Pageant of Saint Laurence

Pageant type

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Place: St Laurence Church [now St Lawrence Church] (Bardney) (Bardney, Lincolnshire, England)

Year: 1934

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 3


13–15 August 1934

13, 14 and 15 August 1934 at 7.30pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Townsend, Miss E.M.
  • Producer: Rev. A.C.P. Burley and Mr. E.A. Norman with A.E. Hurst
  • Organist: Mr. R. Sellars
  • Solo Violin: Miss Enid A. Roberts

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Townsend, Miss E.M.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers

Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

The five hundredth anniversary of the consecration of the church.

Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events

Various services and the unveiling of a mural of the Twelve Apostles by Albert Willets, assistant art master at Lincoln Technical College.

Pageant outline

Scene I. The Village Green, Bardney, 1934

A group of villagers enter and discuss ‘goings-on at the Church today’1 and introduce the pageant itself. They discuss the life and brutal martyrdom of St Laurence. Several depart for the church. Grace and her grandfather argue whether the latter is a good Christian, despite not going to church. He says, ‘I believe in the fireside of a Sunday,’ except for ‘weddings and funerals, maybe even a Baptism now and then, but them’s family affairs’.2 She persuades him to come along as her brother is speaking in church. Maria declares that ‘I generally stop at home and put the wireless on. Then you can enjoy the best singing and such-like, and turn it off when you’re tired, and yet feel you’ve got good, and that’s all you Church-going folk reckon to get, isn’t it?’3 Grace argues: ‘It’s a finer thing to give, and to join with the Parish in a kind of fellowship. The wireless is just for yourself, and no trouble. The Vicar says our religion is worth what it costs us and no more.’4 A local youth complains that St Laurence ‘just was burnt, and that was all ages ago, but in Bardney, you’ve got to put up with sneers and jeers every day of your life, if you try to go straight, and you have to give up all sorts of fun if you want to go straight’.5 Lilly rides off on a motor cycle. Gladys and Laurence can’t make a confirmation service on 3 October. Grace admits the Christian life is difficult but says that the church is there to guide people. Lily returns in tears—her motorcycle-riding boyfriend has gone off with another woman. News arrives that they have crashed; the new girlfriend was killed and Jo, the boyfriend, paralysed. Lily repents of her wicked ways, and they all go into the church where a service and hymn are performed. 6

Scene II. The Appearance of St Laurence

Laurence walks about, deep in thought, and is visited by St Laurence in a cowl. They greet each other. The non-Saint complains that people mock him because of his name and declares that ‘I don’t think St Laurence went through half what we chaps have to bear in Bardney’. Though he likes going to church occasionally, ‘it’s not worth giving up a lot just for, say—confirmation, and that.’7 St Laurence rebukes his namesake and then asks if he wants to see what life was like in AD 258: ‘It’s quite easy to tune in to AD 258, if you know the way’.8 Apparently the way one does it is by making a sign of the cross with outstretched arms.

Scene III. The Pageant of St Laurence, Rome, AD 258

An altar slab. Enter six maids in green with a maiden in gold wearing wreaths of laurel leaves. They dance sadly and sing. St Laurence’s mother, Claudia, enters, and they offer incense. St Laurence refuses to worship the pagan gods (in this case, the god of Luck). Julius, his father, a Roman soldier, warns Laurence that Emperor Valerian has instructed him to round up and execute Christians, beginning with Bishop Sixtus. Laurence offers to be taken to die with him. Gallienus, the Emperor’s son and Laurence’s friend, enters and hails them before inviting Laurence to compete in a chariot race. Laurence declines the offer, and Gallienus mocks him: ‘I believe in having a gay life whilst you’re young. My father is seventy and would like me to take life seriously, but I just live for today and worship no god but luck’.9 Gallienus offers incense. Julius returns with soldiers and the bound Sixtus, who is briefly left alone with Laurence. Sixtus tells Laurence great things are in store but that he will also die in three days. A child annoys Julius, who dares her to declare she is a Christian. She does so, and Julius throws her in prison. Unfortunately, the guard ordered to do so is also a Christian. Though Julius does not fear lions, he is afraid of his friends’ mockery. Laurence’s mother implores him to desist, but he does not. She admits she loves Christianity. Aedile demands Laurence gives all his wealth to the Emperor. Laurence angers Aedile, who orders him be put in chains. Claudia weeps for him, but reassures Lucia, her daughter, the Laurence will not die but in fact live. A number of Romans are converted, including Julius. Gloria in Excelsis is sung and incense burned.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Laurence [St Laurence, of Rome] (c. 225-258) Roman martyr
  • Gallienus (c.218-268) Roman emperor
  • Sixtus II (d. 258) bishop of Rome and martyr

Musical production

Organist: Mr. R. Sellars. Solo Violin: Miss Enid A. Roberts. The notable soloist Wena Pickering led the choir.

  • Hymn 440. ‘Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones’
  • ‘Hail Sisters Three’, a specially written piece.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Lincolnshire Echo

Church Times

Book of words

Pageant of Saint Laurence. Lincoln, 1934.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Lincolnshire Archives: Copy of the programme, typescript and draft manuscript of the dialogue, and correspondence. Bardney Par 23/30.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Though historically themed, religious pageants often followed strikingly different approaches and dramatic methods to their secular counterparts, from the 1909 English Church Pageant through a range of Missionary Pageants that were popular in the 1920s and 1930s, to church-building pageants, notably The Rock (1934), written by T.S. Eliot. While attempting to depict the history of a church or religious group, they were also highly conscious of the religious roots of pageantry. Often, religious pageantry held an ambiguous place between a dramatic performance and a religious service, akin to today’s Nativity Plays. As the Pageant of Saint Laurence programme noted, ‘The play is offered by all concerned as an Act of Worship, and the congregation are therefore asked to refrain from any applause or comment.’10 One wonders what kind of atmosphere this would have created among pageant-goers. This sentiment was repeated by the Lincolnshire Echo: ‘The pageant first and foremost is an act of worship’, as if to dissuade criticism from a dramaturgical point of view.11

In celebrating the 500th anniversary of the church, although it this not mentioned in the pageant itself, preachers on the Sunday prior to the pageant week made explicit the link between the bloody martyrdom of Saint Laurence and the church’s own history. The Rev. C. Gordon Biddle, Vicar from 1914–1917, stated during his sermon: ‘During the 500 years in that house of God… men and women had there prepared to meet God. There was no more solemn thought for him, though it might be a funereal one, than to realise that their house of God was merely a house of preparation for eternity. It mattered not what national vicissitudes or ecclesiastical differences the past 500 years had seen, that work was still going on’.12 He went on to remark on the upheaval which marked the church’s history in stark terms: ‘Indeed, it was not an uncommon thing to find in a village churchyard, such as theirs, bodies of the tortured, of people who gave up their lives rather than give up their faith. That was their glorious heritage—a religion of self-sacrifice, or, as he preferred to call it, a religion of the crucifix.’13 In fact, the earliest Saxon church had been destroyed by Danish raiders as early as 870 and, like many other churches, had been severely altered or damaged during the Reformation.14 The message which the pageant made bluntly clear was the perhaps surprisingly un-Anglican one that modern religion needed to return to self-sacrifice even unto death.

The pageant addressed head-on the growing secularisation of the English people and the growing plight of the Anglican Church, which saw stagnation (rather than a numerical decline) in congregation sizes during the inter-war period. Despite a relatively stable congregation, however, it had become clear that younger people were less likely to be regular church-attendees.15 The growth of the ‘secular Sunday’, characterized by participating in or watching sports or attending cinemas and other recreational facilities that were open longer—as well as the greater amounts of money available to (employed) young people and their larger amounts of free time—meant that fewer men and women were willing to attend church on a Sunday or, for that matter, on other days of the week. Grace’s grandfather in this pageant believes in ‘the fireside of a Sunday’, sacrilegiously comparing it to Laurence’s fiery martyrdom on a grid-iron and stating that he only attends church for rites of passage.16 This was a point of view which the clergy had been decrying for centuries, but, as the pageant made clear, many of the problems with respect to church attendance were strictly modern ones involving the young.

Maria prefers to ‘stop at home and put the wireless on. Then you can enjoy the best singing and such-like, and turn it off when you’re tired, and yet feel you’ve got good, and that’s all you Church-going folk reckon to get, isn’t it?’17 This reflects a growing trend which would become especially exacerbated after 1945 with the growth of syncretic forms of worship, particularly for the elderly and infirm who were unable to travel to church and who continued to listen to the broadcast services which littered the BBC schedule under Lord Reith’s orders. These would later consist of the millions of people who tuned into Songs of Praise every week.18

The key problem presented in the pageant was that those young people who were perceived to be church attendees, particularly men, were subject to ridicule among their peers. As a local youth complains, St Laurence ‘just was burnt, and that was all ages ago, but in Bardney, you’ve got to put up with sneers and jeers every day of your life, if you try to go straight, and you have to give up all sorts of fun if you want to go straight’.19 Quite what ‘going straight’ requires is unclear, but one can imagine that this phrase refers to gambling, drinking and premarital relations. This complaint is repeated in the second scene involving Laurence, who remarks: ‘I don’t think St Laurence went through half what we chaps have to bear in Bardney.’20 Though Laurence remains a Christian—unbelief, agnosticism and atheism are never mentioned in the pageant—the appeal of football and Sunday gambling, combined with socialising, are obstacles to church attendance.

In marked contrast to many church modernizers of the twentieth century who attempted to portray the Christian lifestyle as generally permissive (or at least non-judgmental, inclusive and ‘fun’), religion in Bardney is presented solely as one of sacrifice. Grace’s stress on ‘fellowship’ is also combined with the homily that ‘The Vicar says our religion is worth what it costs us and no more.’21 In a rather James Dean-like section, Lily’s motorcycle riding boyfriend Jo (presumably sporting a leather jacket and an attitude) runs, or rather cycles, off with a new girl, presumably to get up to ‘all sorts of fun’. His motorcycle crash, which leaves him paralysed and his new girlfriend dead, is a rather Old Testament judgment on the wicked ways of the young. There is half an expectation that the chariot race in the third scene, proposed by the equally fun-loving Gallienus, will likewise end in tragedy.

The scenes depicting St Laurence are far less interesting to the historian of religion. As the Lincolnshire Echo noted, the saint was a well-documented historical figure and his life and gruesome martyrdom, involving practically everyone who appears in the third scene, was ‘singularly free from invented legends’.22 Preaching on the Monday of the pageant, Archdeacon Larken took a somewhat less fire-and-brimstone attitude, remarking that ‘to have such an ancient parish church was something to be proud of, but it was theirs for a purpose—that they might remember that they joined hands across the centuries, and must play their part—a part which could still be played, provided strength was drawn from the same place.’23 The notable soloist, Wena Pickering, who had previously lived in Bardney, led the choir and congregation in the singing. One of the producers was A.E. Hurst, Vice-Principal of Lincoln Training College, who, the paper noted, had produced in the previous winter a far less reverential portrayal of a fiery martyrdom, Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.24

The pageant, for all its heavy-handedness, was a success, which, the Lincolnshire Echo noted, proved an inspiration for the 250 other St Laurence Churches across the country.25 Indeed, R.H. Roberts, the Sacristan at Saint Laurence Upminster, wrote to one of the producers remarking:

I read with great interest the account of the Bardney Pageant in the Church Times of August 17th. Our Parish Church here is dedicated to St. Laurence, and for some time past we have been trying to find a play or a pageant founded on the life of the Saint. Would you be so kind as to inform me if the Bardney Pageant is available for presentation elsewhere, or if permission could be obtained for performing it in this parish?26

The force of pageantry alone was unlikely to encourage young people to return to the church, and the austere, semi-religious conditions under which it was performed make it likely that this pageant was only preaching to the converted. Nonetheless, the Pageant of St Laurence is an interesting source for historians studying anxieties relating to inter-war secularisation. Unlike many other churches in the area, St Laurence’s in Bardney (later renamed St Lawrence) continues to be a thriving religious community.27


  1. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 1, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  2. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 2, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  3. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 2, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  4. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 2–3, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  5. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 3, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.3.
  6. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 5, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  7. ^ Typescript, Scene 2, 1, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  8. ^ Typescript, Scene 2, 2, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  9. ^ Typescript, Scene 3, 2, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  10. ^ Pageant of Saint Laurence (Lincoln, 1934), Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  11. ^ Lincolnshire Echo, 11 August 1934, 1.
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ Accessed 10 March 2016, Bardney Village History, ‘Church of St. Lawrence, Bardney’ .
  15. ^ S.J.D. Green, The Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change, c.1920–1960 (Cambridge, 2011), 76–77.
  16. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 2, Lincolnshire Archives. Bardney Par 23/30.
  17. ^ Ibid., Scene 1, 2.
  18. ^ Green, Passing of Protestant England, 81–82. Green notes that some 10% listened to the BBC’s Sunday morning service by 1940 and that Songs of Praise, when it began in 1962, regularly attracted 5 million viewers.
  19. ^ Typescript, Scene 1, 3.
  20. ^ Ibid., Scene 2, 1.
  21. ^ Ibid., Scene 2, 2–3.
  22. ^ Lincolnshire Echo, 13 August 1934, 5.
  23. ^ Ibid.
  24. ^ Lincolnshire Echo, 4 August 1934, 4.
  25. ^ Lincolnshire Echo, 13 August 1934, 5.
  26. ^ Letter from R.H. Roberts to A.C.P. Burley, 30 September 1934, Lincolnshire Achives. Bardney Par 23/30. The review was printed in the Church Times, 17 August 1934, 162. Though Saint Laurence’s Church in Upminster held a number of pageants, I cannot find any record of this one being performed.
  27. ^ ‘St Lawrence, Bardney’, The Church of England, accessed 10 March 2016,

How to cite this entry

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