The Pickering Pageant (or Historical Play)

Pageant type

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Place: Pickering Castle (Pickering) (Pickering, Yorkshire, North Riding, England)

Year: 1910

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 5


10–13 August 1910

Four performances at 1.45pm were scheduled, but an extra one was staged in the evening of Saturday 13 August. There was also a dress rehearsal on Saturday 6 August, for which the grandstand was almost full.1

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Hudson, Gilbert
  • Master of the Music: Rev. D.E. Jones, MA
  • Editors of the Book: Rev. A. Goldsbrough, MA; Rev. D.E. Jones, MA
  • Official Photographer: Mr H.L. Kettle (Scarborough)
  • Treasurer: Mr W.H. Rhodes
  • Hon. Secretaries: Mrs J.L. Kirk; Mrs E.G. Highfield
  • Hon. Assistant Secretary: Councillor E.H. Frank
  • Assistant Secretary: Mr W. Irving
  • Ticket Secretaries: Mrs H. Monkman; Mr J.W. Pounder

Names of executive committee or equivalent

General Committee

  • Chairman: Major Mitchelson, JP, CC
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor Fentress

Executive Committee

  • Chairman: Mr J.D.Whitehead

Book Committee

Acting Committee

Music Committee

Dress Committee

Four sub-committees:
  • Design and Colour
  • Cutting Out
  • Sewing
  • Accessories

Finance Committee

Grand Stand Committee

Ground Committee

Properties Committee

Refreshments Committee

Advertising Committee


Committees are listed, but names of members are not given.

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

  • Hudson, Gilbert
  • Manners, Mary E.
  • Waring, George
  • Loy, Eva E.
  • Kitching, Mrs R.
  • Goldsbrough, Albert
  • Wells, M.E.U.
  • Jones, David E.
  • Whitehead, James D.
  • Cooper, Wilhelmina


  • Scene I: Prologue, by Miss Mary E. Manners.
  • Scene II: A Prehistoric Incident, about BC 250, devised by Mr Gilbert Hudson.
  • Scene III: The Roman Occupation, AD 81, devised by Mr George Waring.
  • Scene IV: The Wapentake, AD 642, devised by Miss Eva E. Loy, lyric by Miss Manners.
  • Scene V: Founding of Monastery at Lastingham, AD 653, devised by Mrs R. Kitching, lyric by the same.
  • Scene VI: First Beginnings of Pickering Castle, about AD 867, devised by the Rev. Albert Goldsbrough.
  • Scene VII: The Domesday Survey, AD 1086, devised by Miss M.E.U. Wells, lyric by Miss Manners.
  • Scene VIII: King John and the Nuns of Wykeham, AD 1201, devised by the Rev. David E. Jones, lyric by the same.
  • Scene IX: Opening of Pickering Fair, AD 1280, devised by Miss Eva E. Loy.
  • Scene X: Edward II and the French Envoys, AD 1323, devised by the Rev. David E. Jones.
  • Scene XI: Richard II, Prisoner at Pickering, AD 1399, devised by Mr James D. Whitehead, lyric by Mr G. Hudson.
  • Scene XII: Rejoicings at Defeat of Armada, AD 1588, devised by Miss Wilhelmina Cooper.
  • Scene XIII: Epilogue, by Miss Mary E. Manners.
  • Scene XIV: Finale: ‘Song of Pickering’ by Miss M.E.U. Wells, and hymn, ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’.

Names of composers

  • Jones, David E.
  • German, Edward

Numbers of performers


The souvenir booklet listed around 450 performers. The local press reported ‘practically 550’, but this may have included musicians.

Financial information

The ‘amount received’ was nearly £1000, with £835 coming from ticket sales (the rest came from sales of the programme and book of words, the tea marquee, and so on).3 After the pageant, it was planned to sell the wood from the grandstand. It is unclear whether the Pageant made a profit.

Object of any funds raised

There were no concrete plans regarding the expenditure of any profits before the pageant took place.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 6000


Any estimate of the total number of spectators is at best tentative. It appears that the grandstand, with a capacity of 600, was full or almost full for each of the performances. On the first day, Wednesday 10 August, 512 tickets were sold (raising about £160), but many more people paid on the gate for the cheaper tickets.4 For the Saturday afternoon performance, 13 August, the Yorkshire Gazette reported that many hopeful spectators were turned away and that there were 3000 people in the castle grounds.5 It is not clear whether all these people were able to see the pageant, though some evidently could; spectators could pay 1s. or 6d. to watch the pageant from outside the grandstand.6 For the extra performance on the Saturday evening, the orchestra was moved to the grandstand so that they could see the pageant.7 A reasonable estimate is that at least 6000 people, and perhaps as many as 8000, saw the pageant across the five main performances and the dress rehearsal on Saturday 6 August, for which the grandstand was nearly full.8

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s. 6d.–6d.

Admission to grandstand: 10s. 6d.; 5s.; and 3s. 6d. There were also ‘popular prices’ of 1s. and 6d., which provided admission without a seat in the grandstand.9

Associated events


Pageant outline

Scene I. Prologue

In rhyming verse, the characters of History and Imagination (both played by women)10 debate with each other, the one dressed in ‘sombre attire’ and the other in ‘rainbow robes’. History is pondering scrolls, ‘records of this old historic town’. Imagination offers to use ‘my magic sceptre [to] make them bright and clear’, but History retorts that ‘naught but fact may enter here’. The two debate their respective merits, but at the end they agree to work together, and History concludes the prologue by declaring:

I will read the ancient records, you shall give them life and soul;
And the past shall live before us as the pageant we unroll.

Scene II. A Prehistoric Incident, About 250 BC

The scene is the shore of Lake Pickering: as noted at the top of the episode, recent research had uncovered evidence of a large lake south of the modern town, with some ancient ‘Lake Dwellings’. There is no dialogue in this scene. A group of lake-dwellers, with a coracle, encounters a family of ‘uplanders’—man, wife, son and daughter. Preparing to fight, the leader of the lake-dwellers spots the daughter and makes a sign that he would like to buy her. The father agrees, but the girl refuses to be sold; however, she is exchanged for the coracle. The lake-dwellers now chase after the uplanders, under instructions from the chief to kill them; they are out of sight. The lake-dwellers return with the coracle and ‘other spoils’, and drag the weeping girl away with them.

Scene III: The Roman Occupation, AD 81

This scene features Agricola, the Roman governor; his wife, Domitia; Lucinius, an officer in command of Domitia’s escort; a group of soldiers; and captured native ‘Brigantes’. It is a short verse incident: Domitia and Lucinius are on their way to Cawthorne from Barugh. They have noticed the sullenness of the natives and are relieved when they encounter Agricola and his soldiers, with the captured natives.

Scene IV. The Wapentake, AD 642

In this scene a prophetess, Gytha, predicts the outcome of the battle of Maserfield, fought in the same year, when the Northumbrian King Oswald was killed by the ‘heathen’ forces led by Penda. Neither Oswald nor Penda are depicted in this scene, but the men of the local villages perform the wapentake, showing fealty to Oswald by touching the local headman’s sword with their own weapons. This scene is all in verse.

Scene V. Founding of Monastery at Lastingham, AD 653

Part I. The scene is the court of King Ethelwald. The King gives land at Lastingham, seven miles south west of modern Pickering, to the holy man Cedd, who is accompanied by monks. Cedd is grateful but insists—in verse—that the land should be ‘hallowed … By prayer and fasting’ and then consecrated.

Part II. The scene is the moors at Lastingham. A chorus of villagers, led by a priest, enters praising the gods Woden and Thor and invoking their anger against ‘a new foe—these strangers’ who have arrived at Lastingham and are fasting and spending many days kneeling in prayer to a different god. A local youth expresses sympathy with these Christians, and the pagan priest has him dragged to the stone altar, where he prepares to kill him. The monks chant in Latin, which charms a local child, whose mother tells him to be quiet. The King’s messenger arrives with a scroll, which he hands to Cedd. Cedd has been called by the King and leaves Lastingham in the hands of his brother Cynebil. The monks kneel and sing.

Scene VI. First Beginnings of Pickering Castle, About AD 867

On the beacon hill, Pickering, a group of ceorls are told to fortify the hill with palisades. The local ealdorman is concerned about shadowy foes who may attack. A thegn enters and reports that the Danes have arrived and ‘taken and destroyed’ nearby York. Their boats have overwhelmed the eastern coast, and they have burnt homesteads, murdered men and children, and enslaved women. This strengthens the ealdorman’s determination to build a castle.

Scene VII. The Domesday Survey, AD 1086

A local crowd sings an ‘English Lament’: the Normans conquered the land0 and exacted severe punishments in the ‘harrowing of the north’. Now some years later, they are asked—in prose—to provide information for Domesday Book. Adam, the commissioner-in-chief of the survey, tells the crowd that a ‘strong castle’ will be built on the site of the ‘ancient fort’, with a Norman-style round keep and a deep moat. A ‘stately church’ will also be built to replace the current one. Adam appoints Ralph de Bolbeck as steward of the manor, keeper of the forest and constable of the castle. At this point there is a struggle between the crowd and the Norman soldiers who are keeping order, and Bolbeck shouts: ‘Back to your kennels, dogs, and serve the King, or worse shall follow! Soldiers, drive them hence!’

Scene VIII. King John and the Nuns of Wykeham, AD 1201

This scene, in verse, depicts John’s visit to Pickering Castle. It opens with the prioress of Wykeham anxiously awaiting the King, having heard rumours of his ‘fickleness and sudden bursts/Of peevish wrath’. John arrives, having been hunting, and describes his excitement at having seen a dog tearing a stag to pieces. In a good mood, he agrees to sign a charter confirming the right of the nuns of Wykeham (where the priory had been established in 1153) to their lands, rights and ‘habitation’.

Scene IX. Opening of Pickering Fair, AD 1280

This comic prose scene had a very large named cast (34 characters, of whom only five were female, plus ‘Schoolboys, Dancers, Tumblers, &c.’ and a ‘General Crowd’). The steward enters and announces that the King and Edmund, Earl of Lancaster (lord of the manor), have proclaimed that a fair should be held and a court of pie-powder established to deal with any disagreements. Two constables, together with two ale tasters, leather searchers, water searchers and cattle ‘finders’ are sent to search the market. Fines are levied for any transgressions of market rules. A group of boys from Pickering Grammar School behave rudely towards the bailiff, and then a fortune teller is put in the stocks. Various nobles now enter, including Geoffrey de Kynthorpe, the Earl and Countess of Lancaster and Sir Adam Bruys, and they ask why the man is in the stocks–they are told that he has been convicted of ‘gramarye’ [i.e., sorcery]. Although the Earl says that ‘he is rightly served’, the Countess asks that he be freed, and this is done.

Scene X. Edward II and the French Envoys, AD 1323

This verse scene opens with Queen Isabella, consort of Edward II, talking to Sir Adam de Bruys and his wife, Dame Matilda, and others in the courtyard of Pickering Castle. Isabella has been riding through the Kynthorpe woods, which reminded her of her native France. She wishes she was back there, as the King has neglected her. The King enters, with Hugh le Despenser (senior and junior), Chancellor Robert de Baldock and others. The Queen accuses Edward, to his face, of neglecting her and spending too much time with his ‘favourites’: she reminds him what happened to Piers Gaveston, who was ‘done to death’ [in 1312] and urges him to ‘dismiss’ his favourites. Now two French envoys arrive to speak with the King, with messages from King Charles the Fair [Isabella’s brother]. Baldock and the others agree to tell them that Edward is ill and that Baldock should deal with them. However, this wheeze fails, and the King and Queen meet the envoys, who persuade them to travel to France. Baldock and the Despensers agree that the King must, somehow, be stopped from travelling.

Scene XI. Richard II, Prisoner at Pickering, AD 1399

This verse scene is again set in the courtyard of the castle. Some of the dialogue is taken from Shakespeare’s Richard II. Richard is in despair at his capture and imprisonment. A jester tells him that he is free to go hunting, but Richard has ‘no heart/For hawk or hound—no pleasure in the view’. The constable of the castle tells him about a local legend: how the devil came and created the Hole of Horcum and the hill at Blakey Topping. Richard is entertained by singers, who sing ‘Summer Is Icumen In’. Now Sir Pierce Exton and two soldiers bring the constable a letter, which orders Richard’s removal to Pomfret. This frightens Richard, who had dreamed that he would be killed at Pomfret, but he submits to being taken there.

Scene XII. Rejoicings at Defeat of Armada, AD 1588

This scene, again in the castle courtyard, is in verse. The castle governor, and various ‘worthies of Pickering’, are anxiously awaiting news. The governor’s page, Miles Strangways, tell him that the vicar of Pickering and a seaman from Whitby want to see him. The seaman, Nicholas Coble, tells the governor that he had seen three Spanish ships in distress. A courier, Master Coltman, now enters with more definite news: ‘The Spaniard is defeated—England saved!’ He then tells the full story. There are ‘Trumpetings, shouts and cheers’, and a group of girls does a dance.

Scene XIII. Epilogue

History and Imagination, which featured in the Prologue, now return, and speak in verse on the sward of Pickering Castle. History regrets that a number of figures were missing from the pageant due to lack of time, but Imagination tells History not to worry: ‘Some, at least, of those omitted shall pass dumbly o’er the stage.’ There follows a procession of historical figures, narrated by Imagination and History: the legendary founder of Pickering, Peredurus; Henry I, Queen Maud and their court; Osmund and his monks; ‘the abbot of York’ [not clear exactly who]; Gerard, Archbishop of York;11 Henry II and Fair Rosamund; Edmund ‘Crouchback’, first Earl of Lancaster [who did in fact appear in Scene IX]; Thomas, second Earl of Lancaster; Henry, third Earl of Lancaster; Henry, first Duke of Lancaster; John of Gaunt and Blanche, his wife; Sir Roger Hastings and Sir Richard Cholmley; the antiquary John Leland (described by History as ‘My retainer, worthy Leland’); Katharine of Alexandria; Edmund the Martyr; St Christopher; Thomas À Becket; and finally St George. A crowd enters and sings a ‘Song of St George’.

Scene XIV. Finale

The ‘Song of Pickering’ is sung by the ‘Crowd of Performers’, and then the performers and audience all sing ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Julius Agricola, Gnaeus [known as Agricola] (AD 40–93) Roman governor of Britain
  • Cedd [St Cedd] (d. 664) bishop of the East Saxons
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Edmund [called Edmund Crouchback] first earl of Lancaster and first earl of Leicester (1245–1296), prince
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
  • Despenser, Hugh, the elder, earl of Winchester (1261–1326) administrator and courtier
  • Despenser, Hugh, the younger, first Lord Despenser (d. 1326) administrator and royal favourite
  • Baldock, Robert (d. 1327) administrator
  • Richard II (1367–1400) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Henry I (1068/9–1135) king of England and lord of Normandy
  • Matilda [Edith, Mold, Matilda of Scotland] (1080–1118) queen of England, first consort of Henry I [also known as Maud]
  • Gerard (d. 1108) bishop of Hereford and archbishop of York
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Clifford, Rosamund [called Fair Rosamund] (b. before 1140?, d. 1175/6) royal mistress
  • Thomas of Lancaster, second earl of Lancaster, second earl of Leicester, and earl of Lincoln (c.1278–1322) magnate
  • Henry of Lancaster, third earl of Lancaster and third earl of Leicester (c.1280–1345) magnate
  • Henry of Lancaster [Henry of Grosmont], first duke of Lancaster (c.1310–1361) soldier and diplomat
  • John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England
  • Leland, John (c.1503–1552) poet and antiquary
  • Edmund [St Edmund] (d. 869) king of the East Angles
  • Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop of Canterbury
  • George [St George] (d. c.303?) patron saint of England
  • St Christopher (d. 251) saint and martyr
  • St Catherine of Alexandria (287–305) saint and martyr

Musical production

The orchestra had a special stand in the castle moat, but t was moved to the grandstand for the final performance on Saturday evening, 13 August, so that they could see the pageant.

‘For the musical setting to the lyrics specially written, the Master of the Music [Rev. David E. Jones] is Responsible.’ The lyrics were written by Mary E. Manners, Gilbert Hudson, Rev. David E. Jones and Miss M.E.U. Wells. Pieces included:

  • Edward German. Selection from opera ‘Merrie England’. 
  • ‘Summer Is Icumen In’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Yorkshire Gazette
Malton Messenger
Malton Gazette

Book of words

The Book of the Pickering Pageant (or Historical Play), Arranged by Gilbert Hudson, August 10, 11, 12, 13, 1910. Pickering, 1910.

Price 6d.

Other primary published materials

  • Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event. Pickering, 1910.

References in secondary literature

  • Clitheroe, Gordon. Pickering Through Time. Stroud, 2013.
  • Hume, Gordon and John Rushton. The Evolution of an English Town: Pickering. Pickering, 1999. First edition by Gordon Home (London, 1905).

Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Bede. Ecclesiastical History.
  • Fletcher, C.R.L. School History of England. 5 volumes. Oxford 1904–23.
  • Green, J.R. A Short History of the English People. London, 1874.
  • Home, Gordon. The Evolution of an English Town: Pickering. London, 1905.
  • Hope, H. St John and R.B. Turton. Local historical research.
  • Kendall, Prof. P.F. ‘Contributions’ to research on local prehistory.
  • Knight, Charles. Old England: A Pictorial Museum. 2 volumes. London, 1870.
  • Powell, Frederick York. ‘Contribution’ in Social England [it is unclear to which of Powell’s writings this refers]
  • Skeat, Walter W. A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford, 1901 (first edition, 1882).
  • Turton, R.B., ed. The Honor and Forest of Pickering. North Riding Record Society, new series, vol. III. 1896.

There are short historical notes to each scene, some of which refer to published sources.

  • Scene II: Prof. P.F. Kendall’s ‘Contributions’ to research on local prehistory.
  • Scene III: Walter W. Skeat, A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford, 1901. (1st. ed. 1882.)
  • Scene V: Bede, Ecclesiastical History, chapters 22–3.
  • Scene VI: Local historical research by H. St John Hope; R.B. Turton.
  • Scene VII: Frederick York Powell’s ‘contribution’ in Social England.
  • Scene IX: C.R.L. Fletcher, School History of England. 5 vols, Oxford 1904–23, vol. I. J.R. Green, A Short History of the English People. London, 1874.
  • Scene X: R.B. Turton (ed.), The Honor and Forest of Pickering. North Riding Record Society, new series, vol. III, 1896.
  • Scene XI: Gordon Home, The Evolution of an English Town: Pickering. London, 1905. C.R.L. Fletcher, School History of England. 5 vols, Oxford 1904-23, vol. I.
  • Scene XII: Charles Knight, Old England: A Pictorial Museum. 2 vols, London, 1870.


Pageants were very popular in the North Riding of Yorkshire, as in other parts of the country, before the First World War. Thirsk staged a ‘historical play’ in 1907;  York in 1909; and Scarborough had a successful pageant in 1912; and in August 1910 the small town of Pickering held its pageant, staged in the spectacular outdoor setting of Pickering Castle. A year in the making, the pageant depicted real and apocryphal events in the history of the town, with a number of national and international historical figures making an appearance. The pageant-master was Gilbert Hudson, who had stepped in to replace D’Arcy Ferrars at Thirsk in 1907, leading a very successful pageant there. Hudson, a native of York, would also be pageant-master at Scarborough in 1912.

The Pickering pageant was considerably larger than the ‘historical play’ at Thirsk. Whereas Hudson had had to organise only just over 200 performers in 1907, there were around 450 at Pickering—perhaps more.13 There was also an orchestra, positioned in the castle moat. Like other pageants of the time, the organisational work was carried out by a series of committees, dealing with music, props, costumes (divided among four sub-committees), the grandstand, finance, advertising, refreshments, the ‘ground’, the book and, perhaps most importantly, acting—as well as an executive committee and a general committee. Organisation was centred on ‘Pageant House’, the home of assistant secretary Ernest H. Frank.14 The chairman of the general committee, and a leading figure in the organisation of the pageant, was county councillor Major Mitchelson of Pickering Hall, former chairman of the urban district council. Pickering Hall, or ‘High Hall’, had for a number of years hosted the annual Pickering Gala, which took place in July 1910, about a month before the pageant;15 moreover, J.M. Mitchelson, current chair of the urban district council, took a key acting role, as did Colonel Scoby, chairman of the rural district council, who played Agricola in Episode III.16 Other parts were also taken by prominent members of the community, often relatives of the organisers: Miss E. Whitehead, for example, daughter of the chairman of the executive committee, played ‘History’ in the opening and closing scenes, and the honorary secretaries themselves took leading roles, with Mrs J.L. Kirk playing Queen Isabella.17

The script was also mostly written by local people, with each of the fourteen scenes being written separately, although some—including Rev. David E. Jones, who was also Master of the Music—wrote more than one scene. As with most Edwardian pageants, the focus was on the distant past: the latest episode portrayed the ‘rejoicings’ at the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, while of the others one was prehistoric, one Roman, and three Anglo-Saxon. In the book of words each scene was accompanied by historical notes, which referred to various primary and secondary sources that were used to prepare the pageant. The recent publication of Gordon Home’s book, The Evolution of an English Town: Pickering, in 1905 had aroused interest in ‘local heritage’, and in the run-up to the pageant there was a series of ten long articles on ‘Pickering: Its History and Traditions’ in the local edition of the Yorkshire Gazette.18 The dialogue was accompanied by music composed by David E. Jones to lyrics written by various local contributors, including, as the finale, the ‘Song of Pickering’ by Miss M.E.U. Wells. (The performers also sang ‘Summer Is Icumen In’ and an excerpt from Edward German’s opera Merrie England.)19

Warfare and royalty feature heavily in the Pickering pageant, although Elizabeth I, who was ‘especially ubiquitous’ in Edwardian historical pageants,20 did not appear in person. Kings Ethelwald, John, Edward II (with his consort Isabella) and Richard II all appeared in the main body of the pageant, together with a good number of noblemen, the detail reflecting the detailed research that had been done by the script-writers. In the epilogue there was a procession of characters who had not appeared in the previous twelve scenes: some with connections to Pickering, and others not. These included three more kings—Henry I (with consort), Henry II (with ‘Fair’ Rosamund Clifford) and Edmund of Anglia—as well as John of Gaunt and his wife, another popular character Thomas À Becket, and SS Catherine, Christopher and George. Many of the scenes featured war or conflict—or at least the preparations for or aftermath of war. The pageant showed Pickering Castle under construction in fear of the Danes, celebrations at the defeat of the Armada, preparations for the battle of Maserfield, and Agricola on the march through the north of England. The Norman yoke was clearly presented in Episode VII, ‘The Domesday Survey’. Here, in 1086, a crowd of local people were still feeling the effects the ‘harrowing of the north’ some sixteen years earlier, their plight sung in the ‘English Lament’:

More dost thou ask of us, William the Tanner?
Nothing is left for thy Normans to crave.
Black is the land from the Tyne to the Humber;
All our fair country is one mighty grave.
Wrathful we list to the toll of the curfew;
Sullen we head to the lot of the slave.
Less worth are we than the deer of the forest;
Lost is all hope save the hope of the grave.21

Yet the depredations continue, as Ralph de Bolbeck is appointed steward of the manor, and the King orders a new castle and church to be built at Pickering. Bolbeck ends the scene by ordering the people: ‘Back to your kennels, dogs, and serve the King, or worse shall follow!’22

Although there was no narrator to stitch the scenes together, the prologue and epilogue involved two female characters playing personifications of ‘History’ and ‘Imagination’. According to the local press, this ‘happy expedient’ enabled ‘an almost full sketch of local history [to be] presented to the audience’.23 These scenes were written by Miss Mary E. Manners, who may have been the children’s writer Mary Emmeline Manners (1858–1941). History and Imagination begin the prologue by debating their respective merit, but they end it by agreeing to work together to create the pageant. They conduct the finale, too, by introducing the various characters who process across the stage.

The Pickering pageant was very successful in attracting spectators to the five performances. Although there are no exact audience figures, several thousand must have seen the pageant, and there were many reports of a packed grandstand (capacity 600, facing the castle keep) and even more standing spectators. On the Saturday, for example, ‘[e]very seat … was occupied, the unreserved section being especially crowded, and several hundreds were standing at different points around the arena.’ The range of admission prices reflected the ambition of the organisers to attract spectators from across the community: while the most expensive seats in the grandstand were 10s.6d., ‘popular prices’ of 1s. and 6d., giving admission to the pageant but not a seat, ensured that ‘the working classes of the district were given a chance to see the pageant’.24 Unusually, perhaps, it was claimed that there were no difficulties in hearing the dialogue, at least not for those in the grandstand, which was positioned facing the castle keep.25 Special trains were laid on to bring spectators from further afield, and the North Eastern Railway Company agreed reduced fares for those travelling to the pageant; some also came to Pickering by car.26 The town itself was beset by performers and spectators during the week of the pageant: ‘The streets presented an unwonted appearance with the extra traffic, and a curious blend of ancient and modern was seen in the occupants of motor cars habilitated in costumes far remote from the present age.’27

There were some criticisms of the pageant, of course. One spectator felt that the dancing lacked ‘spirit’,28 and one correspondent to the Malton Gazette was disappointed that some parts of the pageant were not focused sufficiently on Pickering itself:

It must be confessed that it was a little disappointing that the incidents in the history of the town were not sufficiently numerous to provide a consecutive story. We rejoiced over the defeat of the Armada and were amused at the bartering of a British maiden for a primitive ‘dug out’ [i.e., coracle, in Episode II], but this was as applicable to the Lands End [sic] as to Pickering.29

Nevertheless, the crowds enjoyed the pageant and the takings were considerable, although it not clear how much, if any, profit was made. As with most such pageants in the Edwardian period, Pickering’s was a community effort and managed to engage more than just the civic elites in involvement with the re-presentation of the town’s history. John Rushton remarked that, ‘[i]f it seemed that acting roles were clearly geared to social station, there was still immense pride in a communal occasion’.30 A substantial proportion of the town’s population took part, and even more watched the pageant, perhaps in some cases more than once.31 At one performance, and perhaps others, pageant-master Gilbert Hudson was called out by the audience at the end of the final scene, taking a bow to great cheers. Two years later he produced an even bigger pageant at Scarborough, with 1300 performers, another notable moment in the history of pageantry in the North Riding of Yorkshire.


  1. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 15.
  2. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 27–35; Yorkshire Gazette, 13 August 1910, 3.
  3. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 23; ‘After the Pageant’, Yorkshire Gazette, 20 August 1910, 3.
  4. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 13 August 1910, 3.
  5. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 20 August 1910, 3.
  6. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 22 and 23.
  7. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 20 August 1910, 3.
  8. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 15.
  9. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 23.
  10. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 16.
  11. ^ Osmund, the Abbot of York and the Archbishop of York were all awarded charters by Henry I in the period 1107–13. Gerard is identified by name in the script (Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event [Pickering, 1910], 51 n.1), but the Abbot is not.
  12. ^ The Book of the Pickering Pageant (or Historical Play), Arranged by Gilbert Hudson, August 10, 11, 12, 13, 1910 (Pickering, 1910), iii.
  13. ^ The souvenir booklet listed around 450 performers. The local press reported ‘practically 550’, but this may have included musicians. Pickering Pageant 1910 Souvenir: Full Record of a Memorable Event (Pickering, 1910), 27–35; Yorkshire Gazette, 13 August 1910, 3.
  14. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 2 July 1910, 2.
  15. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 6 July 1910, 5. See also Gordon Clitheroe, Pickering Through Time (Stroud, 2013): The earliest photograph of the gala in this book dates from 1907.
  16. ^ Gordon Home and John Rushton, The Evolution of an English Town: Pickering (Pickering, 1999 [1st ed. by Gordon Home, London, 1905]), 300. According to Rushton, who wrote the final chapter bringing Home’s book up to date, Mitchelson played St Wilfrid, but Wilfrid did not appear in the pageant.
  17. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910, 16 and 24.
  18. ^ Home and Rushton, Evolution of an English Town, 300; Yorkshire Gazette, 18 June 1910, 2, and weekly thereafter. These were reprinted from an earlier series, but the original date is not clear.
  19. ^ The Book of the Pickering Pageant (or Historical Play), Arranged by Gilbert Hudson, August 10, 11, 12, 13, 1910 (Pickering, 1910), iii and 43. It is not clear at what point the excerpt from German was performed.
  20. ^ Paul Readman, ‘The Place of the Past in English Culture’, Past and Present 186 (2005): 177.
  21. ^ The Book of the Pickering Pageant, 20.
  22. ^ Ibid., 22.
  23. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 6 July 1910, 5.
  24. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910, 22 and 23.
  25. ^ Ibid., 16.
  26. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 13 August 1910, 3.
  27. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910, 15.
  28. ^ Yorkshire Gazette, 13 August 1910, 3.
  29. ^ Pickering Pageant 1910, 43.
  30. ^ Home and Rushton, Evolution of an English Town, 300.
  31. ^ The population of Pickering in 1887 was 3959, A Vision of Britain, accessed 11 January 2016,

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pickering Pageant (or Historical Play)’, The Redress of the Past,