Croydon Old Palace Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Croydon Old Palace Banqueting Hall (Croydon) (Croydon, Surrey, England)

Year: 1931

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 9


15–18 July 1931 

At 3pm and 7pm

The Pageant was opened on the following days by:

  • 15 July: The Rt. Rev Bishop of Croydon
  • 16 July: Lady Hylton
  • 17 July: Lady Edridge
  • 18 July: His Worship the Mayor of Croydon, Mr Alderman T. Arthur Lewis, JP

The Pageant was also performed at the Whitgift Hospital on 22 July 1931.1

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Drummond, Barbara
  • Orchestra Conducted by: Guy Warrack
  • Costume Design: Mr and Mrs O. Crompton of the Croydon School of Art


Warrack composed the music. He and Drummond worked together on a number of Pageants.

Names of executive committee or equivalent


There does not appear to have been a formal executive committee (or equivalent) for this pageant.

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

  • Drummond, Barbara
  • Knocker, H.W.
  • Sayers, Berwick
  • Durant, Scott


Mr H.W. Knocker was responsible for the script of scene I; Berwick Sayers, the Chief Librarian of Croydon, was responsible for the prologue and interludes; the text of scenes II and VI were adapted from Scott Durant’s The Church’s Witness.

Names of composers

  • Warrack, Guy

Numbers of performers


All performers were schoolgirls from the Old Palace School.

Financial information

The pageant made £200 profit.

Object of any funds raised

Funds in aid of the county’s Women’s Institutes.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

3s. 6d.–1s.

Two performances with prices between 3d. and 6d. for local schools.
Special standing room tickets booked through WI secretaries at 1s. 6d. Children in standing room half price.2

Associated events

A tie-in exhibition arranged by Croydon Library ‘of pictures, books and other articles of interest’ (9–10 July from 6pm onwards with an address at 8pm from Mr Kenneth Ryde, MC).

Pageant outline


No synopsis is available, only the episode titles, which appear in the programme.

1. Prologue Spoken by the Spirit of History

2. Archbishop Lanfranc, 1070–1089

3. Scene I. Archbishop Anselm as Lord of the Manor, 1083

4. Archbishop Beckett, 1162–1170

5. Spirit of History

6. Scene II. Archbishop Courtenay Visits his Fair, 1387

7. Spirit of History

8. Scene III. Prince James of Scotland a Prisoner with Archbishop Arundel, 1406

9. Archbishop Strafford, 1443–1452

10. Archbishop Cranmer, 1533–1556

11. Scene IV. Queen Mary is Persuaded to Sign the Death Warrants of Heretics by Cardinal Pole, 1556

12. The Spirit of History

13. Scene V. Queen Elizabeth and Sir Christopher Hatton, 25 April 1587

14. Spirit of History

15. Scene VI. Archbishop Whitgift Founds his School and Hospital, St Michael’s Day 1599

16. Archbishop Laud, 1633-1644

17. Scene VII. The News of Archbishop Laud’s Death Reaches the Palace, 14 January 1644

18. Sir William Brereton, Colonel-General of the Cheshire Forces During the Protectorate, 1649–1660

19. The Spirit of History

20. Scene VIII. Archbishop Juxon’s Reminiscences of Charles I, 23 April 1660

21. Archbishop Herring, 1747-1757

22. Scene IX. The Palace is Used by the Linen Printers, 1818

23. The Spirit of History

24. Scene X. The School in 1889

25. Epilogue Spoken by the Spirit of History

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Lanfranc (c.1010–1089) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Anselm [St Anselm] (c.1033–1109) abbot of Bec and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Courtenay, William (1341/2–1396) archbishop of Canterbury
  • James I (1394–1437) king of Scots
  • Arundel [Fitzalan], Thomas (1353–1414) administrator and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Stratford, John (c.1275–1348) administrator and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Cranmer, Thomas (1489–1556) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Mary I (1516–1558) queen of England and Ireland [also known as Tudor, Mary]
  • Pole, Reginald (1500–1558) cardinal and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Hatton, Sir Christopher (c.1540–1591) courtier and politician
  • Whitgift, John (1530/31?–1604) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Laud, William (1573–1645) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Brereton, Sir William, first baronet (1604–1661) parliamentarian army officer
  • Juxon, William (bap. 1582, d. 1663) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Herring, Thomas (1693–1757) archbishop of Canterbury

Musical production

The Pageant concluded with the singing of the Old Palace School Song ‘Pro Ecclesia Dei’: ‘Come Comrades, Let Us All Unite in Singing’. Followed by ‘God Save the King’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Our Work: Chronicle of the Church Extension Association
Croydon Times
Croydon Advertiser
Mitcham Advertiser

Book of words

Croydon Old Palace Pageant. Croydon, 1931.

Price: 6d.

Other primary published materials

  • A Pageant at the Old Palace. Croydon, July 1931.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of Programme in the Papers of Barbara Drummond, Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, 220M85W/27.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • The History of the Old Palace of Croydon. London, 1929.

Copy in Barbara Drummond’s papers. A number of images from this are reproduced in the programme.


Croydon had a history of pageants, including Louis Napoleon Parker’s unsuccessful attempt to stage a Pageant of Croydon in 1923 and The Croydon Parish Church Pageant of 1930, ‘The Church Witness’, from which several scenes of this pageant derived.4 The pageant was set in the grounds of the Old Palace School, former residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury, which formed the basis for the narrative. The buildings date from at least 960 and probably back to the mid-Saxon period. Over the years, the Palace was host to countless Archbishops, as well as many monarchs.

In the words of a pamphlet published by Croydon libraries to commemorate the event: ‘There is no place in or around Croydon with more authentic historical associations than Croydon Palace, the ancient country residence of so many Archbishops of Canterbury… It is fitting, in view of all this, that there should be a pageant attempting to reproduce some of these scenes.’5 The spirit of the pageant was summed up by Bishop of Croydon, E.S. Woods, who declared: ‘we lived in an age of pageants…It is vital that any educated person should get into the habit of reading and understanding history. We can never understand what is going on around us in our day unless we understand what went on and why it went on, in other days. A pageant may be described as history without tears.’6 Curiously, this last memorable phrase was echoed by the Irish Independent in the 1940s.7

The pageant was produced and largely written by the arch-pageantress Barbara Drummond, niece of F.E. Benson, who produced a large number of pageants between about 1925 and 1933.8 The pageant told the long and distinguished history of the Old Palace, through its various rises and falls and its becoming a school, whose pupils performed the pageant. The action was presided over by Drummond herself, who played ‘The Spirit of History’. This ‘dignified figure in flowing robes and wearing a cloak emblazoned with the arms of the School, introduced the pageant, and told us something of what would be represented. Before each scene she came again, and with beautifully clear enunciation and with much spirit, gave a little introduction.’9

This narration was necessary given the large number of interludes and scenes, many of which featured girls playing Archbishops. One doubts the extent to which an audience member, unschooled in the finer points of the history of the Anglican Church, would have been able to distinguish between these figures. The Croydon Times singled out mainly crowd scenes for praise, such as the Medieval Croydon Fair where ‘The procession of Canterbury pilgrims is shown, and a realistic touch is given when a thief is clapped in the pillory, and pelted with vegetables.’10 The Church Extension Association was deeply moved by the scene in which Archbishop Whitgift refused to become Chancellor of England and in which a masque and dances were performed: ‘We breathed the very atmosphere of Kenilworth as we watched the revels, dances, and the solemn flirtations of Gloriana.’11

Schoolgirl antics and an almost pantomimic feel dominated a number of scenes. One of these involved Sir William Brereton, a Roundhead General who destroyed many of the stained glass windows and religious paintings. Brereton owned the palace during the Commonwealth (there was no Archbishop of Canterbury between 1645 and 1660), apparently turning one of the chapels into a kitchen, though the Palace was one of the few to survive the Commonwealth intact.12 Brereton was played for comic effect in the pageant, as ‘a striking contrast to the saintly Archbishops, as he strode in and blusteringly told his tale.’13 The pageant was understandably deeply royalist in sentiment, with Archbishop Juxon (who regained the Palace and the See in 1660) memorably retelling the death of Charles I.

After Juxon, the Palace fell into disuse, with Archbishop Herring the last to dwell there. Though Archbishop Whitgift praised the ‘sweetness’ of the Palace, this feeling was not shared by others. Henry VIII declared that the Palace was ‘rheumatick’, a place where he could not stay ‘without sickness’. Sir Francis Bacon found it ‘an obscure and darke place’ surrounded by its dense woodland.14 The Palace was abandoned and ‘The stately Hall, in which had moved saintly Princes of the Church, noble ladies and gay courtiers, was used as a laundry and a linen printers’ factory, while the greater part of the ancient building had been allowed to fall into decay and ruin.’15 The many pictures of the Palace included in the programme notes seem to confirm the view of the Palace of a maze of dark corridors, cellars, cloisters, winding stone staircases and heavy beams.

Further scenes included the mistreatment of child labourers during the nineteenth century. Another scene, which blended pageant with a school revue or skit, was the recreation of the early days of the school, founded in 1889: ‘This scene certainly evoked the most laughter from the audience, especially from those middle-aged folk whose earliest recollections of their school days were thus brought vividly before them.’16 The pageant did an excellent job of blending together a narrative of the Old Palace’s history with that of a fairly youthful, and minor, public school, giving it a historical pedigree to rival places such as Eton, which had given a pageant in 1920, and Harrow, which had done so in 1923.

The pageant was then ‘brought to a close by a march past of all those who had taken part in it...and then as they were all grouped on the stage and in front of it, they sang their glorious School Song, with its inspiring motive for service, “Pro Ecclesia Dei”. The whole pageant was worthy of the highest praise—the dresses, staging, speaking, acting all showing great merit and vividness.’17


  1. ^ ‘Pageant Repeated at Whitgift Hospital’, Mitcham Advertiser, 23 July 1931 [no page available]. Press cuttings file in the Papers of Barbara Drummond, Hampshire Local History Centre, 220M85W/26.
  2. ^ Tamworth Herald, 9 June 1928, 1.
  3. ^ ‘The School Song’, Old Palace of John Whitgift School, accessed 21 October 2015, .
  4. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Delving the Levels of Memory and Dressing up in the Past’, in British Realist Theatre Between the Wars, ed. Clive Barker and Maggie B. Gale (Cambridge, 2000), 201.
  5. ^ A Pageant at the Old Palace (Croydon, 1931), 1.
  6. ^ ‘Croydon Old Palace: Stirring Scenes Recalled from History’, Croydon Times, 18 July 1931.
  7. ^ Joan Fitzpatrick Dean, All Dressed Up: Modern Irish Historical Pageantry (Syracuse, 2014), 192.
  8. ^ Accessed 21 October 2015, .
  9. ^ ‘Old Palace (Croydon) Pageant’, Our Work: Chronicle of the Church Extension Association, volume 54 no. 8, August 1931, 136–37.
  10. ^ ‘Croydon Old Palace’.
  11. ^ ‘Old Palace (Croydon) Pageant’, 136.
  12. ^ ‘Croydon and the Archbishops’, The Friends of the Old Palace, accessed 21 October 2015,
  13. ^ ‘Old Palace (Croydon) Pageant’, 136.
  14. ^ Charles Nicholl, A Cup of News: The Life of Thomas Nashe (London: 1986), 136.
  15. ^ ‘Old Palace (Croydon) Pageant’, 137.
  16. ^ Ibid., 137.
  17. ^ Ibid., 137.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Croydon Old Palace Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,