Laughton Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Vicarage Lawn (Laughton) (Laughton, Sussex, England)

Year: 1929

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 1


20 May 1929

The pageant was performed in the afternoon

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Pearson, Rev. W.A.
  • Stage Manager: W.H. Camplin
  • Staging and Effects: Mr Stewart
  • Treasurer: Rev. A. Haire
  • Dances Arranged by: Miss French
  • Pianist: Miss Dorothy Golds


Pearson was Vicar of Laughton and Haire was the former vicar

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Committee

  • Chairman: C.F. Russell

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

Pearson, Rev. W.A.

Names of composers

  • Sullivan, Miss Harrie

Numbers of performers


Financial information

The Pageant made £165 11s 2d profit.1

Object of any funds raised

‘The proceeds of the whole venture will go to the building of a new hall in the parish.’2

Linked occasion

700th Anniversary of the Church

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 520

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events

  • Commemorative Church service
  • Pageant Fayre
  • Pageant Ball

Pageant outline

Scene I. The Viking Settlement, c. 1050 AD

The scene is a Saxon settlement; settlers enter and begin work. Afterwards the men and women sit and eat, discussing the animals that have been killed by wolves. Calaba sings a song and then directs the men back to work in repairing the fences to protect the animals. Danish marauders enter and plan the invasion of Laughton. They prepare their weapons and drink to bolster their courage. Kleveskul and Sagga forage for food. The scene shifts back to the village where Earl Godwin, Lord of Sussex, is being entertained, who warns of the Danish threat. Cynthia explains to Pippin, her daughter, what Vikings are. Thorick and Grim, two Vikings, capture Cynthia and tie her to a tree. Kleveskul enters and laments that they have captured a Saxon noblewomen: there will be a reprisal raid and the planned invasion is scuppered. However, on hearing that the outlawed Earl Godwin is there, Kleveskul renews his plans to invade. Saxons enter and catch all the Danes unawares, disarming them. Colbran, himself a Viking settler and wife of Cynthia, challenges Kleveskul to a duel and disarms his foe. Godwin takes the Danish prisoners as galley slaves to transport him to France and all sing the song of the Vikings.

Scene II. The Lord of the Eagle, 1229 AD.

Part I. The Fayre

Three women are arranging stalls, reflecting on the state of the world. A very old woman remembers Richard I. She goes on to tell of her own grandfather who lived to the age of 103 and who remembered the Battle of Hastings—and the events of the previous scene. She reflects that the Normans aren’t so bad, apart from the barons’ wars. Children process in and play various games which denote the start of the fayre. Gilbert D’Aquila, Lord of the Eagle enters with a retinue greeting them. The ‘Song of the Yeoman’ is sung, followed by various dances. A bell sounds and a Friar draws the fayre to a close.

[15 Minutes Interval]

Part II. Laying the Foundations

A religious procession enters, with a bishop; a psalm is sung. Gilbert D’aquila grants the priory of Michelham and endows the church. The Bishop blesses all and the psalm is sung again as all leave in a procession.

Scene III. King Edward I visits Laughton, 29 June 1276 AD

Part I. The Arrival

The stage is decked with flags. Sir Hugh and Lady Marie enter and discuss the Royal visit. A procession of monks enters. The Prior tells Sir Hugh that he has prepared the King’s favourite food, venison. They discuss the royal ownership of the Laughton estate. Various other nobles enter. The Royal Procession enters and the King and Queen sit on thrones; there is celebratory singing. Sir Hugh addresses the royal couple, and the King acknowledges the help of the estate in the Battle of Lewis. The King is loudly cheered.

Part II. The Royal Banquet

The Prior is checking the state of the feast. The Royal procession enters. The Queen thanks Lady Marie. There is drinking and songs, and various toasting of the King and Queen. A Bailiff brings in a poacher. It transpires that the poached deer was given to the cook, who roasted it. The Archbishop and King move to arrest the prior, who reminds them that all who have participated in the feast are guilty of receiving and enjoying stolen goods. The King finds this very funny and orders all to be released. The King is knighted Sir Knight of the Kitchen and all sing. The Vespers Bell rings and all sing a Vesper hymn.

Key historical figures mentioned

Harold I [called Harold Harefoot] (d. 1040) king of England

Gilbert the Englishman [Gilbertus Anglicus, Gilbertus de Aquila, Gilbert de l' Egle] (d. c.1250) priest and medical writer

Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine

Eleanor [Eleanor of Aquitaine], suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204) queen of France, consort of Louis VII, and queen of England, consort of Henry II

Musical production

Music composed for the production by Miss Harrie Sullivan and played on the piano by Miss Dorothy Golds

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Sussex Agricultural Express

Book of words

Pearson, W.A., Laughton Pageant. Seventh Century Celebrations: In Three Episodes. Eastborne, 1929.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of Programme in East Sussex Records Office, Reference ACC 9187/3/5

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Located five miles from Rye and the nearest railway station, and equally far from any major roads, Laughton’s pageant was entirely an internal affair in a small village of several hundred whose population had been in decline for many years.3 A previous pageant had been held in 1927 which had made £193 profit ‘for the heating and lighting of the Parish Church.’4 The 1929 pageant, coinciding with the church’s seventh centenary, was held with the aim of building a new hall in the parish. Mooted in February of that year, it was written and produced by the Rev. W.A. Pearson and held on the Vicarage lawns with music composed by Harrie Sullivan, ‘who is at present living at the Vicarage.’5 In a commemorative service preached in April, Pearson stressed the unbroken community between the village and the church, and the religious and civic duty to commemorate it through the upcoming pageant: ‘This is our 700th anniversary year, and naturally we ask ourselves, should we let such a year pass without due celebrations and thankfulness to God? Such a thing we cannot do, if our hearts are really in our Church and if we are prepared to give our best to the village in which circumstances compel us to live.’6

Like many other village pageants of the time, the Laughton Pageant focused on a period of the remote past which did not seek to link the action to the present-day era. As Pearson wrote in the Book of Words:

Since the year 1229 our Parish Church has witnessed the growth and development of the manners and customs of Laughton’s ancient inhabitants; it has looked upon succeeding generations; and under the preservation of God has laid the foundations of the moral and spiritual forces which operate amongst us to-day…The following stories and songs have been written to depict the first 200 years of Laughton’s remote historical associations.7

The Pageant stresses the proximity the village had to history. The first scene, which depicts the repulsion of marauding Danes by Saxons led by Earl Godwin (later King Harold I), presented the former as marauding barbarians with little intelligence. Many of those who saw the pageant would have been aware that the episode’s conclusion, where the earl forces the defeated Danes to be galley slaves and takes them to France, was the occasion when he pledged his loyalty to William (subsequently the Conqueror), which became the pretext for the latter’s invasion. The subsequent episode emphasizes both the continuity of history (the uncanny sense in which a very old woman’s grandfather could remember the events which took place in the previous scene, mere minutes before), as well as the accommodation between Saxons and Norman in the century and a half after the Conquest. The Norman Lord, Gilbert D’Aquila, is presented as a patron of the church rather than as a feudal oppressor. The third scene manages to present what was effectively a Civil War, where Edward I defeated the Barons at the Battle of Lewes, as a beneficent accommodation between royalty, nobility and people. The story in the final episode, in which it transpires that the Bishop and King ate and praised a poached deer and are thus guilty of various crimes, stresses the interrelationship between the church, crown, nobility and people, facilitated by the graciousness of the sovereign towards offenders, which many contemporaries believed to have been an integral part of ‘Merrie England’.

The Countess of Chichester opened the pageant, with the Vicar noting that Laughton had been the Ancestral home of the Pelhams (her family), for between 400 and 500 years. The Countess declared that ‘Their pageant had given them many weeks of amusing work, and now it would give them some hours of amusing play. The result would be the hall which they were uniting to bring into being, where she hoped their social life would be continued.’8

The Pageant was a success, attracting 520 spectators from Laughton and surrounding villages, and making a significant profit of £165 11s 2d. A banquet was held in early June in honour of the performers. It had been intended to hold it on the Vicarage Lawns, on the pageant site, but rain meant it had to be held in the Parish Room. The banquet was, in fact, the same as the one in the final scene—only this time with authentic food. On being thanked for his efforts, Pearson declared that ‘whatever little he had done at the pageant and during the months that preceded it, he had only done what he considered his duty. The success was not due to him but to all of them pulling together.’9 There was subsequently dancing and the ‘happy evening concluded with “Auld Lang Syne”.’10

The pageant marked the beginning of a two-year fundraising endeavour, predictably led by Pearson, who acted as Chairman and Treasurer of the fundraising committee. Other events included a choral production of the operetta ‘Pocahuntus’, as well as subsequent concerts, whist drives, dances and other activities. One notable fundraising effort involved the collection of 5284 pennies from locals. By April 1931 £470 had been raised to build the hall, with Pearson praising ‘the spirit of harmony and unflagging enthusiasm which prevailed in the parish ever since the desire to build a new hall was mooted some two years ago.’ He added that ‘Personal sacrifices, whole-hearted co-operation, confidence in leadership and confidence in support, were some of the many inspiring factors which acted as reciprocal forces in bringing the committee to the happy position in which they found themselves, that evening.’11 The hall was completed later that year. A reunion of the pageant was held in March 1939 presided over by Pearson, who had subsequently retired to Gospel Oak, London, at which a number of the old pageant songs were sung and monologues by several scenes were performed by those who could remember their lines a decade on.12

The historian is rightly sceptical of the past and any notion of a lost golden age. The notion of pageants as an outpouring of communal spirit and proper reverence for the past has much merit, but it is important to recognise that many pageants were badly run, or dull, or overly long. A good number of pageants lost considerable amounts of money, while some opened up tensions and resentments within communities—as with Gwen Lally’s nearby Battle Abbey Pageant (1932). The Laughton Pageant, by contrast, provided a coming-together of a village to represent their history to raise money for a communal amenity which continues today as a central part of the village.13


  1. ^ Sussex Agricultural Express, 14 June 1929, 5.
  2. ^ Ibid., 15 February 1929, 5.
  3. ^ GB Historical GIS, University of Portsmouth, Laughton CP/AP through time, Population Statistics, Population Change, A Vision of Britain through Time, accessed 6 July 2016,
  4. ^ Sussex Agricultural Express, 8 July 1927, 7.
  5. ^ Ibid., 15 February 1929, 5.
  6. ^ Ibid., 19 April 1929, 9.
  7. ^ W.A. Pearson, ‘Foreword’, in Laughton Pageant. Seventh Century Celebrations: In Three Episodes (Eastbourne, 1929), 5.
  8. ^ Sussex Agricultural Express, 24 May 1929, 11.
  9. ^ Sussex Agricultural Express, 14 June 1929, 5.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ Sussex Agricultural Express, 17 April 1931, 11.
  12. ^ Ibid., 24 March 1939, 4.
  13. ^ The Hall acts as a venue for a local choir, pre-school, and various other evening classes. Accessed 6 July 2016,;

How to cite this entry

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