Place: Lacock Abbey and Village (Lacock) (Lacock, Wiltshire, England)
Number of performances: 2
3 September 1932, 2.30pm and 5pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master Producer and Organizer [Pageant Master]: Talbot, Matilda, Countess of Salisbury
- Architectural Consultant: Sir Harold Brakspear, FSA
- Craftsman: Harold Wiltshire
- Farrier and Smith: J.S. Ring
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Drummond, Barbara
Names of composers
Numbers of performers200
The Bath Chronicle had earlier claimed there would be 400 performers.
Profit: £40. 6s. 8d.3
The local craftsman, Harold Wiltshire, estimated a cost of around £450 to £500 on designing the set, and a number of weapons, for the pageant.4
Object of any funds raised
Chippenham and Melksham Cottage Hospitals; Lacock school for new sanitary work; other charitable works.
‘They had decided to give the Chippenham and Melksham Cottage Hospitals £5 each and the Lacock school for new sanitary work £20, and several small items were allotted to other charitable works.’5
Linked occasion700th Anniversary of the Hallowing of the Abbey in 1232.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 10000
‘Ten Thousand People Witness Lacock Abbey Pageant’, North Wilts Herald, 9 September 1932, 1.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Admission 1s.6d.; after 5pm, 1s.
Associated eventsThe entire village was turned into a medieval fayre for the day with stalls and examples of old crafts.
The pageant consisted of a single episode.
Hand-bell ringers hidden on the roof of the South Gallery ringing until ceremony begins, during procession and after. Twenty-four nuns with prioress and sub-prioress take up their places, followed by ‘Courtleet’ of Bailiff, four tithing-men, two constables, the cryer and ale-taster, twelve jury-men.
Then come master-mason with foreman, carpenters, plumbers and six workmen. Two to three knights arrive on horseback and dismount, grooms holding horses. The Countess and her procession arrive on horseback accompanied by pikemen and heralds.
the Bishop of Salisbury’s procession, of cross-bearer, two taperers, two
tribulars, boat boy, boy with oil, two chanters, twelve choristers, four abbey
chaplains, two chaplains of the Bishop, and the Bishop of Salisbury. Bishop
knocks on the door three times, which is opened by prioress.
Before they arrive, the nuns proceed to the west door and stand in rows. They and the Bishop’s party take up seats before the rood over the quire. Next seated are the Countess with heralds, women in waiting, knights and esquires, then choristers.
The service begins with the Bishop kneeling in front of the altar, then singing Gloriana; Epistle and Gospel sung then Creed. Then Bishop’s party moves around the church, where he anoints the three crosses at the south side, one at the east. Bishop kneels at the altar, then rises to face the people. Anthem is sung then a blessing. Bishop’s party, then Countess, then nuns pass out, singing psalms.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Bingham, Robert of (d. 1246) bishop of Salisbury
- Ela, suo jure countess of Salisbury (b. in or after 1190, d. 1261) magnate and abbess
Newspaper coverage of pageantSunderland Daily Echo
Western Daily Press
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Western Daily Press
Portsmouth Evening News
North Wiltshire Herald
Book of words
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Banks, Brian Howell. The Lacock Pageant. Salisbury, Hobnob press, 2007, 48pp.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- There is an extensive website of newspaper cuttings, photographs and ephemera at http://www.wshc.eu/lacock/lacock-community/search-the-community-archive/category/lacock-pageant-1932-3.html. Accessed 22 October 2015.
- Hampshire Record Office: Correspondence between T. Talbot and Barbara Drummond about the Pageant. Papers of Barbara Drummond. 220M85W/29.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Norris, Herbert. Costume and Fashion. London, 1924.
The Lacock Pageant was a further testament to the popularity of village pageants in the inter-war period. It is notable in being a one-act pageant, commemorating the 700th anniversary of the founding of Lacock Abbey, although the Abbey had been dissolved and the church itself demolished in 1539. It is also a good indication of how such pageants got started. Miss Matilda, or ‘T.’, Talbot, Countess of Salisbury, who seems to have single-handedly masterminded and run the pageant wrote to Barbara Drummond, niece of F.E. Benson and a major inter-war designer, writer and stager of pageants (see Warwick (1927) and Croydon (1930)), with a rough idea. Drummond evidently commanded quite a reputation by this stage, with the Countess writing:
Mrs Fricker has told me of your interest in pageants and we are getting up a one day pageant here in Lacock this summer, treating the life of the thirteenth century only. I have no experience at all in this sort of thing and I should be very grateful for your advice. I wonder if you could come here for a few days as my guest, any time to suit your convenience, when we could talk things over.7
The pageant was staged a mere six months later, involving the local unemployed, many of them casualties of the widespread economic depression which beset Britain in the 1930s.8
In another letter, Talbot sketched out further details and invited Drummond to visit the village: ‘Our main concern is the 13th century background of all the village activities and pastimes, and costume with correct implements. This background is to continue throughout the evening, after the episode closes.’9 Drummond then wrote several drafts of the staging of what was an almost completely silent pageant, which in some respects resembled a church service.
The Pageant commemorated the founding or ‘Hallowing’ of the Abbey by Lady Ela, Countess of Salisbury (Talbot’s ancestor). She founded the Abbey as a memorial to her husband William Longespée, a natural son of Henry II and a founder of Salisbury Cathedral.10 The service was to be performed by Bishop and Clergy in ‘appropriate vestments’, including the Bishops of Salisbury and Southampton, as well as many local clergymen. Local man Sir Harold Brakespear, who was a leading ecclesiastical architect (having restored St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle), played the master mason commissioned with designing the Abbey. He was also responsible for the plan of the Abbey and its partial reconstruction out of wood, having carried out excavations of the site in 1898.11 Other roles included pikemen and men at arms from the Wiltshire Regiment of the Territorial Army.12
The Bath Chronicle admitted that ‘It was not a pageant in the accepted sense of the term; rather it was a commemoration by faithful imitation, of the hallowing of the Abbey in days of old.’13 However, such imitation on a grand scale, as well as the levels of newspaper coverage, makes Lacock a pageant in nominal terms at least. The pageant also contained a re-enactment of a 1232 fayre in Medieval Lacock, complete with medieval crafts and foods including brewing, fishery, agriculture, blacksmithing (on a replica 13th century forge) and weaving. The Bath Chronicle singled out the bakery for praise: ‘An exactly similar bakery exists in Lacock today and therefore many of the people of that place eat bread which is based on precisely the same principles.’14 A number of local craftsmen, including Harold Wiltshire and J.S. Ring used the Pageant (which they had provided work for) to advertise their trades, encouraging visitors to their medieval shops.15 As another commentator to the paper noted: ‘Here lies the genius of organisation and the proof of the real hard work of the players—the pageant did not merely portray, but actually was that fete day in the life of Lacock, 1232.’16 Perhaps the most welcome craft there was brewing: ‘There will also be ale wives. Ale in the 13th century was always sold by women and not men. There will be three or four of them at Lacock. Each will have a characteristic sign of the green bush outside her shelter. The beverage will be served in drinking horns.’17
In conjunction with the pageant, there was a fayre held on the village green including wrestling, dancing, jousting, village sport, and mummers performing a local folk play until ‘a wild witch [presumably in the play] had scattered the crowds of shrieking villeins.’18 Some 10000 people came to what was described as ‘the loveliest village in England’, despite the cloudy weather, mainly motoring from Swindon or across the Cotswolds from Bath and Bristol (each 15 to 20 miles away). Several of Miss Talbot’s friends apparently travelled over from America and it was reported that inquiries about the Pageant had ‘been received from places as far distant as Cambridge and Liverpool.’19
The pageant tapped into a desire both for a return to older pre-industrial folk culture of ‘Merrie England’ and for the reverence of religious ceremony. The effect of holding the ceremony on the ruined site of the abbey where ‘thin barriers’ of wood erected by carpenters for the Pageant ‘marked its once stately confines and again altars rose on the foundations of lawn and path’20 gave the spectacle an ethereal, almost ghostly presence that was not lost on commentators. The performers ignored the visitors and their applause. As one reporter noted: ‘They lived the part, and the result was that it seemed like a dream.’21 This sense of being outside the action made one spectator long to be a part of the action and to perform history: ‘I prefer to think that, when my Lord Bishop hesitated in his dedication of the Abbey to give his blessing to the populace, he included me as an outside heathen who might in time be brought to the Christian faith. When the clergy left the church I wanted to kneel as did the Countess Ela and her retinue.’22
Overall, the pageant was a success, raising over £40. However, fundraising had not been an initial concern of Miss Talbot, who appears to have been willing to cover losses personally. The press confirmed the interest that the pageant had received: ‘The publicity which has followed the pageant at Lacock Abbey is enormous. The organiser, Miss Talbot, is receiving press cuttings from literally all parts of the world. The ancient Abbey has received a boosting such as it has never received before.’23 Mr J.F.T. Horwood’s bakery, which had sold 600 loaves of bread, made using medieval methods, continued to get a steady demand in orders; it was claimed these stayed fresh for up to two weeks.24 The pageant was such a great success that it was staged again the following year from 31 May to 2 June, though without Drummond’s assistance.25 The Abbey was given over to the National Trust in 1944 following Talbot’s death, becoming the Fox Talbot Museum commemorating the inventor, scientist and photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. The cloisters of the Abbey have recently become famous as the setting for scenes from Harry Potter and Wolf Hall.26
- Bath Chronicle, 10 September 1932, 15.
- Bath Chronicle, 27 August 1932, 12.
- ‘Lacock Pageant’, Bath Chronicle, 24 September 1932, 14.
- Brian Howell Banks, The Lacock Pageant, 1932 (Salisbury Hobnob press, 2007), 8.
- ‘Lacock Pageant’, Bath Chronicle, 24 September 1932, 14.
- ‘Ten Thousand People Witness Lacock Abbey Pageant’, North Wilts Herald, 9 September 1932, 1.
- Letter from T. Talbot to B. Drummond, 3 March 1932, Papers of Barbara Drummond, Hampshire Record Office. 220M85W/29.
- Bath Chronical and Weekly Gazette, 12 July 1932, 6.
- Letter, Bath Chronical and Weekly Gazette, 18 March 1932. Cutting in Papers of Barbara Drummond, 220M85W/29..
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 23 April 1932, 21.
- Banks, Lacock Medieval Pageant, 6.
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 10 September 1932, 15.
- Banks, The Lacock Pageant, 9.
- ‘Back in 1232: Impressions of Lacock Pageant’, Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 10 September 1932, 15.
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 20 August, 1932, 14.
- ‘Veil of Time Rolled Back’, Western Daily Press, 5 September 1932, 5.
- Bath Chronicle, 20 August, 1932, 14.
- ‘Veil of Time’, Western Daily Press, 5.
- Bath Chronicle, 10 September 1932, 15.
- ‘Back in 1232’, Bath Chronicle, 10 September 1932, 15.
- Bath Chronicle, 17 September 1932, 14.
- Wiltshire Telegraph, 17 September 1932, quoted in Banks, Lacock Medieval Pageant, 16.
- For this, see Western Daily Press, 1 June 1933; Banks, Lacock Medieval Pageant, 3.
- ‘Harry Potter Magic at Lacock’, accessed 10 December 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/interactive/galleries/lacock_potter/gallery.shtml and ‘Houses packed with history star in Wolf Hall’, accessed 10 December 2015, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/houses-packed-with-history-star-in-wolf-hall.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Lacock Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1110/