Pageant of Headley

Pageant type

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Place: Grounds of Wodehouse (Headley) (Headley, Hampshire, England)

Year: 1951

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


27, 28, 29 and 30 June 1951

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Hood, F. Paton
  • Publicity: N. Burgess; Mrs Waight
  • Stage Manager: Major J.J. Billiat
  • Assistant: G. Paffet
  • Box Office: Misses Brewis and Tudor-Jones
  • Musical Director: Kenneth Adams
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Miss David

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Committee:

  • Chairman: Rector of Headley, J.S. Tudor-Jones
  • Vice-Chairman: S.N. Casey
  • Mrs Barrack
  • N. Burgess
  • Hon. Secretary: Col. J. D’Arcy Champney
  • E. Clarke
  • Lt.-Commander J.M.A. Fairbank
  • Hon. Treasurer: Col. G. de L. Landon
  • Hon. Assistant Secretary: Mrs Lewis
  • J.M.E. Stevens
  • R.C.B. Thackeray
  • Mrs Tudor-Jones
  • Mrs Waight

Finance and Ground:

  • Chairman: Major S.N. Casey


  • Chairman: J.S. Tudor-Jones


  • Chairman: E. Clarke

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

  • Clarke, Eveline

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

£268 was guaranteed by 250 people, with an extra £60 anonymously gifted. 

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Part of the Festival of Britain celebrations.

Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode I. The Saxons, AD 894: Villagers Ambush a Party of Danes

Scattered Saxon peasants enter. Eadward, son of King Alfred, enters to rally them to the Saxon cause. A messenger warns of an impending Danish assault, and they lie in wait. They ambush the Danes and then ride out to Fearnhamme to join the king.

Episode II. The Normans, AD 1069: Eustace of Boulogne Takes Possession of Headley Mill

Malcontented Saxons complain about the imposition of the Norman yoke. They criticise other peasants who are going to see the arrival of Count Eustace. Eustace fought for Harold at Hastings, but he went over to William’s side afterwards, was pardoned and given the mill. A knight arrives and asks for directions in appalling English. The knight, who is joined by another, ask why Eustace should be so favoured. One malcontent threatens to burn the mill and there is much discord. Eustace assuages them, convincing them to accept the new status quo.

Episode III. After the Black Death, AD 1351: Medieval Labour Troubles

A pastoral scene and a wedding after the Black Death is disrupted when peasants refuse to work because they are so few in number (due to the ravages of the plague); they demand higher wages. There is a suggestion of putting sheep to graze the land. Gilbert, the bailiff, is confronted by his daughter who thinks the peasants’ demand is reasonable. As there are rumours of rebellions nearby, he agrees to take their demands to Sir John.

Episode IV. The Elizabethans, AD 1599: Fair Charter Granted to Headleigh

Sir Pexall and Lady Brocas receive guests and present them to Sir Brian Halliday and his wife. A schoolchild presents Lady Halliday with a bunch of flowers. A toast is said to the queen. Madrigals are sung and there are various dances.

Episode V. The Roundheads, AD 1645: The Rector is Arrested

Mr and Mr Fauntleroy return from church. They are sombrely dressed but are not Puritans. They are discussing the upheavals in the church and the banning of the Prayer Book, which the rector continues to use. They admit that Cromwell is a fundamentally decent man. The rector enters, chastising Mary for not attending church out of fear of the Roundheads’ reprisals. She encourages him to leave aside the prayer book and they argue. The commissioner and two Roundheads enter and accuse him of using the prayer book. The rector is taken, accompanied by witnesses.

Episode VI. The Georgians, AD 1800: Cobbett and Rural Unrest

The Prologue is as follows:

All joy besmirched by blackest Industry,
Whose growth outruns a nation’s moral code,
Till evils rouse the conscience of the few
To fight the battles of the mass, oppressed
By want of everything but life, and life
Itself a dreary questionable boon.
Three of those few fought bitterly
For education of the labouring man
Towards a concept of united strength;
Lawful approach to questions politic,
And self-respect, harnessed to industry
They fought the exploitation of the poor,
Were oft imprisoned, always feared
By those who benefitted from the toil
Of lesser men. These three were Robert Owen,
Jeremy Bentham, and, of local fame,
Cobbett, who came here on his ‘Rural Rides’.

Mr and Mrs Speed discuss the problems of Mr Speed’s support for Cobbett’s weekly newspaper, the Political Register, which working men come to their house to read. Mr Speed maintains that Cobbett’s writing is against revolution, and thus they are not a target for the anti-combination laws passed by the government. Speed declares that the labouring men buy it together, to overcome stamp duty. Cobbett enters and greets them, expressing concern for the labourers’ meeting. There is a warning of government men coming, and the labourers either hide or are disguised before the JP, his gamekeeper and servants arrive to investigate. Finding no gathering or the seditious works of Bentham, Cobbett and Owen, they depart apologetically.1

Episode VII. The Victorians, AD 1851: Celebration of the Great Exhibition

Two smugglers enter with kegs to be delivered to Sir Thomas, who reports that the Duke of Wellington, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county, is coming to visit. They decide to disguise them as trestle tables and set about preparing the scene. Wellington and his party arrive and are presented with singing. The duke complains about the lack of brandy available to him. A woman enters and says that the church is on fire. Everyone departs to extinguish the blaze, and the smugglers move the barrels to hide them in the pond.

Episode VIII. Charles VI, AD 2051: A Vision of the Future

The Rector of Headley, Olof of Norway (King of Europe), Henry of Idaho (of the Union of North America), and representatives from East Asia, the Arctics, South Asia, West Asia, South America, South Africa and North Africa gather in the Headley Rectory gardens. They discuss the hyper-sonic aircraft they arrived in. They exchange futuristic food in tins. They discuss how world government has cured many medical problem. Solomon of Abyssinia is yet to arrive, and they call the people who control the weather to speed him up. Solomon crashes but is basically okay. They heal him with modern medicines. The rector arrives in a very outdated motor car and they are amazed at him. It transpires that the rector is a historical figure from 1951. He hopes that there is a future without war or slavery in which there is ‘God-directed service of our fellow-men’. The future people say that while their world is far from perfect, they have managed to outlaw the atomic bomb. They declare:

‘There will be differences, but we shall reach a compromise and all will share the outcome equally.’


The Green Earth speaks the Epilogue

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Edward [called Edward the Elder] (870s?–924) king of the Anglo-Saxons [also known as Eadward]
  • Eustace (II) [Eustace aux Gernons], count of Boulogne (d. c.1087) magnate
  • Cobbett, William (1763–1835) political writer and farmer
  • Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852) army officer and prime minister

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

Book of words

Clarke, Eveline. Pageant of Headley. Farnham, 1951.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Surrey Local History Centre, Woking: Copy of book of words and flyer. PSH/HED/22/33–4.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Festival of Britain was a nationwide effort, organised by the Labour government, to inject some brightness into the austerity of post-war Britain, which was struggling to rebuild itself. It was also an attempt to present the collective unity of the nation, drawing on a shared past and pointing to a common future. The Headley Pageant is an excellent example of this. The 1951 Festival of Britain saw something of a revival of historical pageantry in a world in which it appeared increasingly outmoded compared to cinema, theatre and—most of all—television. Though based on the Southbank of London, home of the famous ‘Skylon’, the Festival also supported many local exhibitions, concerts and events across the regions.2 The Festival, which embraced technological modernity, also harked back to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and sought to foster a spirit of communalism created by the shared experience of war and Britain’s welfare state; as such, it was ideally represented by historical pageants. These ranged from relatively large affairs such as the Three Towns Pageant at Hampton Court to relatively small village pageants such as East Grinstead in Sussex and Rushden in Northamptonshire. While a large number of earlier pageants had tended to focus on the landmark events of a place, which generally featured kings, dukes and other prominent or aristocratic people, the pageants held during the Festival of Britain were more focused on the activities of the common sort of people, presenting pageants as a form of social history influenced by G.M. Trevelyan’s phenomenally popular English Social History (1944).

The book of words for the Headley Pageant remarked that ‘even had there been no Festival of Britain, the Pageant of Headley would have been attempted, for its aims, as dreamt of by the originator of the idea, were well worthy of support’. The pageant sought the ‘awakening of all (and especially the children) to a feeling of interest and pride in the long history of the place in which they live’.3 Like many other Festival pageants, Headley sought to present a history of the common people, focusing on their continuity and stubborn resistance to, or at best coming to terms with, the ruling classes. As Eveline Clark remarked at the time: ‘I have tried to show the constancy of the land and all the changes that have taken place down the centuries.’4 The episodes are a fascinating presentation of the village and its relationship to historical events such as King Alfred’s resistance to the Danes, the Black Death, and the English Civil War. The sixth episode presents a visit of William Cobbett to a meeting of labourers who were reading his weekly newspaper, the Political Register. Such meetings were outlawed under the terms of the Combination Act of 1799. Pains are taken to stress that Cobbett was not advocating revolution but merely advocating political and social reforms. Cobbett, who was at various times arrested, is compared to two other figures, Robert Owen and Jeremy Bentham. In fact, neither of these two were prosecuted, and Bentham, an early utilitarian, has often been criticized by historians and literary critics (among them E.P. Thompson and F.R. Leavis) as providing the intellectual and moral framework for the industrial system, a point made explicit in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times (1854).5 In addition, Episode VII presents a striking scene in which smugglers and the local landowner conspire to hide contraband barrels from a national hero.

Most striking is the final episode which presents a vision of the future. Such scenes, while rare, were not uncommon in pageants (the Wolverhampton Centenary Pageant of 1948 included a scene with a future robotic policeman). However, the Headley Pageant uses a representation of the future not for humorous purposes (as practically all other futuristic scenes did) but to suggest a utopian world in which conflict has been eradicated and mankind works together to eradicate disease. The sentiment is quite touching. While ideas of world government had been mooted immediately after the Second World War (prominently by H.G. Wells),6 such ideas were uncommon. The scene is a striking counterpart to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948).

The Festival, despite being well-attended across the country, had a difficult legacy. The now ruling Conservative Party, which took power in October 1951, had previously been very hostile to the Festival of Britain and proceeded to dismantle much of the Southbank site.7 The end results of the Festival of Britain for local communities were described pessimistically by the Manchester Guardian:

In the rest of the country the Festival will leave small things behind it—a concert hall here, a paddling pool there, a grove of trees on that hill-side, a stoutly made (or ‘fashioned’ as they say in Festival English) bench by this footpath overlooking the meadow where they held the pageant—‘a hundred years of Muddlethrough Barn’ produced by a gentleman from London (failed RADA).8

In fact, the Headley Pageant proved to be different. A further pageant, ‘Salute to Elizabeth’, was staged to celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, and the Headley Theatre Club was set up with members of the pageant; this group has staged amateur theatrical events for the last sixty-four years, including a millennium pageant.9 Its prime objective was a sentiment that came straight from the utopian ideals behind the Festival of Britain: ‘To unite the village in good fellowship.’10


  1. ^
  2. ^ Becky Conekin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’, The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester, 2003), 88–104. See also Mark Freeman, ‘“Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle”: Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Social History 38, no. 4 (2013): 423–455.
  3. ^ Eveline Clarke, Pageant of Headley (Farnham, 1951), 2.
  4. ^ ‘The Pageant of Headley, 1951’, Headley Miscellany, volume 3, December 2001, accessed 1 June 2016,
  5. ^ Donald Winch, ‘Mr. Gradgrind and Jerusalem’, in Winch, Wealth and Life: Essays on the Intellectual History of Political Economy in Britain, 1848–1914 (Cambridge, 2009), 367–398.
  6. ^ John S. Partington, Building Cosmopolis: The Political Thought of H.G. Wells (Aldershot, 2003).
  7. ^ Conekin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’, 232–236.
  8. ^ ‘Fun and Games in a Cold Climate’, Manchester Guardian, 29 September 1951, 4, accessed 25 April,
  9. ^ ‘The Pageant of Headley, 1951’, Headley Miscellany, volume 3, December 2001, accessed 1 June 2016,
  10. ^ ‘A Brief History of Headley Theatre Club’, Headley Theatre Club, accessed 1 June 2016,

How to cite this entry

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