The Harrow Historical Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Harrow School (Harrow) (Harrow, Middlesex, England)

Year: 1923

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 7


28 June–5 July 1923, 7pm

Public dress rehearsals: 23 June (press, private school pupils), 25 June (children from elementary schools, both council and denominational), 26 June (for local societies and associations) and 27 June (general public). 

The pageant was staged in a field near Harrow School.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Lascelles, Frank
  • Director: Edward Baring
  • Master of Music: H. Jaxon
  • Hon Secretary: Captain H.S. Gill, MC
  • Hon Historical Secretary: C. Du Pontet
  • Master of Horses: A. Oliver
  • Assistant Master of Horses: F. Schuler
  • Chief Marshal: Alec Snowden
  • Steward-in-Chief: Captain H. Miles
  • Hon Solicitor: CE. Brady
  • Hon Architect and Surveyor: L.G. Williams
  • Joint Hon Treasurers: F.E. Smee; Crosbie F. Scott
  • Hon Accountant: J.R. Norman
  • Secretary: J. Vincent Peall
  • Officials of Episodes:
Scene I
  • Chairman: Rev C.H. Harvey
  • Costumes: Mrs Dawson
  • Designs: T. Robinson
  • Props: B. Blindell
  • Marshal: Captain O’Brien
  • Hon Secretary: Mrs Adams
Scene II
  • Chairman: G. Neal
  • Costumes: Mrs Heys
  • Designs: E.F. Becket
  • Props: J. Beet
  • Marshal: Alec Snowden
  • Hon Secretary: E. Short
Scene III
  • Chairman: Major F. Cartwright
  • Costumes: Mrs Parry
  • Designs: Miss Copson Peake
  • Props: F.S. Sutton
  • Hon Secretary: E. Cope
Scene IV
  • Chairman: E. Robins
  • Costumes: Miss Howman
  • Designs: M. Davidson
  • Props: T. Ward
  • Marshal: H. Preston
  • Hon Secretary: F. Wright
Scene V
  • Chairman: C. Barrett
  • Costumes: Mrs Scott
  • Designs: H. Ingram
  • Props: R. Haywood
  • Marshal: R. Summers
  • Hon Secretary: C. Rogers
Scene VI
  • Chairman: Dr Goddard
  • Costumes: Mrs Powis
  • Designs: Miss Parker
  • Props: T. Baker
  • Marshal: J. Ainsworth
  • Joint Hon Secretaries: Mrs Ross
  • Rev F. Adams
Scene VII
  • Chairman: F. Greenhill
  • Costumes: Mrs Copping; Mrs J. King
  • Designs: P. Bishop
  • Marshal: C.L. Copping
  • Hon Secretaries: Captain G.C. Welch; R. Loader
[No committee listed for Scene VIII]

Scene IX
  • Costumes: Mrs Herbert
  • Designs: M. Clarke
  • Props: T.E. Bradshaw
  • Hon Secretary: E. Herbert
  • Mistress of the Dance: Miss H. Townsend

Names of executive committee or equivalent

General Committee:

  • Chairman: Sydney Walton
  • Vice-Chairman: G.H. Exeter
  • Hon Secretary: Captain H.S. Gill
  • 83 men, 12 women, 95 total

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: Sydney Walton
  • Vice-Chairman: G.H. Exeter
  • Hon Secretary: Captain H.S. Gill
  • C. Pask
  • E. Whitley
  • Mrs J. Silvester
  • H. Dive
  • Lady Beatrice Kerr-Clarke
  • Captain A. Dawson
  • Miss Dalton
  • S.S. Dixon


  • Chairman: E. Whitley
  • 6 men


  • Chairman: C. Pask
  • Hon Secretary: L. Ingle
  • 6 men


  • Chairman: Captain A. Dawson
  • 5 men


  • Chairman: H. Jaxon
  • 16 men, 7 women, 23 total



  • His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • The Rt Hon The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, PC
  • The Rt Hon the Marquess of Crewe, KG
  • The Rt Hon the Earl of Lonsdale, DL
  • The Rt Hon the Earl of Lichfield
  • The Rt Hon the Earl of Bessborough, CMG, DL, JP
  • The Rt Hon the Viscount Peel, PC, GBE
  • The Rt Hon the Viscount Burnham
  • The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor of London
  • The Rt Hon Winston Churchill
  • Lady Mosley
  • Sir William Berry
  • Sir George Newman
  • Sir Frank Dyson
  • Sir Charles Oman, KBE
  • The Rev Robert Horton
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Oswald Mosley
  • [among others]
  • Trustees:
  • Oswald Mosley, MP
  • Sydney Walton
  • Henry Richard Arnold
  • J.N. Stuart
  • Samuel Gardner

Organising Centres: Pinner; Old Gaytonians; Hatch End; Kodak, Limited; Herga Tennis Club; Wembley; Old Lyonians; Greenhill; the Hill; Old Harrovians

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

  • Moriarty, L.M.
  • Godley, A.D.
  • Du Maurier, Gerald
  • Welldon, Bishop
  • Somervell, R.
  • Bradshaw, T.E.J.
  • Graham, E.
  • Bussell, F.W.
  • Du Pontet, Clement
  • Vachell, Horace Annesley


  • Scene I. L.M. Moriarty, MA (Former Assistant Master in Harrow School).
  • Scene II. A.D. Godley, MA, (OH), (Public Orator, Oxford University).
  • Scene III. Sir Gerald Du Maurier (OH).
  • Scene IV. L.M. Moriarty in collaboration with Bishop Welldon.
  • Scene V. R. Somervell, MA (Former Assistant Master, Harrow School).
  • Scene VI. T.E.J. Bradshaw, MA (Assistant Master, Harrow School).
  • Scene VII. E. Graham, MA (OH) (Former Assistant Master, Harrow School).
  • Scene VIII. Rev F.W. Bussell, DD, MusBac (Vicar of Northolt).
  • Scene IX. Clement Du Pontet, MA (Assistant Master, Harrow School).
  • Scene X. Horace Annesley Vachell (OH) (Author).

Names of composers

  • Elgar, Edward
  • Henry VIII
  • Arbeau, Thoinot
  • Handel, George Frideric
  • Farmer, John
  • Bowen, E.E.
  • Butler, H.M.

Numbers of performers


Financial information

£173 profit

Object of any funds raised

Local charities

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 3000
  • Total audience: 25000


‘Not far short’ of 25000.1

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

31s. 6d.–2s.

Tickets 2s. to 31s. 6d. (Dress rehearsals 6d. to 3s. 6d.).

Associated events

Prince Henry opened the first performance of the pageant. Upon his visit there was a civic procession, following his motor car, to the pageant ground.

Pageant outline

Prologue. Harrow (by the Marquess of Crewe)

The pageant begins with a poem that celebrates Harrow; its eloquence, historical importance, its patriot faith, its site as a home of learning.

Scene I. The Coming of the Gumenings, AD 550

Gumen and his tribesmen are seen advancing from the North East in the direction of Harrow. At a sign from their chief, they halt. He tells them that they will rest while they wait for news from a band, led by Brighthelm, which he has sent out to search the area. He declares that never has he ‘beheld so fair a spot’ since they had left their northern home. He continues, remembering the difficulty of their journey so far, and their stumbling upon, ‘like some evil dream’, a vast and dim City—full of sickness, poverty, and cheating. Instead of staying there, since he ‘love not cities’, he described how he continued westward to the open fields. Brighthelm arrives and brings news; after climbing the ridge, they found some huts, and the smouldering ruins of a great shine, alongside a clear and sweet well, and a grove of ancient trees: ‘fit dwelling for our gods.’ Gumen calls a meeting. The freemen of the tribe seat themselves on the ground; the Eorls stand near their Chief; the Priest of Woden steps forward and proclaims silence. They discuss the area, and its advantages—space, pasture, meadows, forest glades—and decide to stay. The Priest steps forward and solemnly addresses the audience declaring their shrine—‘Our Harrow’. He then has a vision, and predicts the growth of the town; its role as a place of learning; its production of ‘a newer line of warriors’; thinkers and statesmen; and musicians who would ‘lift the souls of men to heights sublime’. The Tribesmen, following Gumen, clash their weapons upon their shields in sign of assent. Women of the tribe then come forward, and Gumen compliments them as faithful and brave; ‘something half divine / Something to love and trust and reverence’. They then celebrate with a War Dance.

Scene II. The Council of Clovesho, AD 825

A reeve and a knave prepare for the council—the latter chastening the former for his slow speed. King Beornwulf enters with his huntsmen and hounds, followed by Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury. The Archbishop greets the King and explains that the topic of the council is his complaint that certain lands, including Harrow, were taken from him unfairly by King Cenulf, after previously being given in perpetuity by King Offa, and given to the Abbes Cwoenthryth (Cenulf’s daughter). The Abbess enters and gallantly tells the King that she is willing to give up the lands in order to ensure peace. The Archbishop presents a scroll proving his right to the lands, which is examined by the thanes. The King assents to returning Harrow and the other lands to the Archbishop. The King leaves for the hunt, and instructs the Archbishop to talk to the Abbess. She is not interested, however, and the Archbishop leaves her alone. She gives a soliloquy, lamenting the loss of the lands of Harrow, but hoping that in the future a monument of holy worship or high service would one day arise on her ‘hill of Harrow’.

Scene III. The Consecration of Harrow Church by St Anselm, AD 1094

A crowd collects before the West door of Harrow Church. Singing is heard as Archbishop Anselm’s procession approaches. Anselm, in full canonicals, stands above the crowd. The ceremony of consecration is about to begin, when a priest rushes up breathless and in shock—and informs Anselm that a sacred flask of holy oil has been stolen by an emissary of the Bishop of London. Anselm surveys the crowd and spots a strange wild man—he declares him guilty and instructs his chaplain to apprehend the culprit. The chaplain does so and returns with the holy flask as well. The Chaplain praises Anselm, and explains that a holy force had brought the man back from the road to London, and to the Church. Anselm releases the man, realising that he had been forced to do evil by another. The ceremony then proceeds, and Psalm XXIV and Psalm LXXXVII are sung.

Scene IV. Becket’s Parting from the Abbot of St Albans, AD 1170

The scene represents the top of Harrow Hill, the Churchyard. Opposite Anselm’s Church stands the ‘Grove’ with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Manor House. The Churchyard is crowded with villagers, armed retainers of the Archbishop, other attendants of the Abbot of St Albans, beggars, cripples, ballad-singers, dancers, etc. A drinking booth is in the background. A stranger passes through and talks to some of the villagers. They explain fondly that Becket has been to Harrow before, thirty years ago. They regret the strife that the King has put him through in more recent years. Thomas Becket appears, with a few friends and attendants. Abbot Simon of St Albans appears with the Prior Richard of Dover, looking depressed and weary. Thomas embraces them with great emotion. They explain that they could not see the King and that they were told to go back to the ‘traitor’ Becket. They plead with Becket to come to the Abbey, but Becket insists he must meet his fate alone. Thomas laments that God’s poor are with him, but all else against. Thomas insists that the King still loves him, but that he has been debased by surrounding liars and devils. Nonetheless, he maintains that he serves God before the King. He bravely decides to make for home to Canterbury, and bids them all farewell—but not before blessing the crowd, as Simon watches on sadly.

Scene V. Edward I’s Last Campaign, AD 1306

The scene depicts King Edward I passing through Harrow with his army on the way to battle with Scotland. First come young knights, in shining mail and surcoats brightly emblazoned with heraldic devices, and accompanied by squires and pages. The Prince of Wales eventually appears in a company, followed by the King with numerous nobles and knights and a company of archers. The Prince greets his father, who determinedly relates his intention to defeat the ‘rebels in Scotland’. He chastises the Prince for lagging at the rear. The King reminds himself of an earlier vision of being stood on the keep of Stirling Castle and seeing the Burn of Bannock running red with English blood. His doctor desperately instructs him to rest; and takes the King towards Harrow. The King describes it as a pleasant hill, and ponders creating a House of Benedictines there for the training of youth in religion and sport and learning.

Scene VI. A Royal Hawking Party, AD 1525

King Henry VIII, attended by the Duke of Suffolk, Sir Peter Carew, and others, rides towards the shade of a tree. They relax and drink and eat, the King enjoying the local area and talking about hunting. They sing a song: ‘Three-Man’s Song’, which details pleasure and hunting and play. The Duke of Suffolk compliments Henry on the song. Cardinal Wolsey now enters with his train and greets the King. Wolsey presents to the King some noblemen of France, Seigneur de Vaulx and Monsieur Brinon. The King is not in the mood for business, preferring jollity. The Prior Bolton, Rector of Harrow, then enters, with monks. The Frenchmen ask Bolton what the broken tower on the hill is, but the King answers—explaining humorously that Bolton had built the tower as a safeguard when expecting a flood that never came. The song ‘The Hunt is Up’ is then sung, before the Royal party move off, followed eventually by the others.

Scene VII. John Lyon’s Charter, AD 1571

Part I. John Lyon enters, with Mistress Joan Lyon, and thirty poor scholars. He explains to her that he must go away to court, to apply to Queen Elizabeth I for a charter to put the school on a more secure basis. The young scholars wish him well and cheer as he leaves.

Part II. In a hall at Court, Queen Elizabeth I is seated and surrounded by courtiers and ladies dressed for a revel. Sir Gilbert Gerrard enters, bearing a parchment roll, and followed by John Lyon. The Queen is somewhat annoyed that her revel is being interrupted but bids Lyon to approach. He explains his purpose and that he would like to build a home for the scholars of Harrow. She is tetchy, but he explains his cause carefully and clearly—complimenting the Queen on her intelligence in the process. She is persuaded, and predicts that the school will achieve greatness, its fame spreading far. The charter is signed, and Lyon leaves, as the Revel begins.

Part III. Back at Harrow-on-the-Hill, Mistress Lyon, the scholars, Dr Caius, and Masters William Gerrard, John Page and Thomas Page all eagerly wait. Lyon enters and waves the charter triumphantly. The scholars cheer heartily for the Queen and for Lyon, before country dances are performed.

Scene VIII. King Charles’s Well, AD 1646

Charles I, disguised as a servant, rides through Harrow on his way to St Albans, after being stood up at Hillingdon. He is at a well, watering his horses. The King is nervous but talks to his companions, John Asburnham and Dr Michael Hudson, in good spirits. He is startled by a galloping horse, apparently pursuing them—but they realise it is being ridden by a drunken man, who passes by harmlessly.

Scene IX. The Silver Arrow. A Drama in Five Parts, AD 1752

One of Harrow School’s annual functions was an archery competition, with the prize of a silver arrow.

Part I. The scene is the garden of a great house close to Harrow. Lady Rachel Belmontane enters, and reads a love letter from someone she does not like—Master Guy Marsport. Young girls then rush in, laughing and joking. They natter among themselves and to Rachel excitedly, and spot the love letter. Rachel eventually gives them the letter. They read the letter aloud, complete with poem, and mock the sender. The Lady Rachel then reads her reply, also mockingly, which tells him that whoever wins the Silver Arrow will win her hand in dance. Her poem also includes a hint that her love is for another man, Greatheart. She insists to the girls that there is no chance Marsport will win. The jovial Aunt Grace now enters and greets the girls. They relate their excitement at the Silver Arrow.

Part II. Guy Marsport now enters, in archery dress. He prowls around, looking for Lady Rachel. He spies a glove dropped by Aunt Grace but believes it to be Rachel’s. In over-the-top romantic fashion, he talks to the glove and expresses his love for Rachel.

Part III. The scene is a field. Master Roland Greatheart enters, with several other archers. Greatheart finds that his bow is broken—and declares that Marsport has done the deed. He borrows a horse to go back to London to buy another bow.

Part IV. A crowd collects in the field, including many famous figures—such as General James Wolfe, Horace Walpole, Handel, etc. They talk amongst themselves jollily. When the Headmaster, Dr Thomas Thackeray, arrives, the shooting begins. Good shots are greeted with cheers. Marsport is suspected of cheating. In the nick of time, Greatheart arrives on a panting horse, carrying a new bow. He is greeted with wild cheering. He shoots and gets several bullseyes. Marsport, disconcerted, accidentally shoots a local barber—knocking out several teeth. Greatheart is declared the winner and given the Silver Arrow.

Part V. The Ball. The dancers arrive and introductions are made, and the Minuet begins, conducted by Handel himself. Greatheart leads off with Lady Rachel. Aunt Grace sees Marsport holding her glove and accuses him of theft. He is taken to the headmaster. The Minuet continues, and the dancers move off in couples.

Scene X. The Temple of Fame

This scene picks out a small selection of the most famous among ‘The Good and the Great who trod the Hill before us’ and accords them their right to niches in the Temple of Fame. Fame appears, and admits, in the following order, these men to the temple (while extolling their virtues in song): George Rodney (a British naval officer), Dick Sheridan (Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), Lord Byron (poet), Sir Robert Peel (statesman), Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (politician, philosopher and writer), and Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston (statesman). Also admitted in a group are James Bruce, Cardinal Manning, Charles Kingsley, Matthew Arnold, Dr Butler, and others. Following are Lord Elgin, Lord Dalhousie, Dr Parr, Lord Lytton, Lord Bessborough, Lord Teignmouth, Anthony Trollope, C.S. Calverley, J. Addington Symonds, Lord Houghton, Sidney Herbert, and Archbishop Trent.

Grand Finale

All performers assemble and sing a song of triumph. As the last words die away, all lights are turned out, except a few faint lamps. A boy chorister then delivers the last stanza of E.E. Bowen’s song, declaring faith in youth and wishing a goodnight. All performers and spectators then join in a hymn of rejoicing.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Beornwulf (d. 826?) king of the Mercians
  • Wulfred (d. 832) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Cwenthryth (fl. 811–c.827) abbess
  • 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
  • Richard [Richard of Dover] (d. 1184) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Carew, Sir Peter (1514?–1575) soldier and conspirator
  • Brandon, Charles, first duke of Suffolk (c.1484–1545) magnate, courtier, and soldier
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • Bolton, William (d. 1532) prior of St Bartholomew's, West Smithfield, London, and royal administrator
  • Lyon, John (1514?–1592) founder of Harrow School
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Gerard, Sir Gilbert (d. 1593) judge
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Ashburnham, John (1602/3–1671) courtier and politician
  • Hudson, Michael (1605–1648) Church of England clergyman and royalist agent
  • Palmer [née Reynolds], Mary (1716–1794) writer
  • Wolfe, James (1727–1759) army officer
  • Walpole, Horatio [Horace], fourth earl of Orford (1717–1797) author, politician, and patron of the arts
  • Gray, Thomas (1716–1771) poet and literary scholar
  • Handel, George Frideric (1685–1759) composer
  • Rodney, George Bridges, first Baron Rodney (bap. 1718, d. 1792) naval officer and politician
  • Nash, Richard [known as Beau Nash] (1674–1761) master of ceremonies and social celebrity
  • Sheridan, Richard Brinsley (1751–1816) playwright and politician
  • Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784) author and lexicographer
  • Byron, George Gordon Noel, sixth Baron Byron (1788–1824) poet
  • Anson, George, Baron Anson (1697–1762) naval officer and politician
  • Garrick, David (1717–1779) actor and playwright
  • Cooper, Anthony Ashley, third earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) philosopher and author
  • Hogarth, William (1697–1764) painter and engraver
  • Cook, James (1728–1779) explorer
  • Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
  • Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley [née Lady Mary Pierrepont] (bap. 1689, d. 1762) writer
  • Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1723–1792) portrait and history painter and art theorist
  • Boswell, James (1740–1795) lawyer, diarist, and biographer of Samuel Johnson
  • Peel, Sir Robert, second baronet (1788–1850) prime minister
  • Temple, Henry John, third Viscount Palmerston (1784–1865) prime minister
  • Bruce, James (1808–1861) journalist and author
  • Manning, Henry Edward (1808–1892) Roman Catholic convert and cardinal-archbishop of Westminster
  • Kingsley, Charles (1819–1875) novelist, Church of England clergyman, and controversialist
  • Arnold, Matthew (1822–1888) poet, writer, and inspector of schools
  • Parr, Samuel (1747–1825) schoolmaster
  • Clive, Robert, first Baron Clive of Plassey (1725–1774) army officer in the East India Company and administrator in India
  • Shore, John, first Baron Teignmouth (1751–1834) governor-general of Bengal and founder and first president of the British and Foreign Bible Society
  • Trollope, Anthony (1815–1882) novelist
  • Calverley [formerly Blayds], Charles Stuart (1831–1884) poet and lawyer
  • Symonds, John Addington (1840–1893) writer and advocate of sexual reform
  • Herbert, Sidney, first Baron Herbert of Lea (1810–1861) politician

Musical production

Orchestra: 12 first violins; 12 second violins; 5 violas; 5 cellos; 4 contra bass; 2 flutes; 1 oboe; 1 cor anglais; 2 clarinets; 2 bassoons; 2 horns; 3 trumpets; 3 trombones; 1 tympani; 1 drum.
Conductor: H. Jaxon. The pageant music was meant to show the long-growth of English musical art, and in most scenes the music was from compositions of the period. Pieces included:
  • Elgar’s Prelude to the ‘Dream of Gerontius' (which opened the Pageant)
  • Scene I. Barbaric beating and clashing of percussion instruments.
  • Scene III. Appropriate plainsong melodies for the Antiphon and Psalms, sung without accompaniment.
  • Scene IV. A portion of Compline in plainsong.
  • Scene VI. ‘Three men’, King Henry VIII (taken from Chappell’s ‘Old English Popular Music’).
  • Scene VIII. The Pavane at Queen Elizabeth’s Court is taken from the Orchesographie of Thoinot Arbeau, Priest of Langres, and played on strings. 
  • Scene IX. The Profligates invented their own tune for their drinking-song; ‘Lilliburlero’; Handel, Minuet from ‘Berenice’.
  • Scene X and Finale. The Ode, ‘Io Triumphe’, a Harrow School song; Farmer and Bowen, ‘Good Night’; Dr H.M. Butler, ‘Founder’s Day Hymn.’

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette
The Times
Manchester Guardian
Nation and the Athenaeum
Portsmouth Evening News
Western Daily Press
Tamworth Herald

Book of words

Harrow Historical Pageant: Book of Words. Harrow 1923.

Price: 1s.

Other primary published materials

  • The Handbook of the Harrow Pageant. Harrow, 1923.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Harrow Historical Pageant was one of the first of the inter-war pageants to return to the traditional civic style of the pre-1914 movement (see also the entry for the Reading Historical Pageant of 1920).2 The pageant seemingly originated two years previously, out of a much smaller performance of several episodes of the town’s history in the public hall.3 The idea was attributed to Sydney Walton, with the blessing of the Old Gaytonians’ Association. Eventually it grew in size and purview, with ‘the majority of local organisations’ taking part in its staging in some way.4 Taking a chronological series of historical episodes, from the Saxons to the mid-eighteenth century, it kick-started the ‘inevitable revival’ for historical pageantry; the graphic Peace Pageants of 1919 were now a distant memory.5 Employing the famous Frank Lascelles as pageant-master and using an impressively large cast of 3600, it was an ambitious affair. The enthusiasm of Harrow’s pageanteers was rewarded with a small profit of £173, which was spread out among local charities. The event boasted an impressive list of patrons—ecclesiastical figures, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury; political figures, such as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and MP for Harrow Oswald Mosley; nobility such as the Earl of Lonsdale and the Viscount Burnham; and scholars and authors, such as Sir Charles Oman and Rudyard Kipling. A large general committee and an executive committee were in charge, but each episode was organised by different groups—such as the Old Gaytonians; the Kodak company; Herga Tennis Club; and people from districts such as Wembley. It’s unclear if the boys of the famous Harrow School took part; some reports said they did, others said only as spectators, due to it being term-time. But several past and present masters certainly wrote the episodic words.6

At the heart of the ethos of the Harrow pageant was its role in making a case for Harrow’s local importance and independence in the culture of the nation. While this was a common endeavour of historical pageantry, in this case it was particularly strong. Several of those associated with the pageant made the point forcefully. As Lascelles put it, during a celebratory luncheon held by Mosley at the Houses of Commons, the pageant would show ‘hundreds and thousands of people of the whole of the locality of Harrow, apart from those who would look on at the scenes, a great vision of the glory of their heritage.’7 Dr J.E.C. Welldon, Dean of Durham and a former Headmaster of Harrow, told the press that the pageant had not only a local but a national importance too, since ‘the history of Harrow may be almost said to be an epitome of English history.’8 The special ‘pageant supplement’ in The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette made the point that Harrow was its own city and that, while there may be many cities ‘up and down the world’ that were more famous, Harrow, in terms of romance, poetry, and glamour, could hold its own.9 Outside observers were making the same claims. One Manchester Guardian report described how it was ‘an affair of local patriotism’ and helped ‘local folk’ to learn ‘unsuspected things about the past of their suburb.’10 The Guardian’s choice of the word ‘suburb’ is the clue to why the civic rhetoric was so strong. As the newspaper elaborated in another article on Harrow’s pageant, the performance of local history

may be usefully defying the great tide of London that beats ever more urgently against its slopes and threatens a complete submergence. At a time when our great cities are continually annexing once independent communities in their search for convenient dormitories, the local pageant may set some useful banners flying and so keep alive memories and traditions that ought not to die.11

In yet another piece, the London correspondent for the Guardian again pointed out that ‘Harrow nowadays is fast becoming submerged in London suburbdom, and it is good that its new population should be reminded of the varied past of the renowned ‘hill’.’12 Though London had been swallowing up large parts of south-east England since at least the early nineteenth century, by the 1920s the pace seemed to have quickened and was causing opprobrium in many sections of British society—not least the rural conservation movement.13 The Harrow Pageant thus aimed to stimulate local pride and patriotism—essential weapons against the dulling of what was seen as Harrow’s distinctive civic identity. As the famous Oxford history professor Sir Charles Oman said in the Pageant Handbook, pageants were ‘an excellent means of teaching local patriotism and the sense of civic fellowship, by a display of local history.’14

Scenes thus displayed the role that Harrow had played in national history and played up the social and environmental advantages of the town. The pageant began with a poem, written by the Marquess of Crewe, which extolled Harrow’s historical importance and patriotism. Other scenes showed how Harrow had been an important site of ecclesiastical affairs, most involving the Archbishop of Canterbury; a site of visits from famous figures such as Thomas Becket, Edward I, and Charles I; and, of course, a site of learning, with the establishment of the School and the drama of the Silver Arrow in the eighteenth century. In a sense the pageant was portraying a past mostly untainted by modern urban development—unlike some of Lascelles’ later pageants, which portrayed industrial history. As Dr J.E.C. Welldon, Dean of Durham and a former Headmaster of Harrow, pointed out, Harrow’s hill rose ‘abruptly above the plain’ and commanded ‘an unbroken view of the ever-growing city on one side and of the almost uninhabited country on the other.’15 The first episode even managed to get in a slight dig at the town’s famous metropolitan neighbour. Portraying ‘the Coming of the Gumenings’, a Saxon Tribe, the chief and his men first described how they had passed through ‘some evil dream, a City—dim and vast and desolate’ with ‘Dark, narrow lanes, where cheating traders dwelt / Where shame and need and sickness crouched and died.’ In contrast, of course, they found the hill that would become Harrow a much more agreeable place to settle.16

The production of the pageant contained glimpses of the style of Lascelles’ later inter-war pageants. As he had done since his Oxford Pageant in 1907, Lascelles eschewed extensive dialogue, instead favouring ‘beauty of action to that of language.’17 The final scene of the pageant was also partly allegorical, portraying as it did a succession of famous figures from Harrow’s history entering a ‘House of Fame’. But the Harrow Pageant was perhaps not yet as populist or as fast-paced as Lascelles’ other pageants in Stoke-on-Trent (1930), Bradford (1931), or Leicester (1932).18 On one level, as Lascelles told the Observer, the scenes he had devised showed how ‘the history of Harrow reaches back into the very early centuries.’19 But, as was noted in the pageant Book of Words, while ‘every effort’ was made to ‘comply with historical accuracy’, ‘historical imagination’ was allowed in order to represent ‘possibilities rather than actualities’.20

The Times described the pageant as ‘a very beautiful spectacle’, giving particular praise to the extent of action; the charming dances; the comic relief of crowd scenes; and the colourful costumes.21 In contrast, a letter-writer to The Nation and the Athenaeum concluded, from one of the public dress rehearsals, that he ‘did not think very much of the Harrow Pageant… The general scheme did not seem very intelligent, nor the various scenes either significant or dramatic.’ The signing off of the letter as ‘An Old Etonian’, however, may have given away a slight bias!22 The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, naturally, concluded that the pageant was ‘a most gorgeous and beautiful spectacle.’23 In general, the press response was positive. Indeed, overall, the pageant was a minor success—bolstered especially by the visit of Prince Henry on the first evening of the pageant, which caused particular excitement. He was officially received by the Headmaster of Harrow School and the Archbishop of Canterbury, before driving down to the pageant ground, with the other civic figures processioning ahead. Along the way, through cheering crowds, the youth of Harrow ‘added an unexpected improvement’ to the procession by attaching themselves to the motor car and pulling it the remainder of the distance.24 At the pageant ground the Prince was introduced to representatives of the pageant, as well as the Bishop of London and Dean of Windsor.25 However, even though the pageant garnered a very respectable total audience of 25000, a frequent columnist in the Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette complained that local people had not, in general, been as enthusiastic as the performers, and believed that attendances could have been higher.26

In conclusion, the Harrow pageant was a notable milestone for the historical pageant movement in the twentieth century. Most simply, it showed that the ‘traditional’ civic style of pageantry had survived and that ‘the shattering realities of the war and perhaps change of fashions’, which had been ‘the death’ of the Edwardian ‘pageant craze’, was only a temporary setback.27 As the Manchester Guardian pointed out, Harrow’s decision to hold a local historical pageant was a ‘connection with the pre-war world’.28 In this sense, the pageant adds weight to scholarly arguments that have seen cultural reactions in the inter-war period as being at least partly a return to traditional values and modes of expression.29 In other ways, the Harrow Pageant also displayed how contemporary concerns about suburban ‘ribbon’ development and the ever-increasing expansion of London impacted on local civic cultures. In this instance, the historical pageant was seen as a bulwark against the dilution of local identity. But even the Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette recognised the limits a pageant could play in this respect. Though they acknowledged that the pageant had ‘been too great in the life of this neighbourhood for it to pass quickly into the limbo of things forgotten’, the taking down of the decorations and the end of the performance meant that it was ‘once more respectable and apathetic suburbia’.30 Perhaps, above all, the Harrow Pageant showed that audiences in Britain still enjoyed the summer excursion to local fields to watch their friends and family dressing up and revelling in the past.


  1. ^ Pageant Supplement, The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 6 July 1923, 1.
  2. ^ The Manchester Guardian said it was the ‘first pageant on the old big scale since the war.’ ‘Twopenny Coloured at Harrow’, The Manchester Guardian, 30 June 1923, 20.
  3. ^ ‘A Notable Pageant’, Tamworth Herald, 7 July 1923, 8.
  4. ^ ‘Harrow Historical Pageant’, The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 29 June 1923, 7.
  5. ^ ‘Twopenny Coloured at Harrow’, 20. See the proforma for the Pageant of Peace.
  6. ^ ‘Pageant of Old Harrow’, The Times, 18 March 1923, 10; ‘Harrow Pageant’, The Observer, 24 June 1923, 14.
  7. ^ ‘Luncheon at Westminster’, The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 22 June 1923, 5.
  8. ^ ‘The Harrow Pageant’, Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 15 June 1923, 6.
  9. ^ Pageant Supplement, The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 6 July 1923.
  10. ^ ‘Twopenny Coloured at Harrow’, 20.
  11. ^ ‘The Return of the Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 20 February 1923, 8.
  12. ^ ‘Our London Correspondence (By Private Wire) “The revival of pageantry”’, Manchester Guardian, 21 June 1923, 6.
  13. ^ Standing at the heart of this debate was Clough Williams-Ellis; see Clough Williams-Ellis, England and the Octopus (London, 1928). See also Clough Williams-Ellis, ed., Britain and the Beast (London, 1937).
  14. ^ ‘A Notable Pageant’, Tamworth Herald, 7 July 1923, 8.
  15. ^ ‘The Harrow Pageant’, Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 15 June 1923, 6.
  16. ^ See Harrow Historical Pageant: Book of Words (Harrow, 1923), np.
  17. ^ ‘Pageant of Old Harrow’, The Times, 18 March 1923, 10.
  18. ^ See proformas for these pageants.
  19. ^ ‘Harrow Pageant’, The Observer, 18 February 1923, 7.
  20. ^ ‘Preface’, Harrow Historical Pageant: Book of Words (Harrow, 1923), np.
  21. ^ ‘Harrow Pageant’, The Times, 25 June 1923, 17.
  22. ^ The Nation and the Athenaeum, 33, no. 13, June 30 1923, 421.
  23. ^ ‘Harrow Historical Pageant’, The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 29 June 1923, 7.
  24. ^ ‘Prince Henry at Harrow’, The Times, 29 June 1923, 16.
  25. ^ ‘The Harrow Pageant’, The Times, 21 June 1923, 12.
  26. ^ ‘Harrow Historical Pageant’, The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 29 June 1923, 7.
  27. ^ ‘Our London Correspondence (By Private Wire) “The revival of pageantry”’, Manchester Guardian, 21 June 1923, 6.
  28. ^ ‘The Return of the Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 20 February 1923, 8.
  29. ^ N.F. Gullace, ‘Memory, Memorials, and the Postwar Literary Experience: Traditional Values and the Legacy of World War I’, Twentieth Century British History 10 (1999), 235-243.
  30. ^ ‘The Harrow Historical Pageant’, The Harrow Observer and Harrow Gazette, 13 July 1923, 7.

How to cite this entry

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