Pageant of Dudley, 1908

Pageant type

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Place: Dudley Castle Courtyard (Dudley) (Dudley, Worcestershire, England)

Year: 1908

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 3


7–9 June 1908; all afternoon performances.

The town of Dudley was in an exclave of Worcester although, confusingly, the castle was a part of Staffordshire.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Cooke, J. Randall
  • Pageant Master: Grainger, E. Hastings
  • Master of Music and Composer: Mr Julius Harrison
  • Writers: Mr A.A. Rollason and Rev. Chris Gardiner
  • Stage Manager Episode I: Mr E. Priest
  • Stage Manager Episode II: Mr R. Morgan
  • Stage Manager Episode III: Mr H.B. Millington
  • Stage Manager Episode IV: Messrs Leach, Dickins and Harkins
  • Stage Manager Episode V: Mr D.V. Sidaway
  • Stage Manager Episode VI: Mr A.T. Dawson
  • Stage Manager Episode VII: Mr W. Pegler
  • Stage Manager Episode VIII: Mr G.A. Ashton

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Hon. Secretary: Mr Edward Frost

Fetes Committee:

  • Chairman: Mr John Dudley
  • Hon. Secretary: Mr Wm. Woodhouse and Mr J. Mello Houghton

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

  • Rollason, A.A.
  • Gardiner, Chris


Rev. Chris Gardiner produced the souvenir guide.

Names of composers

  • Harrison, Julius

Numbers of performers


All performers were children.

Financial information

The Dudley Castle Fete of 1908 made a profit of £451. 8s. 0d.1

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion


Audience information

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


A contemporary photograph shows the Castle grounds completely packed.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events

The Dudley Pageant was a part of the 1908 Dudley Castle Fete. The Mayor and Mayoress (F.W. and Mrs Cook) held a reception at the Dudley Town Hall for members of the Association of Midland Authorities. A variety programme was held each day and at night there were fireworks. The castle grounds were also illuminated.

Pageant outline

Episode I. Founding of Dudley Castle, 656

Founding of Castle of Dudley. Opening of the episode with pagan music. A crowd of priests led by Arch-Priest Heremond processes. We can see Penda the Strong, King of Mercia, and two earls, Leofric and Wulfric, and the sons of the King. There is to be a sacrifice, but Penda’s attention is drawn to the site they are on and its defensible qualities. He decides to found a settlement there and bestows an Earldom on his son Dudda.

Episode II. The Murder of King Kenelm of Mercia, 820

The murder of the boy-king of Mercia, Kenelm, by Askobert. ‘Most of us are acquainted with the traditions which are attached to the boy King’s death, a sister’s jealous hate, says the legend, being responsible for his untimely end.’

Episode III. Lady Godiva and Earl Leofric, Early 11th Century

The third episode depicts the scene between Lady Godiva, Earl Leofric, and the citizens of Coventry. It opens with the entry of Lady Godiva. A conversation takes place between them relative to the heavy taxes which the arrogant Leofric has inflicted upon the Coventry citizens.’ The Guild of Weavers appeal to Lady Godiva who brow-beats her husband into remittance. ‘Lady Godiva was more intimately connected with Dudley than perhaps most people are aware, for it was with her that Leofric received the Lordship of Dudley.

Episode IV. The Last of the English Earls of Dudley, c.1060

We see the last of the old English Earls of Dudley, Aelfgar. Next we see the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, when the lands of Dudley pass over to Fitz-Ansculph. The first scene in the episode is that of the peace of Billingsley. Though her father Aelfgar is a traitor, his daughter is wooed by King Harold. In the second scene Ealdgyth receives news of the death of Harold and the submitting to William that must come. In the third scene we see Fitz-Ansculph coming into possession of the Castle.

Episode V. The Founding of Dudley Priory, 1116

The founding of Dudley Priory by Gervase Paganel (a Cluniac monk). The brethren of the Guild and spectators arrive, lay stones and erect a tripod. One asks: ‘What does move Lord Gervase to give away all his mort of land?’ to which the other answers ‘’Tis for his soul’s good and to help the Church’. Gervase and his wife Isabel with knights and monks approach, heralded by loud cheering. They proceed to lay a stone.

Episode VI. The Quarrel Between Lord Dudley and William de Bermingham

This episode depicts the quarrel between Lord Dudley and William de Bermingham. The former claimed that de Bermingham ought to do service for him. De Bermingham is defiant and refuses to give tribute. A messenger arrives with a letter from De Bermingham to Dudley, who is enraged. The second scene depicts De Bermingham’s acknowledgment of Lord Dudley as his liege lord, professing his troth.

Episode VII. Elizabeth I’s Visit to Dudley, 1575

Two serving men are preparing the throne for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth in Dudley, but fall into a scuffle. Queen Elizabeth makes her entry, followed by Lord Leicester, Sir Francis Walsingham, and ladies in waiting. She is reminded that the castle formerly belonged to a traitor [Duke of Northumberland]. Dudley presents her with a petition asking for a confirmation of Queen Mary’s restoration of the castle to him. This is granted and a Morris dance takes place.

Episode VIII. Petition of Dud Dudley to Charles II, 1660

The petition of Dud Dudley to Charles II that he be restored to his place of profit and ‘that my patent for making iron with pit-coale, sea-coale, peat and turf; and for the melting, extracting, refining and reducing of all mines, metals and minerals, with pit-coale, peat or turf, which is mine own laudable invention, may be revived.’ The King examines Dudley’s coal and tells him that ‘the day will come when from that district iron shall go out to all the world, and make the name of Dudley everywhere famous.’


At the conclusion of the pageant the whole of the characters assembled on the platform and formed a most striking and effective tableau. They sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Wulfric Spot (d. 1002x4) magnate
  • Cynehelm [St Cynehelm, Kenelm] (supp. fl. 803x11) martyr
  • Godgifu [Godiva] (d. 1067?) noblewoman
  • Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057) magnate
  • Harold II [Harold Godwineson] (1022/3?–1066) king of England
  • Tostig, earl of Northumbria (c.1029–1066) magnate
  • Paynel, Gervase (d. 1194) baron [also known as Paganel, Gervase]
  • Bermingham, William (d. 1312) archbishop of Tuam
  • Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate [also known as Sutton, Lord]
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Walsingham, Sir Francis (c.1532–1590) principal secretary
  • Jane Dudley, duchess of Northumberland (1508/9–1555) noblewoman
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • James II (1430–1460) king of Scots
  • Hyde, Edward, first earl of Clarendon (1609–1674) politician and historian
  • Boyle, Robert (1627–1691) natural philosopher
  • Dudley, Dud (1600?–1684) ironmaster

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

Coventry Herald
Manchester Guardian
Gloucester Echo
Manchester Courier
Yorkshire Post
Black Country Bugle
Walsall Advertiser
Wairarapa Age (New Zealand)

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Dudley Pageant Souvenir Programme. Dudley, 1908.

Oddly, the souvenir programme was printed after the pageant. Copy available in Birmingham Library.

References in secondary literature

  • Chitham, Edward. Story of Dudley. Stroud: The History Press, 2014. 98.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of programme held at Birmingham Central Library
  • Photographs held in Dudley Archives.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Dudley Pageant, held at the height of ‘Pageant Fever’ in 1908, was conceived around the same time as major pageants in Dover, Bath, and Bury St Edmunds.2 However, compared to others of the time, the pageant was held on a reasonably small scale. Even so, it took sixteen months from initial conception to execution. This, as the souvenir programme said, was not due to a lack of enthusiasm but ‘rather was it the result of an intensified ardour which, however, outgrew the facilities and resources to hand. It was discovered to be outside the bounds of possibility to promote in a busy, industrial neighbourhood such as Dudley, a pageant supported entirely by adult performers, that being the ambitious plane to which the Mayor’s original scheme was raised.’3 The composer, Julius Harrison, was a minor figure in the wider early twentieth-century English musical revival and worked alongside Elgar and Thomas Beecham as a regular conductor at the Malvern Festival.4

The more limited pageant, which was ultimately held, was to be performed by schoolchildren: ‘Each school or series of schools should furnish a tableau, for which prizes should be awarded according to merit. The subjects of the tableaux and also the songs would form part of the ordinary lessons of the school.’5 It was thus one of the first pageants to be entirely performed by children, a feature of the event which presented a number of choices for staging Dudley’s history: How should children represent grown men and women without the effect dissolving into comic farce? How should violent aspects of history be depicted? As a newspaper commented, these were admirably resolved: ‘The task imposed upon the juvenile performers of impersonating Druidical priests, venerable kings, and fire-eating knights was sufficiently exacting, and their high-pitched treble voices, if they were a little incongruous, added to the pleasantry of the performance.’6

The site of the pageant, in the ruins of Dudley Castle, provided an atmospheric setting. A raised part of the ruins, with steps leading up, provided a stage, and the audience stood or sat below in the courtyard. The pageant told a continuous story of the development of Dudley as a military settlement and the prominent role of the Earls of Dudley through till its establishment as a major industrial centre. The early scenes covered the founding of Dudley as a defensive site bestowed on Dudda, its founder. The second scene dealt with the martyrdom of St Kenelm, the boy King of Mercia (and son of King Offa), murdered by Askobert, his tutor and sister’s lover who wished to usurp the throne. Askobert took Kenelm hunting in the Clent Hills (south of Birmingham). Despite Kenelm performing a number of miracles and singing the Te Deum, Askobert killed the boy King.

The third scene covered a lesser-known scene from the life of Lady Godiva, which is a variant of the more famous Coventry version (where Godiva exempted the townspeople from taxes by riding through the town naked). Fortunately, in this version Godiva merely appeals to her husband to remit the taxes of the townspeople of Dudley. In the fourth scene we see Godiva’s son, Aelfgar, who was a major power in the land, waging war unsuccessfully on Edward the Confessor, with the King of Wales successfully invading Mercia. Aelfgar’s death in around 1060 (before the Norman Conquest) is glossed over for effect. Instead, we see his daughters, one of whom was the wife of King Harold, hearing news of the Battle of Hastings, and finally the Manor of Dudley coming into possession of William Fitz-Ansculph, who succeeded to most of the lands of the Midlands.

The fifth and sixth scenes further emphasised Dudley’s nominal status as a regional centre of feudal power, and one which often defied the ruler of the land. After the founding of Dudley Priory, there was an episode which highlighted inter-town rivalries. The scene, recounted in William Hutton’s History of Birmingham (1783), shows the lesser Sir William de Bermingham, grandson of Peter de Bermingham, founder of the town, refusing to do service for Lord Dudley, a quarrel which is ultimately resolved. As Dudley was later eclipsed by the success of Birmingham, this episode serves as a reminder of the former’s importance. The seventh episode features Elizabeth I’s visit to the Earl of Dudley in 1575 at which she legitimates Dudley’s claim to the town’s castle. Due to the seemingly never-ending travels of the monarch, episodes depicting a visit by Queen Elizabeth were to become major tropes in local pageants (in some cases featuring in pageants where there was no record of Good Queen Bess having come to the place at all). In the event, Dudley’s own Elizabethan episode failed to recount that the castle had come into the hands of John Dudley, Earl of Northumberland, in 1535 due to the massive debts of the Earl of Dudley.7 Dudley’s treachery was in attempting to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne in 1553, following the death of Edward VI. The Queen was played by Miss Cook, the Mayor of Dudley’s (the town, that is) daughter.

The final episode (though the ultimate destruction of the castle in a fire in 1750 was the original terminus point) was the petition of Dud Dudley to Charles II. This episode is a fascinating story blending together the old aristocratic power, which Dudley had formerly been known for, with the new industrial power upon which Dudley would later be based. Dud Dudley was the illegitimate son of Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley, and thus grandson of the Earl of Dudley featured in the last episode. Edward seems to have preferred Dud and his mistress Elizabeth to his legitimate family, and took great pains with his upbringing, sending him to Balliol College, Oxford. Dud came to work on his father’s ironwork near the town and became a pioneering metallurgist. He was one of the first Englishmen to smelt iron ore using coke, creating a modified furnace.8 During the Civil War, Dud fought for the Royalist cause and was captured and sentenced to death for treason. He escaped and daringly set up as a physician in Bristol, later establishing an ironworks there. The scene recounts his lands and patents being restored to him on the restoration of Charles II. The monarch astutely predicts that Dudley’s iron making will make ‘the name of Dudley everywhere famous.’9 Though subsequent historians have disputed whether Dudley’s process was sufficient to produce high-quality iron, his descendant Abraham Darby went on to perfect the process in the early eighteenth century, and Dudley continued as a major iron-making centre.

The pageant was noted for being the last public appearance of William Ward, Second Earl of Dudley, before his departure to Australia as Governor-General. The Earl, who owned the castle site, had previously served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, garnering a brief mention in James Joyces’ Ulysees (1922). At the pageant performance held on Wednesday 9 June, the Earl attended (though the Countess was too ill to appear). He addressed the crowd in a speech that was covered by much of the local and national press, addressing his responsibilities in his new role: ‘He would act upon the advice once given by a very eminent statesman [Joseph Chamberlain] to a governor when going out to one of our colonies—namely, keep his mouth shut for several months.’10 At a banquet given by the Lord Mayor that evening, he said: ‘it was quite impossible for him to express in adequate terms his gratitude for the entertainment they had given him that day. It had touched him more than he could tell them that so many of his old friends in that district had come together to wish him “God speed” on his departure. All he could do was to assure them that he should always remember their kindness to him that day, and that the words which had been used in proposing that toast would ever be a source of greatest encouragement and stimulus in the work that he had to do in that great land on the other side of the globe to which he was going.’11 The Earl of Dudley’s departure to this important role of public service (he returned in 1911) served to confirm the place of the town of Dudley in national, and ultimately imperial, history.

The pageant and the fete were a success, making £451 profit. As the programme (oddly written after the Pageant had finished) noted, ‘thousands of spectators were afforded a glimpse into that period of the interesting past, when the foundation stones of local and national commercial prosperity were laid, local development being as yet in its infancy’; it added that the Fete ‘will long remain in the memory of Black Country folk as one of the most successful and enjoyable ever presented.’12 This proved to be surprisingly accurate, as memories of the pageant proved long-lived. The pageant was revived and put on again by schoolchildren for the 1951 Festival of Britain (see Dudley 1951) and was the subject of local history society presentations and local newspaper articles more than a century later.13


  1. ^ Dan Shaw, ‘Cast of 100s for Dudley Children’s Pageant’, Black Country Bugle, 13 September 2014, accessed 3 November 2015,
  2. ^ Cheltenham Looker-on, 1 June 1907, 11.
  3. ^ Dudley Pageant Souvenir Programme (Dudley, 1908), 3.
  4. ^ ‘Harrison, Julius Allan Greenway (1885–1963), conductor and composer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entry, accessed 10 December 2015,
  5. ^ Coventry Herald, 4 January 1907, 7.
  6. ^ Manchester Herald, 11 June 1908, 7.
  7. ^ ‘Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland (1504–1553), royal servant’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entry, accessed 6 December 2015,
  8. ^ ‘Dudley, Dud (1600?–1684), ironmaster’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entry, accessed 6 December 2015,
  9. ^ Dudley Pageant Souvenir Programme, 26.
  10. ^ Manchester Guardian, 11 June 1908, 7.
  11. ^ Quoted in Dan Shaw, ‘100s Came to Wish the Earl of Dudley Bon Voyage for Australia’, Black Country Bugle, 25 September 2014, accessed 6 December 2015,
  12. ^ Dudley Pageant Souvenir Programme, 3.
  13. ^ See articles in Black Country Bugle, accessed 3 November 2015,;

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Pageant of Dudley, 1908’, The Redress of the Past,