. ‘Week Began with Service in Parish Church’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 3.
  4. ^ Port Bredy was the fictional name given to Bridport in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.
  5. ^ ‘Bridport’, Dorset County Council, accessed 20 February 2014,
  6. ^ ‘West Dorset Notes: The Man Behind Bridport’s Charter Pageant’, Dorset Daily Echo, 12 June 1953, 5.
  7. ^ Rodney Legg, The Book of Bridport: Town, Harbour and West Bay (Bath, 2003), 135.
  8. ^ ‘West Dorset Notes’, 5.
  9. ^ ‘Pageant Tells the History of Bridport’, Dorset Daily Echo, 24 June 1953, 8.
  10. ^ Matthew Nathan, The Annals of West Coker (Cambridge, 1957), 133.
  11. ^ Alexandra Richards, Slow Dorset: Local, Characterful Guides to Britain’s Special Places (Chalfont St Peter, 2012), 111.
  12. ^ ‘Week Began with Service in Parish Church’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 3.
  13. ^ ‘West Dorset Notes’, 5.
  14. ^ Bridport Royal Charter Pageant Souvenir Programme (Bridport, 1953), no page numbers.
  15. ^ ‘Spectacular Pageant Scenes’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 6.
  16. ^ ‘West Dorset Notes’, 10.
  17. ^ ‘Pageant Notebook’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 3.
  18. ^ Richards, Slow Dorset, 110.
  19. ^ ‘It would do Britain Good’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 10.
  20. ^ ‘West Dorset Notes’, 10.
  21. ^ ‘1,300 who Fascinated Princess Margaret’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 1.
  22. ^ Ibid., 1.
  23. ^ ‘Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953 Drum Head Service’. D/BTB/PQ20.
  24. ^ ‘1,300 who Fascinated Princess Margaret’, 1.
  25. ^ ‘“Wonderful” said the Princess’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 1.
  26. ^ Copy of Letter from Princess Margaret to the Mayor of Bridport, June 25 1953. D/BTB/PQ20.
  27. ^ ‘West Dorset Notes’, 10.
  28. ^ Ibid., 10.
  29. ^ ‘Bridport Pageant Ends in Blaze of Glory’, Dorset Daily Echo, 29 June 1953, 5.
  30. ^ ‘Pageant Notebook’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 3.
  31. ^ Ibid., 3.
  32. ^ ‘West Dorset Notes’, 10.
  33. ^ ‘Pageant Notebook’, 3.
  34. ^ ‘Bridport Pageant Ends in Blaze of Glory’, 5.
  35. ^ Ibid., 5.
  36. ^ Ibid., 5.
  37. ^ ‘Pageant Notebook’, 3.
  38. ^ ‘Bridport Pageant Ends in Blaze of Glory’, 5.
  39. ^ ‘Royal Welcome for a Royal Visitor’, Bridport News, 26 June 1953, 1.
  40. ^ ‘Bridport Royal Charter Pageant 1253-1953 Drum Head Service’.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Bridport Royal Charter Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,