Biggleswade Silver Jubilee Pageant

Pageant type


Entry written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s College London Undergraduate Research Fellow.

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Place: Market Square (Biggleswade) (Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England)

Year: 1977

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 1


Tuesday 7 June 1977 at 6:30pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II

Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

The Miracle of St. Hugh

November 18th 1200.1 A bell was heard along Brown Street from the direction of Baldock, and there appears a procession of riders. The bell rang out a solemn note and on a litter la the body of the Bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Avalon. Six acolytes with candles walked on either side of the bier. The saintly bishop, canonised in 1220, had died at the Temple Church in London and his body was on its way to Lincoln for burial. The first night it was rested at Stevenage and the second stopping place was Biggleswade Church. No doubt people went to Biggleswade to touch the corpse and to pray for a miracle. When the cortege formed up in ‘Schortmede’ outside the church the next morning a miracle was alleged to have taken place. A woman who had broken her arm stepped forward and touched the corpse of the Bishop. Her arm was said to have been healed immediately and the event was hailed as miraculous. It was also said that the wax tapers in the procession stayed alight all the time.

Horse Fair

Biggleswade has always been an agricultural centre owing to its favourable position and its early privileges as a market town. King John granted a market to be held freely and without interruption, and this was confirmed in 1227 by Henry III. The Bishops of Lincoln also held from the earliest times at least one fair annually in Biggleswade. In 1586 Biggleswade was said by Camden to be famous for its ‘horse fair’ and its stone bridge, while Defoe called it ones of the greatest markets in England for barley. Straw plaits too became a major commodity sold at Biggleswade markets from the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century there were five fairs held in Biggleswade, all for cattle of various kinds—February 14th, Saturday in Easter week, Whit Monday, August 2nd and November 8th (known as ‘Wet Shod Fair’). The St. Valentine fair survived well into this century and became known simply as the horse fair. Watkin writes entertainingly of this in his ‘True Tales Told’.

Biggleswade Tower Mill

The area being fertile, mills, both wind and water were plentiful in times past. Every man had to take his corn to be ground at the mill of his feudal lord, and the mediaeval miller was an important man in the community, and if, as often was the case, he was suspected of giving short measure, an unpopular one.

The earliest known reference to the present site of Biggleswade Mill is dated 1547, but the mill must have been there long before that. Domesday mentions two mills belonging to Ralph de Liste. There was a mill at Holme Mills too since early mediaeval times (hence the name). Although it is situated in Southill Parish this mill has ancient links with both Langdord and Biggleswade. Messrs. Jordan, who have worked it since 1855 have very kindly lent the model windmill on display. This model represents a tower mill of the sort that stood close to the River Ivel, half a mile south of Biggleswade church.

This was built in 1860 and was the largest windmill in the county. It was 70 feet tall and 23.6” in diameter at the base. There were seen floors, on the third of which were the grindstones. The sails had a span of 90 feet and were 9 feet wide. The mill was still working in 1931 but some time later its sails were removed. The structure was demolished in 1966.

Dan Albone 1860-1906

This ingenious and significant inventor is not generally known outside his native Biggleswade. He should be however as cycles not too different to his invention of the Ivel safety cycle, continued to dominate the cycling scene until the recent advent of the small wheeled type of cycle. He also invented in 1886, the tandem, and event which was marked by the music hall with the song ‘Daisy, Daisy’.

Even more important was his invention about 1900 of an agricultural tractor driven by an internal combustion engine. For years it was believed that this invention led to a dead end, and that the mainstream of tractors developed from the American machines. It has now been established that Ivel tractors were operating in America before comparable American tractors were in existence. Almost certainly a straight line of development connects Dan Albone of the Ivel Hotel, Shortmead Street, Biggleswade, with modern tractors. Few inventions can have benefited mankind so much and Biggleswade should be proud of its brilliant son.


Biggleswade has a long tradition of sturdy independence. Not surprisingly therefore, its history contains several riots, though none on the scale of the sacking of Luton Town Hall in 1919.

The record of one riot is preserved in the County Record Office and makes amusing reading. What happened was this. In 1757 a local militia was to be formed as a reserve for the French wars. Lists were drawn up, and this was accepted peaceably enough in most of the County. A meeting was called for Thursday 23rd August at the Sun Hotel and the Deputy Lieutenant attended. However the men from the three Hundreds of Biggleswade, Wixantree and Clifton gathered there and were so threatening that the meeting was postponed for a week.

The second meeting was held on the 30th, but a great mob came to the Sun and the Deputy Lieutenant and Justices scattered. Sir Roger Burgoine was followed to his house and forced to destroy the lists, give money to the men and empty his cellar of beer and give it to the mob who ‘drank plentifully out of mugs, bowls and our hats. The crowd then moved onto Squire Astell of Everton where more money and beer were extorted. Other similar visits were made and the riot only ceased when ‘it was too late into the night’. A troop of soldiers were ordered to the town and arrived a week later. Other towns then followed Biggleswade’s example and rioted against the enlistment.

Grave robbery

The Catherine Wheel Public House stood on the site now occupied by Boots. In the 1920’s this pub became renowned for its part in a grave robbing scandal. Newly buried corpses were taken from graves at the parish church, and taken to the Catherine Wheel. They were then smuggled out until waggons leaving for London and sold there to surgeons and teachers of anatomy.

Enquiries arising out of one such incident in 1826 led to the conclusion that G. Lester and W. Smith of Biggleswade were the culprits. Some time after, they attended a funeral at the Parish Church. That same afternoon, they made enquiries about the wagon to London. When they were asked to leave their luggage they refused, explaining that it would only be ready shortly before the wagon left. The carter, William Carrington, became suspicious and informed the vicar who arranged for the Constable and six men to hide in the tavern yard. At half past four in the morning Smith arrived as arranged with their large box and it was found to contain the freshly buried corpse. They were apprehended and imprisoned.

A Sunday School TreatJuly 13th 1900

The annual treat for the children attending the Old Meeting Sunday School took place on Thursday. After assembling in procession with flags to the Market Place, headed by the Band of the 1st (Biggleswade) Company 3rd Beds. Volunteers under Bandmaster Keene, and the school banner, after which they returned and marched to a field on the East side of the Langford Road, kindly lent by Mr. F.W. Maddams, where during the afternoon and evening the usual games took place. Each was provided in a marquee. The band played at intervals and races, etc., took place for toys and other prizes and there was much scrambling of sweets and other things.

The weather was beautifully fine, though perhaps a little too warm but everyone spent a most happy time. At the close the band played from the field to the Market Place, concluding with the National Anthem.

Fire June 1893

The fire broke out at the ‘Shoulder of Mutton’ public house in Stratton Street. This house was an old building with a rather low thatched roof, situated close to the Great Northern Railway. About eleven o’clock in the morning, the roof was noticed to be on fire, supposed to have been caused by a spark from a railway engine that had just passed. In about ten minutes the engine was at work, the water being obtained from the well on the Market Square. The whole roof was soon ablaze. Crowds of people assembled and great excitement prevailed. The Market Square well was soon exhausted but a good supply of water was obtained from the Brewery.

Soon the roof fell in and the chimney came down with a crash. The members of the brigade worked hard but the fire spread to neighbouring cottages and to some stables across the way in Rose Lane. Other brigades were summoned by telegrams—Sandy, Potton, Shefford and Baldock arrived soon and the Sandy Brigade remained till the evening. Throughout the night the ruins continued to smoulder but nothing of any consequence happened.

Key historical figures mentioned


Musical production

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Book of words

Programme of Biggleswade Silver Jubilee Historical Pageant. Biggleswade, 1977.

Printed and donated by Charles Cook, printer

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Programme – X758/9/10.

    Bedfordshire Archives and Records.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Whilst the tradition of pageantry had declined in post-war Britain, there was a small revival for the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977. Other such pageants were held at Carlisle, Shalford Park, Lingfield, and Leicester.


  1. ^ Text of synopses is taken from the book of words: Programme of Biggleswade Silver Jubilee Historical Pageant (Biggleswade, 1977).

How to cite this entry

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