The Ilminster Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: St Mary’s Hall (Ilminster) (Ilminster, Somerset, England)

Year: 1927

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: n/a


1–4 November 1927

Approximately 2.5 hours long.1

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Turner, R. Lovett
  • Producer: Mrs R. Lovett Turner
  • Chairman: Rev. J.N. Boughton
  • Business Manager: I.J. Morgan
  • Choirmaster and Orchestra Conductor: Mr G.H. Fowler-Sharpe
  • Property-Master: Mr F.W. Cornish
  • Lighting Effects: Mr D.G. Taylor
  • Scenery: Mr R.P. Wheadon

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Turner, Mrs R. Lovett

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


This is a minimum figure.

Financial information

‘The balance-sheet of the recent pageant at Ilminster shows that the total receipts were £218. 8s., with donations towards the expenses of £16. 16s. 11d. A balance of £200 has been handed over to the Ilminster church fund.’3

Object of any funds raised

Church Restoration Fund.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


‘at the final production many were unable to gain admission to the hall.’4

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Prologue. ‘The Spell—Puck and the Old Man’, the Present, 1927

An old man, appreciative of the beauty of the Church, notices that the Pinnacles are crumbling away. As he resolves to do whatever he can to help repair the church, Puck and his merry little imps play nearby. Puck throws magic dust onto the old man, who can now see them. While surprised, he is not alarmed; the young imps excitedly ask him for a story. He sadly tells them about the crumbling church, and how ‘Alas! men’s thoughts don’t dwell so much on God’s house nowadays and the pinnacles are falling to the ground.’ Puck gently requests that the old man tell the story of the church. The old man wistfully describes its long history, and how it ‘has always been the centre of our daily life.’ The Old Man asks Puck how they will show the people that ‘God’s house is in danger’. Puck decides to cast a spell to make the ‘past rise before their eyes. They shall see and know how their church was loved… [and that] The future is for them to make.’ The Old Man thinks back to the last time ‘when England called, and her boys answered the call’, remembering that ‘many of our soldier boys have but lately given their lives for an ideal, the ideal of home and country. Their names are written within the church. We calls it the Roll of Honour, surely it is to our honour to keep our beautiful church as it was when our brave boys knelt in it by our side.’ The Old Man agrees to Puck’s suggestion, and the scene ends.

Episode I. King Ina Granting the Charter, c. 728

As the King is deep in gloomy thought about whether he has done enough for God as King of Kings, his wife, Ethelbergha, approaches; she charms him out of his mood. The King tells her that Aldhelm wishes him to found a church, but he is unsure of where to put it. The Queen tells the King of a trip the day before, when a kindly farrier helped her after her palfrey fell lame, near the River Isle, before inviting her into his dwelling to find a mother and her new born baby. The Queen suggests that place as the site—an offering to Christ. The King agrees, and decides that the church should be dedicated to Mary, the Blessed Virgin, ‘who was herself a mother with a new born Babe.’ He summons the Abbot, and tells an attendant to bring a charter, with a Minster added to the land east of the River Isle. Bishop Aldhelm arrives, with four of his monks. Before the Bishop can kneel the King stops him, declaring him the more important as ‘the servant of a heavenly King.’ The King seals the charter and hands it to Aldhelm, who receives it with great joy. With hearts full of happiness, they leave, carrying the precious charter.

Episode II. Medieval Merrymaking at the Dedication of the Church, c. 1450

A local man, Bill the Mason, miserably contemplates his fate in the stocks on the day of the visit of the Lord Bishop to dedicate the church he had helped to build. His wife arrives and comforts him. He is unfastened by a sympathetic beadle, who warns him to stop his drinking. Sir William Wadham arrives, and declares to the crowd his happiness to be there on such a joyous occasion. As Wadham watches the fun of the day, his wife approaches, and compliments the beautiful church. Wadham agrees and tells his mother (Joan Wrothesley Brasses): ‘Pinnacles, eh! Wondrous, and mighty strong too withal, twill be long ere they crumble to dust.’ His wife emphatically declares: ‘Never, they must last through the ages.’ A local prophetess, Deborah—who some call mad—has a vision of the future, declaring ‘Woe, woe to the generation that taketh no notice but passeth by on the other side.’ The Lord Bishop arrives and raises his hand in blessing, before passing into the church with the priests and choir. While the Bishop is inside the revelry continues, before a supposed witch is spotted—who is seized. The Bishop emerges and commands that she be released. She begs forgiveness of the Bishop, while Mother Wadham declares that she is no witch. The Bishop releases the ‘witch’, as Jesus forgave sinners, before blessing her.

Episode III. Founding of the Grammar Schools, 1549–1927

Scene I. A boy, Matthew, is reading the Canterbury Tales, before a group of local bullies try and take his book away. Sir Humphrey Walrond and his friend Henry Greynfeld arrive at that moment, and beat away the bullies. Humphrey asks Matthew to read some to him; Matthew tries, but stumbles over many of the words. Humphrey asks the boy if he would ‘like to have learning’ to which he eagerly says yes. Humphrey resolves to start a school, and is advised by Henry to purchase the now empty Holy Cross House and House of Master Batten adjoining to use as premises. Humphrey agrees, and they set off to prepare.

Scene II. Twenty-eight years later Matthew can now be seen teaching a ‘class of nice clean little boys, seated and diligently attending to their lessons.’ Humphrey, now an old man, enters with Sir Nicholas Wadham and his wife Dorothy, who all take interest in the class. While Nicholas is pleased, Dorothy is eager that a class for girls is started too. Nicholas asks Humphrey if it is possible; he agrees. They all leave, happy in their improvement of the school.

Scene III. Six months later Sir Humphrey’s daughter is in a beautiful Tudor house, a few miles from Ilminster, reading stories to a group of children. They eagerly ask questions about the story, before singing a song written by Shakespeare called ‘Where the Bee Sucks’. Moll Matthew, daughter to Dominee Matthew, enters shyly. Stammering, she requests that Humphrey’s daughter ask her father if Moll may be a teacher. Humphrey now arrives, bearing a letter that offers her employment at the New Grammar School to teach 30 poor girls of the town to read and write. Overcome with joy, she thanks Humphrey, before leaving. One of the girls sings again, as Humphrey happily dreams of the future of the school.

Scene IV. A girl of 1927 in neat gymnasium costume, demonstrating that a healthy body makes an active mind. Hockey, netball and tennis demonstrated side by side with the more serious features of school life to-day.5

Episode IV. Monmouth Passes Through, 1680–85

Scene I. A young woman, Betsy, walks through the quiet town on a Sunday morning, dreaming of her beau Zach. She sits on the steps of the church. Zach now approaches, and informs her he has come to see the Duke of Whitelackington, as has she. Embarrassed, he declares that he had hoped to see her as well. After some awkwardness, he declares that he loves her. She acts demurely, before he boldly asks for a kiss. As the Duke approaches, Zach takes Betsy and has his kiss. The Duke picks up a basket Betsy had dropped and gallantly hands it to her, as he curtsies. He compliments her on her prettiness, before asking her name. She replies ‘Betsy Boughton, your Highness’ to which he replies ‘Nay not Highness —yet’. She tells the Duke, to Zach’s surprise, that they are to be married. The Duke, on finding out that Zach is a yeoman, declares him the backbone of the nation. Before the Duke goes into the church, a young cripple girl is led by a Priest to the Duke. The Priest declares she has the King’s Evil, and could be cured by the royal touch. The Duke, taking sympathy, places his hand on the child. He then passes into the church, followed by Squire Speke and his wife and children.

Scene II. Five years later, in 1685, after the Monmouth rebellion. Zach remembers, on the battlefield after the fight, seeing Lord Monmouth asleep by the hedges. After waking, and realising who Zach is, he takes the yeoman’s offer of food and his smock to cover his clothes, before again resting—as Zach keeps watch. The book ruminates: ‘Surely one whom the simple-minded loved, we need not judge too harshly, was he not a tool in the hands of ambitious men? We do not know. We cheered him in the days of his semi-Royal progress when he came to our town, let us be kind to him in his great defeat, and say with Zach as he sits by his side, “Eh! ‘tis sad, ‘tis sad.”’

Episode V. Queen Victoria’s Visit, 1819

This scene shows the time that the Duchess of Kent and the infant Victoria spent the night at the George Hotel, on their way to London from Sidmouth. The Duchess declares ‘What a quaint little town’ to her companion, Lady Anne, before admiring the beautiful church. A little country girl sells apples, as the ladies gather around to discuss her dress and prettiness. ‘Eh, dear, ‘oos ‘em? My, aint ‘em toffs?’ the girl exclaims. The Duchess requests some apples be sent to the George, before leaving, followed by her ladies—followed in turn by the apple girl seeking payment. A poor old woman now enters, carrying balloons for sale, and sits down with a relief—also admiring the church. She is then run into by another girl with apples, which fly everywhere, before local boys descend upon them to take the apples. Bedlam ensues, before a dance is given. The original apple girl now enters, excitedly declaring that she has just sold apples to the Duchess of Kent, before imitating the Duchess’s walk and mannerisms to great laughter. The infant Victoria is then brought to the townsfolk to be shown to ‘the most loyal of her subjects, “the volk of Zummerzet”.’

Episode VI. Vicar Mules, 1854

Scene I. A bride is shown, as the final touches are given to her dress, the bridesmaids fluttering around preparing. The veil is placed over the bride’s face, before she kisses her mother.

Scene II. The scene cuts back to the church, where a happy crowd of school children have gathered. The girls excitedly discuss the bride’s dress, and the prospect of their own weddings and honeymoons. A little girl stamps her feet angrily, declaring that she doesn’t want to go to school. The gentle Vicar, tells her: ‘we don’t cane little girls, only bad boys and big men like me, don’t you want to be taught how to be a lady?’ She dries her eyes, as he tells her she will be taught ‘how to read all about real ladies, who have lived and made England and our church richer by their beautiful lives. The wedding party now approaches to the strains of the Wedding March. They are finally married before the altar.

Finale. The Old Man Rejoices, Present Day, 1927

The old man is seen pushing a newly chiselled pinnacle on his mason’s truck. As he rests, he happily declares that he has done his best to help mend the Lord’s House. The organ and choirboys can be heard in the background. The man happily tells God that he has finished his work and then, softly, adds that he is waiting for his final call.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Ine [Ini] (d. in or after 726) king of the West Saxons [also known as Ina]
  • Æthelburh [St Æthelburh, Ethelburga] (fl. 664) abbess of Barking
  • Aldhelm [St Aldhelm] (d. 709/10) abbot of Malmesbury, bishop of Sherborne, and scholar
  • Walrond, Humphrey (b. 1602, d. in or after 1668) colonial official
  • Wadham, Nicholas (1531/2–1609) benefactor of Wadham College, Oxford
  • Wadham [née Petre], Dorothy (1534/5–1618) founder of Wadham College, Oxford
  • Scott [formerly Crofts], James, duke of Monmouth and first duke of Buccleuch (1649–1685) politician
  • Speke, George (1623–1689) politician and political activist
  • Victoria, Princess [Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld], duchess of Kent (1786–1861) mother of Queen Victoria
  • Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India

Musical production

An orchestra made of a pianist, first violin, second violin, violoncello and a choir.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Western Morning News
Chard and Ilminster News

Book of words

Lovett Turner, Mrs R. Scenes of Old Ilminster: The Story of the Pageant. Ilminster, 1928.

Not strictly a book of words, since it was laid out more as a novelised version of the story than as stage directions and dialogue.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Ilminster Pageant of 1927 was an ‘urgently’ organised charity event, aiming to raise funds for the restoration fund of the local Church of St Mary.6 Standing at the heart of the town, the church—or parts of it at least—dated back to the 15th century; it was given Grade I listed status in 1950.7 Ilminster was a small town of about 2300; it is likely, then, that the Church needed all the publicity it could get to raise the £3000 needed for repairs to its crumbling pinnacles.8 The pageant was mostly the result of the hard work of a local married couple, Mr and Mrs R. Lovett Turner, the former acting as producer, and the latter as both author and co-producer. Mrs Lovett Turner’s contribution especially was recognised following the final performance, when she was presented with a bouquet and a statuette of Saint Theresa by the Rev. J.N. Boughton (chairman of the pageant committee), and a bound autographed copy of the programme and a history of Somerset by the principals. Mr Lovett Turner was honoured, too, with a book from the players (it is unclear what sort of book, but it was common for such gifts to be the Book of Words signed by the cast).9 The four performances took place in the evening in the local St Mary’s Hall. It seems that the press and organisers understood that a true pageant had to take place in the ‘open-air’; taking place in November, then, it was ‘Time and the advanced season [that] prevented an organisation of the real or genuine pageant.’ Such was the need for the event, the Chard and Ilminster News argued, the critic would ‘surely… understand, the confinement of things to a covered stage.’10

It was, apart from its indoor staging, a pretty classic iteration of the pageant genre. The majority of the 200-plus performers were from the town; the author and producers were Ilminster residents; the costumes were largely made by local volunteers; and many of the historical figures featured, such as Squire Speke and Sir Humphrey’s daughter, were played by their direct descendants.11 The typicality of the pageant is perhaps unsurprising; in the foreword to Scenes of Old Ilminster: The Story of the Pageant, the author traced Ilminster’s pageant to, but demarcated it from, allegorical processions, masques, ‘those beginnings of English drama—mysteries, miracles and moralities’, the Lord Mayor’s Show, and even their own local Ilminster Carnival. Above all, however, it was a child of the ‘modern idea of a pageant’ that arose ‘largely from Louis Parker’s show at Sherborne in 1906 [sic]’.12

In terms of its narrative it was also fairly generic. It began with a wise old man in the present, admiring the church but worrying about its crumbling pinnacles, and his chance meeting with Puck the imp. After Puck gave the man magic dust, the scenes of the pageant took place as his vision. After this relatively novel beginning, most of the episodes would have been familiar to a spectator well-versed in pageantry. There were visits of Kings and Queens; references to the Monmouth Rebellion (as with other Somerset pageants, such as Wells 1923 and Axbridge 1967); the saving of an accused witch in the fifteenth century; and raucous medieval merrymaking. Throughout, however, it was the centrality of the church to the history of the town and the nation that was given the most attention. The first episode showed the charter given by King Ina to establish the church in 728; the second episode showed the dedication of the Church in 1450; the fourth showed the Duke of Monmouth taking service there in 1680; and the final sixth episode showed a happy wedding of 1854. In fact, the only episode that did not feature the church in some way was the third, in which Sir Humphrey Walrond and later Sir Nicholas Wadham and his wife Dorothy (who founded Wadham College, Oxford in 1610) were seen setting up the grammar schools of the town. It is likely, however, that most locals would have known that the locally famous Wadham family was buried in the North Transept—known as the Wadham Chapel.

At several points in the narrative it was made clear that the Church was a symbol of local pride and beauty, and thus deserved upkeep from the citizens of Ilminster. In the pageant, historical figures of some note were portrayed as praising the Church—these included Sir William Wadham in 1450, the Duke of Monmouth in 1680, and Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, in 1819. Although the main episodes of the pageant stopped before the twentieth century, in the prologue the local sacrifice of the recent war was used as a ploy to encourage further service and pride in the present—particularly in the maintenance of the Church. As the Old Man thought to himself:

Many of our soldier boys have but lately given their lives for an ideal, the ideal of home and country. Their names are written within the church. We calls it the Roll of Honour, surely it is to our honour to keep our beautiful church as it was when our brave boys knelt in it by our side.13

An exchange regarding the church’s upkeep in the second episode would also have been as obviously relevant to the audience. As Sir William Wadham watched the fun of the day, his wife approached and complimented the beautiful church. Wadham agreed and told his mother, Joan Wrothesley Brasses: ‘Pinnacles, eh! Wondrous, and mighty strong too withal, twill be long ere they crumble to dust.’ His wife emphatically declared: ‘Never, they must last through the ages’ before a local ‘prophetess’ had a vision of the future, shouting ‘Woe, woe to the generation that taketh no notice but passeth by on the other side.’14

This common trope of the effect of pageantry, regarding its bridging the past, present, and yet-to-be-written future, was also evident in the Chard and Ilminster News:

pageants in their diversity of scene and colour appeal to the emotions of local pride, and so to a true patriotism and love of country; citizens, unconsciously almost, learn the broad facts of general history, and with aroused pride desire to carry on what is their heritage and the hallowed memory of footsteps which trod where they now tread…

The newspaper went on to be even more specific:

The performance is an appeal to Ilminsterians at home and abroad to come and see again some of the history of their town and church, to be happy, and, incidentally, aid to repair the ravages of time to that beautiful structure.15

Due to the relative haste with which the pageant was organised, the local newspaper was prepared to give ‘freedom from criticism’ in judging its artistic merits.16 Even bearing this in mind, its praise was fairly inflated, describing it as a ‘triumph’ that would ‘linger long in local memory’.17 Perhaps the newspaper was right—the following year, at least, Mrs Lovett Turner published a book of the pageant scenes, written more as a novel than a Book of Words—utilising this form to provide further details of the thinking and emotions of the pageant’s characters. Done at ‘the request of friends who attended the Pageant’, it acted as a souvenir, as well having ‘the hope that more donations may be added to the fund for preserving the beautiful old church of Ilminster.’18 The audience seemed to enjoy the show, too—at the packed final performance, where many were unable to gain admission to the hall, there were ‘many curtain calls’.19

While the pageant’s £200 profit would not have made much of a dint in the £3000 needed for the restoration, it was, nonetheless, a small success. Not a large or important event, with purely local aims and reported only in very local newspapers, the Ilminster Pageant is still noteworthy for two (contradictory) reasons. Firstly, it was one of the first indoor pageants, a trend that became much more common following the Second World War. Secondly, it was a very faithful rendition of a Parkerian/Edwardian pageant—of which it seems to have been conscious, bearing in mind the statements made in the foreword to the Book of Words. Above all, it stands as an important example of the continued importance of active local patriotism. As the pageant book ended by asking, following the Old Man’s labour, ‘Can we say with him—“I love Thy place, Oh God,”—and yet pass by on the other side?’20 The implication was clear: it was a duty of citizenship not only to profess love for locality, but to actively secure it for future generations as well.


  1. ^ ‘The Ilminster Pageant’, Chard and Ilminster News, 22 October 1927, 3.
  2. ^ ‘Ilminster through the Centuries’, Chard and Ilminster News, 5 November 1927, 2.
  3. ^ Western Morning News, 6 December 1927, 8.
  4. ^ ‘Illminster’s Pageant’, Western Morning News, 8 November 1927, 3.
  5. ^ ‘Ilminster through the Centuries’, Chard and Ilminster News, 5 November 1927, 2.
  6. ^ ‘The Ilminster Pageant’, Chard and Ilminster News, 22 October 1927, 3.
  7. ^ ‘Parish Church of St Mary, Ilminster’, British Listed Buildings, accessed 9 June 2014,
  8. ^ GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Ilminster UD through time | Population Statistics | Total Population, A Vision of Britain through Time, accessed 9 June 2014, 2014,
  9. ^ ‘Illminster’s Pageant’, Western Morning News, 8 November 1927, 3.
  10. ^ ‘The Ilminster Pageant’, Chard and Ilminster News, 22 October 1927, 3.
  11. ^ Ibid., 3; ‘Ilminster through the Centuries’, Chard and Ilminster News, 5 November 1927, 2.
  12. ^ Mrs R. Lovett Turner, Scenes of Old Ilminster: The Story of the Pageant (Ilminster, 1928), 4.
  13. ^ Lovett Turner, Scenes of Old Ilminster, 10.
  14. ^ Ibid., 21.
  15. ^ ‘The Ilminster Pageant’, Chard and Ilminster News, 22 October 1927, 3.
  16. ^ Ibid., 3.
  17. ^ ‘Ilminster through the Centuries’, 2.
  18. ^ Lovett Turner, Scenes of Old Ilminster, 3.
  19. ^ ‘Illminster’s Pageant’, Western Morning News, 8 November 1927, 3.
  20. ^ Lovett Turner, Scenes of Old Ilminster, 56.

How to cite this entry

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