Time and the City: A Pageant Play

Pageant type

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Place: City Hall (St Albans) (St Albans, Hertfordshire, England)

Year: 1968

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 3


31 May–1 June 1968

One performance on Friday 31 May, and a matinee and evening performance on Saturday 1 June.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • [Pageant Master]: Swinson, Arthur

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Swinson, Arthur

Names of composers

  • Swinson, Arthur

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

St Albans Festival 1968

Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 3000


The capacity of the City Hall was 1000, so the maximum possible audience was 3000.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events

The pageant was part of the St Albans Festival.

Pageant outline

Act I

Episode I. The Case of St Alban’s Bones, 1155

This episode is based on the dispute between the monks of Ely and St Albans about the relics of St Alban. Some bones had been sent to Ely for safekeeping during the Danish raids of the tenth century, but St Albans insisted that these were not the real relics of the martyr. A papal messenger announces that the pope—Adrian IV, that is Nicholas Breakspear from St Albans—has appointed Hilary, Bishop of Chichester, Jocelyn, Bishop of Salisbury, and John, Bishop of Worcester, to interview both sides and send a report back to him. The bishops interview William, steward of St Albans abbey, and Abbot Robert de Gorham, and, for Ely, Abbot Charles. Eventually Abbot Charles is forced to confess that Ely abbey did not possess the relics, and Bishop Hilary orders that the shrine at Ely be dismantled. The narrator—appearing for the first time—then explains that, notwithstanding this decision, the dispute went on until 1314, when, under the orders of Edward II, the Ely shrine was opened and the bones were not there.

Episode II. England Must Have a Charter! 1213

The scene is an inn, where Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, meets Eustace de Vesci, from Alnwick. They have a disagreement, and Robert Fitzwalter enters with Gilbert de Clare and John de Lacy. Peter des Roches expects to be appointed as the Justiciar of England, but Fitzwalter wants the job for himself. Now Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, enters, with the frail Geoffrey Fitzpeter, the current Justiciar. He apologises for holding the meeting in an inn, but apparently the abbey is popular with some of those present. Fitzwalter remarks that he has three lawsuits against the abbot. Langton reports that King John’s excommunication has been revoked and that he promises an amnesty for rebels. The barons are sceptical, but Peter des Roches and Fitzpeter both defend him. Langton raises the possibility of a charter protecting certain rights. As those present discuss this, a fight breaks out between des Roches on one side and de Vesci, de Clare and de Lacy on the other. Swords are drawn. Des Roches leaves the room, and Langton and Fitzpeter discuss gloomily the prospect of him becoming the next Justiciar. The Earl of Pembroke arrives next; he is also unhappy with the king. The group begins to go through the charter, clause by clause. The narrator explains that, ‘Though Magna Carta was very limited in scope and did not greatly help the common people, it gradually formed the basis of our freedom and of representative government. We can feel proud that the first step was taken at St Albans.’1

Episode III. The Death of an Agitator, 1381

Three townsmen—William Grindcobbe, William Cadynton and John Barber—appear on the scene. They have come to the abbey to see abbot Walter de la Mare, but a monk turns them away. They break the door down. A monk, Father Peter, warns the abbot in his room that the townspeople have broken it, and a discussion ensures between Grindcobbe et al. and de la Mare. The townsmen tell the abbot that they will ‘tolerate your tyranny no longer’, and they force him to sign a new charter of freedoms. But even as he signs this, news arrives that the leader of the peasants’ revolt, Wat Tyler, has been killed in London, although Grindcobbe and the others do not believe it. Later, back in the town, news arrives that William Lee has come with fifty bowmen, and Grindcobbe tries to raise men to fight them.

The next scene is a courtroom, with King Richard II and the abbot. The prosecuting counsel is John Whitwell, chief steward at the abbey, and the defence is being led by William Croyser, from London. Judge Tressilian and the prisoners enter, but the foreman of the jury refuses to indict Grindcobbe, Cadynton and Barber. Tressilian is furious and addresses the jury directly, threatening them with reprisals if they do not indict the three rebels. The foreman still refuses, and Tressilian says that he will keep appointing juries until the men are convicted. In the next scene, Richard is relieved that the third jury indicted the rebels. The townswomen, though, are distraught.

Some months later, Richard and Queen Anne are discussing a petition from St Albans. The rebels were hanged last July, and their bodies are still hanging in the field near Sopwell. The people want permission to bury the bodies. Richard says no because they took them down without his permission ‘a few months ago’ and he had sent officers to re-hang them. The narrator ends the scene by remarking: ‘Today we have no Abbot or Sheriff’s officers, but there are Inland Revenue Officials, and Traffic Wardens. Perhaps on balance we’re better off.’

Episode IV. The King Rides to Sopwell, 1527

Swinson’s notes explain that ‘This is the only apocryphal episode in the play, though I think personally some such event must have occurred.’2

Anne Boleyn is at Sopwell nunnery, singing to the nuns. The abbess is cross with them, as they are supposed to be working. Later, Anne receives a love letter from the king, and then Henry arrives in person to see her. The abbess reminds him that Anne, while in the monastery, is under her protection, which annoys Henry, although he waits for Anne to be fetched. They meet; he asks why she did not write; and she says that there was nothing to say. He tells her she should be at court, and not in the nunnery. She says that she does not want to be the king’s mistress and that he cannot marry her because he is married to Katherine. But he tells her that plans are afoot to bring about a divorce, and Anne agrees, excitedly, to return to court and become queen. The abbess predicts trouble ahead for Anne...

Act II

Episode V. The General From Scotland, 1660

The setting is the Red Lion. The landlady, Mrs Selioke, meets Rev. Thomas Gumble, chaplain to General Monck; he tells her that this will be Monck’s headquarters in St Albans. Mrs Selioke tells him that she has fifteen bedrooms, and Gumble says that they will take them all. Monck himself, and Major Nicholls, arrive, concerned about their safety from parliamentary forces and sympathisers. The parliamentary commissioners, Scott and Robinson, arrive to speak to Monck, and they ask him to take an oath abjuring the Stuarts. Monck refuses. Sir Harbottle Grimston, Master of the Rolls, now arrives—he lives in nearby Gorhambury House. Grimston, too, does not want the Stuarts restored. Sir Richard Temple, MP for Buckinghamshire, is the next to speak with Monck and tells him that a crisis is approaching and that he thinks a free parliament must be a royalist one. Rev. Hugh Peters, former chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, also speaks to Monck. Then a group of St Albans townspeople present a petition to Monck asking him to establish a free parliament. The mayor, Thomas Cowley, is there as well. Mrs Monck now arrives and discusses the situation earnestly with her husband. She wants the king restored and hopes that Monck himself will benefit from this, perhaps getting a dukedom. Now Thomas Clarges arrives from London and reports developments there. Monck prepares himself for the days ahead.

Episode VI. Corruption! Corruption! 1851

The script gives the date as 1852, but the table of contents sets the scene in 1851. (The earlier date is correct.3) The scene opens with rumours of electoral corruption in St Albans. Jacob Bell, MP for St Albans, is giving evidence at an inquiry in the town hall. He admits that, before standing for parliament, he had never even visited the town; he certainly has no property there. Bell had never been politically active before, but he had been approached by James Coppock, an election agent, and had agreed to stand. Coppock had admitted that St Albans was ‘a rather corrupt borough’ and that it would cost up to £3000 to win the seat. Bell had not wanted to engage in corruption, and said that he would not spend any money illegally. In the end his ‘friends’ put up £2500; asked to name them, Bell refuses. James Coppock is examined next: He admits that the money changed hands but denies any direct involvement in bribery. He did not know where the money came from, and he simply passed it on to the local agent, Henry Edwards. Edwards is interviewed next; he is a farmer who lives outside St Albans but has been involved in local politics for 25 years. He admits that he gave money to electors in return for votes, and he tells the inquiry that this happens in all parties; he knows because he had swapped sides before. Edwards is told that he must give the names of the voters who were bribed, and he does so, explaining how much money he gave in each case. He prefers to use the term ‘head money’ to ‘bribery’.

The last interviewee is Maria Warren, wife of George Warren of St Peter’s Street. She admits that she and her husband received £5 from Edwards but tells the inquiry that her husband did not vote at all in the election and laughs. Finally, a lawyer reports that the commissioners found ‘large scale’ bribery, with 284 people taking bribes from Edwards in 1847 and 219 in 1850. A group of boys and girls sing a song, published in 1852: ‘Who bribed St Albans?/“I” said brave Edwards,/Scorning Law’s dread words,/I bribed St Albans’, and so on for several verses.

Episode VII. Sir Edmund Buys the Abbey, 1880

Edmund Beckett, Baron Grimthorpe, is talking to his wife Fanny about the mess that the Abbey Restoration Committee finds itself in. They have not got enough money to complete the work, and they have asked Beckett to put it up. He might do, he says, but only if his conditions are met. Elsewhere, the committee meets, including Archdeacon [Anthony] Grant and local worthy H.J. Toulmin. They have Beckett’s proposal: he wants to buy the cathedral and create a new west front. They are particularly worried about this: ‘The man’s no taste, no architectural qualifications at all!’4 They wonder if the money might be raised in some other way, but this does not seem likely. And the new mayor, John Chapple, is clerk of works on the restoration and wants the work to continue. One member of the committee, John Evans, agrees to approach Lord Cowper for help in stopping the scheme.

The mayor addresses a public meeting in the town hall. He puts Beckett’s scheme to the meeting, and various views are heard for and against. The meeting approves the scheme. Meanwhile, Evans meets Lord Cowper, of Brocket Hall, and a lawyer, F. H. Jeune; there is a court hearing, at which Beckett is present, to determine whether he has the right to embark on the restoration of the building. Cowper argues that he has contributed a lot of money to the restoration fund, and Jeune, presenting his case, argues that Beckett’s scheme for the west front is inadequate and needs a professional architect. Beckett points out that the people of St Albans voted in favour of his scheme at a public meeting, and Jeune retorts that ‘They’d have the place turned into an aquarium, if no charge went on the rates.’5 The judge rules that the work can go ahead.

Episode VIII. The City Meets the Motor Car, 1896

A policeman stops a car being driven by a Mrs Collier, ‘a fashionably dressed lady in her thirties’.6 She was driving too fast, without a man in front carrying a flag. He asks if her husband knows that she is driving; she replies that he bought her the car for her birthday. Mrs Collier, though, is prosecuted. At the trial, the prosecutor notes that this is the first case brought in St Albans involving a car. The police constable gives evidence: he is sure that Mrs Collier was driving above the maximum of ten miles per hour. The defence argues that the speed limit is out of date. Mrs Collier, in her evidence, tells the court that the speedometer showed ten miles per hour; some in the court had not heard of a speedometer before. She inveighs: ‘don’t you men understand? The motor car is here to stay. You’ll have to get used to it ... Oh my word, you’ve got a shock coming; before you’re much older!’7 Eventually she is convicted and fined 2s. 6d. The scene ends with the sound of honking hooters and sirens, and a procession of boys and girls carrying traffic signs, followed by a string of traffic wardens who point to members of the audience and then ‘significantly’ make notes. There were six people with placards, as follows (including the question marks):

1. 16th Century—St Albans Gains her Freedom.
2. 19th Century—St Albans Becomes a City.
3. 20th Century—St Albans swallowed by the Motor Car.
4. 21st Century—?
5. 21st Century—?
6. 21st Century—St Albans Fights Back!


There is a silhouette of the St Albans skyline, and the cast comes on stage, episode by episode. The chorus moves forward and speaks:

Two thousand years have surged across the hill
Where Alban perished, and our homes rest still;
Deep from the past the urgent future springs,
And time and the City march to greater things.

The ‘Pageant Play Song’ is then sung. It ends:

The years go by
Their tale unfolding
And age succeeds to age.
Great kings may die
Or armies plunder
And civil war may rage.
Roman or Dane,
Pestilence, pain,
Our city will always remain

The years go by—
New generations
Advance to claim the stage.
This is our age!
We come to claim the stage!

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Hilary (c.1110–1169) bishop of Chichester
  • Bohun, Jocelin de (1105x1110?–1184) bishop of Salisbury
  • Pagham, John of (d. 1157) bishop of Worcester
  • Roches, Peter des [Peter de Rupibus] (d. 1238) administrator and bishop of Winchester
  • Fitzwalter, Robert (d. 1235) magnate and rebel
  • Vescy [Vesci], Eustace de (1169/70–1216) baron
  • Clare, Gilbert de, fifth earl of Gloucester and fourth earl of Hertford (c.1180–1230) magnate
  • Lacy, John de, third earl of Lincoln (c.1192–1240) magnate
  • Langton, Stephen (c.1150–1228) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Geoffrey fitz Peter, fourth earl of Essex (d. 1213) justiciar
  • Marshal, William (I) [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c.1146–1219) soldier and administrator [also known as Marshall, William]
  • Mare, Thomas de la (c.1309–1396) abbot of St Albans
  • Richard II (1367–1400) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Tresilian, Sir Robert (d. 1388) justice
  • Anne [Anne of Bohemia] (1366–1394) queen of England, first consort of Richard II
  • Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536) queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Monck [Monk], George, first duke of Albemarle (1608–1670) army officer and naval officer [also known as Monck]
  • Gumble, Thomas (bap. 1626, d. 1676) Church of England clergyman and biographer
  • Clarke, Sir William (1623/4–1666) military administrator
  • Temple, Sir Richard, third baronet (1634–1697) politician
  • Grimston, Sir Harbottle, second baronet (1603–1685) barrister and politician
  • Peter [Peters], Hugh (bap. 1598, d. 1660) Independent minister
  • Clarges, Sir Thomas (1617?–1695) politician
  • Robinson, Luke (bap. 1610, d. 1669) politician
  • Scott [Scot], Thomas (d. 1660) politician and regicide
  • Bell, Jacob (1810–1859) pharmacist and politician
  • Coppock, James (1798–1857) election agent
  • Beckett, Edmund [formerly Edmund Beckett Denison], first Baron Grimthorpe (1816–1905) ecclesiastical controversialist, architect, and horologist
  • Grant, Anthony (1806–1883) Church of England clergyman
  • Jeune, Francis Henry, Baron St Helier (1843–1905) judge
  • Cowper, Francis Thomas de Grey, seventh Earl Cowper (1834–1905) politician and landowner

Musical production

  • Arthur Swinson. ‘Fanfare—Introduction’. 
  • Arthur Swinson. ‘Pageant Play Song’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Herts Advertiser

Book of words

Swinson, Arthur. Time and the City: A Pageant Play. Unpublished typescript, 1968. St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature

  • Freeman, Mark. ‘“Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle”: Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’. Social History 38 (2013): 423–55. The focus of this article is the four pageants at St Albans during the twentieth century.

Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Friedman, Paul. Life of Anne Boleyn.1884.
  • Gumble, Thomas. Life of General Monck. 1671.
  • Hall, D.J. Medieval Pilgrimage.
  • Hamett, Cynthia. Monasteries and Monks.
  • Harrison, Bryson. Private Life of Henry VIII.
  • Herts Advertiser.
  • Mann, A.K. Nicholas Breakspear.
  • McKinnon, Col. Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards.
  • McKisack, May. The Fourteenth Century.
  • Newcome, Peter. History of the Abbey of St Albans, 1793.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. London, 1966.
  • Powicke, F.M. Stephen Langton.
  • Price, John. The Mysteries and Method of His Majesty’s Restoration. 1680.
  • Report of the Commission to Enquire into Evidence of Bribery in the Borough of St Albans. London, 1852.
  • Stow, John. Chronicles. 1580.
  • Strickland, Agnes, Queens of England.
  • Stukeley, William. Itinerarium Curiosum. 1720.
  • Toms, Elsie. The Story of St Albans.
  • Victoria County History of Hertfordshire, 4 vols, ed. William Page. 1902-14.
  • Walsingham, Thomas. Gesta Abbatum Monasteri Sancti Albani.
  • Warner, Oliver. Hero of the Restoration. 1936.
  • Warren, W.L. King John.
  • A large range of sources was used in the preparation of this pageant. In most cases, Swinson did not give full publication details, and for the most part his format has been followed in the list below.
  • Ashdown, Charles H. St Albans Historic and Picturesque. London, 1893.
  • Bryant, Arthur. The Age of Chivalry.
  • Byrne, M. St C., ed. The Letters of Henry VIII.
  • Calendar of Patent Rolls. Richard II.
  • Camden, William. Britannia. 1586.
  • Chauncey, Sir Henry. Historical Antiquities of Herts. 1700.
  • ‘Clarke Papers’.
  • Crapelet, G.A., ed. Les Lettres de Henry VIII—Anne Boleyn.
  • Ferriday, Peter Lord Grimthorpe. 1957.

Episode I: Thomas Walsingham, Gesta Abbatum Monasteri Sancti Albani; D.J. Hall, Medieval Pilgrimage; Elsie Toms, The Story of St Albans; A.K. Mann, Nicholas Breakspear; Cynthia Hamett, Monasteries and Monks.

Episode II: F.M. Powicke, Stephen Langton; W.L. Warren, King John; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries on Eustace de Vesci, Robert Fitzpeter, Peter des Roches, William Marshal and Robert Fitzwalter; C.Walter Hodges, and Magna Carta (London, 1966).

Episode III: Peter Newcome, History of the Abbey of St Albans (1793); Sir Henry Chauncey, Historical Antiquities of Herts (1700); Charles H. Ashdown, St Albans Historic and Picturesque; Agnes Strickland, Queens of England; Arthur Bryant, The Age of Chivalry; May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century; Victoria County History of Hertfordshire; Calendar of Patent Rolls—Richard II; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Robert Tressilian.

Episode IV: William Camden, Britannia (1586); William Stukeley, Itinerarium Curiosum (1720); John Stow, Chronicles (1580); Paul Friedman, Life of Anne Boleyn (1884); Agnes Strickland, Queens of England; Bryson Harrison, Private Life of Henry VIII; The Letters of Henry VIII, ed. M. St C. Byrne; Les Lettres de Henry VIII—Anne Boleyn, ed. G.A. Crapelet.

Episode V: Thomas Gumble, Life of General Monck (1671); John Price, The Mysteries and Method of His Majesty’s Restoration (1680); Col. McKinnon, Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards; ‘Clarke papers’; Oliver Warner, Hero of the Restoration (1936); Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries on William Clarke, Thomas Clarges and Anne Monck,8 Sir Richard Grenville [who does not appear in the episode], Thomas Gumble, Harbottle Grimston and Hugh Peters.

Episode VI: Report of the Commission to Enquire into Evidence of Bribery in the Borough of St Albans (London: HMSO, 1852).

Episode VII: Peter Ferriday, Lord Grimthorpe (1957); Herts Advertiser.

Episode VIII: Herts Advertiser.

Some additional sources were used to inform the production of costumes.9


St Albans had staged three historical pageants, in 1907, 1948 and 1953. In 1968 an indoor ‘pageant play’ was staged, with three performances on the stage of the recently built City Hall, which could seat 1000 spectators. The pageant, Time and the City, presented eight episodes from the history of St Albans, most of which had not been shown in the city’s pageants before (an exception was the peasants’ revolt, which was depicted very differently from the earlier version staged in 1907).10 There were around 200 performers, most of whom came from eight local schools but some of whom were from the Verulam Youth Theatre; there were two evening performances plus a matinee.11 In terms of audience, it appears that the production was a success. The City Hall was full for the first performance on the Friday night, although there is no indication of whether this was also true for the two Saturday performances.12 The pageant has left fewer traces than those of 1907, 1948 and 1953. There was no published book of words—there are copies of the typescript in St Albans Central Library and elsewhere13—and reporting in the local press was limited.

By the late 1960s historical pageantry, on the large scale to which St Albans had been accustomed in the Edwardian and early post-war periods, was clearly in decline, although it had not completely died out, as the outdoor pageant at nearby Berkhamsted had shown in 1966.14 In St Albans, the 1968 St Albans Festival was the occasion for Swinson’s play; this was one of a number of new or revived initiatives, including the annual carnival procession, that arose in the city in the 1960s and 1970s.15 The Festival featured, among other things, a ‘day of pomp’ to commemorate Magna Carta, which included a procession in historical costumes.16 The construction of the large new civic centre buildings, including the City Hall itself, was something to celebrate, although this development was protracted and politically difficult. The St Albans pageant-master of 1948 and 1953, Cyril Swinson, had—until his death in 1963—vigorously opposed the new buildings, and the process was satirised by his brother Arthur Swinson in his novel The Temple, published in 1970.17

It is perhaps ironic, then, that the writer and director of Time and the City was Arthur Swinson himself. Like Cyril, Arthur (1915–70) was a native and a resident of St Albans, best known as a radio and television scriptwriter and popular author and military historian. Swinson, who wrote many episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook, had been ‘Marshal of the Arena’ in the 1948 pageant and was also secretary of the English Folk Song and Dance Society.18 His books included Scotch on the Rocks (1963), telling the true story on which the film Whisky Galore! was based (and including a foreword by Compton Mackenzie himself); Kohima (1966), an account of the 1944 battle in which Swinson himself had fought; and an illustrated children’s paperback, North-West Frontier (1967).19 He was president of various local organisations and with his brother had been one of the co-founders of the Company of Ten theatre group, which is still in existence. As well as the script, Swinson also wrote some of the music that was used, including the ‘Pageant Play Song’.

Swinson brought his wide experience of writing for radio and television to the task of creating the 1968 pageant. There is much more dialogue than in the previous St Albans pageants, and more light-heartedness too. Swinson acknowledged that his first concern was for theatre and not history:

I must emphasise here that my first concern has been to construct a viable theatrical vehicle, my belief being that unless a play lives in the theatre, it’s not worth performing, whether its facts are accurate or not. ... I have tried to give a reasonable (if highly personal) interpretation of certain events which have taken place in St Albans and so form part of the history of our community. These events are spread over 800 years and, as one might expect, more is known about the later events than about the earlier. My policy in the earlier episodes has been, therefore, to use my imagination to fill in the gaps, though, of course, keeping in line with the general knowledge of events and the people involved in them.20

One scene, Episode IV, featuring Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, is described by Swinson as ‘the only apocryphal episode in the play, though I think personally some such event must have occurred.’21 Of course, all dialogue in pageants is imagined, and despite Swinson’s emphasis on the role of the imagination, he seems to have researched the play deeply in historical sources. His historical notes demonstrate wide reading on some of the topics covered, and he offers some critical commentary on some historians’ work.22 The large number of historical figures, some of them comparatively obscure, who feature in the pageant is testament to the research that Swinson carried out, which included using the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for information on a number of his characters.

The earliest scene depicted in the pageant was as late as 1155: Swinson chose not to show any pre-Conquest history, in contrast to the 1907 pageant, for example, when three of the eight scenes were Roman and another was Anglo-Saxon, or 1948 when three of the nine scenes were pre-Conquest. Indeed, three of the eight scenes in 1968 were Victorian, reflecting a growing willingness to portray this period. The dialogue betrays a less reverential attitude to the past: signs of this could be seen in Swinson’s brother’s pageants of 1948 and 1953, but 1968 represented a further shift. Arthur Swinson wrote entirely in prose, except for a couple of songs and interventions by the chorus of performers, and he was not afraid to show historical figures in an unfavourable light, notably Richard II. The meeting of barons in advance of Magna Carta ends in a fight; the peasants’ revolt scene refers to the rotting corpses of the St Albans rebels—William Grindcobbe, William Cadynton and John Barber—hanging for months at the king’s pleasure; and there is a very full depiction of the inquiry into electoral corruption that took place in St Albans in 1851, as a result of which the borough lost its representation in parliament. Indeed, the Herts Advertiser’s reporter thought many of the scenes too ‘sombre’: ‘although one appreciates that history has its quota of feuds, fights, hangings, drawings and quarterings, one felt that one or two moments of St Albans at play between 1155 and 1896 might have been found, and included with advantage, in this Festival production’. The episode on electoral corruption, this writer thought, was ‘incomprehensible’.23

As the synopsis shows, Swinson sometimes threw in some contemporary comment. The final scene ends with traffic wardens looking at members of the audience and making notes in their books, and it is claimed that St Albans in the twentieth century was ‘swallowed by the Motor Car’—and that it may fight back in the twenty-first. Traffic wardens were also mentioned by the narrator at the end of Episode III. By the 1960s road traffic had become a serious problem in St Albans, and this had culminated in 1964 in a radical proposal to build a new inner ring road. This did not happen, but the 1960s saw continued campaigning for road safety, including pedestrian crossings at notorious accident blackspots.24

The 1968 pageant, or pageant play, was performed at a time of rapid urban change and generational conflict, and the script has elements of both iconoclasm and civic patriotism, perhaps best captured at the end of Episode II, ‘England Must Have a Charter!’ Here, Swinson’s narrator explains that, ‘Though Magna Carta was very limited in scope and did not greatly help the common people, it gradually formed the basis of our freedom and of representative government. We can feel proud that the first step was taken at St Albans.’25 Swinson, as his daughter remembers, was a ‘moustachioed, Sandhurst and public school educated English army officer’ with a ‘faith in national institutions [and] the landed Establishment’, and yet at the same time he ‘did not hesitate to rattle cages’,26 as he went on to do when he satirised the local politics of St Albans in his novel The Temple. The 1968 pageant presented history to the local population in a different way from earlier pageants, and it appears that to some people it did not make sense. Yet the concluding message that Swinson sent out through and on behalf of his young cast was very clear: ‘The years go by—/New generations/Advance to claim the stage. This is our age! We come to claim the stage!’27


  1. ^ Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), 28, St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  2. ^ Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), v, St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  3. ^ See Mark Freeman, St Albans: A History (Lancaster, 2008), 219–23. The proceedings depicted in the episode took place in 1851.
  4. ^ Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), 88, St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  5. ^ Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), 96, St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  6. ^ Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), 99, St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  7. ^ Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), 107, St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  8. ^ There is no entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for Anne Monck, but there is a short account of her life and marriage to Monck in Ronald Hutton’s entry on George Monck: Ronald Hutton, ‘Monck [Monk], George, First Duke of Albemarle (1608–1670)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), accessed 16 January 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18939.
  9. ^ All the sources above are given in Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), iii, St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  10. ^ On the St Albans pageants, see Mark Freeman, ‘”Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle”: Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Social History 38 (2013): 423–55; there is a short discussion of the peasants’ revolt episodes at 450–1.
  11. ^ Herts Advertiser, 5 April 1968, 1.
  12. ^ Herts Advertiser, 7 June 1968, 7.
  13. ^ Arthur Swinson, Time and the City: A Pageant Play (unpublished typescript, 1968), St Albans Central Library. LOC.822/SWI/STA.
  14. ^ There is film footage of the Berkhamsted pageant; details at BFI, accessed 10 January 2016, http://explore.bfi.org.uk/4ce2b7a588af5.
  15. ^ See Mark Freeman, St Albans: A History (Lancaster, 2008), 304–6. The carnival has been dated to 1939 and has been held on and off at various times since; see Domesday Reloaded, BBC, accessed 10 January 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/domesday/dblock/GB-512000-207000/page/16.
  16. ^ Herts Advertiser, 14 June 1968, 10.
  17. ^ Herts Advertiser, 11 January 1963, 13; Arthur Swinson, The Temple (London, 1970).
  18. ^ St Albans Millenary Pageant 948–1948: Souvenir Programme, 21–26 June 1948 (St Albans, 1948), 67; The Times, 20 August 1970, 10.
  19. ^ Arthur Swinson, Scotch on the Rocks: The True Story Behind Whisky Galore! (London, 1963); Arthur Swinson, Kohima (London, 1966); Arthur Swinson, North-West Frontier (London, 1967).
  20. ^ Swinson, Time and the City, iii.
  21. ^ Ibid., v.
  22. ^ Ibid., iv–vi.
  23. ^ Herts Advertiser, 7 June 1968, 7.
  24. ^ Freeman, St Albans, 319–21.
  25. ^ Swinson, Time and the City, 28.
  26. ^ Antonia Swinson, ‘Introduction’, in Arthur Swinson, Scotch on the Rocks: The True Story Behind Whisky Galore! 2nd ed. (Edinburgh, 2005), 14–15.
  27. ^ Swinson, Time and the City, 110.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Time and the City: A Pageant Play’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1206/