Eccleshall Historical Pageant
Place: Grounds of Johnson Hall (Eccleshall) (Eccleshall, Staffordshire, England)
Number of performances: 4
3–6 August 1927, at 3pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer, Writer and Pageant Master: Purvis, J.S.
- Composer and Musical Director: R.W. Bowyer
- Originator and mistress of the robes: Hon. Mrs Bowyer
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
- Bowyer, R.W.
- Parry, J.H.
Numbers of performers250
Object of any funds raised
Raising fund for new Church of England Central Schools
£9000 out of £11500 had been raised before the pageant began.
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 5000
The figure of 5000 is a conservative estimate; there was over 1500 in attendance at the first performance.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
- A Pageant Ball was held on 6 August featuring many performers in costumes.
Episode I. Lucius, King of Britain receiving the Roman Eagle.
Episode II. The Murder of the Princes Wulfad and Rufin by their father, King Wulfere.
The two boys were seeking Christianity at the time of St Chad and were murdered by their father.
Episode III. The Sack of Eccleshall by the Danes, 1010.
The hasty flight of the villagers with some of their belongings, pursued by the relentless foe. A Saxon warns the fugitives not to take refuge in the burning church.
Episode IV. Bishop Robert de Lymesay consecrates the church which Elias de Jantonice is building.
A procession of clergy and nobles arrives, the Bishop makes a circuit of the site and receives offerings of money, grants, and charters. A trowel is presented by the master mason and a dedicatory service follows.
Episode V. Bishop Walter Durdent grants Eccleshall its Fair.
A medieval fayre is set up and a charter is read by the elected Reeve who affixes it to the cross, formally opening the market.
Episode VI. King Edward I stays at Eccleshall Castle on his way to fight the Welsh.
There are appeals for protection of the King from lawless men and Edward dictates responses to various letters.
Episode VII. Bishop Walter de Langton orders collection of taxes for paving the town with cobbles and the erection of a new bridge.
Episode VIII. Lawless Men raid the park and round up cattle before being dispersed by townspeople, 1361-1364.
Episode IX. The Return of the Eccleshall Contingent from Agincourt, 1415.
The Miracle play of Samson is performed in honour of the Bishop Kynaston. The reciter of the prologue forgets his lines! Soldiers then enter the arena and tell with gusto of their victory at Agincourt, and a thanksgiving service is held.
Episode X. Reminiscences of the Battle of Blore Heath, 1459.
Queen Margaret is anxious to view the battlefield, riding off with her escort to visit Mucklestone Church. Meanwhile, the King touches a sick child who is declared miraculously healed. The Queen returns with news that the Lancastrians are defeated. Her jester discovers her ruse that her horse’s shoes have been reversed by the blacksmith to evade pursuit.
Episode XI. A Meeting of the Eccleshall Court Leet at which the School is Founded, 16th Century.
The Bailiff sentences delinquents and appoints headmen. The scene concludes with the singing of madrigals.
Episode XII. The Surrender of Roundhead Cavalry, 1643
Episode XIII. Coronation Episode.
There is a children’s dance and gentry appear. A lady arrives with a ‘Negro’ page-boy, which causes discussion about the rapid expansion of the Empire during the Seven Years’ War. The Lord-Lieutenant arrives and receives the town’s loyal address to King George I. There are celebrations.
Pageant Procession of episodes with a soldier in modern uniform and a crowd of children who represent the future. Massed singing of Jerusalem.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Lucius (supp. fl. 185) supposed king in Britain
- Wulfhere (d. 675) king of the Mercians
- Durdent, Walter (d. 1159) bishop of Coventry
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
Robert de (d. 1117) bishop of Coventry
- Langton, Walter (d. 1321) administrator and bishop of Coventry and Lichfield
- Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
- Henry VI (1421–1471) king of England and lord of Ireland
40 piece orchestra, conducted by R.W. Bowyer
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Book of words
Other primary published materials
Eccleshall Pageant programme, 3rd-6th August 1927. Stowe-by-Chartley, 1927.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Images of the pageant available at ‘Eccleshall Pageant’, Staffordshire Past Track, accessed 15 August 2016, http://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk/details.aspx?ResourceID=2543&ExhibitionID=2543&SearchType=2&ThemeID=500
- Copy of Programme in Staffordshire Arts and Museums Service.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Staffordshire Advertiser described the town of Eccleshall as ‘one of the ancient market towns in Staffordshire which has managed to preserve much of its old-world character and evidence of its association with the historical past when it was a centre of ecclesiastical interest and a place of some strategic importance.’1 The Pageant was first advertised in the newspaper in August 1926 for a year hence. It was initially intended to hold the Pageant in Eccleshall Castle but when it became clear that there was not enough room, the pageant was relocated to the grounds of Johnson Hall, with permission from its owners Major and Mrs Moat. According to the Staffordshire Advertiser, this was a supremely good venue, with the pageant ground ‘Situated in a charming glade facing the picturesque half-timbered hall, and at the foot of a grassy slope and flanked on one side with a belt of stately trees in full foliage, with the lake in the background and rising pasture fields in the distance, it forms an ideal setting.’2
Cheap tickets were offered by the London Midlands and Southern Railways for travel to Eccleshall from within a sixty-mile radius of the town. The Staffordshire Advertiser noted that ‘representatives of most of the county families in the neighbourhood’ featured in the pageant.3 These included Lord and Lady Stafford, Lady Lichfield, Lady Swettenham and Mr J.Q. Lamb, making the pageant a decidedly aristocratic affair. This was markedly different from the civic display in the last great pageant in the county, the Stafford Millenary Pageant of 1913.
The Pageant was held with the intention of raising funds for new Church of England Central Schools, of which £9000 out of £11500 had already been raised. The Pageant was opened by three figures attached to the Church School movement, the Bishop of Lichfield, Lady Harrowby and the Bishop of London. The Bishop of Lichfield commended the venture, declaring ‘Well done, Eccleshall’ and referring to the ‘venture of faith’ of ‘all who had given continuous time and thought to the organisation of the pageant, and to the research work connected therewith.’4 Lady Harrowby, a member of the Mothers’ Union, declared that she ‘was greatly interested in the religious education of the young. When they realised the effect of anti-religious teaching and its results in Russia it impelled them all the more to do all they could to further the efforts that were being made to inculcate the Christian religion among their children.’5 Speaking on Thursday 4 August, the Bishop of London declared that ‘The secret of Great Britain’s greatness was the belief in the Christian religion, and Church schools had helped to strengthen that belief generation after generation.’6 In an era of stagnating, if not absolutely declining, Anglican Church attendance, one in which many young people seemed less willing than previous generations to go to Church, building Church Schools was viewed as an important means of preserving moderate Christian society in England. Nonetheless, the pageant had few overtly religious scenes, being much more of a civic pageant, celebrating memorable events within the town.
Presiding over the final performance on Saturday 6 August, the Rev. E.R.O. Bridgeman, rector of Blymhill, referred to the fact that one of his ancestors had taken part in the battle of Blore Heath on the Yorkist side ‘and had the fortune to slay Lord Audley, the captain of the Lancastrian side’, taking his dead adversary’s coat of arms. The rector announced that ‘“We are of the Lancastrian side here to-day…and I hope that neither Queen Margaret, nor any of her party, will think it necessary to avenge the death of Lord Audley on me…If they feel inclined to do so, I will ask them to remember that those things happened 450 years ago.”’7
The pageant appears to have been moderately successful, although there is no information on whether it made the £1500 profit required. In any case, the church school in Eccleshall was not completed until 1939.8 Further Pageants were held in the county, including the Women’s Institute Staffordshire Pageant (1928) at Alton Towers and the Stoke-on-Trent Pageant (1930).
- Staffordshire Advertiser, 6 August 1927, 4.
- Times, 5 August 1927, 8.
- Staffordshire Advertiser, 13 August 1927, 10.
- Staffordshire Advertiser, 17 June 1939, 10.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Eccleshall Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1276/