Reading Historical Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: The Ruins of Reading Abbey (Reading) (Reading, Berkshire, England)

Year: 1920

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 9


21–26 June 1920

  • 21 June, 3pm
  • 22 June, 3pm
  • 23 June, 3pm and 7pm
  • 24 June, 3pm
  • 25 June, 3pm and 7pm
  • 26 June, 3pm and 7pm

Plus at least three dress rehearsals.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Master of the Pageant [Pageant Master]: Applin, Arthur
  • Dramatic Author and Deviser: Rev. P.H. Ditchfield, Rector of Barkham
  • Master of the Music: Dr F.J. Read, Dean of the Faculty of Music, London University
  • Mistresses of the Robes: Mrs G.S. Abram, MBE; Mrs Burney; Mrs Murrell; Mrs Charles; Mrs Hartnett; Mrs Manning; Mrs West
  • Property Mistress: Mrs Milton Bode
  • Property Master: E. Langston, Esq.
  • Chairman of the Committees: His Worshop the Mayor of Reading, Alderman G.S. Abram
  • Hon. Secretary: E.W.J. Arman
  • Hon. Treasurer: J.C. Blandy
  • Hon. Architect: W. Roland Howell, Esq.
  • Hon. Director of Publicity: H.W. Pountney, Esq.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • Colonel Hodgson
  • Brigadier-Gen. Huleatt
  • Major Ingram
  • Major Porter
  • Col. Poulton
  • Capt Trye, RN
  • Major Wheble
  • Reverend P.H. Ditchfield
  • Reverend F.J.C. Gillmor
  • Reverend H.E. Lury
  • Reverend W. Legg
  • Canon Newhouse
  • Reverend W. Rawlinson
  • Reverend J. Steele
  • W. Aldride
  • H. Dawson Barkas
  • J.C. Blandy
  • A.H. Bull
  • W.H. Baseden
  • W.M. Childs
  • R.T. Colgate
  • W.M. Colebrook
  • J.H. Cope
  • E.W. Dormer
  • E.O. Ferrer
  • A.L. Goadby
  • S. Hayward
  • Dryland Haslam
  • W.R. Howell
  • W.J. Henman
  • D Helps
  • C. Hewitt
  • J.B. Hurry
  • L.S. Johnson
  • H. Kingham
  • G.H. Keeton
  • E. Love
  • W.A. Mount
  • F.E. Moring
  • H.J. Morton
  • T. Norris
  • H.W. Pountney
  • W.V. Rivers
  • P. Scrivener
  • Steward Smith
  • L. Sutton
  • E. Stallwood
  • Arthur Sherwood
  • A.H. Targett
  • J.R. le B. Tomlin
  • A.W. Tudor
  • R.J. Tyrrell
  • W.S. Thorpe
  • J. West
  • E. Wedlake
  • S.R.Whitley
  • Frank Winter
  • Roland Wilson
  • Francis Wright
  • Secretary: Mr E.W.J. Arman, OBE
  • Mrs G.S. Adam, MBE
  • Mrs Melville Anderson
  • Mrs Giles Ayres
  • Mrs Arathoon
  • Mrs Montague Brown
  • Mrs H. Burney
  • Mrs J.C. Blandy
  • Mrs P.H. Ditchfield
  • Mrs E.W. Dormer
  • Mrs Drew
  • Mrs Evans
  • Mrs Gurowski
  • Mrs King-George
  • Mrs Gillmor
  • Mrs Jack Golding
  • Mrs Henderson
  • Mrs Lethbridge
  • Mrs Lury
  • Mrs Norman May
  • Mrs Murrell
  • Mrs Murdoch
  • Mrs Edward Norris
  • Mrs A. Palmer
  • Mrs Poulton
  • Mrs Radcliffe
  • Mrs Sawyer
  • Mrs Wilson
  • Mrs Young
  • Miss Durham
  • Miss Henman
  • Miss Hay
  • Miss R. Lea
  • Miss Skrimshire
  • Miss Vigo
  • Miss Ward

Finance Committee:

  • Brigadier-Gen. Hunleatt

Press and Publicity Committee:

  • E.O. Farrer

Dramatic Committee:

  • P.H. Ditchfield

Music Committee:

  • A.L. Goadby

Properties Committee:

  • H. Dawson Barkas

Site and Scenic Committee:

  • W.J. Henman

Ladies’ Committee:

  • G.S. Abram

Dress Designers:

  • H. Dawson Barkas

Programme Sales:

  • Mr Bowler

Grand Stand Stewards:

  • Brigadier-Gen. Hunleatt

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

  • Ditchfield, P.H.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information


  • Subscriptions: £355
  • Photography Rights: £50
  • Catering: £88
  • Ticket Sales: £3969
  • Banners: £36
  • Properties: £33
  • Books and Badges: £385
  • Advertisements: £268
  • Entertainment Tax Refund: £47
  • Town Hall Film: £502
  • Donations: £5
  • Guarantees Paid: £176 (guarantees Owing: £277)

Total: £6185


  • Clerical Staff: £58
  • Rent and Expenses: £29
  • Stationery: £39
  • Postages and Phone: £34
  • Pageant Master: £269
  • Entertainment Tax: £777
  • Books and Publication: £990
  • Printing: £629
  • Bands: £262
  • Properties and Dress: £743
  • Grand Stand: £1311
  • Film and Photos: £164
  • Catering: £749
  • Town Hall Hire: £31
  • Badges: £46
  • Travelling Expenses: £32
  • Sales Commission: £13
  • Cartage: £12
  • Gratuities: £4

Total Expenses: £61931

The Pageant Made a loss of £8

Object of any funds raised

In Aid of the League of Mercy

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

20s.–2s. 6d.

  • 21 June: 20s., 10s. 6d., 5d.
  • 22 June onwards: 20s.–2s. 6d.

Associated events

  • A film of the pageant was shown in the Town Hall from 5 to 10 July, which made a significant profit.
  • Following the Monday pageant, a party was held by the Mayor at the Town Hall.

Pageant outline

Episode I. The Coming of St Birinus and the Conversion of the Redingans, AD 635

Saxon peasants are engaged in gathering in their harvest. Children run about and gather flowers. The men and women sing their ‘Harvest Home’ song. Rede, the leader of the Anglo-Saxon clan that first settled in Reading, enters and receives their loyal welcome. They prepare to offer their sacrifice to the gods, Thor, Woden and the rest, and the Saxon priest enters. They declare their allegiance to the gods, and the priest is about to offer a human sacrifice when St Birinus interposes with the cross he bears. The priest is struck with blindness. The people are overwhelmed with astonishment and fear. St Birinus preaches to them the lesson of the cross, the priest’s sight is restored, and the people are converted to Christianity. The Saint leads them to the river for Holy Baptism, and foretells the future greatness of Reading.2

Episode II. The Danes at Reading, AD 871

A company of Saxon Thanes headed by Ethelwulf, Earl of Berkshire, return from hunting, riding on horseback, and accompanied by their followers on foot and hounds. They discuss their sport, and Osred and Coinred quarrel about the merits of their hounds. The Earl heals their differences and they talk of the coming of the Danes and the valour of King Alfred. A messenger arrives telling of the approach of the Vikings. Horns are blown and a fight ensues between the Danes and the English in which the latter are routed and are driven off by their foes, who return and celebrate their victory. A gleeman sings their battle-song, ‘Scald to the Vikings,’ which is taken up by the warriors who drink and sleep. The English return, headed by Alfred, who have conquered the Danes. Alfred addresses the victors and summons them to ‘chase these Danish wolves and free our England from her ruthless foes, and make her once again true English land,’ prophesying the future greatness of England. With the cry ‘To arms, to arms,’ they follow Alfred in pursuit of their flying foe.

Episode III. The Founding of the Nunnery by Queen Elfrida, AD 879

The scene opens merrily in contrast with the account of the tragedy that follows. Hal, the Hawker, enters riding on a donkey, offering the contents of his wallet, ribbons and laces, bracelets, and other wares. He is met by a company of girls to whom he tells fairy tales and talks nonsense. Then a Bishop comes with a procession of priests and monks, and Wulfrum, the master-mason, presents to him the plan of the nunnery which he has been ordered to build at Reading. Presently Queen Elfrida, the widow of King Edgar, who had ordered the assassination of the young King Edward the Martyr at the gate of Corfe Castle, approaches and tells the sad story of her crime. Vainly had she tried to expiate her guilt by fasting, prayer and self-inflicted tortures. She now begs to found this Nunnery at Reading, where daily prayer might be offered to God to win peace for her on earth and some forgiveness in the world to come. The Bishop accepts her offering and the Queen kneels before an altar and presents the parchment scroll, and the priests and monks chant a Psalm in Latin.

Episode IV. The Building of Reading Abbey. King Stephen and the Empress Maud Visit the Abbey, AD 1140

Abbot Edward and the Italian limner from Pisa, who is decorating the Minster with beautiful frescoes, walk in the Abbey and observe its growing beauties. King Stephen arrives and is welcomed by the Abbot. The War between Stephen and Empress Maud is raging, and the former, whom the Abbot favours, asks for money coined at the Abbey Mint. The Abbot gives it to him, and the King departs. Brother Roger goes a fishing because ‘to-morrow will be Friday’, and his Prior and Sub-Prior ‘have words.’ The Empress Maud visits the Abbey and is refused admission by the Abbot. She abuses him and claims the right of entrance as the daughter of the royal founder, Henry I. Her knights threaten to force admission and the Abbot is compelled to bow to stern necessity.

Episode V. The Consecration of the Completed Abbey by Archbishop Thomas of Canterbury, and the Single Combat Between Robert de Montfort and Henry Earl of Essex, AD 1164

Monks and townspeople assemble to greet King Henry II and the Archbishop, who are seen approaching. A gorgeous procession accompanies them. Abbot Roger welcomes them, and the Archbishop admires the beauty of the completed building. The company march round the precincts of the Abbey. Some of the knights stay behind, and amongst them are Robert de Montfort and Henry Earl of Essex. The King comes to meet them. De Montfort accuses the Earl of Essex of treachery and cowardice in the Welsh Wars, in that, being the bearer of the Royal Standard of England, he had cast it away and shamefully fled, declaring that the King was slain in the fight, thus causing a panic. He casts his glove as a gage of battle on the ground. Essex accuses the traducer of falsehood and takes up the glove. A fight ensues and Essex falls, apparently mortally wounded. Some monks bear him away. De Montfort kneels before the King and lays his sword at the feet of the monarch, who restores it to him. As the body is borne into the Abbey, the monks chant the ‘de profundis’. History records that the Earl recovered and became a monk.

[This episode was omitted in the pageant as performed]

Episode VI. The First Singing of ‘Summer Is Icumen In’, and (if Time Permits) the Visit of Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Who Came to Present the Keys of the Holy Sepulchre to Henry II, Begging Him to Undertake a Crusade Against the Infidels, AD 1185

Some children are playing when the cuckoo is heard. They chase and try to find the bird. A monk returns from fishing and gradually improvises this first English song in harmony, with other monks joining in; thus is the famous round invented. Heraclius and his company enter and are received by the Abbot. They beg to tell their stories to the King, who comes to meet them. Heraclius records the murdering of pious pilgrims to the Holy Shrine and the infamies of Saladin and his hordes; he presents the precious relics to the King and urges him to undertake the pilgrimage. The King and his Knights are much moved by the recital, but the former regrets that he dare not leave his own country and must defend it from his many foes, uttering the hope that perhaps a son of his may arise to win Palestine from the power of the Infidel. History tells how bravely Henry’s son, Richard Coeur de Lion, fought in the Crusades.

Episode VII. Part One. The Granting of the First Charter to Reading Town, AD 1254

The townsfolk gather for a fair. They bring their stalls and set them up. Pedlars sell their wares and conjurors do their tricks. The bell-man of the Abbey proclaims the fair, and Jack, the hawker, sells his goods. The bailiffs of the Abbot, to whom the fair belongs, begin to collect their tolls. Some of the stallholders refuse, and the townsfolk rise and drive the monks and bailiffs back to the Abbey. Thomas Cole, known as ‘Thomas of Reading’, a somewhat legendary person, but typical of the early cloth-merchants of the town, watches the disturbance, and when the King appears upon the scene he tells him of the encroachments of the Abbey upon the townspeople who claim their rights. The King grants to Reading its first Charter which gives freedom from county courts, tolls, and pleas, as well as the right to buy and sell freely throughout the land. The people cheer. The Abbot enters and explains his view of the conduct of the townsfolk. Thomas of Reading and the Abbot argue the matter. Thomas tells the King of the town’s government—of the guilds, companies and much else—and then the King and Abbot retire to the Monastery, while the people shout ‘God Save the King’.

Episode VII. Part Two. The Affair of the Oxford Students, AD 1209 [Not performed]

The business of the fair is resumed, and then a riotous chorus is heard and a procession of Oxford students comes trooping in. The students dance and caper as they sing. The townsfolk are affrighted. A company of learned Oxford doctors and tutors arrive. Thomas enquires into the cause of the disturbance, and one of the doctors explains that the students and their teachers have left Oxford in a body on account of the hanging of three scholars by the townspeople of that city and wish to set up their schools at Reading. He has heard of the fame of Reading School, is introduced to the Master, and is bidden by Thomas to teach the lads ‘to be good god-fearing men, which is the best of learning. It is possible that lack of time will necessitate the omission of the Episode of the Oxford Students.

Episode VIII. Marriage of John of Gaunt with Blanche, Daughter of Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Lancaster, AD 1359

One of the most impressive scenes that Reading has ever witnessed was the marriage ceremony of John of Gaunt, fourth son of King Edward III, with his cousin Blanche, daughter of Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Lancaster. Some attempt is made to represent the pomp and ceremony, the magnificent pageantry and the great rejoicing that accompanied the wedding. Maidens bring flowers wherewith to strew the path of the bride. John of Gaunt and his knights and friends arrive in state and await the bride at the Abbey Gate. Chaucer stands among the company with a scroll in his hand, on which he occasionally writes. He is composing ‘The Dream’, which is usually supposed to commemorate the wedding. The bride arrives with her ladies, and John of Gaunt helps her to dismount. They stay behind when the procession enters the Abbey, and a little love-scene occurs before they follow the bridal throng. The monks within the Abbey chant a Psalm while the crowd kneels, and then the minstrels sing a bridal song, the bells ring out, and the procession marches out of the Abbey and Love follows it. Never has Reading seen so gay a wedding. During the memorable fortnight tilts and tournaments took place daily and ‘all was merry as a marriage bell.’

Episode IX. The Fall of Reading Abbey, AD 1539

At length the day dawned when Reading Abbey, the third greatest in the Kingdom, owing to the greed and tyranny of an unscrupulous King, was forced to close its monastic life and share the fate of all other monasteries within the realm. The base instrument of Henry’s designs was a certain Dr London, as greedy and unscrupulous as his master. He comes to Reading with his band of commissioners and soldiers and is refused admission by the Abbot who suspects their designs. London produces his warrant and the soldiers force an entrance. Presently the commissioners come out of the Abbey, carrying away the church’s treasures. The townsfolk object to the robbery and vigorously attack Dr London and his band, who are rescued by the soldiers. A royal messenger arrived with orders from the King to seize the Abbey and execute the Abbot, who speaks a touching farewell to his monks and is led away with two of his companions to the place of execution. As the mournful procession moves along the monks chant ‘Ora Pro Nobis’.

Episode X. The Coming of the Prince of Orange and the Reading Skirmish, AD 1688

Before King James II took flight, he brought over from Ireland some of the Irish troopers, and on one Sunday morning, as the townspeople were coming away from divine service, a company of these riotous soldiers began to attack the Mayor and people of Reading. Some of the followers of the Prince of Orange, who was marching to London, rescued the townspeople from their plight. A short fight took place between the rival forces in what is known in history as the Reading Skirmish. [The skirmish was omitted in the final Pageant.] The Spirit of Pageantry recites the story, and a messenger announces the approach of the Prince of Orange. A chorus of men and girls sing a May-day greeting, and the Prince is welcomed by the Mayor and, after a short address, passes on his way amidst the applause and cheering of the crowd. The Spirit of Pageantry again appears. It is well-known that Reading has a daughter town in the United States of America in Pennsylvania. A figure emblematical of that town and state is summoned by the heralds, marching down the arena, and is greeted by the Spirit of Pageantry. There is a march-past of all the characters who have taken part in the pageant. The Spirit addresses the company.

A soldier, war-stained and khaki-clad, appears, and is joined by representative characters of other who have helped to win victory for the Allies in the Great War. They sing ‘God Save the King’, the familiar strain being taken up by all the performers who then re-form the procession and march out of the arena.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Birinus [St Birinus] (d. c.650) bishop of Dorchester
  • Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons
  • Ælfthryth (d. 999x1001) queen of England, consort of King Edgar [also known as Elfrida]
  • Stephen (c.1092–1154) king of England
  • Matilda [Matilda of England] (1102–1167) empress, consort of Heinrich V
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop of Canterbury
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England
  • Henry IV [known as Henry Bolingbroke] (1367–1413) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange

Musical production

  • ‘Summer Is ‘Icumen In’.
  • ‘Ora Pro Nobis’.
  • ‘De Profundis’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times
Berkshire Chronicle
Reading Mercury
Reading Observer
Reading Standard

Book of words

Book of Words of the Reading Historical Pageant. Reading, 1920.

Other primary published materials

  • Souvenir Booklet of the Reading Historical Pageant. Reading, 1920.
  • Story of the Episodes of the Reading Historical Pageant. Reading, 1920.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Museum of English Rural Life, Reading
  • Reading Central Library
  • Berkshire Archives, Reading

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Jonathan Rose argues that the Edwardian period did not suffer instantaneous death on Flanders Field but rather lingered on into the post-war period, finally succumbing only in the mid-1920s.3 The Reading Pageant of 1920 was (unlike, say, the Oxford Peace Pageant of 1919) an attempt to rejuvenate the tradition of Edwardian pageantry, admittedly with a concession to the losses of war, with the figure of a war-stained khaki-clad soldier closing the performance. The Programme explicitly claimed its connection to earlier pageants:

The Spirit of Pageantry seems to have been aroused from her slumbers, and is showing herself again at least in one old Berkshire town. Born in the year 1905 at Sherborne under the fostering care of Mr Louis N. Parker she has done much to brighten the pages of history, to arouse Patriotism, and to bring colour, light, music, poetry, grace, humour and high ideals into many lives which had not previously known much of these blessings. And now in Reading town she is about to hold her court, and summon from the past many beautiful and stately scenes that Reading has not witnessed for many a long day.4

Reading attempted to claim this tradition of pageantry more explicitly, having first requested Louis Napoleon Parker to act as Pageant Master and then, when he turned this down, having him visit the town to stir up the spirit of pageantry and to appoint a Pageant Master for the town, Arthur Applin.5

Reading was conscious of having missed the wave of Edwardian pageants, despite considering itself to be more than a rival to places such as Winchester or Sherborne in terms of its esteemed history: ‘Few towns lend themselves so readily to Pageantry, to the re-enacting of the great events of bygone times, as this Berkshire capital, in spite of the modern houses that have replaced the ancient dwellings.’6 The Observer agreed, noting that ‘With a history extending back to nigh two thousand years Reading lends itself admirably to pomp and pageantry’.7

The author of the Pageant, P.H. Ditchfield, was a curate and also an important local archaeologist, as well as a noted writer on rural England. In fact, he had already written a script for a Reading Pageant, recited to the Berkshire Archaeological Society and subsequently published in the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Archaeological Journal in 1908. The pageant was never performed though it formed the basis for many of the scenes in the 1920 pageant.8

In fact, Ditchfield’s enthusiasm was to create a number of problems for the pageant. Most old towns had far more memorable historical events of both local or national importance than could easily be fitted into the three hours or so allowed by a pageant, and Reading was no exception. Copies of the Book of Words, Programme, and Souvenir Booklet include details of a number of episodes which were ultimately omitted from the actual performances. That the Programme only contains one episode which was subsequently omitted (with warnings that some scenes may have to be curtailed), while the Souvenir Booklet contains four, suggests that in the weeks leading up to the pageant some difficult choices had to be made. A slightly peevish Ditchfield wrote in the Programme that ‘It is much to be regretted that the Pageant Master considers that owing to want of time it will be necessary to exclude several important Episodes in the History of Reading that were included in the original design.’9 These episodes included a Masque to welcome James I’s visit, the memorable siege of Reading by Parliamentarian forces in 1642–43, and a final episode following the Restoration, which Ditchfield particularly wished to present: ‘But the decree of the Pageant Master is inexorable, as he fears lest the audience would be benighted or wearied with too great a spectacle.’10 The effect of this was to truncate the town’s history, in so doing accidentally subscribing to Parker’s prescriptions by avoiding the Civil War and anything after the seventeenth century. A pageant-goer might be forgiven for assuming that little of note had happened in Reading for the last three hundred years.

Most controversial was the last-minute omission (a mere three days before the premiere and during the dress rehearsals) of a narrative chorus of fifty women who were to introduce each scene. One of the members was decidedly unhappy that they were thus ‘debarred from actively participating in the Reading Historical Pageant.’11 Rehearsals of the mock battles had not been running smoothly either, and a number of injuries had been caused by the excessive enthusiasm of the combatants. A letter to the Berkshire Chronicle signed by ‘Pater’ read: ‘Already, during rehearsal, there have been a number of minor casualties, and one performer has been disfigured for life. When the show starts in real earnest there is likely to be some “fun”, and by the end of the week we should have a goodly collection of maimed and injured to remind us of the great event.’12 The local wit went on to suggest that this realism should have been harnessed, and that the ‘organisers appear to have exhibited unjustifiable timidity in failing to provide bows and arrows’. The writer worried: ‘One only wonders whether the supply of performers will last, or whether the contending hordes will exterminate each other before the end of the show.’13

Despite the sense of perturbation, the Berkshire Chronicle noted that:

A decidedly optimistic view is being taken of the pageant by the officials. A great spirit of enthusiasm is being displayed by the performers, and the rehearsals are going well… the performers are feeling the romance and the great possibility of the different episodes, and are getting intensely keen on giving each scene its fullest significance. In short, something which Mr Louis Parker would call the spirit of pageantry is coming, and this it is difficult to get out of the English people. Just now it is decidedly touch-and-go whether it will be a merely delightful pageant or a very beautiful one.14

Despite decidedly mixed auspices, the pageant was widely acclaimed, with each of the Berkshire Chronicle’s three columnists striving to outdo each another with praise. ‘QT’ wrote that: ‘Those who have seen the pageant declare that it is one of the best which have been produced; in historic interest, in fascinating material, in beauty of dressing, and in the virility of acting there have been few pageants which have been in any way equal to that which is being produced in Reading this week.’15 The writer went on to add that ‘no one can question that it will greatly stir local patriotism and stimulate interest in the wonderful past of our town’ and argued that ‘Reading children should certainly be taught more of their local history than has been the case in the past.’16 ‘The Nib’, who was more used to airing gripes of commuters facing rising rail fares or lambasting the socialist menace on the local council (the paper was thoroughly Conservative), went as far as to volunteer the following: ‘I feel that all criticism would be inappropriate and especially when it is remembered that the whole of the artistes have voluntarily given their services and worked so hard in answer to the ever-appealing call of charity.’17 The third anonymous reviewer ‘Unique’ was more factual in recounting the pageant, having watched a dress rehearsal attended by 6000 school children: ‘The fight between the Saxons and the Danes especially appealed to them, as did the man on stilts and the dancing bear… How greatly they enjoyed the pageant may be gauged by the fact that when the Pageant Master announced that one episode would be repeated in its entirety they cheered vociferously for several minutes.’18 Furthermore, there was the suggestion that the grandstand should be kept up (it wasn’t) to facilitate the upsurge in local patriotism and the local histrionic sense and for performing Shakespeare and ‘pastoral plays’. In a gesture of transatlantic pageantry, the mayor of Reading, Pennsylvania (or, as local newspapers would have it, the ‘Sister Town’) presented Reading, Berkshire with a flag and a long letter of salutation which the Berkshire Chronicle breathlessly printed in full.

The pageant’s run (supplemented by two extra evening performances) was agreed to have been a great success: ‘The Reading Pageant finished up with the greatest éclat, for there were crowded houses at all the concluding performances, while at the close of Saturday’s proceedings a scene of enthusiasm, such as one has rarely seen in Reading, was witnessed.’19

The guest of honour on the last day of the pageant (opened by Princess Helena Victoria) was none other than Louis Napoleon Parker himself, who declared it alternately ‘magnificent’, ‘splendid’ and ‘wonderful’. In a long letter of thanks (one of the many long letters and speeches printed in full in the local newspapers) Parker declared his enjoyment and affirmed the pageant’s commitment to his own spirit of pageantry:

It is good to know that once more a thousand people (to say nothing of the audience) have been infected with the Spirit of Pageantry; which means a love and understanding of the little spot of earth we dwell on, and a realisation of its relation to the Empire; which means also good fellowship, good will towards men, and an artistic return towards Merry England.20

However, the pageant, with its focus on a long unbroken history, revelling in medieval times, Christian gentility and an undivided system of class hierarchy, was increasingly challenged during the inter-war period in which audiences of larger pageants demanded more action and a narrative which both included and went beyond the Civil War.

Despite the wide praise garnered by the pageant, it was not a great financial success, making a loss that required guarantors being called upon, in part due to an entertainment tax bill of more than £770. Despite the approbation lavished on Applin and the many presentations and speeches of gratitude (printed in full, of course), false rumours that he had received a £1000 fee as Pageant Master soured the pageant’s aftermath.21


  1. ^ Reading Mercury, 18 December 1920, 10.
  2. ^ All synopses come from Story of the Episodes of the Reading Historical Pageant (Reading, 1920).
  3. ^ Jonathan Rose, The Edwardian Temperament, 1885–1924 (Athens, OH, 1986), esp. xi–xiv and 199–212.
  4. ^ Introduction to Programme, 3.
  5. ^ Ibid, 5.
  6. ^ Ibid, 3.
  7. ^ Observer, 20 June 1920, 9.
  8. ^ P.H. Ditchfield, A Reading Historical Pageant (Reading, 1908). For a short biography, see Arborfield Local History Society, accessed 27 November 2015,
  9. ^ Souvenir Booklet of the Reading Historical Pageant (Reading, 1920), 11.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ Berkshire Chronicle, 18 June 1920, 4.
  12. ^ ‘Pater’, Letters, Berkshire Chronicle, 25 June 1920, 9.
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ Berkshire Chronicle, 4 June 1920, 6.
  15. ^ Berkshire Chronicle, 25 June 1920, 8.
  16. ^ Ibid.
  17. ^ Ibid.
  18. ^ Ibid, 13.
  19. ^ Reading Mercury, 3 July 1920, 2.
  20. ^ Berkshire Chronicle, 2 July 1920, 4.
  21. ^ Reading Mercury, 18 December 1920, 10.

How to cite this entry

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