The pageant was an initiative of Cramlington, Dinnington, Kenton Village, Ponteland and Stannington Women's Institutes; these were branches of this organisation in Northumberland. Members of all of these branches performed, but other smaller branches may have been involved in non-performance tasks.
Place: Blagdon Hall (Seaton Burn) (Seaton Burn, Northumberland, England)
Number of performances: 1
13 June 1936, 3pm.
Blagdon Hall is a privately owned country house and estate. It has been home to the Ridley family since the early eighteenth century.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Reed, Elsie M.
- Assistant to the Producer: Norman Reed
- Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs Roper
Surviving correspondence indicates that Norman Reed was brother to the scriptwriter and producer.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Lady Reed
- Secretary: Miss Dempster
- Treasurer: Mrs Armstrong
The organisers were members of the Women's Institute
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Reed, Elsie M.
Elsie M. Reed was scriptwriter as well as producer for the pageant.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers200
The precise number of performers is unknown but it is likely that the majority were female and members of the local branches of the Women's Institute; this estimated figure of 200 includes the 100-voice choir. Mrs Roper played the narrator - Mother Earth. Individual branches took charge of one or more episodes.
Expenditure: £76 10. 9
Following return of £1 advances initially made by each branch involved, expenditure amounted to £68 10s. 1d.
- Amplification £7 7s (for the pageant) and £2 2s (for the rehearsal performance).
- Police attendance: 3s per hour from 2-6 pm (12s)
- Transport of chairs from Morpeth to Blagdon Hall: 25s
- Insurance premium: £5. 1s.
- At the gate: £10
- Chairs: £9. 17s
- Car park: £2 15 0
- Programmes sold: £1 8s 2d
- Ice cream stand: 15s
- Refreshment stall provided by Mrs Cooper (7s) and from donations.
Total Receipts (at 22 June 1936): £59. 17. 11
Insurance recompense for losses 'due to wet weather': £71 11s 10d.1
Total income following payout by the insurance company in early July 1936 is unknown but all branches received £10 from the overall profit and donations were made to the St John's Ambulance Society and the Automobile Association who had attended on the day of the pageant.2
Object of any funds raised
Local branches of the Women's Institute.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
1500 tickets were printed and 300 chairs were hired.3
503 tickets were sold, 902 were returned or 'on hand', 14 'complimentary tickets' and 'other small numbers' not accounted for.4
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Admission to the grounds cost 1s; a seat to view the pageant cost an additional 1s with children half price. The car park cost 1s. 6d.
Key historical figures mentioned
There was a pianist (Mrs Jacob) and a choir of 100 voices.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
A book of words was not produced.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
No references noted. Surviving papers in respect of the pageant indicates that a programme was produced but a copy of this has not been recovered.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Like most pageants organised by the Women's Institute, this event was well organised; very probably it was also well executed. However, its nemesis was the well-known scourge of the outdoor pageant—the weather. It poured with rain when the pageant was staged on 13 June 1936 and this meant that many potential spectators decided not to have a day out in the country at Blagdon Hall. After months of rehearsing, costume making and administration to make this, as an advertising poster described it, into a 'Grand Pageant', the effects of the weather on turnout must have come as an enormous disappointment to all involved. Something of the day was saved nonetheless, for the committee had taken out some insurance, aptly called the 'Pluvius Policy'!6 This cover saved the day when it paid out: one organiser wrote that 'the financial result is marvellous—what seemed a tragedy has really been a blessing in disguise, namely the rain'.7 Every cloud thus did seem to have had a silver lining and all of the branches involved with the pageant had their £1 initial outlay returned and received £10 each from the profit made.
Despite the downpour, one of the organisers concluded that the performance had been very 'satisfactory' and everyone 'had done their bit' despite the conditions.8 Clearly, they had proved stalwart in the face of meteorological adversity, for there is no indication in surviving records that calling off the performance was ever seriously considered. The fact that it went ahead and seemed to go well under the circumstances, together with the financial return, appears to have buoyed the hopes of the pageant committee who, undaunted, decided that the pageant could be put on again as an autumn attraction, though this time it would be staged indoors. Enquiries were made of the Central Hall in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but in the end the outlay was considered too risky as the Hall would not give them a reduced rate, and plans for a second performance were abandoned.9
Although a copy of the pageant programme has not been recovered, surviving documentation indicates that this pageant centred on women's experiences in the past, and the performance had a narrator called 'Mother Earth' whose title gave the pageant its name. Although written, organised and performed entirely by local volunteers, the event did not lack ambition: there was a 100-voice choir and amplification. It also had a glamorous location. If the weather had been kinder it doubtless would have been another extremely successful pageant for the Women's Institute who, during the interwar years, proved themselves to be among the most energetic and enthusiastic proponents of historical pageantry.
- For information re finance see the Accounts Book and Minute Book of the Pageant Committee contained in 'Papers Relating to WI Pageant at Blagdon Hall, 1936'; held at Northumberland Archives, Ashington, ref: PC20/22.
- Minutes of a meeting held on 22 June 1936. See Minute Book in ibid.
- Correspondence contained in 'Papers Relating to WI Pageant at Blagdon Hall'.
- Undated note in correspondence contained in ibid.
- A surviving copy of an advertising poster indicates that the pageant had 13 episodes but there is no further information as to their content. The minutes for the inaugural meeting of the pageant committee held on 28 September 1935 give titles for most episodes: see 'Papers Relating to WI Pageant at Blagdon Hall'.
- A copy of the policy document survives in ibid.
- Letter from Norman Reed to Miss Dempster (committee secretary) dated 15 July 1936, in 'Papers Relating to WI Pageant at Blagdon Hall'.
- Letter from Norman Reed to Miss Dempster (committee secretary) dated 16 June 1936, in ibid.
- Minutes of the final meeting of the committee held on 1 September 1936: see Minute Book in 'Papers Relating to WI Pageant at Blagdon Hall'.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Mother Earth’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1264/