Southampton Quincentenary Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Guildhall (Southampton) (Southampton, Hampshire, England)

Year: 1947

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 2


1 and 3 May 1947

Thursday 1 May 1947 at 7.30pm and Saturday 3 May 1947 at 2.30pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Tapeley, Edward J.
  • Musical Director: D. Cecil Williams, MusBac, FRCO


Mr Edward J. Tapeley was de facto pageant master, though described as 'producer' in the local press.1

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Quincentenary Celebrations of the Granting of Southampton Charters [Pageant committee just one of wider celebration committees]:

  • President: The Worshipful the Mayor, Mr Alderman F.S. Smith, JP
  • Vice-President: The Sheriff, Mr Councillor F. Dibben
  • Mr R.R.H. Meggeson, BA, Town Clerk


  • Chairman: The Deputy Mayor, Mr Councillor R.J. Stranger, MC
  • Mrs A. Harroway
  • 12 men, 2 women

Pageant Sub-Committee:

  • 8 men, 1 woman

Exhibition Sub-Committee:

  • 6 men

Script Sub-Committee:

  • 3 men, 1 woman

Procession Sub-Committee:

  • 6 men

Pageant Production Committee:

  • 3 men

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

  • Shakespeare, William
  • Cook, Norman
  • Sandell, Elsie M.


  • The trial scene from Shakespeare’s King Henry V was performed in episode I.
  • Norman Cook wrote the Elizabethan Ale House scene (episode V)
  • Elsie Sandell wrote the prologue and epilogue, and the script for episodes II, III, IV and VI

Names of composers

  • Watts, Isaac

Numbers of performers


All were members of the Theatre Guild.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Quincentenary of Charter that established the County Town of Southampton in 1447 and the 502nd Anniversary of the town as Borough in 1445.

Audience information

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



Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


5s., 2s. 6., 1s.

Associated events

  • Exhibition of charters, documents, regalia and plate opened at the Art Gallery (Monday 28 April, 3pm). Free exhibition until May 10th.
  • Re-enactment (Thursday 1 May, 2.30pm) of the Ceremony of the Presentation of the Charters (St. Michael’s Church). Mayor and other town council members, along with representations of local organisations and burgesses, assembled in St. Michael’s square where a short address was given by the Vicar. The party then proceeded to Bargate where, at 3pm, the charters were presented to the Mayor, as he was called upon to retake his oath.

Pageant outline


The narrator gives a potted history of Southampton and its inhabitants. The ancient Britons; the Romans; the Jutes and Angles; the Saxons; the Vikings; the Normans. Throughout he describes how Southampton grew in strength and trade.

Episode I. The Trial Scene from King Henry V by William Shakespeare

In this scene, the conspirators against Henry V’s life are brought before him at Southampton and tried for taking money from Henry’s enemy, the King of France, for the purpose of killing Henry whilst in Southampton, before he could embark with his army for the invasion of France. The three conspirators, Richard Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey of Northumberland, are found guilty of high treason and condemned to death, the sentence being carried out just north of the Bargate. Henry V then prepares to depart for the invasion of France and leaves the council chamber. The Narrator then speaks of Henry’s untimely death and of his young son Henry VI, in whose reign nearly all conquests in France were lost. Henry VI was at Southampton in 1445 to meet his bride Margaret of Anjou, which leads into the next scene.

Episode II. Margaret of Anjoy at God’s House, Southampton, 14 April 1445

The Sisters of God’s House are waiting in their garden to bid farewell to the young Queen Margaret. Margaret, a gift of fifteen, has spent four days at God’s House after her arrival from France, before going on to the Castle of Southampton to meet for the first time her husband, Henry VI. The London dressmaker, who has been sent down to fit the Queen’s wedding dress, takes pride in her work. The Queen enters, recalls her days in France at the Court there, and then tells of the rough voyage across the Channel. She speaks of the kindly care she has received at the House. Suddenly she realises how lonely she is; a stranger in a strange land. The Sisters comfort her. Suddenly her mood changes and she calls her dressmaker, speaking proudly of the jewelled crown she will soon wear. After a moment of hesitation she summons up the courage to go into her new life and, after asking for the blessing of Sister Juliana, she leaves for her unknown future, while the Sisters go back to their quiet lives of devotion.

Episode III. Presentation of the Charter of Incorporation of the Borough, 1445, and the Charter creating the County of the Town of Southampton, 1447

The Town Clerk presents the Charter of Incorporation to the Mayor, who then takes his oath. The Town Clerk then hands to the Sheriff the Charter of Shrievalty, which makes Southampton a town and county of itself. The Sheriff takes his oath before a procession, headed by mace-bearers, leaves the stage.

Episode IV. King Henry VIII at Southampton to Visit the Venetian Galleys, 10 June 1518

The King’s party boards the galley, and is entertained by a feast. Many townsfolk are present, such as Henry Huttoft with his family, and a young Italian merchant, Antonio Guidotti—keen to marry a local girl to the displeasure of her mother. The King encourages Huttoft, the Mayor and other merchants to foster trade with Venice for their own good as well as that of the realm. He tells Hutttoft of his intention to build a great house near St. Michael’s Church (now known as Tudor House). The King then departs, satisfied with his reception and hopeful of future trade with Italy.

Episode V. An Elizabethan Ale House

A group of townsfolk grumble about the quality of the beer, while discussing the Court Leet and the presentments made their regarding brewers. The Landlord’s wife runs in calling out that Peter Quoyt’s dog has been in the kitchen stealing meat—apparently trained to take it to his master! A commotion is heard before the Mayor and Captain Parkinson of Calshot Castle enter, followed by a Town Sergeant. They argue, before the Captain draws his dagger on the Mayor. A short scuffle ensues before the Mayor threatens to inform the Queen of all the piracy taking place at the Castle. Parkinson beats a retreat. As the Mayor drinks wine, commotion is heard from the kitchen where the dog is stealing meat again. The landlord complains about thieves from both high and low estate.

Episode VI. The Pilgrim Fathers, 15 August 1620

The Pilgrims are seen passing along the West Quay before embarkation on the Mayflower and Speedwell. John Alden is among them. This episode is followed by a scene in 1947 on the site of the old West Quay, with the Pilgrim Fathers’ memorial marking the spot whence the embarkation had taken place in 1620. Some American soldiers are inspecting the Monument, recalling the eventful voyage of the Mayflower, and one of them states that he and nearly two million more Americans of to-day are descendants of those men. The soldier then reads from a guide-book something of the history of our port and of the making of the docks, and their connection, not only with the world in general, but with France, the Channel Islands and America in particular. The Narrator then speaks of the part Southampton played in the liberation of Europe, and of more than two million American Service people who sailed from our port.


The narrator tells of the grey stone walls that still stand at Bargate, the ‘proud emblem of our corporate life throughout the ages’, as well as other important structures in the town. He ends by stating ‘Could those grey walls but speak! Yes! They have told their tale, though in small part indeed within the little compass of this day. They speak of loss and gain, of weal and woe, of shattered homes and churches, fire and bomb… of courage high and stern resolve in danger’s hour. And yes, you citizens of old Southampton, build again your town, so that in years to come, prosperity and fame and happiness be yours in this great port upon the southern shores of our dear England… But, in your building, keep strict watch and ward that all your ancient heritage be saved and in its age-old beauty kept secure, that, in the churches, towers and bulwarks of the past, the future generations still may see the strong foundations of our mighty port Southampton.’


Watts’s hymn, ‘Our God, our Help in Ages Past.’

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Henry V (1386–1422) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Richard [Richard of Conisbrough], earl of Cambridge (1385–1415) magnate
  • Scrope, Henry, third Baron Scrope of Masham (c.1376–1415) soldier and administrator
  • Beaufort, Thomas, duke of Exeter (1377?–1426) magnate and soldier
  • John [John of Lancaster], duke of Bedford (1389–1435) regent of France and prince
  • Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Giustinian, Sebastian (1460–1543) diplomat

Musical production

  • Isaac Watts. Hymn, ‘Our God, our Help in Ages Past’ (Finale).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Southern Daily Echo

Book of words

Programme of the Charter Commemorations Celebrating the Occasion of the Quincentenary of the County Town of Southampton and the Establishment of the Office of Sheriff and the Five Hundred and Second Anniversary of the Borough of Southampton. Southampton, 1947.

Price 1s. 6d. Copy in Southampton Heritage Services. SC/Z/2/11a.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Quincentenary Celebrations May 1947 [Photographs]. D/S. 14/2/10 (folder).
  • Rough draft of pageant for Quincentenary Celebrations. SC/Z/2/12.
  • Programme of the Charter Commemorations celebrating the occasion of the Quincentenary of the County Town of Southampton and the Establishment of the Office of Sheriff and the Five Hundred and Second Anniversary of the Borough of Southampton (Southampton, 1947). Price 1/6. Copy in Southampton Heritage Services. SC/Z/2/11a.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Court Leet and other Records.
  • Gidden, H.W. Charters of Southampton and Court Leet Records. Southampton Record Society, Southampton, 1909.
  • Silvester-Davies, J. History of Southampton. Southampton, 1883.


Taking place as part of a wider celebration, staged to acknowledge the quincentenary of a charter that established the County Town of Southampton in 1447 and the five hundred and second anniversary of the town as Borough in 1445, the Quincentenary Pageant was actually more of an indoor pageant-play. It had a relatively small cast, at least in comparison to the town’s previous pageants, and was acted by members of the Theatre Guild instead of being strictly amateur or voluntary.2 Its main source of influence was the local historian Elsie M. Sandell, a sort of civic celebrity who wrote for the Echo while doing her utmost to encourage enthusiasm for the history of the town.3 Working alongside Norman Cook, a curator of the Tudor House Museum, she wrote the majority of the script.4

In contrast to earlier celebrations in Southampton, in 1914, 1929, and 1935, the pageant was not really the main focus of the event. More than 60000 people lined the High-street, Above Bar and the area around the Civic Centre to see a parade that culminated in a jovial re-enactment of old civic traditions, while only three or four thousand could have possibly seen the pageant due to the size of the Guildhall.5 As the Echo lamented, ‘While many thousands will be able to watch the re-enactment of the first Sheriff-making ceremony, which will be held in St. Michael’s Square and at Bargate, unfortunately fewer will be able to enjoy the pageant in the Guildhall in the evening.’6 Many more people also saw the associated exhibition of town charters and other curiosities, which was extended due to its popularity.7 The popular parades, while drawing on the history of the town, were more jovial than serious and, while many of the parade participants were in period costume, it lacked the element of dramatic acting so specific to a proper historical pageant.

Perhaps most notable was the context that the Second World War gave to the celebration. As the Southern Daily Echo reminded its readers, Southampton clearly ‘deserved her charters and had shown the whole world that they were truly and worthily merited by what she suffered and endured in the years 1939 to 1945.’8 The results of this suffering were still evident and, to an extent, overcome through the celebration, the Echo noting that ‘the drabness of the bomb-damaged High-Street [was] dissolved in a blaze of colour’ as the civic parade passed.9 In the pageant itself the end point of the story, as told by the narrator, brought clear attention to the conflict. Firstly, he described the importance of the town to the American forces, implied in the Mayflower scene (as with the 1920 pageant) as well as its role as a departure point for American soldiers—two million of whom passed through the town in the six months following the D-Day Landings.10 Secondly, and more emotively, the narrator described how the very fabric of the city spoke ‘of loss and gain, of weal and woe, of shattered homes and churches, fire and bombs… of courage high and stern resolve in danger’s hour.’11

Certainly, in the theatre performance itself, the common themes of pageantry were present. In particular the town was placed within the national life through the visitation of royals, while also drawing attention to its municipal independence as guaranteed by charters. Most clear however was the importance of the past in framing the future; this was particularly evident in the epilogue, which encouraged ‘you citizens of old Southampton’ to ‘build again your town, so that in years to come, prosperity and fame and happiness be yours in this great port upon the southern shores of our dear England’ while also keeping ‘strict watch and ward that all your ancient heritage be saved and in its age-old beauty kept secure, that, in the churches, towers and bulwarks of the past, the future generations still may see the strong foundations of our mighty port Southampton.’12 The bomb-damaged city thus provided an acknowledgement of the sacrifice made by locals, as well as pointing the way for future civic improvement.

Yet with such a small theatrical run and a lack of capacity for large crowds the pageant arguably lost much of its potential to inspire. Still, those few that saw the pageant seemingly were engaged with its depictions—the Echo noted that ‘the audience seemed to participate in this civic act of recollection in much the same way as a congregation participates in an act of worship’, especially during the finale, where they joined in with the hymn ‘not half-heartedly but with fervour.’13 The lack of full episodes after the Mayflower voyage in 1620 was criticised by the Echo, which thought that a scene from the Civil War or during its time as a Georgian spa would have been a better ending.14 Sandell, in responding to this criticism, told the newspaper that the pageant had been written and produced in only a few weeks, making it ‘impossible’ to attempt such scenes ‘satisfactorily’.15 The Echo, in a separate article, described the production as ‘somewhat rushed’.16 In contrast to the year-long planning that was common for other pageants, this short turn-around seems surprising–especially when one considers the fact that the decision to hold a celebration had already been made in in the middle of 1946–and perhaps reflected the lack of serious importance given to the pageant within the celebrations.17

In a sense, then, the Quincentenary Pageant reflected changes that the pageantry movement had undergone by the midpoint of the twentieth century. No longer an event in which a significant proportion of the town could either take part or watch, the pageant had moved inside and become a more traditional piece of theatre. The moralising that was so prominent in the early part of the century was also mostly absent. This was also reflected in the general gaiety of the parades, which only made passing gestures to serious civic ritual. While it is possible that the celebrations were designed as a more simplistic expression of community against the backdrop of the devastation of the Second World War, the lack of spectacle and performance, so evident in the Mayflower 1920 and Silver Jubilee 1935 pageants, is striking.


  1. ^ ‘Merrie England returns to So’ton on May I’, Southern Daily Echo, undated and unnumbered. Cutting. Southampton Heritage Services, Quincentenary Pageant. D/S.14/2.
  2. ^ ‘Pageant Inspired by Imagination’, Southern Daily Echo, 2 May 1947, unknown page number. Cutting. D/S.14/2.
  3. ^ ‘Birthday Honour for Valued Citizen’, Southern Evening Echo, 2 February 1971, 8. D/S. 14/2.
  4. ^ ‘Merrie England Returns to So’ton on May I’, Southern Daily Echo, undated and unnumbered. Cutting. D/S.14/2.
  5. ^ ‘Streets Thronged for Charter Celebrations Parade’, Southern Daily Echo, 2 May 1947, 7. Cutting. D/S.14/2.
  6. ^ ‘Merrie England Returns to So’ton on May I’.
  7. ^ ‘Popular Exhibition’, Southern Daily Echo, undated and unnumbered, Southampton Heritage Services.
  8. ^ ‘Streets Thronged for Charter Celebrations Parade’.
  9. ^ ‘History Pages Turned Back 500 Years’, Southern Daily Echo, 1 May 1947, 1. Cutting. D/S.14/2.
  10. ^ Adrian Rance, Southampton: An Illustrated History (Southampton, 1986), 171.
  11. ^ Programme of the Charter Commemorations Celebrating the Occasion of the Quincentenary of the County Town of Southampton and the Establishment of the Office of Sheriff and the Five Hundred and Second Anniversary of the Borough of Southampton (Southampton, 1947), 19. Southampton Heritage Services. SC/Z/2/11a.
  12. ^ Programme of the Charter Commemorations, 19-20.
  13. ^ ‘Pageant Inspired by Imagination’, unknown page number.
  14. ^ Ibid.
  15. ^ Letter from Elsie M. Sandell to the Editor of the Southern Daily Echo, 28 May 1947.
  16. ^ ‘Merrie England Returns to So’ton on May I’.
  17. ^ Programme of the Charter Commemorations, inside front cover.

How to cite this entry

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