Hastings Dickens Centenary Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Gaiety Theatre (Hastings) (Hastings, Sussex, England)

Year: 1912

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 5


5–10 February 1912

  • 5-7 February at 7pm
  • 10 February at 2.30 and 7pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Barnett, Orlando
  • Written and Arranged by: Mrs Alfred Cruttenden and Miss M.G. Tyler
  • Musical Director: Herman Brearley
  • Business Manager: Russell F. Ferguson
  • Hon. Treasurer: J.C. Burleigh
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs Alf Cruttenden
  • Scenery Painter: Mr Berre


Names of executive committee or equivalent

General Committee

  • Mr A.M. Elliott
  • Mr. G. Elliott
  • Mr. H. Braund
  • Mr. F. Tyler
  • Mr A.J. Strudwick
  • Mr F. Freeman
  • Mr. F. Baker
  • Mrs Stevens
  • Mrs Gould
  • Mrs H. Braund
  • Mrs Burleigh
  • Mrs F. Macer Wright
  • Miss Artye Crouch

Patrons included Viscount and Lady Hythe, the Mayors of Hastings and Rye, and Arthur du Cros, Conservative MP for Hastings

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

  • Cruttenden, Mrs Alfred
  • Tyler, Miss M.G.

Names of composers

  • Brearley, Dr. Herman
  • Brearley, Mr Charles

Numbers of performers


Financial information

The Pageant was a financial success.

Object of any funds raised

Originally, the pageant had sought to cover its costs, but excess profits were donated to local charities.

Linked occasion

Centenary of Charles Dickens’ birth

Audience information

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


Two further performances were put on, suggesting that the theatre was at nearly full capacity each night. The Gaiety theatre had a capacity of 1600.1

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Act 1

The First Act deals with the boyhood of Dickens, showing how he dreamt over the books he loved and became inspired; the curtain falls with the putative novelist vowing to attain Fame, in spite of all obstacles

Act 2

The 2nd Act introduces many of the best-known characters in Dickens's books.

Act 3

The third Act provides 'the grand climax' of the pageant, which seems to have relied heavily on allegory and symbolism. The name of 'Charles Dickens' is inscribed on the ‘Scroll of Fame’ in response to the demands of ‘Fame’ and the pleadings of ‘Memory’.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812–1870) novelist
  • Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet
  • Spenser, Edmund (1552?–1599) poet and administrator in Ireland
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author
  • Jonson, Benjamin [Ben] (1572–1637) poet and playwright
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340–1400) poet and administrator

Musical production

An orchestra was conducted by Dr Herman Brearley

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Hastings and St Leonards Observer

Book of words

Copy of Book of Words in East Sussex Record Office ACC 12320/11/15

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of Book of Words in East Sussex Record Office ACC 12320/11/15

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Charles Dickens had little connection with the town of Hastings, visiting the town in November 1861 to give readings from A Christmas Carol and the Pickwick Papers at the Music Hall.3 Dickens and his characters were well-suited to historical and literary-themed pageants, and his vast audience guaranteed spectators and performers, often drawn from the ranks of Dickens Fellowship Societies.

The first act of the pageant depicted the young Dickens reading and dreaming of greatness. The second act introduced a large number of characters from his books. The final act served to induct him into a pantheon of English literature, featuring a bust of Dickens, whilst the personification of ‘memory’ resisted this for the sake of his neglected family. This heavy and rather joyless sense of literary immortalization and hero-worship was largely derived from France and Germany, countries which tended to pay more lavish homage to their great writers, and perhaps also to the ‘cult of Wagner’ in late nineteenth-century Britain and America.4

The Hastings and St Leonards Observer struck precisely this note in its review, which began ‘“To keep his memory green!”…Time has written in glittering gold the name of Charles Dickens across the illustrious pages of Fame’s scroll’, calling his fictional characters ‘essential parts of our every-day existence’.5 The rave review went on to praise the performance and the ‘literary abilities of the authoresses’, continuing: ‘No praise could be too great for the whole production. Dickens is dead! Yet he liveth again, and came to us once more to tell his dreams, his mighty love and great conceptions…Fame espouse Dickens and to the land of the immortals where he has taken his place.’6 The performances were so successful that two further performances were put on the following Saturday.7

This rather ponderous commemoration almost inevitably provoked a critical backlash. In the conclusion of Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust (1934), the hero Tony Last is taken captive in the Amazon and forced to read Dickens to the chief of a tribe for all eternity. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Dickens came to symbolize much of the complacency and cant (and accessibility) which the contemporary generation of writers strove against. Dickens was dismissed as a second-rate writer in F.R. Leavis’ Great Tradition (1948), though Leavis argued for the inclusion of Hard Times as a first-rate novel. Nonetheless, nothing could stop his immense popularity, being consistently voted among the most popular writers in Britain throughout the first half of the twentieth century.8 Critics gradually returned to see Dickens as a complex and immensely satisfying writer from the 1950s, led by George Orwell’s significant essay on ‘Dickens’ in 1940,9 and leading to Leavis’ own revaluation in Dickens the Novelist (with Q.D. Leavis, 1970).10

There were further Dickens pageants in in Portsmouth (Dickens’s birthplace), in 1922, 1929, and 1934;11 in Brighton (which he visited) in 1926;12 and in Lichfield in 1934.13 In addition there were Dickens-related episodes in pageants in Rochester (where he grew up) in 1931 and 1934, plus a Dickens Festival Pageant in 1951,14 in Hull in 1948, and in Bury St Edmunds in 1959.15 Whilst these pageant, as much as the Hastings Dickens Centenary Pageant, were mere drops in the ocean compared to his readership, which stretched across class and education background, they served to emphasize the community of Dickens readers who loved his books.


  1. ^ ‘Gaiety Theatre, Queen’s Road, Hastings’, Arthur Lloyd, accessed 8 July 2016, http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Hastings.htm
  2. ^ Hastings Dickens Centenary Pageant (Hastings 1912), unpaginated.
  3. ^ ‘Charles Dickens in Town’, Hastings Chronicle Archives, accessed 8 July 2016, http://www.giddyki pper.biz/Hastings-Chronicle-Archive/charles-dickens-in-town/
  4. ^ See Joseph Horowitz, ‘Finding a “Real Self”: American Women and the Wagner Cult of the Nineteenth Century, Musical Quarterly, 78 (1994), 189-205.
  5. ^ Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 10 February 1912, 4.
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven and London, 2001).
  9. ^ George Orwell, Inside the Essay and Other Essays (London, 1940).
  10. ^ Michael Slater, ‘Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812–1870)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entry, accessed 8 July 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7599?docPos=2
  11. ^ Portsmouth Evening News, 4 April 1922, 6; 17 July 1929, 2; 17 October 1934, 8.
  12. ^ Portsmouth Evening News, 16 November 1926, 8.
  13. ^ Staffordshire Advertiser, 3 November 1934, 3.
  14. ^ Daily Mail, 1 June 1931, 5.
  15. ^ Hull Daily Mail, 10 November 1948, 3.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Hastings Dickens Centenary Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1288/