Historical Pageant of Huntingdonshire

Pageant type


With thanks to Roger Mitchell for correcting some errors in an earlier version of this entry.

Jump to Summary


Place: Hinchingbrooke House (Huntingdon) (Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, England)

Year: 1953

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 6


25 June–4 July 1953

25 June 7.30pm, 27 June 3pm and 7.30pm, 1 July 7.30pm, 4 July 3pm and 7pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Gill, Miss M.
  • Musical Director: Mrs E.M. Charles
  • Costumes: Peter Leach; Muriel Sheard
  • Sub-Producers: Lady Hemingford; Margaret Godfrey; Vicki Mountfort; Edna Peck; Vivian Warth; John Sheard
  • Dances Directed by: Barbara Setchell; Kathleen Frank

Names of executive committee or equivalent

County Pageant Executive Committee:

  • President: The Right Hon. Lord de Ramsey, Lord Lieutenant of Huntingdonshire
  • Chairman: Major E.A. Godfrey
  • Hon. Secretary: Mr T.T. Douglas
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mr. H.C. Cox
  • Committee: Lord and Lady Hemingford; Mrs E.M. Charles; Miss M. Gill; Mrs C. Sherwood; Mrs A. Warde; Rev. H. Moore; R. Berry; W. Brown; P.G.M. Dickinson; R.L. Fisher; D. Garnett; J.B. Green; B.G. Neden; C.F. Tebutt

Business and Publicity Sub-Committee:

  • Chairman: J.B. Green


Patrons included the Earl of Sandwich, Viscount and Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, Lady de Ramsey, Major Sir Richard Proby, and The Bishop of Ely.

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

  • Garnett, David
  • Bagley, Rev. J.M.E.


Script by David Garnett, assisted by: Rev. J.M.E. Bagley.

Names of composers

  • Jenkins, John
  • Charles, E.M.
  • Quilter, Roger
  • Elgar, Edward
  • Peel, John
  • Millikin, Richard Alfred
  • Purcell, Henry
  • Handel, George Frideric
  • Lully, Jean-Baptiste
  • Jacobson, Maurice
  • Walton, William
  • Playford, John
  • Fornsete, John of
  • Byrd, William
  • Henry VIII
  • Cavendish, Michael
  • Gibbons, Orlando

Numbers of performers


Financial information

The pageant was sponsored by the Huntingdonshire Education Committee.

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion


Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s.–2s. 6d.

Associated events


Pageant outline

Opening. Heralds Greet the Concourse with Fanfares

A wayfarer enters and meets the man of St Ives with his seven wives, their sacks and cats. The ancient riddle comes to life.

Episode I. St Ivo comes to Slepe

St Ivo preaches to the people. He heals a lame child and prays with them. Knowing his end is near, he retires to a little hut in the woods. The crowd disperses in awe and wonder. The grateful mother returns, bringing the saint a bowl of milk and a platter of food. She finds that he is dead and goes sorrowfully away.

Episode II. King John Grants a Charter to Huntingdon

Preparations are afoot for the visit of the King. Villeins construct a platform. A crowd appears with people selling fruit, ribbons, etc. Burgesses await the King who at last arrives with much rejoicing. Food and wine is brought, and the King is entertained with trials of skill, strength, tumbling and bear-baiting. The King calls for a hunt and rides off to pursue deer in the woods around Hinchingbrooke.

Episode III. Queen Elizabeth Visits Hinchingbrooke and Knights Henry Cromwell

Members of the Cromwell household assemble and musicians strike up a tune as the Queen enters with Leicester, Burghley and courtiers. Cromwell and his household are presented. He offers her a number of valuable gifts as a symbol of love and devotion, which she accepts with a speech. She then takes a sword from a courtier and knights Cromwell. There is dancing and music and a procession of cooks with succulent dishes who lead the company away to a feast.

Episode IV. The Visit of Charles I to Little Gidding, 1642

A messenger arrives to tell the community that Charles is on his way. The children rush out of school in excitement and dance and sing for his majesty. The two young princes, Charles and James, join in the dancing. The King enquires after the work on the great book which John has been writing, and it is told that it is finished. Ferrar presents the book to the delighted King. The Royal party mount and ride back to Huntingdon amid cries of ‘God Save the King’ and cheers from the children.

10 Minute Interval

Episode V. The Sacking of Huntingdon, 1645

Herald: ‘Charles the First, a sincere and religious man, believed in the Divine Right of Kings and that it was his duty to govern without consulting the wishes of the people. England was in a ferment and many left our country so that they could live according to their consciences as free men in America. The will of Parliament and the will of the people clashed with that of the King and Civil War followed. And soon the English people learned that the word of their King could not be trusted.’

Roundhead outposts (led by Captain Bennet), retiring to the Bridge and supporting a wounded comrade, are overtaken by Cavaliers. A skirmish follows and the Roundheads are driven out of the town in disorder. More Cavaliers enter and the King rides in with officers. The Mayor rushes out, hastily slipping his chain round his neck, and surrenders the town, protesting his loyalty. The King accepts his submission and promises the citizens his protection. He orders the church bells to be rung as a token and rides off to take up his headquarters in the town. However, the rejoicing is short-lived as once the King has gone, the Royalist soldiers begin to pillage and loot. A party of women and girls escape and run away to St Ives (still held by Parliament).

Episode VI. Cromwell Raises the Ironsides in St Ives

Soberly dressed puritans are going to church with their wives and children carrying bibles. They turn aside from garishly dressed young men, the cricketers. The Huntingdon refugees rush in. Cromwell’s arrival is announced. He rides in and climbs onto a cart to speak to the Parliamentarian forces. He rallies them (the speech is quoted from Carlyle’s Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell and includes the famous line: ‘I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that you call a Gentleman and is nothing else’), exhorting them to take up arms. The men cheer and fall in behind Cromwell, with the women taking care of the refugees.

Episode VII. Dover 1660

A crowd assembles at the docks, a canopy is assembled and the Mayor of Dover awaits the King. When the King arrives, the Mayor falls to his knees and hands the King the rod of office, which is returned to him. Charles is given a bible, which he accepts. The King shows gratitude to Admiral Montagu and General Monk, who become the Earl of Sandwich and the Duke of Albemarle, respectively. The King’s health is cheered, and the King departs for London, leaving Samuel Pepys (also present in this scene) and the new Earl of Sandwich speculating on their expectations for further preferment.

Episode VIII. The Eighteenth Century

Mary and Elizabeth Gunning disport themselves on a swing in their garden. A coach alights, and Lord Coventry and Duke of Hamilton exit with musicians and a dancing master. They proceed to show the ladies the new French dances and to take them to a ball in town. The ladies proceed to show the gentlemen the latest refreshment—the sandwich—and as they sit and eat the dancing master performs a solo dance. Elizabeth Gunning sings, and the entire party performs a Cotillion and then departs. Dick Turpin rides in accompanied by Tom, hiding in bushes until the coach draws near. They hold it up with pistols and force the occupants to empty their pockets. Dick sees Mary Gunning and asks for a kiss in return for keeping their trinkets. The Dancing Master appears and Dick insists he dances with the ladies. Once this is done, Dick and his henchman depart.

Episode IX. Victorian Scene, 1865.

The gleaners pause in their labours, and the people dance to fiddle music. Gipsies have lit a fire. The keepers arrive and attack them. Police are fetched, a hare is found and a scuffle occurs. The gipsies are removed into custody and a shooting party arrives on-scene. The gentlemen take up positions and begin to shoot. Their shooting is poor, but it eventually gets a little better, with birds falling everywhere. Ladies appear. They are followed by footmen who unpack a sumptuous picnic. The Hon. Montagu and the Duchess of Manchester sing. Corks are popped and healths are drunk when a horn announces the arrival of the hunt. The Princess offers the hunt leader a stirrup-cup and there is much joviality. The Hunt moves off and the shooting party returns to the castle.

Grand Finale and March Past

Key historical figures mentioned

  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate [also known as Sutton, Lord]
  • Cecil, William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598) royal minister [ Baron Burleigh]
  • Cromwell, Henry (1628–1674) soldier, politician, and lord lieutenant of Ireland
  • Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Ferrar, John (c.1588–1657) merchant and politician
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Montagu [Mountagu], Edward, first earl of Sandwich (1625–1672) army and naval officer and diplomat
  • Monck [Monk], George, first duke of Albemarle (1608–1670) army officer and naval officer [also known as Monk, George]
  • Pepys, Samuel (1633–1703) naval official and diarist
  • Turpin, Richard [Dick] (bap. 1705, d. 1739) highwayman
  • Edward VII (1841–1910) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the British dominions beyond the seas, and emperor of India
  • Alexandra [Princess Alexandra of Denmark] (1844–1925) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the British dominions beyond the seas, and empress of India, consort of Edward VII

Musical production

Music was performed by a 51-piece orchestra.

Walton. ‘Imperial Coronation March’.
Playford. Fanfare and Folkdance from ‘Dancing Master’.
John of Fornsete. ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’.
‘Hunting Song’ and ‘Agincourt Song’, unknown provenance.
Byrd. ‘The Carman’s Whistle’.
Henry VIII. ‘Pastyme with Good Company’.
Playford. Gavotte.
Michael Cavendish. Madrigal.
Gibbons. Dance.
‘Boar’s Head Carol’.
Byrd. ‘Hey Ho! To The Greenwood’.
‘Close Thine Eyes’ (words by Charles I).
Trad. ‘Tomorrow the Fox Will Come’.
Anon. Fanfare, ‘Vive le Roi’, ‘Of All the Birds’, ‘When the King Enjoys His Own Again’.
John Jenkins. ‘Round, a Boat, a boat’.
‘Here’s a Health unto His Majesty’.
Maurice Jacobson. ‘Fantasia on Beggar’s Opera Airs’.
‘Youth’s The Season’.
‘The Sad Case’.
Lully. Cavotte from ‘Atys’.
Handel. March from ‘Rinaldo’.
Purcell. Trumpet Tune and Air.
Millikin. ‘Last Rose of Summer’.
John Peel, Old Border Melody.
Elgar. March, ‘Pomp and Ciircumstance’, no. 4.
Roger Quilter. ‘Non Nobis Domine’.
E.M. Charles. Fanfares.

Newspaper coverage of pageant


Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Historical Pageant of Huntingdonshire. Souvenir Programme. Huntingdon, 1953.

Price: 2s. 6d.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • A copy of the pageant programme is available online, accessed 17 June 2016, https://picasaweb.google.com/103061742432265867393/AMazeOfMemoriesDoraTack.
  • Huntingdon Archives: ‘Huntingdonshire Pageant, 1953’, book containing flyers, typescript, programme, cuttings, staging notes, cast list, photographs, etc. Ref. 3939.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Huntingdon had not held a pageant since the wildly successful pageant at Hinchingbrooke in 1912, though there had been further pageants in the county (e.g., Buckden, 1932). Hinchingbrooke House.1 The 1950s was a time when many large country houses were being pulled down. Indeed, by 1956 only a third of the aristocracy continued to hold landed estates. In general the National Trust, which was given a number of houses, was unwilling to host pageants. One of the reasons given for the cancellation of the 1951 Sevenoaks Pageant in Knole Park in Kent was that the Trust, which had taken over the property in 1946, refused to forgo their admission revenue for a week – a sacrifice that staging a pageant would necessitate.2

Hinchingbrooke House, however, was in 1953 still in private ownership. During the Second World War the Earl of Sandwich transferred the Estate to his son, Victor Montagu, Viscount Hinchingbrooke (a Conservative MP and prominent defender of intervention in Suez and the retention of the Commonwealth).3 Following the war, Victor and his family lived there, reducing the house in size and opening it to the public, before moving to Mapperton House in Dorset in 1955.

Many of the pageants held in association with the 1951 Festival of Britain had celebrated visions of a classless people’s Britain. This was not true of the Huntingdonshire pageant held two years later, under the patronage of Viscount Hinchingbrooke, which coincided with the Coronation of Elizabeth II—an event that was at once reverential and deferential; aristocratic and popular; rarefied and traditional, yet broadcast on television.4 Britain in 1953 remained an imperial welfare state, full of contradictions.

The Pageant of Huntingdonshire did without the leftist people’s history of many Festival of Britain pageants in favour of a celebration of aristocrats and monarchs. The highway robbery in the eighth episode can hardly be seen as the just retribution of the downtrodden masses against the blue-blooded forces of oppression. The gypsies in the ninth episode are attacked and arrested for doing little more than trespassing and playing music. In fact, this episode appears to be entirely without condemnation of the aristocracy who carry on their leisured pursuits oblivious of the systems they have put in place and the gamekeepers employed to maintain their rights over the land. The episode can be read as evidence for the shifting perceptions of gypsies in British society, from a relatively charming rural curiosity romanticised by Victorian writers into a threat to communities.5

However, this deference was qualified. The earlier Hinchingbrooke Pageant (1912) had avoided treating the Civil War directly, while alluding to it in a fictional tussle between the young Charles and Oliver Cromwell at Hinchingbrooke House on the occasion of James I’s visit in 1603. This allowed the pageant to present Huntingdon’s most famous son, Oliver Cromwell, in a semi-favourable light without having to side with either the Royalist or Parliamentarian cause. The 1953 pageant had no such compunctions. While presenting a visit by Charles I to the religious community of Little Gidding in the north of the county, it also depicted in the fourth and fifth episodes the sacking of Huntingdon by the King’s forces (despite the King’s own promise of the town’s safety). The sixth scene shows Cromwell raising the famous Ironsides Cavalry in the nearby town of St Ives in retaliation for the attack on Huntingdon. In fact, this episode was wholly anachronistic: the Ironsides Regiment had first been raised at Huntingdon in August 1642, while the King’s assault on Huntingdon in August 1645 was in the wake of the critical Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby on 14 June, in no small part due to the Ironsides.6 Nonetheless, the message of the pageant was that while Huntingdonshire was loyal to the crown, this loyalty was conditional on good governance: Huntingdon had suppressed the monarchy once and might well do so again. As the author of the pageant, David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, stressed: ‘The Civil War is still a live issue in Huntingdonshire. One gentleman refused to play the part of Cromwell on the ground that his friends would not speak to him if he did.’7 It was necessary to show the King’s better side in the Little Gidding scene. Garnett freely acknowledged playing fast and loose with historical record: Cromwell himself was in fact at the siege of Bristol in August 1645, but Garnett felt he should return to his home and constituency at its time of need, stringing together his speeches from a number of speeches and letters (‘no doubt he repeated his best things’). Likewise, Garnett acknowledged that Dick Turpin had already been hanged fifteen years before the scene in which he featured!8

Author, publisher and member of the Bloomsbury group (who recently featured in the BBC drama A Life in Squares [2015]), Garnett had bought Hilton Hall a few miles outside Huntingdon in the early 1920s and had lived there ever since.9 His wife played Elizabeth Gunning Garnett in the eighth episode. Garnett was an archetypal twentieth-century man of letters and the former literary editor of the New Statesman, able to turn his hand to pretty much anything to earn a living. He wrote a review of the pageant for the Observer in which he noted:

Pageants are always popular among the performers who take part in them; in our hearts we like dressing up and imagining ourselves in the forest with Robin Hood or playing bowls with Drake. But pageants arouse less enthusiasm among the spectators who, often as not, feel like grown-ups forced to watch an interminable drama staged in the nursery.10

‘But’, he reassured his readers, ‘the audiences at the Huntingdonshire pageant early this month were enthusiastic. We had avoided the traditional pitfalls.’ While noting that ‘it was easy to write the words’, Garnett conceded that heralds were required to speak (or almost shout) them to make them heard. The pageant had been sponsored by the Huntingdonshire Education Committee so ‘it seemed advisable to have as many children taking part as possible’, including a number of ‘athletic young men’ from the nearby Borstal Institution at Gaynes Hall, who fought with quarter-staffs and practised archery in the first scene.11 In the final scene artificial pheasants were fired over the walls of the grounds, to be shot down by the Royal party using very real guns.12 Garnett, who seemed to have greatly enjoyed the pageant (without, it must be noted, giving specific figures for audiences or finances), praised all involved.

In 1962 the house and its large grounds were transferred to the ownership of the council. The Country Park was opened to the public, and parts of the lands were developed into Hinchingbrooke Hospital. In 1970 the house became the location for the new Hinchingbrooke School.13 Huntingdon held a further pageant in 1990, and a dramatic group continues to stage productions of Shakespeare at the George Hotel every summer.14


  1. ^ David Cannadine, Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (London, 1990), 644. Accessed 17 June 2016, http://mapperton.com/house/. It is unclear to whom the house was sold.
  2. ^ Sevenoaks and Kentish Advertiser, 29 September 1950, 1.
  3. ^ Andrew Roth, ‘Montagu, (Alexander) Victor Edward Paulet, Tenth Earl of Sandwich (1906–1995), Politician’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  4. ^ Andrezj Olechnowicz, ‘Britain’s “Quasi-Magical” Monarchy in the Mid-Twentieth Century’, in Classes, Cultures, and Politics: Essays on British History for Ross McKibbin, ed. Clare V.J. Griffiths, James J. Nott and William Whyte (Oxford, 2011), 75–77.
  5. ^ Becky Taylor, ‘Britain's Gypsy Travellers: A People on the Outside’, History Today 61, no. 6 (June 2011), accessed 17 June 2016, http://www.historytoday.com/becky-taylor/britains-gypsy-travellers-people-outside#sthash.f1gHBvwe.dpuf. See also, for the wider history, David Mayall, Gypsy-Travellers in Nineteenth-Century Society (Cambridge, 1988), and Becky Taylor, Another Darkness, Another Dawn : A History of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (London, 2014).
  6. ^ C.H. Firth, ‘The Raising of the Ironsides’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 13 (December, 1899): 17–73.
  7. ^ David Garnett, ‘History in Fancy Dress’, Observer, 19 July 1953, 10.
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ Frances Partridge, ‘Garnett, David (1892–1981), Writer and Publisher’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 17 June 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31138.
  10. ^ David Garnett, ‘History in Fancy Dress’, Observer, 19 July 1953, 10.
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ ‘About Us’, Hinchingbrooke House, accessed 17 June 2016, http://www.hhpac.co.uk/aboutus.htm; http://www.hinchingbrookeschool.net/.
  14. ^ Shakespeare at the George, accessed 17 June 2016, http://satg.org.uk/.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Historical Pageant of Huntingdonshire’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1097/