The Pitminster and Corfe Pageant

Other names

  • Pitminster and Corfe Festival: A Pageant of Our History

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Church of St Andrew and St Mary (Pitminster) (Pitminster, Somerset, England)

Year: 1976

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 2


13–15 July 1976, 7pm

Tuesday 13 and Thursday 15 July 1976

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Crowe, Rev. Eric
  • Producer: Mrs Crowe

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Peden, Joan

Names of composers

  • Arcadelt, Jacques
  • Weelkes, Thomas

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised

Object of funds not stated—presumably church upkeep.

Linked occasion


Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Adults: 50p

Schoolchildren: 10p

The programme doubled up as the ticket.

Associated events

  • Pitminster Church (Wednesday 7 July, 7.30pm). Introductory lectures by Miss J.D. Peden and R.R.W. Dunning. History of Pitminster and Corfe.
  • Haygrass House (Saturday 10 July, 3pm–6pm). Garden party (by invitation of Sir John and Lady Paget)—Swimming, tennis, cricket nets, pony and trap rides, treasure hunt, Taunton Deane Morris Men, Tea—25p.
  • Corfe Church (Sunday 11 July). 8am: Holy Communion; 11am: Festival Mattins, Preacher Bishop of Taunton; 7pm: Musical Concert, Diane Rees (Mezzo-Soprano), Tom Mayberry (Violin), Ronald Tickner (organ). Retiring collection.
  • Pitminster Church (Sunday 18 July, 10am). Parish Communion. Preacher: the Bishop of Bath and Wells. During the service, the Bishop instituted the Rev. E.A. Crowe as Vicar of the two parishes of Pitminster and Corfe. After the service he blessed the new vicarage.
  • Exhibition of children’s work and competitions in the old school (Wednesday 14 July, 6–7.30pm and Saturday 17 July, 10am–12pm).1

Pageant outline


An on-stage narrator declares ‘The place whereon thou standest is holy ground’, before describing how both religious and non-religious had lived and died in the area, contributing to the history of the parish. The light fades out, and another (unseen) narrator takes over. He gives an overview of the long history that the pageant will show, as the lights come on to show all the assembled characters. He explains that all these folk experienced good and bad times, and that it was the aim of the pageant ‘in recounting some of their adventures, to recapture in our own time the spirit of the life they led and of the legacies they left behind, which have so influenced us today.’2

Episode I. The Royal Charter of King Athelstan, 938

The narrator introduces the King, who then describes himself as ‘King of the English, elevated by the right hand of the Almighty, which is Christ, to the throne of the whole Kingdom of Britain.’ The narrator describes the charter, before the King confirms the charter to the audience. The narrator notes that the charter only lasted a hundred years, before all the land was given by Edward the Confessor to the Bishop of Winchester.

Episode II. King John at Poundisford, 1210

The narrator describes how King John came to hunt at the Deer Park at Poundisford, owned by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. The King enters with the Bishop, and discusses the hunting—the Bishop complimenting the King on his prowess. He is gently chastised by the Bishop for his lax approach to religion; the King responds lightly, asking him to ‘not spoil’ his day of sport. He then tells the Bishop that he wants him to tutor the young prince when he is of age to learn. They leave for a feast, as a procession dances down the aisle of the church.

Episode III. The Building of the Church, c.1300

A poem is spoken, describing the construction of the church. The final stanza states: ‘You are our folk: seven centuries after, In the uncertainties, one thing is sure, Column and spire raise to praise God, our Master, For we have built and the work shall endure.’

Episode IV. New Masters at the Barton/Dissolution of the Monasteries, 1539

The narrator describes the monks working at Barton Grange before the decision by Henry VIII to dissolve the monasteries. Monks now enter from outside the church and proceed slowly down the aisle, the Prior of Taunton at their head. They chant, and then kneel to pray. The Prior announces his sadness at the dissolution, and expresses concern about the future for the Priory and its monks; he also acknowledges the kindness of the people of Pitminster and Corfe.

Episode V. The Colles Family at Barton, 1557–1627

The narrator describes how the lands held by the Priory of Taunton were parcelled out and sold, passing in 1543 to Humprey Colles—before asking ‘How say you Humphrey? Is that not true?’ At this point a light shines on the tomb at the back of church, where Colles now stands. Colles replies that it is true, and explains there is no shame; describing how he built a great house here that bestrides both parishes, as well as acting as the Queen’s High Sheriff of Somerset. He declares how he means to leave his lands to his son, John, and all his seed, for centuries to come. A man in a black gown and hood, called Gregory, now comes into the light carrying a broom. Seemingly a former monk, Humphrey sets Gregory to work, at which he reacts grumpily. John now enters, with his wife Anne; John declares that he will also be a High Sheriff, as Anne promises Humphrey she will bear many grandchildren. John Colles II now enters with his wife Elizabeth, and declares that he also served as Sheriff. After Humphrey inquires after John II’s sons, he is saddened to find out that he bore three daughters, and only one son—who died in infancy. As the Colles walk down the aisle, the Narrator reads the inscription on the Colles tomb, which eulogise the family.

Episode VI. The Jangling about the Bells, 1630

The narrator describes how the parish, in 1630, had a young vicar called Walter Travers, who had already acted as Chaplain to Charles I and been the Rector of Steeple Ashton in Wiltshire. The day is Easter Monday. Travers mounts to the pulpit, and declares he likes much of his new parish, but does not like the bad and un-tuneable bells—suggesting that they should be replaced. The Wardens answer that they are happy, if the parishioners are happy to burden the charge. This brings some murmurs and some ‘yeas’, After the vicar leaves, the wardens discuss the charge and how the parishioners were not ‘best pleased.’ They decide to first try and tune the bells instead, employing a local tuner—William Mitchell—but to no avail. Now full of holes, they had to be recast. Two brothers, Richard and Roger Purdie, of a famous family of bell-founders, agreed. The narrator describes how John Priest, the warden, and his friend Richard Trott rode to Bridgwater Fair, discussing the bells as they went, and who would be responsible for the cost. The narrator describes that the bells were brought and hung by the next Easter, but not everyone agreed to ‘pay the reckoning’. The Vicar now again takes to the pulpit, asking again for the parishioners to pay. One Richard Trott refuses to pay; the Warden declares he must therefore go to trial at the Court of the Bishop at Wells. The scene cuts to the trial, where a Mr Hill, giving evidence, declares the charge unlawful and that if he were the churchwarden again he would actually take the whole steeple down due to its decay. The narrator tells the audience that the steeple did not fall, but that they don’t know the result of the trial. He adds, however, that they do know that Richard Trott emigrated to New England and was created one of the patentees of the Charter of the Colony of Connecticut in 1662, his son going on to serve as Governor of the Colony. Just over a century later a descendant of the Trott’s signed the declaration of Independence. The bell of 1630 is then rung.

Episode VII. Opposing Loyalties at the Siege of Taunton, 1645

The narrator describes how two notable people of the parish were involved in the civil war–John Coventry, owner of Barton and an MP, but now a zealous cavalier, and Roger Hill, son of the evidence-giver from the previous scene and a roundhead like the people of Taunton, who are currently under siege. Coventry and Hill now have a heated discussion about the progress of the war and which is the right side. As the debate becomes more acrimonious, a group of villagers enters, celebrating the recent victory of the Roundheads at Taunton—to Coventry’s dismay. After Hill and Coventry depart, the former to help the townsmen in Taunton and the latter to protect Barton, a local man, William Gill, sings a short victory song in local dialect.

Episode VIII. Sedgemoor’s Black Shadow, 1685

The narrator tells the tale of the Monmouth Rebellion, before establishing the scene of the Duke of Monmouth’s reception at Taunton in June 1685. Two schoolgirls enter and talk to the vicar’s wife—excitedly telling her about the soldiers they have seen, the handsome Duke of Monmouth, and the royal reception he received. While they think it a wonderful thing, the Vicar’s wife worries about the outcome of his claim to the throne. As the narrator tells of the Duke’s defeat and subsequent hanging, three women enter dressed in black, mourning their husbands who have been tried by Judge Jeffries and executed along with the Duke. They each tell the tale of their respective husbands, and how they were forced into the conflict—whether literally or after being excited by the prospect of a glorious uprising.

Episode IX. The Great Storm, 1703

The narrator introduces the scene by reminding the spectators that the spire of the church is not straight, due, possibly, to the great storm. Loud thunder and flashing lights then take place, before fading. The next morning, the Vicar of 1703 thinks about his next sermon. A woman rushes in, bringing the news that the Bishop has been tragically killed by a falling chimney during the storm. Another woman then enters and tells the vicar that the spire has been damaged. They all go out to look.

Episode X. Thomas Basket of Paradise, 1723

The narrator introduces the scene, which takes place one winter evening in the small cottage at Paradise, on the hill above Lowton, the home of Lawrence Clements and his family. A small girl comes out of the darkness and leaves a baby in a basket at the door, sobbing as she says her goodbyes. As the family inside the cottage tell a ghost story and chat, one of the children hears the baby crying. At first the mother thinks the child is mistaken. Eventually the boys investigate and find the baby, which they bring into the cottage. The next morning Lawrence Clements goes to see the overseer and explains about the baby; the overseer reacts negatively, considering the baby a nuisance that the parish does not want. He begrudgingly gives Lawrence some money to help keep the baby, which they name Thomas, after Lawrence’s father, and Basket, in recognition of where he was found. The narrator details that the mother was never found and that the baby died some two years later.

Episode XI. The Pitminster Volunteers, 1798–1802

Part I. John, Earl of Poulett, announces to the Lieutenants and Magistrates assembled at Taunton that information has been received that the French are to land in Cornwall and to proceed through Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucester to invade England. The gathered men react with surprise, shock and disbelief. They resolve to form a force to stop the invasion, raising as many men in their own neighbourhoods as they can.

Part II. In Pitminster, Thomas Southwood raises 65 men to form the Pitminster Volunteers. Several men keep arriving, signing up under Southwood, who then reads out the terms of agreement—including fines for intoxication and going Absent Without Leave, and the return of all accoutrements and arms upon expiry of service. Eventually, as the narrator relates, 70 men signed up and spent the next five years drilling, cleaning muskets and holding grand annual exercises on Curry Moor. In 1802 they were disbanded.

Episode XII. The Hymn that Went Round the World, 1830

The narrator explains how, in 1830, a widow at Poundisford, Mrs Welman, met and married a Major Thompson from London, who brought his daughter Jemima to settle at Poundisford Park.

Part I. The Major is leaving on a journey to London; Jemima fusses over him, for which he rebukes her—before reminding her that she is in charge of Sunday school while he is away. Jemima wonders what to teach the children, before mentioning a tune that has been running through her head.

Part II. The following Sunday Jemima takes the class, and teaches them the new hymn—which the audience cannot yet hear.

Part III. The next Sunday the children sing a new hymn [seemingly "I think when I read that sweet story of old"] to Major Thompson—much to his delight. He resolves to send a copy to Methodist World. The narrator then tells how the hymn became so popular that it made its way into most hymn-books till the present day.

Episode XIII. Jubilee. Queen’s Acre at Corfe, 1887

The narrator sets the scene: a field near Corfe Church, set apart as the Queen’s Acre to celebrate Victoria’s Jubilee. A boy enters with his mother, grandfather, and a little girl, eagerly anticipating the opening of the Queen’s Acre. His grandfather grumbles, unsure of the point of an old field being used in such a way. Unperturbed they go on—the only blot on the day being the father’s absence, serving as a colonial in India or Africa.

Episode XIV. We Went to War, 1939–45

The narrator declares ‘Shortly after the celebration of one thousand years since the church’s first charter, came the outbreak of the Second World War, which had little effect here—or did it?’ Two young men in the Home Guard complain about the cold, wishing they were at the local pub instead. They talk about the two bombs that fell nearby recently. They joke about having had to use hay-forks until their rifles arrived, one remembering that his Grandfather had told him about the time the Pitminster Volunteers had done the same thing (thus referencing the earlier Episode XI). A farcical moment happens as a little girl walks by and has to pretend not to notice them in the bushes. The narrator announces that ‘once again Britain survived without the expected invasion’. The scene cuts to three local women talking about the new foreigners in the village—guessing they might be Poles, Slovaks, or Italians. The narrator declares that ‘D-Day came and VE-Day followed at last—and the cost was counted for the Rolls of Honour, to be added to the Memorials of the First World War.’ Two small boys now stand at a Memorial on Blagdon Hill, admiring the view and reading the eulogy to the solider. A disembodied voice now reads out the names of Pitminster men and one woman killed during the conflict, before reading the Corfe names as well. One boy says, ‘It’s true about their names living for ever, isn’t it?’ To which the disembodied voice replies: ‘In the morning and at the going down of the sun, We shall remember them…’ Solemn music is then heard, merging into the finale.

Episode XV. Tomorrow’s Story, 1976

The narrator talks about the return to normality after the War, and the continuing of the story of Pitminster and Corfe by the new people who came to the villages after. He notes that ‘our lives today will be tomorrow’s history.’ All the characters then enter and sing ‘O Praise Ye the Lord’ before processioning out.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Æthelstan [Athelstan] (893/4–939) king of England
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Roches, Peter des [Peter de Rupibus] (d. 1238) administrator and bishop of Winchester

Musical production

The pageant seems to have had a small orchestra, which performed the following pieces:

  • Round. ‘Sumer is icumen in’ (Episode I).
  • Anthem. Arcadelt. ‘Ave Maria’ (Episode IV).
  • Madrigal. Weelkes. ‘Cease Sorrows Now’ (Episode V).
  • Folk Song. ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ (Episode VIII).
  • Hymn. ‘God of Love and Truth and Beauty’ (Episode IX).
  • Song. ‘Row, Dow, Dow’ (Episode XI).
  • Hymn. ‘O Praise ye the Lord’ (Episode XV).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Somerset County Gazette

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • ‘Pitminster and Corfe Festival’. Leaflet. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.
  • Pitminster and Corfe Festival: A Pageant of Our History. Pitminster, 1976. Programme. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • ‘Pitminster and Corfe Festival’. Leaflet. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.
  • Pitminster and Corfe Festival: A Pageant of Our History. Pitminster, 1976. Programme. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.
  • Script. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.
  • Photographs. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.
  • Pageant Sticker. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Parish Records


The Pitminster and Corfe Pageant of 1976 took place in the Church of St Andrew and St Mary, a Grade I listed building constructed around 1300. It was a small event performed only twice, with just 80 performers—unsurprising considering the available space to perform. Staged as part of the Pitminster and Corfe Festival, there were other events complementing the historical aspect of the celebration (such as lectures about the history of the place), as well as church services and social events to solidify community feeling. In terms of the pageant’s production, it seems that the action was limited by the small stage. Rather than portraying crowd-heavy episodes of large events, therefore, short episodes concentrated more on narration and dialogue between central local characters who explained the historical change, using simple and accessible language.

Despite the pageant being a small affair, the topics for the narrative had been meticulously researched—presumably the result of the involvement of Joan Peden, a local historian.3 Its coverage was expansive, going from 938 AD to the present day. Religious history naturally loomed large, with episodes focusing on the building of the church in 1300 (Episode III), the dissolution of the monasteries (Episode IV), a dispute about the replacing of the church bells in 1630 (Episode VI), and the charitable services provided by churchwardens in the 18th century (Episode X). As was usual with pageants, there was an attempt to link the small place to important figures, such as when King Athelstan granted a charter to Pitminster in 938 (Episode I) or King John visited Poundisford in 1210 (Episode II), and also to nationally important events, such as the Civil War (Episode VII), the Monmouth Rebellion (Episode VIII), Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887 (Episode XIII), and the volunteering of local men for the Napoleonic Wars and WWII (Episode XI and XIV respectively). Of course, as one might expect for a pageant in such a small village, the above episodes placed highly localised events in a national context. There were also, however, episodes that would have only been of interest to Pitminster people, such as a long episode portraying the history of the locally notable Colles family (Episode V, 1557–1627) and the effects of the Great Storm of 1703 (Episode IX).

While the pageant seems to have a mostly light-hearted feel to it, the final two episodes did attempt to provide lessons for the congregation. The ‘We Went to War’ episode, for example, had its farce, when a little girl pretends to not notice two Home Guard men hiding in the bushes, but it also ended poignantly when ‘a disembodied voice’ read out the names of local men and women killed during the conflict. One boy asks, ‘It’s true about their names living for ever, isn’t it?’ To which the disembodied voice replies: ‘In the morning and at the going down of the sun, We shall remember them…’ The finale, ‘Tomorrow’s Story’, set in the present day, told how the story of Pitminster and Corfe would continue through new people, noting that ‘our lives will be tomorrow’s history’.

Very little information remains to judge the success of the pageant, apart from a short article in the Somerset County Gazette, which described it as ‘skilfully woven together by narration, music and song.’4 Yet it seems likely that the pageant was a success, since the Church staged another only three years later, followed by others in succeeding years. It was probably an important local event since its records were meticulously kept and given to the record office. While a long way away from the great pageants of the Edwardian or inter-war years, it serves as a reminder that a more traditional version of the historical pageantry form still existed at least as late as the 1970s.


  1. ^ ‘Pitminster and Corfe Festival’ [leaflet], Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder, Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.
  2. ^ All quotes taken from Script. Papers relating to Pitminster Pageant, 1976 folder. Somerset Heritage Centre. DD\X\PED/7/1.
  3. ^ Joan D. Peden, The Story of the Old School, Parish of Pitminster, Somerset ([unknown place of publication], 1981).
  4. ^ ‘Pageant of a Thousand Years’, Somerset County Gazette, 16 July 1976, 3.

How to cite this entry

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