A Pageant of Streatham (1925)
Place: Streatham Hall (Streatham) (Streatham, Surrey, England)
Number of performances: 7
2–7 November 1925, at 8.15pm
Saturday 7 November, 3pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producers [Pageant Master]: Massey, E.C.
- Producers [Pageant Master]: Chance, Peggy
- Master of the Music: Mr Hubert Belton
- Mistress of the Robes: Mrs L. Weldon
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Debenham, Mary
Names of composers
- Fletcher, Percy
- Davies, Walford
- McEwen, John Blackwood
- Belton, Hubert
- Benet, John
- Beethoven, Ludwig van
- Parry, Hubert
Numbers of performers100
Men, women, children.
Object of any funds raised
The Streatham Hall Fund
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
After a traditional hymn about the freeing of Peter from prison by an angel, and the freeing of the people by Christ, a figure representing Freedom converses with a young Girl Student of the present day. The girl is cynical and declares herself weary of the age-old cry for liberty. Freedom explains how both the best and worst deeds in human history have been done in her name. Freedom vows to show the girl how people in past times had broken the fetters for themselves and others, and instructs her that she should then go and tell the world what she has seen. Freedom introduces Leonard, ‘Apostle of the true Freedom’ who will ‘point the road for all who come after.’
Episode I. St Leonard, Breaker of Fetters, 5th Century
St Leonard was a young French noble of the 5th century, who devoted his life to the help of prisoners. St Leonard enters with Remi and Lothair, two released prisoners of war. They rejoice in freedom, and Leonard instructs them to serve the Lord who set them free. Children sing a happy song, before bringing Leonard and the prisoners presents from their families. Leo and his wife enter with other peasants, and Leo announces that the Queen lies sick to death up in the castle. They plead with St Leonard to help with prayers. A noble then arrives, and implores Leonard as well—promising Leonard that the King will give his crown, his jewels and half his realm for a cure for the Queen. After a hymnal interlude, the noble and page re-enter and declare that the Queen has been saved by Leonard. King Theodobert enters with Leonard; Leonard rejects the King’s offer of money and jewels, and asks instead for a piece of the forest to be a home for released prisoners to learn their newly won freedom. The King assents and is thanked by Leonard. The released prisoners watch on, and promise to work to prove their liberty.
Episode II. Coming of the Monks to Tooting Bec [c.1066]
Richard de Tonbridge, cousin of William the Conqueror, gave the manors of Streatham and Tooting to the Abbey of Bec in Normandy. A band of monks came from the Norman Abbey to found a monastery at Tooting. Gurth, Withold and other Saxons enter, and some begin to moan about how nothing good has happened since Norman William ‘and his bloodsuckers’ set foot in England. Withold, though, is optimistic, and says that England will continue to be living and mighty for a long time. They continue to argue whether the benefits of the Normans outweigh the negatives. The argument turns into a fight. Godwin, Eanswith and Aldyth enter and break it up. Guthlac rushes in looking for his mother and cries that Sweyne has fallen in the fish pond. Brother Martin comes in with the child, having rescued him, and intrigues the locals with his foreign voice. It turns out that Martin is an old friend of Godwin, studying together abroad. Martin asks after Streatham, and is then shown the way there. After Martin has left, the Saxons again argue about whether it is a good thing that Martin is likely to be establishing a French Abbey in the English lands—some insisting that the education will benefit the land. Martin re-enters, and gradually persuades the Saxons by telling stories of how the coming monks will bake their famous bread and ends the scene by declaring that the brethren will do their part to bring peace and good will into the land.
Episode III. The Days of the Black Prince [c. 1350s]
Villagers enter, eagerly awaiting the appearance of the Prince of Wales, who is on his way to see the rebuilt Streatham church. A Knight and his squire pass through, reach the church and praise the building. Joan and children enter, and play games. It transpires that the Knight is Joan’s father and has finally returned from war and prison in Spain, much to her delight. A dance then takes place, as the Knight watches—reunited with his wife and children. Villagers re-enter shouting ‘God Save the Prince’. The Black Prince enters with Sir John Ward, and thanks the villagers for their welcome. He reunites with the Knight—having fought with him at Poitiers. The Prince leaves. The Knight’s wife promises jewels to help the new church. The children discuss the motto on the Prince’s banner, ‘I Serve’, asking why it was not ‘I rule’. Another reminds them that it was the motto of Jesus—‘Who is King of us all.’
Episode IV. Benefactors of Old Times, Seventeenth Century
17th century parishioners come in, orphaned children excitedly showing the Girl Student of the present day (and Prologue) the gifts they have had from benefactors. The adults talk about the kind benefactors, though some think that people take advantage of the charity given by the Churchwardens. The Girl Student asks them if they would like to see women churchwardens, which is answered with negativity—and cries of ‘a crowing hen’s an evil thing’, and some predicting that it will never be seen. Conversation turns back to the good deeds done by benefactors. A song and dance of charity children takes place. The episode ends with the Girl Student ruminating about how the same good deeds are done in the present day, just in a different way and by a different name.
Episode V. Dr Johnson at Streatham [c. mid-to-late 18th century]
Dr Samuel Johnson was a constant visitor to Mr and Mrs Thrale at Streatham Place, and had a great love for St Leonard’s Church. Mrs Thrale and Mrs Burney, the author of Evelina, enter. They talk about Burney’s writing, and the impending visit of Dr Johnson, who they compliment for his charity work with poor pensioners. Mr Thrale, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr Johnson and Mr Boswell enter. They are debating the merits of tea, a new-fangled beverage—Dr Johnson being strongly in favour. The conversation turns to liberty—Dr Johnson arguing that ‘liberty without restraint is the lowest and most ignominious form of slavery’. He explains that liberty is a means to an end, and that men should use their liberty to do the good of Him who made them. The Girl Student reappears, and declares ‘Oh, dear, good, obstinate, kind old Doctor Johnson! Have you give us the clue? Liberty that submits to law, liberty that sets us free for work? Joan, from the previous episode, now re-enters with Brother Martin and approaches the Girl Student. They ask her if she goes to St Leonard’s Church, which she does, promising that she says her prayers. Freedom reappears and ends the pageant by saying:
Is perfect freedom—Aye, the royal road
Of those who conquer self, and so are free
To give themselves whole-hearted to fulfil
The Will of Him Whose law for all His World
Is love and labour. Watch them as they pass
Along the ages: men who cleared and tilled
The tangled forest country; men who wore
The habit of the monk, the warrior’s mail;
Kind hearts who cared for simple village folk;
Stout hearts who held the torch in days of doubt.
Forth in their tracks, ye fighters of to-day!
Light the blind eyes and free the fettered souls,
And lead them forth along your own glad road
The way of freedom pledged to those who serve.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince] prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376), heir to the English throne and military commander
- Thrale, Henry (1728–1781) brewer and politician
- Piozzi [née Salusbury; other married name Thrale], Hester Lynch (1741–1821) writer
- Burney [married name D'Arblay], Frances [Fanny] (1752–1840) writer
- Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784) author and lexicographer
- Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1723–1792) portrait and history painter and art theorist
- Garrick, David (1717–1779) actor and playwright
- Garrick [née Veigel], Eva Maria [performing name Violette] (1724–1822) dancer
- Boswell, James (1740–1795) lawyer, diarist, and biographer of Samuel Johnson
- Goldsmith, Oliver (1728?–1774) author
- More, Hannah (1745–1833) writer and philanthropist
The Wood-Smith String Quartet and the Choir of the Church of the English MartyrsChoirmaster: Mr Terrence Gahagan
Assistant Choirmaster: Mr Francis Sandham
The following pieces were performed:
- Overture. ‘The Spirit of Pageantry’, Percy Fletcher.
- Anthem. ‘God be in my Head’, Walford Davies.
- Opening Chorus. ‘When Peter Lay in Prison Pent’, English Traditional (572 English Hymnal).
- Children’s Song. ‘Sleepy Children in the Dawning’, French Carol (229 English Hymnal).
- Litany, ‘O, Father God, Who Made us All’, French Church Melody (125 English Hymnal).
- Motet, ‘Cast Off All Doubtful Care’, Byrd (1589).
- Interlude. ‘Chanson’ and ‘Danse Basse’, McEwen.
- Monks Song. ‘Only Begotten’, Tune Arranged by Hubert Belton.
- ‘Selection of Old Country Dance Tunes’, Arranged by Percy Fletcher.
- The Morris Dance Tunes by Cecil Sharp used in this episode were arranged for String Quartet by Miss Alice Grassie.
- Madrigal. ‘All Creatures Now are Merry-Minded’, John Benet [Bennet].
- ‘Minuet in G’, Beethoven.
- Episode V:
- Chorus. Finale, ‘Jerusalem’, Hubert Parry.
Newspaper coverage of pageantThe Streatham News
The Lichfield Mercury
Book of words
- Debenham, Mary. The Book of the Pageant of Streatham. Croydon, 1925.
Other primary published materials
- Debenham, Mary. A Pageant of Streatham: Programme. Croydon, 1925.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Lambeth Archives:
- Notes for Streatham Pageant. IV/66/8/26.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Pageant of Streatham was a small indoor pageant, performed seven times in November 1925. It took place at Streatham Hall, a late Victorian building acquired by St Leonard’s Church earlier in 1925 as a Parish Hall to house the activities of its growing congregation.2 The cast was approximately 100 strong and drawn mainly from the Church and from members of the Streatham Shakespeare Players’ Association, whose director, Miss E.C. Massey, produced the pageant.3 The pageant unsurprisingly had a strong Christian ethos, and was conceived as an encouragement of liberty and dedication to Christian ideals. The week after the pageant there was a united demonstration in Streatham Hall attended by the League of Nations Union (one of the main organisations agitating for an international sense of citizenship and peace), the Streatham Christian Council and the No More War movement.4 This enthusiasm for anti-war and freedom is perhaps unsurprising—Streatham was heavily affected by the First World War, suffering damage from Zeppelin raids, and 725 local servicemen killed.5
In the Book of Words, the author, Mary Debenham, declared that the pageant did not aim to give ‘the whole history of Streatham’. Rather, it sought to answer the question ‘What is Freedom?’ by choosing several pertinent episodes from different eras of local and non-local history.6 The pageant thus began with a traditional hymn detailing the freeing of St Peter from prison by an angel, and the freeing of the people by Christ. A figure representing Freedom then guided a Girl Student of 1925 through several incidents that showed the value of Freedom in different aspects—especially as something that derived from religion. The first episode showed forgiveness and service, as St Leonard helped release prisoners (set in 6th century France rather than Streatham!); the second showed the coming of the monks to Tooting Bec, and how the religious helped bring peace and goodwill to the area; the third showed Edward, the popular ‘Black Prince’, who wore visible signs of his allegiance to God, and also a local noble woman who gave money to charity; the fourth episode showed local philanthropists of the 17th century, and thus the importance of charity (though it also noted that some did not deserve charity); and the final fifth episode showed Dr Johnson, a famous visitor to Streatham and worshipper at St Leonard’s Church, who believed that liberty should be used to do the good work of God. At the end of this episode the Girl Student re-entered with other characters, who proclaimed the importance of St Leonard’s Church. The pageant ended with Freedom reaffirming the moral of the pageant: that freedom should be used in the service of God.
The pageant made an impressive £602 profit—approximately £18000 in today’s money—which went to the Streatham Hall Fund, which had been recently been purchased by the parish church for work among young people.7 ‘Hundreds’, according to the Streatham News, had to be turned away from the last performances on the Saturday.8 The newspaper was over the top in its praise, describing how it ‘captivated all who have seen it and inspired within thousands of Streatham hearts a deeper knowledge and a richer love for the history and traditions of the place’; ‘a unique triumph’; and a ‘magnificent production, admirably staged, splendidly performed, with the right atmosphere attained’.9 It predicted that the pageant would be reproduced the following year; while this did not happen, the local success of the pageant ensured that it was indeed performed again, 11 years later in 1936, and again in 1951.10
- ‘Pageant a Success’, The Streatham News, 13 November 1925, 9.
- Ethel M. Bromhead, Streatham Hall, loose notes, Lambeth Archives, IV/66/9/10.
- ‘Dr Johnson and Streatham: A Pageant Episode’, The Observer, 18 October 1925, 16.
- ‘An Appeal for Peace’, The Streatham News, 6 November 1925, 8.
- Graham Gower, A Brief History of Streatham (Streatham, 1991).
- Mary Debenham, The Book of the Pageant of Streatham (Croydon, 1925).
- Calculated using the National Archive’s ‘Currency Converter’. Accessed 5/12/2015 at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/
- ‘Pageant a Success’, The Streatham News, 13 November 1925, 9.
- ‘Pageant of Liberty’, The Streatham News, 6 November 1925, 6.
- ‘Pageant a Success’, 9.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘A Pageant of Streatham (1925)’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1215/