The Dorset Pageant

Other names

  • The History of Dorset Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Colliton Park (Dorchester) (Dorchester, Dorset, England)

Year: 1929

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


17 July 1929

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Ashburnham, Ethel
  • Conductor: W. Stone
  • Episode One—Group Producer: Mrs Howman Meek; Mistress of the Robes: Mrs Freeland
  • Episode Two—Group Producer: M. E. Troyte-Bullock; Mistress of the Robes: Miss Ross
  • Episode Three—Group Producer: Miss Mount-Batten; Mistress of the Robes: Miss Ridley
  • Episode Four—Group Producers: Lady Glyn and Miss Deacon; Mistress of the Robes: Miss E. Williams
  • Episode Five—Producers: Mrs Christie and Mrs Heenan
  • Episode Six—Group Producers: M. Hope Kelsall and M. Wester; Mistress of the Robes: Miss Welsh
  • Episode Seven—Group Producer: Mrs Ramsden; Mistress of the Robes: Lady Pinney

Names of executive committee or equivalent


Vast majority of patrons are women, headed by the Countess of Shaftesbury; Frances, Viscountess Portman; the Lady Wynford; The Countess of Ilchester; Viscountess Cranborne; the Lady Liliam Digby.

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

  • Ashburnham, Ethel

Names of composers

  • Handel, George Frideric
  • Soderman, A.
  • Quilter, Roger
  • Beethoven, Ludwig van
  • Elgar, Edward
  • Weber, Carl Maria Von
  • Purcell, Henry
  • Jensen, Adolf
  • Baratt, Edgar
  • Rowley, A.
  • Mendelssohn, Felix
  • Haines, H.E.
  • Fletcher, Percy
  • Corelli, A.
  • Auber, Daniel

Numbers of performers


Horses, hounds, stag (dead)

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

Tto raise funds for the maintenance of its work [i.e. the work of the Women’s Institute], and to improve and develop conditions of rural life’.2

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a



Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode I. In Durnovaria, AD 306

Aristus, a Roman citizen, enters with his wife, Romana, and friend, Publius, discussing Emperor Constantine’s death and the question of the peace of Britain, as well as the new mosaic floor in Aristus’s triclinium. Aristus and Publius leave, in a jovial mood. Rufinus and Marina, children of Aristus, enter, discussing the camp of the British Chief, Bericus, as well as the relative charms of Dorset in comparison to Tuscany. Marina and Rufinus discuss Rufinus’s desire to marry Gwenda, daughter of the British chief and Boudica—Romana reminds them that it is natural that their father would prefer Rufinus to marry a Roman citizen. Marina exits. Rufinus declares his intention to leave during the gladiatorial games the following week so that he can marry Gwenda. After he exits Romana declares that he is a hot headed boy, and that she must now gain him consent from her husband. Three Roman soldiers enter, talking of the occupation and the long marches. Two old British women enter with apples. The soldiers praise the women for Dorset cider—the women replying that while they may have figs and grapes in Rome, it is in Britain ‘you must come for a sweet apple.’ All exit. Aristus and Romana re-enter. Aristus gives his blessing to the marriage of his son and Gwenda. Aristus mentions a ‘strange new cult’ that has spread to Britain from Rome, a ‘modern heresy’ against the ancient gods of Rome [presumably Christianity]. Avea, another daughter of Aristus, performs a Greek dance, before all exit. Three Gladiators enter discussing the upcoming games, praying to the ancient god of Jupiter for their safety and success. Boudica enters discussing her daughters’ marriage and the gifts she has received. The ‘cult’ is again mentioned, in reference to a Christian bowl given as a gift, though Aristus maintains that it will die out soon. All exit—except Marina who looks over the bowl and states ‘I wonder!’. A chorus of vestal virgins sing of the ancient gods. A traditional Roman wedding is carried out. A Roman woman and a British woman converse; as Rufinus and Gwenda are given the keys to their new home, the Roman woman observes ‘…that she may rule her husband’s household’ to which the British woman replies ‘And rule him too, if she be wise; keys or no keys.’ All exit. Bericus and Aristus enter and discuss the upcoming chariot race—Aristus declaring that this will be his last. Romana and Boudica discuss the race, the former expressing her fear that he might come to injury. Rufinus and Gwenda enter, discussing the fact that Rufinus has been called up to go to Rome, meaning that they must part. The chariot race takes place; Aristus crashes and dies. A mason and a mosaic worker drag a stone, lamenting that only a month previous they were laying a mosaic for Aristus; now they are creating a gravestone. They talk of the changes the stone will see as the world grows older, declaring that the stone will show what Romans did in Britain long ago.

Episode II. Founding of Shaftesbury Abbey, AD 888

Two swineherd enter, discussing the brutality of the Danish raids, expressing their hope that they don’t reach Shaftesbury—just as two Vikings happen to enter. The Vikings discuss their recent losses due, they believe, to Alfred’s leadership, before asking the two swineheard the way. One responds angrily, while the other chastises him—since ‘they be bigger nor we!’—before giving the Vikings directions. All exit. Queen Elswitha, Prince Edward, Ethelgurtha and Ethelward all enter, the Queen telling her children how Alfred learnt to read and write at Sherborne School. Alfred enters, expressing his pleasure at seeing his wife and children reading together, and reminiscing that it was his mother who first introduced him to reading and that it is only since she died ‘I’ve fully known How much I owe to her sweet influence.’ The children exit. They talk about Alfred’s reign, the King expressing his fear that his life will not be much longer. Bishop Asser enters, and tells the King that it is to him that the country owes its welfare. The Queen prophesises that ‘If all else be forgotten in the days To come, one deed will make King Alfred’s name, For ever famed. The British Navy’ll grow in strength and majesty, and under God Will be a power for right and equity, When dark and evil days beset our land.’ Alfred, now cheered, declares his wish to give the newly built Shaftesbury Abbey to his daughter Ethelgiva, a nun. All exit. An old woman and her granddaughter enter, talking of Alfred’s reign and a jewel he lost in the marshes. After they exit, a crowd enters and a country dance is performed, before Bishop Asser declares the gathering to consecrate the Abbey. The various bishops and Abbesses bring tidings of goodwill. Ethelgiva accepts the bestowal. All exit during singing.

Episode III. The King’s Stag, AD 1207

Two Foresters enter, discussing King John’s frequent hunting trips to Dorset. Two women enter, with bundles of faggots on their backs, chastised by the foresters for potentially disturbing the deer. One woman jokes that, even though the forester is to keep the deer in the forest for the King, ‘a fat deer finds its way into your kitchen now and again, though you do serve Sir John.’ Sir John de La Linde and Sir Hugh Lewston enter, and discuss the banquet that King John has requested in the forest. Lady de la Linde and Sybilla G. enter, discussing how hunting is a cruel sport, and how the King had graciously spared a white hart the previous day. The King enters, with followers, on horseback. The two knights and the King discuss the sport of the day. The King declares that the white hart he saved would now be his Royal Stag and favourite animal. An ancient fortune teller enters; the King requests a reading. She immediately declares him a traitor to King Richard, before prophesising the loss of his power and lands; that none shall mourn him; and his unwilling signing of ‘a Charter that restores To us our ancient Anglo-Saxon rights!’ She is hurried out by bystanders, as the King laughs uneasily and declares her mad. After some drinking and toasts, they all mount horses and leave—the King scowling. The tables are cleared. The Spirits of the Woods enter, dressed in Green, declaring the human Folk as cruel for slaying the deer, and bringing death and destruction to the woods, exclaiming ‘If men could only realise What these poor creatures feel! And put themselves into their place—and hear the mute appeal.’ The whole hunt enters across the stage, carrying the dead white hart, accidentally shot by Sir John. The King enters and is enraged, and declares that Sir John must forfeit his estates, as well as pay an annual tax—the ‘White Hart Silver’. The Lady’s beg of him not to, but the King is unrepentant. He exits. The Knights and Lady’s lament the events, and declare their support to Sir John. All exit—Sir John declaring he’ll never shoot another while he lives.

Episode IV. Lady Margaret Beaufort, Wimborne, 1498

Six burgesses of Wimborne enter the garden and discuss the prophesy that the Prince Arthur would not live to be King, while also expressing their hope that King Henry’s reign will be long. They then reminisce about the visit of Lady Margaret to Wimborne in her youth, when she unveiled the Altar Tomb. After they exit the Secretary to Lady Margaret and the Priest of the Chantry enter. They talk in praise of the Lady’s goodwill and intelligence, and her founding of the Grammar School. The Chaplain of the school then enters in a rush, afraid he was late to meet the Lady. Lady Margaret then enters with her grandchildren. The Priest and Chaplain update her on the town and school, to her pleasure. She then presents the chaplain with deeds from the King granting a house for the Priest to carry on the teaching of grammar. After the Priest, Secretary and Chaplain leave the Queen and Lady Margaret rest in the Garden, discussing how Henry owes so much to his mother. They then discuss the prospect of the visit of Catherine of Aragon. They then discuss Lady Margaret’s choice between two suitors, including her eventual choice of Edmund Tudor—a decision for which she thanks God. The Queen and Lady Margaret both express their hope that the famous Marble tomb in Wimborne, containing John Beaufort and his Duchess, will last for a long time as a memory of the Lady’s parents. Arthur re-enters and declares that he wishes he lived in Wimborne all the year. All exit.

Episode V. The Pilgrim Fathers, AD 1620

The scene is the Quay at Weymouth. Two women discuss the coming of John Endicott, and how he will have ‘a good send-off’ on his journey to New England (he eventually founded Salem in Massachusetts). The captain of the ship Abigail enters, followed by John Endicott and Rev. John White. Endicott tells White that when he has founded Salem he will send word to Dorchester to say how they fare, before thanking White for his help and hospitality. The Captain enters, and tells Endicott that they should take advantage of the good conditions and set sail at once. The sailors march off, the women waving handkerchiefs. White gives Endicott God’s blessing, bidding him to ‘carry into your new colony the fear of God. And forget not the old Country!’ All exit.

Episode VI. Siege of Corfe Castle, AD 1648

Old Philip, the seneschal, and old Margery, the nurse, enter, to signs of horns in the distance, and bicker about Philips support for hunting. Dame Mary Bankes enters with her daughters and son, and Captain Bond. The Dame talks to the Captain and maintains that, even though the country is in civil war, she wishes to maintain the hunt – some, including Philip, leave. After Dame Mary and Simon the Retainer discuss his wife’s fever, she also exits. At this moment a Roundhead creeps in; it becomes clear that Simon has betrayed the castle for monetary gain, telling the Roundhead of the entrance points. They both exit. A woman enters and tells the Dame that there is a rumour in the village that the troops from Dorchester who came to hunt have secret orders to attack the Castle. The Dame declares that the gates should be shut and the portcullis lowered. Philip, Ralph, and women enter quickly, relieved that they are in time. The Dame gives a rousing speech to the men of the garrison, asking them to stand together to defend the castle for his majesty. The Dame refuses to surrender, and even goes over to the gun and fires it herself; the attackers retreat. Captain Lawrence enters with extra men, and is thanked by the Dame. After shots ring out, the soldiers rush out leaving just Dame Mary, Captain Bond and the Children. Two troops of horsemen from Dorchester are on the bridge, led by Sir Walter Erle of Charborough and Colonel Bingham. Captain Bond enters and tells of the surrender of Dorchester, Weymouth and Melcome, Lyme Wareham and Poole to Cromwell’s forces. Simon lets in the enemy; the Dame declares ‘With traitors in the camp we are undone!’ The Parliamentary troops enter with Bingham and Erle. After first requesting the keys to the castle, Erle lets the defiant Dame keep them in honour of her ‘courage and tenacity.’ She bids the castle farewell, and exits, as Colonel Bingham declares ‘Make way there, soldiers, for a noble foe. This little garrison Who’s fine defence will live in years to come, Shall pass unharmed. Dame Mary’s bravery Will stand for ever as a prototype for British women! Deeds like hers will be a high example to Posterity!’

Episode VII. King George III at Weymouth, AD 1789

A caravan and gipsies enter singing, then Lady Corline Dainer of Came with other women, along with Mr Ralph Allen of Bath. They discuss the visit of the King, and their hope that the good Weymouth air will help with his condition (as the book of words notes, he is already showing signs of mental illness). The Rev. George Crabbe enters with a book of poems to gift to the King, followed by Mr Stephen Digby. A number of country folk come in, excited to see the King. The King, Queen Charlotte, the Princesses Charlotte, Augusta and Elizabeth, Duke of Gloucester, Miss Burney and other ladies of the court enter. The King talks to some of the little girls and boys. The Mayor of Weymouth reads a proclamation welcoming the King to Weymouth, but is stopped mid-speech by the Duke of Gloucester, who says the King is weary. The King enjoys the general fun of the fair, before a dance of Dorset is given. After all applaud the King leads the way out, stating ‘Let us return to Gloucester Lodge, my dear, my head troubles me.’ Exit King and Court to shouts of ‘God Save the King!’


Players, with Institute Banners, mass for the singing of Parry’s Jerusalem, followed by God Save the King.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Boudicca [Boadicea] (d. AD 60/61) queen of the Iceni [also known as Boudica]
  • Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons
  • Ealhswith (d. 902) consort of Alfred, king of the West Saxons
  • Edward [called Edward the Elder] (870s?–924) king of the Anglo-Saxons
  • Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
  • Æthelred I [Ethelred I] (d. 871) king of the West Saxons
  • Werferth [Wærferth] (d. 907x15) bishop of Worcester
  • Asser (d. 909) bishop of Sherborne
  • Wulfsige [St Wulfsige] (d. 1002) abbot of Westminster and bishop of Sherborne
  • Guthrum (d. 890) king of the East Angles
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Beaufort, Margaret [known as Lady Margaret Beaufort], countess of Richmond and Derby (1443–1509) royal matriarch
  • Elizabeth [Elizabeth of York] (1466–1503) queen of England, consort of Henry VII
  • Arthur, prince of Wales (1486–1502)
  • Margaret [Margaret Tudor] (1489–1541) queen of Scots, consort of James IV
  • Endecott, John (d. 1665) colonial governor
  • White, John (1575–1648) clergyman and promoter of colonization
  • Bankes [née Hawtrey], Mary, Lady Bankes (d. 1661) royalist landholder
  • Erle [Earle], Sir Walter (1586–1665) politician
  • George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
  • William Frederick, Prince, second duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1776–1834)
  • Crabbe, George (1754–1832) poet and Church of England clergyman
  • Charlotte [Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz] (1744–1818) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and queen of Hanover, consort of George III
  • Charlotte Augusta Matilda, princess royal (1766–1828) queen of Württemberg, consort of Friedrich I
  • Frampton, Mary (1773–1846) diarist and botanist

Musical production

Music performed by the Dorset Orchestral Society. Pieces included:

  • Handel. ‘Athalia’ (Opening Overture).
  • A Greek folk dance (Episode I).
  • A. Soderman. Swedish Wedding March (Episode I). 
  • R. Quilter. Moonlight on the Lake (Episode I).
  • Beethoven. Overture to ‘Prometheus’ (Episode I).
  • Handel’. Allegro from ‘Water Music’ (Episode I.
  • Elgar. Imperial March (Episode II).
  • Country Dance ‘Sage Leafe’ (Episode II).
  • Weber. Hunting Chorus from ‘Freischutz’ (Episode III).
  • H. Purcell. Aria from Suite (Episode III).
  • Jensen. Spirits’ Dance ‘Murmuring Breezes’ (Episode III). 
  • E. Baratt. A Highland Lament ‘Coronach’ (Episode III).
  • Old Highland Melody ‘Turn Ye to Me’ (Episode IV).
  • A. Rowley. Pastoral Dance (Episode IV).
  • A. Rowley. ‘Hornpipe’ (Episode V).
  • Mendelssohn. ‘Pilgrims’ March’ (Episode V).
  • Song and Chorus ‘Here’s a Health unto His Majesty’ (Episode VI).
  • Sentry’s Song ‘Begone dull care’ (Episode VI).
  • ‘H.E. Haines’. Storm or Fire Music ‘(Episode VI).
  • ‘Fletcher’. Spirit of Pageantry (Episode VI).
  • Corelli. Pastoral (Episode VII).
  • Auber. Market Chorus from ‘Massaniello [La Muette de Portici]’ (Episdoe VII). 
  • Folk Dance ‘The Triumph’ (Episode VII).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Bridport News
Western Daily Press

Book of words

The Dorset Pageant Book of Words and Programme. Dorchester, 1929.

Price: 1s

Copies at Dorset History Centre

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Dorset Pageant of 1929 was a relatively small event, with only two performances, taking place on a single day. It was produced and written by Ethel Ashburnham, who was also responsible for the Sydling Pageant in 1925. It was the first Dorset Federation of Women’s Institute’s pageant, the second much larger event, The Spirit of Dorset, taking place ten years later in 1939. While seemingly not garnering much press attention, the Dorset Pageant was notable for its portrayal of some scenes—particularly those featuring strong-willed women—and also its use of vernacular and local traditions, which were also an important part of the 1939 event. As with other Women’s Institute pageants in the period, it was organised at the district level, with 71 centres being distributed into seven groups, each responsible for one episode, and portraying their own locality if possible, eventually brought into a composite whole.

The foreword of the book of words stated that the ‘main purpose’ of the event was to ‘raise funds for the maintenance of its work… to improve and develop conditions of rural life.’ It went on to argue that the point of the Institute, in general, was to help ‘show how women can and do take their part as good citizens’ while avoiding ‘controversial’ subjects; ‘simplicity and good fellowship’ were always ‘among its chief characteristics.’4 As the Bridport News elaborated, pageants were, therefore, ‘probably the ideal form of dramatic expression for Women’s Institutes’ since both sought to ‘bring a wider culture and a comradeship to the countryside’, as well as providing a chance for women to develop their practical skills in the making of costumes and properties, and an opportunity to express team-work. Organising a pageant was thus ‘the dramatization of the Institute ideals.’5 This self-proclaimed purpose and contemporary analysis fits with more recent work that has seen the WI as a vehicle for fitting women into non-contentious active citizenship following suffrage extension in 1918 and 1928. The WI, which rapidly expanded both in number and purpose after its formation in 1915, thus took the countryside as its key site of activity, and aimed to halt rural decline while providing a sense of community.6

In terms of its content the pageant was actually quite forward thinking, making several points in a forceful manner. Most of the episodes were particularly long, with lots of dialogue, and many different characters and conversations. Characters were drawn from the highest nobility to the lowest peasants, and a variety of viewpoints could thus be vocalised—often determined by gender. One of the most intriguing points made was that hunting was a form of animal cruelty. This was particularly apparent in Episode III, which detailed a hunting party of King John. Sybilla de Glanville, one of the Ladies in the party, declared that it was ‘Sad that such a lovely place should be but a prelude to a cruel sport.’7 Even more obvious was the ethereal appearance of the ‘Spirits of the Woods’, who declared the human folk as cruel for slaying deer and ‘bringing Death and Destruction to the woods’, exclaiming: ‘If men could only realise What these poor creatures feel! And put themselves into their place—and hear the mute appeal.’8 It is perhaps telling that Sir John de Linde was punished by the King for killing his idolised white stag, declaring at the end of the episode that he’d never shoot another while he lived. In the sixth episode the bumbling character of Old Philip, the seneschal of the Castle, after declaring it a fair day for hunting, was admonished by the more savvy Margery, a nurse in the castle, who declared ‘There be you men! Never biding quiet, always settin’ out to kill something, and coming back as hungry as jackals in the wilderness, and us women folk be fair put to it, to get the victuals cooked.’9 Certainly the cruelty of hunting was a contemporaneous issue, and it is likely the Women’s Institute, as an organisation concerned with the rural, was especially aware. In 1925 a new association known as the League Against Cruel Sports was formed, following the demise of the Humanitarian League in 1919. It was the influence of this former association that led to the Labour Party adopting a formal position of opposition to blood sports in the 1920s, with Tom Williams, future Minister of Agriculture, successfully moving a resolution at the annual conference in 1928 that ‘Labour in their concern for the needs of workers and for the country generally is also alive to the need for further protective legislation for animals to prevent them from suffering needless pain.’10 Whether Ashburnham was motivated by this movement is impossible to ascertain but, in the many other pageants that featured hunting, there seems to have been no similarly negative portrayal. In the Dorset Pageant it was lauded by men, but viewed as cruel by women.

More obvious and perhaps less surprising was the attempt to portray the many female characters of the pageant as strong-willed, intelligent, and resourceful—often in direct contrast to weaker-willed, stupid, and cowardly men. In the first episode, for example, a Roman woman and British woman talk as newlyweds are given the keys to their new home. The Roman woman observes ‘…that she may rule her husband’s household’ to which the British woman replies ‘And rule him too, if she be wise; keys or no keys.’ The nurturing motherly figure was also given attention, most obviously as the influence and origin of a King’s intelligence and fairness. In the second episode, for example, it is to his mother that Alfred the Great declares he owes his welfare, as he watches his own wife care for the children in the same way; Lady Margaret Beaufort in the fourth episode is heavily complimented for her goodwill and intelligence, especially for supporting a grammar school.

By far the fullest praising of female strength was in the sixth episode, the long siege of Corfe Castle during the English Civil War. When it became clear that the castle was under imminent threat, the aforementioned buffoonish Philip declared: ‘So many women, so few men! I wish My master, good Sir John, were living still! This Castle can’t be held by women.’ The Nurse Margery responded: ‘What? We women baint so foolish that we can’t do something to make shift when danger comes!’ The Dame of the Castle then gave a rousing Elizabeth-esque speech to the men of the garrison, asking them to stand together to defend the castle for his majesty—to cries of ‘Aye’ and ‘We’ll fight for the King’. After a woman brought the Dame a warrant from the attackers, demanding that ‘the four small pieces must be given up’, the Dame ripped up the paper, went over to the Castle gun and fired it at the enemy. This had the desired effect, the attackers retreating. While preparing for the next attack Margery asked Philip: ‘What would you have done without the maids, Philip?’ Philip then admitted: ‘All did uncommon well, And if so be we are attacked again, the maids’ll be the vurst to let ‘em have it!’ When the invaded forces made it into the castle, Margery grabbed some hot coals to throw at the Parliamentarian leader, the Earl of Charborough: ‘for old Wat of Charborough’s pate! Let un bide under the walls for half a minute, and he’ll have a taste of what women volk can do in war!’ A man replied ‘Best give in, say I!’ to which a maid replied ‘Our brave Lady will hold out to the end, God bless her! If you be afeered I’ll let ee out by postern door, and no loss t’will be neither!’ ‘Easy for females to talk!’ replied the man, to which the maid replied ‘Ay, and I know some that has more spirit than thee hast!’ The man goes off, saying ‘Who’s afeerd?’—the Dorset motto, and that of the Society of Dorset Men especially, used here seemingly to sarcastic effect. When the Parliamentarians took the castle they let the defiant Dame keep the keys in honour of her ‘courage and tenacity.’ She bid the castle farewell, and exited, as the victor Colonel Bingham declared ‘Make way there, soldiers, for a noble foe. This little garrison who’s fine defence will live in years to come, Shall pass unharmed. Dame Mary’s bravery Will stand for ever as a prototype for British women! Deeds like hers will be a high example to Posterity!’11

It is worth noting also that the defences of the castle were, ultimately, only broken by the betrayal of the male retainer Simon, a Parliamentary sympathiser—the Bridport News described it as ‘a defence which only treachery could defeat.’12 Through the use of this narrative device the Dame of the castle could be seen to have only been undone through faults not of her own making—this same approach was used in the first scene of the 1939 Spirit of Dorset Pageant. It is also worth noting, however, bearing in mind this portrayal of strong female figures, that the portrayal of Boudica was totally divorced from her warrior status, instead playing the part of a placid wife.

As with most pageants there was a concerted effort to have important characters praise Dorset—often in amusing or exaggerated ways. In the first episode, for example, two Roman youths discuss the relative charms of Dorset in comparison to Tuscany, while Roman soldiers praise two old Dorset women for their cider. In the fourth episode, for example, Prince Arthur declares that he wishes he lived in Wimborne all year. There were also attempts to connect the past to the present, and the nation to the locality. In the second episode, set in AD 888, the Queen of Alfred the Great foretells that ‘If all else be forgotten in the days To come, one deed will make King Alfred’s name, For ever famed. The ‘British Navy ’ll grow in strength and majesty, and under God Will be a power for right and equity, When dark and evil days beset our land.’13 The Bridport News was less than complimentary about this flagrant anachronism, terming it ‘perhaps an artistic flaw’ that was put ‘into the mouth of the Queen [as] a glib prophecy’.14 As well as these connections there was the common ploy of having visitors of Royal importance—though, in fitting with the strong female theme, these were more often Queens and Kings’ mothers than merely Kings on their own.

It was, however, the locality that was given centre-stage. The first episode was essentially derived from two modern archaeological discoveries in Dorset: the first, the only Roman inscribed stone discovered in the county in 1908 in St. George’s Church, Fordington; the second, a mosaic pavement discovered below a foundry in the High Street of Fordington in 1927. Both were imagined to have belonged to a Roman killed tragically in a chariot race, the inscribed stone being his gravestone which would see the world grow older yet remind the people of Britain what Romans did long ago. There was also an attempt to use Dorset language, as well as local traditions. In the third episode, for example, the local custom of the ‘White Hart Silver’ was given a key role—though, in the pageant, it was Sir John de Linde who shot the King’s stag and was punished with this tax, as opposed to the original legend when it was King Henry III and Thomas de la Linde—the latter wilfully hunting down the Hart rather than accidentally as in the Dorset Pageant.15 The use of local language and traditions was even more prominent in the 1939 pageant.

The limited feedback on the event that can be ascertained, essentially a report in the Bridport News, was complimentary, describing the leading players in the King John episode as being ‘convincing’ and the costuming ‘very effective’.16 On the whole, however, this was clearly a small and unambitious event, concerned with its immediate aims of bringing local women’s institutes together and raising money to further their work. Its importance remains in the pattern it laid for the pageant in 1939, and the extensive attention it gave to promoting the idea of the strong female citizen from all classes of society—noble women ready to raise Kings as well as defend a castle, and nurses or maids willing to sacrifice themselves in a wartime situation.


  1. ^ ‘Pageant of Dorset History’, The Bridport News, 26 July 1929, 4.
  2. ^ The Dorset Pageant Book of Words and Programme (Dorchester, 1929), 3.
  3. ^ ‘Day to Day in the District’, Western Daily Press, Bristol, 18 July 1929, 5.
  4. ^ Dorset Pageant Book of Words, 3.
  5. ^ ‘Pageant of Dorset History’, The Bridport News, 26 July 1929, 4.
  6. ^ See M. Andrews, ‘For Home and Country’: Feminism and Englishness in the Women’s Institute Movement, 1930-1960’, in A. Beach and R. Weight, eds., The Right to Belong: Citizenship and National Identity in Britain, 1930-1960 (London, 1998); M. Andrews, The Acceptable Face of Feminism: The Women’s Institute as a Social Movement (London, 1997); C. Beaumont, ‘Citizens not Feminists: the Boundary Negotiated between Citizenship and Feminism by Mainstream Women’s Organisations in England, 1928–39’, Women’s History Review, 9 (2000), 411-429.
  7. ^ Dorset Pageant Book of Words, 24.
  8. ^ Ibid., 26.
  9. ^ Ibid., 43.
  10. ^ Michael Tichelar, ‘“Putting Animals into Politics”: The Labour Party and Hunting in the First Half of the Twentieth Century’, Rural History 17, no. 2 (2006): 213-14.
  11. ^ Dorset Pageant Book of Words, 50.
  12. ^ ‘Pageant of Dorset History’, 4.
  13. ^ Dorset Pageant Book of Words, 17.
  14. ^ ‘Pageant of Dorset History’, 4.
  15. ^ The Olio; Or, Museum of Entertainment, vol. 1 (London, 1831), 43.
  16. ^ ‘Pageant of Dorset History’, 4.

How to cite this entry

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