Southampton Silver Jubilee Pageant

Pageant type

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

Year: 1935

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 8


7–17 May 1935

Original Run 7 May–11 May

May 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 May (Tuesday till Saturday), 9-11pm.

Due to high demand four more performances given on 14, 15, 16 and 17 May at 9.15pm (14 May cancelled due to bad weather).

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Thursby, Charles
  • Scenario and Explanatory Notes: F.E. Stevens
  • Hon. Organiser: Colin McCarraher
  • Director of performance Ground: S.G. Stanton, M.Inst, CE
  • Lighting: W.G. Turner, MIEE
  • Chairman of Costumes Committee: The Deputy Mayoress, Mrs W.D. Buck
  • Wardrobe Mistress and Designer: Mrs Cecil Burr
  • Assistant Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs J.R. Montgomery
  • Dancing arranged by: Nancy Lloyd, MISTD, NBATD
  • Director of the Green Glades: Arthur Black
  • Chief Ranger of the Green Glades: G. Williams
  • Staff assistant: Joan Cleveland
  • Programmes: Robert Hughes
  • Make-up: T. Leybourne
  • Dressing Room Supervisor: B. Wilson
  • Rehearsal Pianist: Gladys Fergusson
  • Narrator: Eric Jones-Evans

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Stevens, F.E.

Names of composers

  • Coates, Eric

Godfrey Brown arranged the music.

Numbers of performers

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

Local hospitals

King George’s Jubilee Trust


Total proceeds of the sale of the programmes given to local hospitals.

Proceeds from extra performances devoted to King George’s Jubilee Trust.

Linked occasion

Silver Jubilee of George V

Audience information

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


20000 saw the opening performance: ‘every seat in the enclosure was occupied; hundreds more could have been sold.’1

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events

The Silver Jubilee Programme included the following events:
  • Towns thanksgiving service at St. Mary Church (6 May). 
  • Procession of 3000 children representing ‘Youth at work and play’ (8 May). 
  • Open-air thanksgiving service on the Common (12 May). 
  • Sports, gymkhana, fireworks, bonfire and Royal Salute of 21 guns on the Common (varying days).

Pageant outline

Episode I. The Undying Flame

The motif which opens the Pageant is that the love for England—which has inspired the endeavour of the years—lies behind the national recognition of the King’s place in the affections of his people. It is an undying flame; upon the altar stone, in a beautiful glade, the flame is seen burning. The Guardian of the Flame appears with the Sprites. Their torches are lit from the flame, and the sprites, with torches ablaze, go forth to the furthest limits of the Empire, carrying with them the Spirit of England. The Guardian of the Flame remains to bear the torch from age to age. It is the symbol of the Pageant.

Episode II. Early Britons and Romans

The first Southampton that, before the walled town, lay on the marshland near Itchen mouth. It was peopled by fisher folk for the most part, and to them the coming of the Romans stood for terror. The galleys swept past them up river, filled with stern-faced fighting men, to the landing place above, where the river bends. Clausentum, the Roman base, was on the other bank of the Itchen (Bitterne Manor now), and it was from this gathering place that the penetration of Southern England began. Upon the uplands, between the twin rivers, there may have been such an encampment as is pictured. It is patriarchal in character. The headman has his people gathered about him, and they are occupied with the things that interest them; wrestling; the stories of the wise man; the threat to their peace which the invader offers. The threat becomes a reality. The Romans are at hand. The ‘rude forefathers of the hamlet’ scatter to the woods, pursued by the Roman Centurion and his cohort. There is confused fighting, lit up by the deed of heroism of a youth, who, in the manner of David meeting Goliath, furiously attacks the Roman leader. The high priest of the community begs his life, and the Roman good-humouredly grants the boon. The undying flame, typified by youth, burns on, and the flame is borne by its guardian to the succeeding age.

Episode III. Elizabethan

Queen Elizabeth came to Southampton on several occasions. The Royal visit of 1560 is the subject of this pageant picture, showing the life, the colour, and the vigour of that time. The people are gathered in anticipation, and there is some excitement when one of the Court ladies seeks to know the future from the Woman of the Woods, and two Nobles of the Court come to blows. The Queen appears, and here on the green shows forth her prowess, first in the chase—the Common was forest land then, part of the Forest of Bere—and then in the dance. As part of the Royal entertainment there is a dance, and in this the Queen bears a graceful part, to the loyal delight of Hampton folk gathered about. As the Queen departs—for Netley, where the Early of Hertford was her host—the demonstrations of affection and approval break out afresh. And now the Guardian of the Flame appears once more, bearing the torch, still brightly burning.

Episode IV. Georgian

King George III came often to Southampton, too. It was on the road to Weymouth which he loved. It was his habit to break the journey at Lyndhurst, and, on the occasion pictured, the King was accompanied by Queen Charlotte and the Royal Princesses. From Cuffnell’s the Royal party came to Southampton to see the new health resort, just then rising into fame, and for their coming the people are gathered on the Common, the Mayor and Mayoress at their head. At the hands of youth they receive gifts; the King and Queen see Southampton, its glories and its promise, with the Mayor for guide, and the Queen touches the hearts of the people by saving some of the Common oaks from destruction. And so to Weymouth, where, in a stage picture, we see the King at the door of his bathing machine, and gain a hint of the greetings of the people of that resort. Once more the Guardian of the Flame appears amid the trees with the burning torch—the Spirit of England lives.

Episode V. Victorian

This episode will suggest the spirit in which the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, in 1887, was celebrated in Southampton. It is a delightful domestic scene; the people’s festival of joy, and, quite naturally, the Common was the place of celebration. One of the features of that occasion was the traditional one of tree planting, performed by the Mayor and Mayoress in the presence of the townsfolk, and that will be followed by an al fresco dance in which the polka, the popular dance of the time, will be the leading example. The Mayor and Mayoress will lead it. Picnic parties, music, gaiety, and all sorts and conditions of men, in the stiff furbelows of the time; the elaborate courtesy, the games of the children, the Spirit of England on holiday; all will be shown in a rapid colourful picture. And then the flaming torch again, borne with grace by the Guardian of the Flame towards the time of its greatest glory.

Episode VI. 1914-1919

Southampton Common was, during the war years, the place of bivouac; of sacred memories therefore. In the gathering darkness the soldiers come; they pitch their tents hurriedly. There are scenes of farewell, and then, as the women depart silently and in tears, the lights go out one by one. It is the eve of the greatest adventure. There is the silent figure of the sentry, awake and waiting in the sleeping camp. Reverie; a bugle call, and then the vision on the hill… And once more the undying flame leaping across the years—the Spirit of England.

Finale. The Spirit of England

The Pageant players have pictured the glamour of the past; they gather once more to show that the undying flame burns at its brightest in greeting to the King and Queen at the moment of their Silver Jubilee. Youth, agleam in silver, clear-eyed, looking forward, hopeful, representing the hopes which this splendid background [referring to a flood-lit replica of the Southampton Cenotaph] is the justification, and with them the Spirit of England, horsed, clad in silver. He seizes the torch and holds it aloft, an inspiration to youth. There is a closing of the ranks in the final act of faith, and hope, and thanksgiving.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
  • Charlotte [Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz] (1744–1818) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and queen of Hanover, consort of George III

Musical production

Music: Southampton Police Band—Conductor: A.H. Muddiman
  • Eric Coates. March, ‘Knightsbridge’.
  • Selection from London Suite, ‘Reminiscences of England’. Arranged Godfrey.
  • Waltz Medley, ‘The Gay 90s’. Arranged Brown.
  • Fantasia, ‘Festivalia.’ Arranged Winter.
  • Abide With Me, Finale.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Southern Daily Echo

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Grand Floodlit Pageant on the Southampton Common. Southampton, 1935.

Price: 2d.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Grand Floodlit Pageant on the Southampton Common. Southampton, 1935. Southampton Archives Services. D/Z 374/102.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Silver Jubilee Pageant of 1935, held to celebrate the 25-year reign of George V, was the last of three large pageants staged in Southampton in the interwar period. It was produced and directed by Charles Thursby, a man with considerable stage experience who had also produced the Winchester Pageant of 1928 and the Pageant of Remembrance in 1932, and written by F.E. Stevens, a local historian.2 This was the second pageant that they created together in Southampton, following the Hampton Pageant of 1929.3 Unsurprisingly a carnival atmosphere accompanied the pageant, with the city bedecked in patriotic bunting, and fireworks and other frivolities also taking place on the common.4

In terms of its production, the pageant was fairly novel. In contrast to earlier pageants in Southampton, the episodes were entirely without dialogue—instead depending on a narrator and expressionistic dance. Also tying together the scenes was the constant presence of the ‘undying flame’ representing the Spirit of England, borne by a guardian. As was made clear in the programme, it burnt at its strongest in the finale of the pageant, representing the glory of the present day and the culmination of Southampton’s history. The pageant took place late in the evening at 9pm, and thus depended on full floodlighting—another first for the city—provided by the electricity department of the city council.5

In the foreword to the Programme, the Mayor, G.A. Waller, began by declaring the pageant as a ‘loyal devotion to the Crown and thanksgiving to God for the beneficent reign of His Majesty King George V.’ Of course, he was also quick to draw attention to the connections between past and present, and the local and the national, within this devotion, declaring that one could

pause for a moment and dwell upon her country’s immortal past, her not inglorious present, and of the brighter era which is to be. Out of the vista of the past, there stand out prominently the stupendous trials and extraordinary achievements of the past twenty-five years, of which Southampton has borne its full quota.6

Unsurprisingly, then, many of the episodes connected royalty to the city, as with the visit of Queen Elizabeth I in Episode III, George III in Episode IV, and the celebrating of Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887. This was a common ploy of pageantry, and evident in all of Southampton’s productions.

More original in this pageant, however, was the attention given to youth. Firstly, the profits from the pageant and celebration went to King George’s Jubilee Trust, a subscription fund set up that year to assist juvenile organizations. When inaugurating the Trust the Prince of Wales described its purpose as being the support of children under eighteen, particularly those in the difficult transition between school and adult life. These children, he believed, needed discipline, friends, and useful recreation to make them into better citizens, and to guard them from the temptations of urban life.7 More generally the Trust reflected the growing awareness of the physical health movements and programmes promoted by continental dictators; this led to a consequent renewal of the ‘national efficiency’ movement in Britain.8 With the realisation that international conflict was increasingly likely, the terms of the 1937 Physical Training and Recreation Act created local committees to direct central government funding towards both Local Education Authority and voluntary associations to provide or increase recreational facilities for youths especially.9 The vitality of youth, therefore, was increasingly in the 1930s positioned as the future health of the nation. Secondly, the importance of youth was reflected in the narrative of the pageant. During the finale, when the players came into the arena in procession, they were joined by marching Youths: ‘silver-clad figures who herald the coming of the Spirit of England, an alert, hopeful figure on a white horse.’ At this point the Spirit seized the torch and held it aloft ‘an inspiration to the rest of youth.’ Thirdly, this focus on youth was apparent in the largest of the accompanying activities for the Jubilee celebration, an evening procession of 3000 children representing ‘Youth at work and play.’10 The implication in the celebration was obvious: it was with the youth of the city and nation that the future spirit of England depended.11

The First World War was also an important part of the pageant. Titled simply ‘1914-1919’, the last episode before the finale was highly sombre, especially compared to the frivolity of the previous Victoria jubilee celebration. As soldiers readied themselves for war, the common now turned into the site of military camps. Women cried as they bade farewell to their loved ones and gradually the lights dimmed as the soldiers prepared to leave. When a sentry heard a bugle call he saw a vision on the hill: a flood-lit replica of the Southampton Cenotaph behind the audience. After the first verse of ‘Abide with me’ was then performed, the ‘vast crowd’ joined in and became a choir.12 Many of the men who appeared in this episode had served in the Great War and were drawn from the Old Contemptibles Association, the British Legion, the 5/7th Hants Regiment and the Royal Corps of Signals.13 As the undying flame appeared at the end of this scene, the sacrifice of Southampton for the nation was made perfectly clear. The horse ridden by the Spirit of England in the finale was also famous locally, having seen action in the retreat from Mons and been seriously injured by shrapnel and barbed wire in the advance on the Aisne. Named ‘Warrior’, and now a police horse, it wore a heart-shaped medal on its forehead, centred with a blue enamel cross, bearing the inscription: ‘Treat me well; I have done my bit.’14

In a way the popularity of the pageant was also a problem. After seats sold ‘better than hot cakes’, the wrong venue, according to the Southern Daily Echo, was chosen for the performance. Taking place on the common, there was a lack of any steep banking around the enclosure, meaning that many could not see the action taking place: ‘thousands drifted away…after standing on tip-toe for half-an-hour or so trying to get a view.’15 It was partly due to this disappointment that the pageant was restaged several times the following week with cheaper admission.16 Nonetheless the newspaper was full of praise for the event, declaring it ‘a splendid spectacle… a thing of great beauty… [and] a first-class entertainment’—though they did note that ‘it could do with more comedy.’17 On the occasions that the press was more critical, it clearly had an impact. After the George III episode was described as ‘inconsequent and immaterial’ in the Southern Daily Echo, it was not included in consequent performances. After also criticising what they saw as a lack of a prominent position for the troops in the grouping of the finale, they were moved more into the centre—a change about which ‘everybody was delighted.’18

Seemingly popular, and fairly well praised, this Jubilee celebration was the last in the city to use a pageant as the main focus of a celebration—the following Quincentenary Celebrations in 1947, for example, treated its pageant more as a less serious side attraction. Its primary importance was in the heavy importance it gave to youth, reflected in its money raising purpose and parts of its narrative. Its secondary importance was in the concentrated attention given to war—the second time a pageant had been used in this way in Southampton, after the Mayflower pageant in 1920.


  1. ^ ‘Love of England Motif’, Southern Daily Echo, 8 May 1935, 5.
  2. ^ Grand Floodlit Pageant on the Southampton Common (Southampton, 1935), 12; F.E. Stevens, The Battle Story of the Hampshire Regiment (Southampton, 1919).
  3. ^ ‘An Impression of the Town Pageant’, The Hampshire Advertiser and Southampton Times, 15 June 1929, 5.
  4. ^ ‘Southampton Ready for Gay Week’, Southern Daily Echo, 4 May 1935, 1.
  5. ^ ‘Southampton’s Jubilee Pageant’, Southern Daily Echo, 1 May 1935, 1.
  6. ^ Grand Floodlit Pageant, foreword.
  7. ^ ‘The Youth of England’, The Times, 2 March 1935, 12.
  8. ^ John Welshman, 'Physical Education and the School Medical Service in England and Wales, 1907-39', Social History of Medicine 9, no. 1 (1996): 42.
  9. ^ Brad Beaven, Leisure, Citizenship and Working-Class Men in Britain, 1850-1945 (Manchester, 2005), 163.
  10. ^ ‘Southampton’s Silver Jubilee Programme’, Southern Daily Echo, 2 May 1935, 1.
  11. ^ ‘Love of England Motif’, Southern Daily Echo, 8 May 1935, 5.
  12. ^ ‘Love of England Motif’, Southern Daily Echo, 8 May 1935, 5.
  13. ^ ‘Love of England Motif’, Southern Daily Echo, 8 May 1935, 5.
  14. ^ Grand Floodlit Pageant, 11.
  15. ^ ‘Love of England Motif’, 5.
  16. ^ ‘Pageant to Run Next Week’, Southern Daily Echo, 11 May 1935, 1.
  17. ^ ‘Love of England Motif’, 5.
  18. ^ ‘Pageant Effect Heightened by Re-Shaping’, Southern Daily Echo, 9 May 1935, 6.

How to cite this entry

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