Oxfordshire Pageant

Other names

  • Oxfordshire Pageant and Fete
  • St. Frideswide’s Fair

Pageant type

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Place: Grounds of Worcester College (Oxford) (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England)

Year: 1926

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


1 July 1926, 2.30pm and 5pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Marshall [Pageant Master]: Bryant, Arthur
  • Chairman: Miss Ashurst
  • Secretary: Mrs Turner
  • Dress Manager: Miss Marshall
  • Musical Director: Mrs Maitland

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • Miss Ashurst
  • Miss Deneke
  • Miss G. Hadow
  • Lady Greville: Weston on the Green
  • Mrs John Buchan: Elsfield
  • Mrs Turner
  • Miss Marshall
  • Mr Bryant
  • Miss Sidgwick
  • Mrs Kreyer(?) Tews Field: Headington Wuarry
  • Miss Drummond
  • Mr Hamilton Kerr
  • Hon E. Corbett
  • Mrs Hobbs
  • Mrs Wiles

Dress Sub-Committee:

  • Miss Marshall
  • Lady Greville
  • Miss Lee
  • Miss C.K. Allen

Tea Insurance:

  • Miss Drummond
  • Local Women’s Institute Federation Officers


  • Miss Sidgwick
  • WI Fed Officers

Property Sub-Committee:

  • Mrs Waterhouse
  • Mrs Hartley
  • Mrs Lee

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

  • Bryant, Arthur

Names of composers


Numbers of performers

1112 - 1500

In one document written by Bryant: total women 409, total men 703 = 1112 (‘OFWI Pageant’. Loose and undated. BRYANT J1). Bryant, in a newspaper report following the pageant, put the total at 1500 actors (Bryant, 'St Frideswide’s Fair', Oxfordshire Supplement–Home and Country, August 1926, 2. BRYANT J1).

All BRYANT material is at the Liddell Hart Military Archives, King’s College London.

Financial information

Profit: ‘nearly £400’ (‘County Federation Notes: Oxfordshire Federation’, Home and Country, September, 1926. BRYANT J1).

A letter to Bryant stated that takings were £540 and expenses £150-£200—‘far more than we could ever have expected’ (Letter to Bryant from Gladys M. Ashhurst, July 2 1926. BRYANT C8).

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

Admission at gate: 1s; after 6 pm: 6d. Reserved seats 5s. and 2s. 6d. extra; unreserved 1s. 6d. extra.

Associated events

  • Fete with side shows including Bowling for a Pig.
  • Competitions and prizes and stalls.
  • Demonstrations by Oxford Branch English Folk Dance Society, 4 pm and 6.30pm, to be followed by General Country Dancing.

Pageant outline

St. Frideswide’s Fair, 1450

Facing the audience at the back of the stage are a number of wooden booths, with trestle-tables spread with merchandize. There are five divisions in these booths: Lether Row, Pot Fair and Garlic Row, Cheese Row, Woolen. The square is the chief place of the fair, and contains, besides tippling booths and eating-houses, a large tent, with a flag flying above it, known as the Prior’s Pavilion. In front of this Pavilion is a raised platform, with seats and a table upon it; this is the Prior’s Court of Pie Powder, where the peace of the Fair is kept. Below the raised Court are the stocks. There is a maypole in the middle.

Incident I. The Entry of the Crowds

The merchants prepare as the crowds gradually begin to enter. The visitors to the Fair are mostly English country-people of varying degrees—farmers and peasant folk—with here and there, distinguishable by their brighter clothes and superior carriage, local gentry. Mingled with the staring crowd pass, very wide awake, beggars, gipsies, fortune-tellers, pedlars and vendors of milk and beer, clowns and jugglers.

Incident II. The Entry of the Prior’s Procession

Following the sound of trumpets and music the procession enters, to much fanfare. There are officers of the law; musicians; the prior of St. Frideswide’s Abbey; the Vice-Chancellor of the University and a number of Canons and Proctors. Behind there follows a cheering crowd of townsfolk and young university students, indulging in the roughest horseplay. Two or three well-to-do Oxford tradesmen, following in the procession, are much jostled by the mob, at which they show signs of temper, thereby only the more delighting their tormentors.

Incident III. The Submission of the Mayor

As the Prior reaches his court, the procession of the Mayor and Aldermen of Oxford enters, followed by the Guildsmen of the Town, Mercers, Drapers, Butchers, Grocers, Bakers, each under the banner of their craft. The Mayor kneels to the prior and offers him the keys of the city, which he accepts.

Incident IV. The Prior’s Proclamation

The Prior stands to the sound of trumpets, holding a roll of Parchment. At last there is silence, as the Prior reads the official proclamation opening the fair. There is much cheering and fanfare. The Steward now takes his seat in the Prior’s Chair, ready to dispense justice in the Court of Pie Powder.

Incident V. The Buying and Selling Begins

‘During the selling outside Cheese Row a clamour begins around two elderly men who raise their voices in dispute with their customers. A crowd gathers round and a cry goes up of “Forestallers.” A Redcoat approaches and tries to remonstrate with the crowd, but cannot make his way through the throng. The mob begins to show signs of real anger and there is a shout of “Forestallers to the pillory,” “Forestallers and Regrators to the Court of Pie Powder.” The two offending merchants are hustled towards the Prior’s Court, the Redcoats hovering ineffectually on the outskirts of the mob. At the Prior’s Court the Steward sits in judgement and before him the prisoners are brought. The course of judgement, however, does not run smooth, despite the Steward’s grave and judicial attitude, for the crowd continues to menace the two merchants with much vociferation and gesticulation. At last the Steward grows impatient, and waves the prisoners away, whereupon the mob, with yells of “To the ducking-pond,” “To the ducking-pond,” bear them away and exist behind Leather Row on their way to watery execution.’

Incident VI. The Eastern Merchants

A piper enters, followed by two fur-clad Eastern merchants, men of some dignity, accompanied by five or six servants. The crowds stare. The children dance round the piper, as a redcoat stops the procession. The Steward meets the procession and allows them to pass; they set up their wares in front of the Prior and Vice-Chancellor, who purchase some wares to cheers from onlookers.

Incident VII. Faction fight

A jester enters throwing red roses. A Farmer, wearing a white rose, enters and threatens the jester before cracking him over the skull with a club. A fight begins between the supporters of rival factions. Gradually the Redcoats gain control, and arrest two innocent yokels and put them in the stocks. An unconscious man, tended to by his lover, is taken to the medical tent.

Incident VIII. The Fun of the Fair

Various amusements: Morris Dancers; a bear doing antics; a somersaulting girl; the bear escapes; a boys’ race; a mummers play.

Incident IX. The Singing of the Hymn

The Hymn of Agincourt is sung, before the crowds proceed out of the arena.

Key historical figures mentioned


Musical production

Not clear, but seems likely to be a small orchestra, or at least live instruments.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Oxfordshire Supplement
Oxford Chronicle
Oxford Journal illustrated
Home and Country
Oxford Times

Book of words

Oxfordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes, Pageant & Fete (1st July 1926) in the Grounds of Worcester College, Oxford (Oxford, 1926).

Cost 6 d. BRYANT J1.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • BRYANT J1 and BRYANT C8. All BRYANT material at the Liddell Hart Military Archives, King’s College London.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Oxfordshire Pageant of 1926 was Arthur Bryant’s second pageant and, both in production and theme, it was essentially a re-run of his Cambridgeshire Pageant two years earlier (see Cambridgeshire pageant proforma). Individual scenes were again undertaken by different Women’s Institute (WI) village branches; the group marshals for each incident were all women; men still acted in the pageant; and Bryant devolved the initial rehearsals to the leader of each WI before the final rehearsals just before the pageant. Dress-making was also delegated; the Dress Designer Miss Maisie Marshall, who worked with Bryant on most of his pageants, supplied pictures of all dresses to the groups, as well as information and advice as required. 1 It was, again, a one-day event with two performances. It did seem to be bigger, with performers from over sixty villages in the county taking part. 2

As the script for the Oxfordshire Pageant was essentially the same as for the Cambridgeshire Pageant, the issue of anti-Semitism was again in the background. Oxfordshire being the later of the two pageants, there were no drafts with Jews crossed out; the final version used the terms ‘forestaller’ and ‘regrator’.’3 It seems likely however that it was understood that these were representations of Jews. In the Oxford Chronicle, for example, the character of the Jew Money Changer was listed—played by the chairman of the Pageant committee, Miss Ashurst.4 It is also notable, and somewhat sinister bearing in mind Bryant’s later views (see Greenwich Night Pageant and Wisbech Pageant entries) that, in the only instance thus far I have found of Bryant acting in one of his pageants, he took the role of the Prior’s Steward—the man who condemned the Jews to the ducking pond. According to the press, Bryant ‘evidently’ ‘enjoyed his role’.5

The carnivalesque atmosphere of the pageant seemingly also provided an opportunity for women to express themselves more visually, also reflecting the perceived loosening of traditional constraints on women due to the liberating experience of the First World War.6 As the Oxford Journal Illustrated commented:

one other thing must have struck the casual spectator. Women who would have donned a cloak to hide their costume a few years back flaunted their gay dresses quite cheerfully in the eyes of the world as they went on their way to and from Worcester, revealing a few hundred different identities.7

Bryant again confirmed his faith in the form of medieval pageantry to promote civic spirit in the performers, writing in Home and Country following the pageant:

I am told that our audience enjoyed the Pageant. If the spectacle seemed a natural one to them it was perhaps because the actors were not only wearing the clothes but sharing the spirit of their own remote and forgotten ancestors who lived under Oxfordshire skies 500 years ago. As the great crowd, beautiful ‘as though the Middle Age were gorgeous upon earth again’ passed out singing, the river of time seemed for that moment to be bridged, ‘wherefore may we call and cry Deo Gratias!’8

Letters to Bryant following the pageant indicated it had been a popular success, with the financial outcome ‘beyond all hopes.’9 The famous author John Buchan, who had played the role of the Prior, also wrote to Bryant, declaring the pageant ‘one of the most beautiful things’ he had ever seen, adding ‘What whole-hearted mummers our Oxfordshire villagers make!’10 The Oxford Chronicle was equally positive, stating: ‘Judging by their performance, existence then was a gay, variegated affair, and on good St. Frideswide’s Day the burghers and burgesses of her city did much to justify the title of Merrie England.’11

As was usual with pageants, the local press made sure to describe the togetherness and lack of class antagonism, one reporting that the ‘gay whole-heartedness’ was ‘a great factor in social construction and refreshment, and visions a liberal and tearless lesson in history and manners.’12

As with the Cambridgeshire Pageant, the Oxfordshire Pageant was not particularly noteworthy in terms of its engagement with representations of the past; Bryant at this stage was clearly developing his style and form. The importance of the rural remained in his future thinking, as did the amount of time given to ordinary people in his pageants, rather than famous historical figures as was common in other pageants. While he kept the theme of the country fair for his Wisbech Pageant in 1929, he also added in other scenes as well; by the time of the Greenwich Night Pageant in 1933 he had conformed to the historical pageant much more clearly by including a long series of historical episodes.

A further Oxfordshire Pageant, held at Kidlington Manor in 1931, involved many of the earlier cast and production team, though Bryant himself was absent.


  1. ^ ‘The Pageant’. Cutting from Oxfordshire Supplement. Loose bundle, undated. BRYANT J1.
  2. ^ ‘Medieval Pageantry at Oxford’, Oxford Chronicle, 2 July 1926, no page number. BRYANT J1.
  3. ^ Oxfordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes, Pageant & Fete (1st July 1926) in the Grounds of Worcester College, Oxford (Oxford, 1926), b Oxfordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes, Pageant & Fete (1st July 1926) in the Grounds of Worcester College, Oxford (Oxford, 1926). BRYANT J1.
  4. ^ ‘Medieval Pageantry at Oxford’, Oxford Chronicle, 2 July 1926, no page number. BRYANT J1.
  5. ^ Maud Stepney Rawson, ‘Great Pageant at Oxford’. Unknown newspaper cutting. BRYANT J1.
  6. ^ See D. Fowler, Youth Culture in Modern Britain, c.1920-1970 (Basingstoke, 2008), 59-71; C. Oldfield, ‘Growing Up Good?: Medical, Social Hygiene and Youth Perspectives on Young Women, 1918-1939’ (PhD Thesis, University of Warwick, 2001), 14 and 20-48.
  7. ^ ‘As You like it’, Oxford Journal illustrated, 7 July 1926, 6. BRYANT J1.
  8. ^ Bryant, ‘St Frideswide’s Fair’, Oxfordshire Supplement—Home and Country, August 1926, 2. BRYANT J1.
  9. ^ Letter to Bryant from M. Sidgwick, July 10 1926; Letter to Bryant July 12 1926 from Gladys M. Ashhurst. Both BRYANT C8.
  10. ^ Letter from John Buchan to Arthur Bryant, 6 July. BRYANT C8.
  11. ^ ‘Medieval Pageantry at Oxford’, Oxford Chronicle, 2 July 1926, no page number. BRYANT J1.
  12. ^ Maud Stepney Rawson, ‘Great Pageant at Oxford’. Unknown newspaper cutting. BRYANT J1.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Oxfordshire Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1148/