Pageant of Farnham

Pageant type

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Place: Farnham Castle (Farnham) (Farnham, Surrey, England)

Year: 1910

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 5


1–3 August 1910

1 August at 2.30pm and 6.30pm, 2 August at 6.30pm, 3 August at 2.30pm and 6.30pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Lovett, Neville
  • Musical Director: Percy R. Rowe
  • Assistant: W.T. Coleman
  • Secretaries: L.H. Poole and A.H. Combs
  • Costumes: Maud Bodkin; Miss Thirkell
  • Property: R. and R.C. Sampson
  • Gardener: H. Downing
  • Stewards Assisting: A.H. Stevens; C.E. Moore; E. Jackson; G. Murrell
  • Box Office: A.R. Patrick and J. Lamport

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Lovett, Neville

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

The pageant took £400 in receipts and made £300 profit.

Object of any funds raised

To raise £800 to pay off the building debt on the Church House, built 1909.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 700
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline


Spoken by Miss Myra Lovett, spirit of the castle.

Episode I. AD 1147. The Building of Farnham Castle

Masons sing a chanty, and Henry de Blois arrives to inspect the castle. Townspeople cheer the crusaders headed for the holy land to absolve their sins. The bishop refuses to join them, claiming his mission lies here. After a dispute with the crusaders, he blesses them and they depart.

Episode II. AD 1215. King John visits Bishop Peter des Roches

John criticises the bishop for his foolish ways; the bishop warns him against offending God. Townspeople approach, demanding a charter. John mocks and curses them, believing this to be a ‘Magna Charta’, but the bishop tells him it is only to hold a market. John curses them further and a stone is thrown, causing John to retreat. Whilst John threatens them in various ways, the bishop mollifies them, lying and telling them that the king will grant their requests. John rides off, shaking his fist at them, having granted them the charter. The bishop criticises John’s foolish ways. A messenger arrives, telling the bishop that King Louis of France has invaded and joined with the barons.

Episode III. AD 1486. The Royal Baby at the Castle

Ladies are playing a ball game. They cheer the new-born Prince of Wales, Prince Arthur. One sings a song before being called for an audience. Townswomen talk about the lavish banquet in honour of Prince Arthur. The prince is brought in, and they all marvel at him. A herald arrives announcing a chantry is to be built at the church, and they praise the whole Royal Family.

Episode IV. AD 1527. The Blind Bishop and the Farnham Children

The bishop is greeted by children who have found out it is his birthday. They sing and dance with him. The bishop blesses them.

Episode V. AD 1530. Cardinal Wolsey Comes and Goes

Wolsey is acclaimed by the townspeople. He tells them that the king is good, despite his attacks on the church. A townsman shouts ‘down with the monks!’ and is taken away. The crowd argues over whether Henry should stay married to Catherine or marry Anne. Wolsey departs and is swiftly followed by a messenger from the displeased king, summoning him back to London and probable execution. The townspeople lament. Henry VIII enters in pursuit of Wolsey and follows him to Windsor.

Episode VI. AD 1588. Queen Elizabeth at the Castle

Part I

Elizabeth is within the castle. The townspeople talk about events leading up to the Spanish Armada and the threat posed by Mary Queen of Scots. They also talk about her possible suitors—and the less reputable Duke of Norfolk. The queen descends the steps and talks to Norfolk, who is headed back to London. As he leaves, the queen muses on his handsome face but treacherous head, predicting ‘’twill rest best upon a block!’

Part II

A messenger enters, telling of the King of Spain’s approach, who has arrived in the channel. Arms are passed out and people prepare for war. A further messenger arrives, telling of the great deliverance by Lord Howard and the English ships which, ‘with the help of Heaven and a gale of wind, hath clean removed the Armada from the face of the deep, and sent the Spanish Dons to the Devil!’ There is a service of thanksgiving conducted by the bishop.

Episode VII. AD 1648. The Castle Held by the Roundheads

Cromwellians occupy the castle, complaining about the place and the hostility of the townsfolk. Captain Wither enters and instructs the soldiers on how to hold their muskets. He has heard a rumour that King Charles will pass through the castle and wants the garrison to put on a show. Outside, Charles is escorted through the town with the great acclaim (though he is a prisoner). Children are brought forward for Charles to touch. Sir George Vernon offers Charles a place to stay as they refuse to lodge him in the castle. Charles bemoans his fate. A woman predicts her son will fight for the king one day. There is a riot brewing. Charles is taken away, and the crowd sings.

Episode VIII. AD 1670. May Day at Farnham Castle

Beadles and bailiffs escort a prisoner, though they note that Bishop Morley will still be asleep. The prisoner, who has sold bread under false weight, pleads for them to release him. He tells them of a plot to throw Parson Stileman in a hedge on account of his sermons. They place him in the pillory. There is a Morris dance. The bishop orders the baker to be released and then reflects on the restoration of Merrie England by Charles II.

Episode IX. AD 1774. Farnham Folk in the Georgian Age

Mary Allen comes to see the bishop. Elmer, a painter is also coming to see the bishop about a painting he has done. Mary is to be made to stand in a white sheet the following Sunday as a penance for her argumentative nature. She begins to criticise Elmer. Various other colourful characters enter and talk in a colourful rustic dialect; Sir Charles Vernon also enters. Eventually George III approaches, and it transpires that the bishop is in London. George curses that he cannot share a bottle of claret with the bishop. Vernon offers to share his wine with George and tell him about stories of Farnham. Vernon predicts the growth of an overseas empire and the future George IV and George V. ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is sung.

Episode X. Bishop Sumner comes to the Castle

Townsfolk greet the bishop and Mrs Sumner. The bailiff presents a long speech welcoming him, and the bishop greets them, as does Mrs Sumner. Several of the townspeople worry whether the bishop will abolish slightly Catholic festivals, such as Hop-Sunday, but they are assuaged. The Reverend Charles Hume wishes to do so, and Thomas Cleeves jokingly suggests they would sooner reduce the price of bread, enfranchise Catholics, or reform Parliament, which cannot be done. William Cobbett enters and says there must be reform or else there will be revolution.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Blois, Henry de (c.1096–1171) bishop of Winchester
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Roches, Peter des [Peter de Rupibus] (d. 1238) administrator and bishop of Winchester
  • Arthur, prince of Wales (1486–1502)
  • Fox [Foxe], Richard (1447/8–1528) administrator, bishop of Winchester, and founder of Corpus Christi College, Oxford
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Denny, Edward, first earl of Norwich (1569–1637)
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
  • Sumner, Charles Richard (1790–1874) bishop of Winchester
  • Cobbett, William (1763–1835) political writer and farmer

Musical production

Farnham Orchestral and Instrumental Societies with professionals from Aldershot; Farnham Musical Society and the Parish Church of St James.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Surrey Advertiser
Farnham, Halesmere and Hindhead Herald

Book of words


Lovett, Neville. Some Historical Episodes of Farnham Castle in Surrey. The Book of the Words As They Might Have Been Spoken. Farnham, 1910.

Lovett, Neville. Souvenir Book of Words. Second Edition. Farnham, 1911.

The latter was the second edition of the book of words, published as a souvenir for the pageant with reviews and a summary of what had happened.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Surrey History Centre, Woking: Copy of Book of Words. 7115/18/6.
  • Bodleian Library Oxford, John Johnson Collection: Copy of Book of Words.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Pageant of Farnham was the first of many pageants devised by Neville Lovett (the future Bishop of Salisbury and Portsmouth). It was held to repay some of the debts on the Church House (now Vineyard Church), built in 1909 at a cost of £800. While Lovett had staged a number of historical tableaux for the opening of the house the previous year, he felt that a larger event was called for.1 The pageant was on a much smaller scale than most Edwardian pageants, and Lovett began his introduction on an apologetic note: ‘We ask our friends to remember that we do not here set forth a pageant, but only try to express within the limits of our knowledge, and with the resources at our command, our consciousness of the historic interest of the Castle, which has overshadowed our Town for nine centuries.’2 Lovett was also keen to acknowledge the debt to other pageants: ‘Yet it is only just that we should here express our debt to those who set before us real pageants at Sherborne, Romsey, Winchester and Carisbrooke. To those who have patience to watch us to the end, that indebtedness will be very apparent.’3 In fact, Lovett had organised the third episode from the Isle of Wight Pageant (1907).

Despite its somewhat smaller scale than the great pageants to which it compared itself, the Pageant of Farnham possessed a great deal of charm due precisely to this limited scope, telling the story of an undoubtedly important town without the need of puffing up its history to one of truly national significance, as Winchester or Bath had done. The Pageant of Farnham would prove something of a model for town pageants after the First World War which, for the most part, avoided Edwardian hyperbole in favour of an emphasis on the individual characteristics of a place. Farnham, it is clear, is a place where monarchs and bishops pass through on their way to London, Winchester, Windsor or elsewhere. The second episode with King John and Peter des Roches is striking: reconciling John’s wicked ways and general inability to stop dissent with the fact that he did grant many town charters. In this episode, the wily bishop manages to placate the people, convincing them that John has issued such a charter whilst he curses them. There is no suggestion of John’s real reason for granting charters, which was to offset or undermine the barons’ power and to foster free burghers who owed their loyalty to the crown above the barons. The Farnham, Halesmere and Hindhead Herald judged this episode to be, ‘one may say without hesitation, by far the biggest, and in the opinion of all who saw them, the best, entertainment ever given in Farnham’.4 It also noted that the Part of King John was ‘acted well, and proved a very effective one…and the whole scene was excellently conceived.’5

The final scene is also interesting, presenting a collision between the long eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century ‘old regime’, as represented by Bishop Sumner (who would go on to oppose the 1832 Reform Act), and the radicalism of William Cobbett. The suggestion by one of the townspeople that ‘we can’t alter the price of bread, or the laws about the Papists, or the constitution of the Houses of Parlyment [sic]; the end of the world will come afore that’6 is classic dramatic irony.

In his understated way, Lovett wrote retrospectively of his fears ‘lest our well-meant efforts should be held markedly unworthy of the interest of our subject’. These fears were unfounded:

However, the sense of historic continuity and the innate dramatic instinct of those who undertook the parts to be represented, soon made it evident that we had not miscalculated, and, for some three days, Farnham visualised, and rejoiced in, its historic past. Now that the insistent present has rolled once more over the past, there lingers in many of us a desire that when the past flashes again on ‘the inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude,’ there may be ready to hand somewhat whereby both words and actors may be…‘freshly remembered’.7

After the final performance there was a torchlight procession through the town—the largest for many years seen in Farnham. Dr Ealand, who played Henry de Blois, looked forward to ‘the year 2010, when Farnham had the pluck to again put Historical Episodes before the people—and they mustn’t expect to do it before that, because they could not expect to find a Rector of Farnham equal to theirs within 100 years’. He suggested that the eleventh episode would depict Lovett and a recreation of early twentieth century society ‘in order that their successors might know what justice they of Farnham in the year 1910 could do to good old English beef (laughter)’.8 The pageant made £300 profit, and Lovett went on to become the Bishop of Salisbury and then Portsmouth. He would go on to be pageant master or chairman of the Southampton Tudor (1914), Southampton Mayflower (1920) and Porchester (1932) pageants.

Lovett went on to reproduce the Farnham pageant in the town on 3–10 July 1930.9 Francis Paton Hood restaged the pageant in 1950 to raise funds for the building of Guildford Cathedral. The pageant was seen by 5000 people and involved 200 performers.10 Lovett died in 1951 and probably attended the event.11 Another notable figure present, performing in a pageant for the first time, was the young David Clarke, who went on to act as pageant master for many pageants in Surrey and beyond in the second half of the twentieth century, including a further Pageant of Farnham in 1988. The Pageant of Farnham thus provides a link between the first years of pageantry and Clarke, who was one of the last full-time pageant masters.12


  1. ^ Neville Lovett, Souvenir Book of Words, second edition (Farnham, 1911), 62.
  2. ^ Neville Lovett, Some Historical Episodes of Farnham Castle in Surrey. The Book of the Words as They Might Have Been Spoken (Farnham, 1910), 1.
  3. ^ Ibid.
  4. ^ Quoted in Souvenir Book of Words, 62.
  5. ^ Ibid., 64.
  6. ^ Ibid., 58.
  7. ^ Ibid., 2.
  8. ^ Ibid., 71.
  9. ^ The Times, 12 May 1930, 13.
  10. ^ The Times, 13 July 1950, 8.
  11. ^ The Times, 10 September 1951, 6.
  12. ^ David Clarke, ‘Historical Pageantry for 100 years’, Get Surrey, 24 June 2005, accessed 8 June 2016,

How to cite this entry

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