Northwich Pageant: the Queen's Heritage
Place: The Amphitheatre, Dane Fields (Northwich) (Northwich, Cheshire, England)
Number of performances: 5
14–18 June 1949
The pageant took place at 7.30 pm each evening between Tuesday 14 June and Saturday 18 June.Details about this venue have not been recovered; it is possible it was outdoors.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer and Versifier [Pageant Master]: Maitland Wood, A.W.
- Musical Director: W. H. Horrocks, Mus. Bac., FRCO.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
There was a pageant committee, a costumes committee and a ground and stage committee; however, details about the composition of these have not been recovered. The pageant involved pupils and teachers from many schools. Those mentioned in the handbook include Rudheath Secondary Modern School, Victoria Road County Primary School, and Witton Church of England Primary School.1
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Cumley, H.K.
H.K. Cumley wrote the script of the pageant.
Names of composers
- Horrocks, W.H.
- Schumann, Robert
- Elgar, Edward
- Parry, Hubert
- Nicholson, Sydney
- Arne, Thomas
- Hayes, Philip
- Quilter, Roger
A ballet with music by Schumann features in Part I of the pageant. Elgar's cantata 'King Olaf' and Parry's 'Jerusalem' are sung in Part I, Episode IV. Excerpts from Nicholson's 'The Boy Bishop' are sung in Part II, Episode I. Music by Arne to accompany the words of Shakespeare's poem, 'Blow, blow thou winter winds' features in Part II, Episode IV. A minuet composed by Philip Hayes is the main feature of Interlude III in Part II of the pageant. Kipling's version of the hymn 'Non Nobis Domine' (1903) set to music by Quilter is used in the final episode in Part II.
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
The Northwich Parish Church was involved with this pageant; it is therefore possible that it raised funds for some aspect of church work.
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
We have no information about the audience for this event.
A church service for children at 3 pm and a 'Special Service of Thanksgiving for the Fellowship of the Pageant' at 6.30 pm on Sunday 19 June 1949 at Northwich Parish Church.2
The National Anthem
The national anthem was sung.
Episode I: The Crowning of Youth's Queen
Trumpeters, the choir and the Chronicler enter. The Chronicler addresses the audience in verse and tells them that the 'Children's Queen-elect' is on her way. Figures representing 'Faith, Hope and Love' enter, with attendants; then the Queen and her procession begin to take the stage. As they approach, the choir and audience sing the hymn 'Thy Hand O God Has Guided'. When the Queen enters, Faith places a sceptre in her hands, Hope sets a robe about the Queen and Love places a crown on the Queen's head. When the Queen is seated, two groups of dancers enter and perform 'The Hundred Pipers'. Following this, the choir sings the 'Song of Acclaim'. When this is concluded the Chronicler addresses the Queen, stating that she is about to be presented with the 'long years' chequered tale to make thee wise'. The Queen waves her sceptre in acknowledgement and the Chronicler introduces Episode II, again speaking in verse.3
Episode II: The Druids
Scene I: The Trial By Fire
This scene features 'British Villagers, a leading Druid, Three Suspects and Guards'. The audience are asked to sing a verse of the old Welsh air, 'Mighty Cymry, Lords of Britain'; following this, the drama encompasses a ritual in which the 'ancient Druid custom of testing the guilt of suspected persons by giving each a lighted brand, and requiring that they be extinguished by spitting'. The last to succeed is deemed guilty. The choir and audience then resume singing the Welsh air. The scene ends with an 'organ interlude'.
Scene II: The Sacrifice
This scene features the lead Druid, the condemned man, guards and a crowd of onlookers. A note in the handbook states that 'five years after condemnation, the guilty person was executed'. The choir and audience sing a sacrificial song. The sacrifice by burning takes place and all sing 'Land of My Fathers'.
Interlude I: The Roast Beef of Old England
No details of this drama are included, but at the conclusion of this, the Chronicler speaks in verse stating that a thousand years have passed and the Cymry have yielded to Rome. His speech ends with acknowledgement that the coming of Christianity, described as 'belief more gracious still', will succeed the Romans.
Episode III: Romans and Britons
Scene I: Soldiers' March
Boys from Rudheath Secondary Modern School perform a 'stylised Dance, miming an encounter between Roman Soldiers and Britons, in which the Romans triumph'. Music by Schumann accompanies this.
Scene II: Trial
The drama in this enacts a trial in which Maximus, the Roman Governor, condemn 'Socrates, Archbishop of York'. Following the scene, the choir and audience sing a chorus ending with the line 'one Church, one Faith, one Lord'.
Interlude II: Ballet
Pupils from Miss Kitty Oakes' school of dance performed a ballet suite, with music by John Ansell. At the conclusion of this, the Chronicler introduces Episode III concerning the Saxons and their conversion to Christianity.
Episode IV: The Legend of St Chad
Scene I: The Miracle of the Stag
This episode features the king's sons, Wulfade [sic] and Wulfil, and the Bishop of Lichfield. No details of the drama are provided and it is presumed that the drama enacts a legend. The choir sings an 'old folk song' at the conclusion, which bemoans that Wulfade and Wulfil 'lie quiet and still' in the forest.4
Scene II: The Repentance of Wulfhere
Taking part in this scene are: King Wulfhere, Queen Drana, 'an old friend', Chad, Bishop of Lichfield and a retainer. No details of the drama are provided. At the conclusion of the enactment, the choir and audience again sing the chorus that features in Episode III, Scene II. The Chronicler addresses the queen, stating that what she has seen is her 'heritage'. The scene continues with singing of 'King Olav'.5 The episode ends with singing by all of 'Jerusalem', during which the Queen and her court lead all the actors offstage.
There was a 10-minute interval.
Episode I: The Boy Bishop
The pageant resumes with the Queen and her court returning to the arena. The Chronicler once again addresses the Queen. He speaks in verse about the arrival of the Normans, explaining developments after their arrival:
As one great people, nation, kin and throne,
Allegiance to this land, this dear, loved land,
In which the seed of Freedom, early sown,
Has rooted deep and spread on every hand.
He mentions the coming of a 'Boy Bishop' in 'ages oft call'd dark'. Thereafter an enactment of the tradition of the election of a Boy Bishop takes place, accompanied by song. The Chronicler then speaks in verse to introduce the next episode, mentioning the religious strife that took place during the Reformation. The Chronicler asserts that the ceiling from the 'Abbey of Vale Royal' was saved and brought to Northwich Parish Church (St Helen's, Witton) where it is still in place.
Episode II: Northwich in the Year 1537
Scene I: The Town Fair
Country dances are performed by children from Victoria Road County Primary School.
Scene II: Witton Ceiling
Taking part in this scene are the 'King's Chief Commissioner, another Commissioner and six 'local gentlemen of standing and influence'. It is presumed that the scene enacts the legendary agreement to bring a local abbey's ceiling to the church in Northwich following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Scene III: The Ball to Celebrate the Fixing of the New Ceiling on Witton Church
Rudheath Secondary Modern School's 'Recorder Band' performs and the dancing of a pavanne takes place. The Chronicler introduces the next episode.
Episode III: The Plague in Northwich
No details of this drama are included in the handbook; it involved 'ordinary townsfolk'.
Pupils from Miss Kitty Oakes' school of dance again performed a ballet.
Some scene-shifters and the choir sing a song entitled 'Here's a Health to the King', presumably while props are moved. The Chronicler then introduces the next episode.
Episode IV: John Wesley
Scene I: John Wesley is Refused a Hearing
A note in the pageant handbook states that 'Wesley visited Northwich some six times and was at first rudely received, but in his later visits was welcomed with courtesy and respect'. The scene features Wesley and three 'successful tradesmen'; no further details have been recovered. The choir sings Shakespeare's poem, 'Blow, blow thou winter wind' to music by Arne.
Scene II: John Wesley Receives Courtesy
No details of this are included in the pageant handbook, but it is assumed the scene features the same performers as appear in Scene I.
A minuet is performed; and the Chronicler introduces the subject of the final episode, speaking in verse.
Episode V: The Rev. George Gibbons, M.A.
No details of the drama are included in the pageant handbook, but it features a well-known vicar of Northwich in the mid-Victorian period. The choir sings the 'Cheshire Souling Song'. The episode ends with singing by the choir and audience of 'Non Nobis Domine'
Key historical figures mentioned
- Ceadda [St Ceadda, Chad] (d. 672?) abbot of Lastingham and bishop of Mercia and Lindsey [also known as Chad]
- Wulfhere (d. 675) king of the Mercians
- Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
Music was live and the musical director was W. H. Horrocks. An organ was played for some parts of the pageant (not specified in the handbook other than for the end of Scene I, Episode II in Part I); and a recorder band featured in Part II, Interlude III.
- Hymn: 'Thy Hand O God Has Guided' (Part I, Episode I)
- Traditional Scottish music: 'The Hundred Pipers' (Part I, Episode I)
- W. H. Horrocks: 'Song of Acclaim' (Part I, Episode I)
- Traditional Welsh song: 'Mighty Cymry, Lords of Britain' (Part I, Episode II)
- Unknown composer: song introducing the 'Sacrifice' (Part I, Episode II)
- James James: 'Land of My Fathers' (Part I, Episode II)
- Schumann: 'Soldiers' March' [dance music], (Part I, Episode III)
- Unknown composer, untitled chorus (Part I, Episode III and repeated in Part I, Episode IV)
- John Ansell: 'Miniature Ballet Suite' (Part I, Interlude II)
- Folk Song: 'A W M W' (Part I, Episode IV)6
- Edward Elgar: 'King Olav' (Part I, Episode IV)
- Hubert Parry: 'Jerusalem' (Part I, Episode IV)
- Sydney Nicholson: excerpts from 'The Boy Bishop' (Part II, Episode I)
- Unspecified country dance music (Part II, Episode II)
- Traditional song: 'The Cheshire Man' (Part II, Episode II)
- Claude Gervaise: 'Pavanne' (Part II, Episode II)
- Herman Finck: untitled ballet music (Part II, Interlude I)
- Song: 'Here's a Health to the King' (Part II, Interlude II)
- Thomas Arne: 'Blow, blow thou winter wind' (Part II, Episode IV)
- Philip Hayes: untitled minuet (Part II, Interlude III)
- Traditional song: 'Cheshire Souling Song' (Part II, Episode V)
- Roger Quilter: 'Non Nobis Domine' (Part II, Episode V).
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
The pageant handbook includes song lyrics and the text of speeches made by the Chronicler of the pageant. This text is probably the extent of dialogue within this pageant.
Other primary published materials
- Northwich Pageant: 'The Queen's Heritage', June 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th, 1949 at 7.30 p.m. Amphitheatre, Dane Fields, Northwich. Handbook, 3d. Northwich, 1949.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Cheshire Record Office holds one copy of the handbook, ref: 205382
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The detail of this pageant, which took place in the Cheshire town of Northwich during the period of austerity following World War II, remains stubbornly opaque. It is almost certain that it was mainly performed by local schoolchildren, and from this point of view it is quite typical of many pageants held in the post-war years, which aimed to engage youth with local history. The Parish Church of Northwich seems also to have had a hand in its organisation, as special services to accompany the pageant were held there. It is possible that it celebrated a local anniversary or church commemoration of some kind, but if so, details have not been recovered. The pageant handbook is a slight document with little in the way of illustration and printed on flimsy, recycled paper. It seems to have functioned as a help to spectators in respect to song lyrics, for the audience were expected to join in with the choir in many of the songs sung throughout the pageant. Music was a big feature of the pageant, probably in lieu of dialogue, although a Chronicler provided a voiceover narrative which commented on history and the passing of time, and made specific reference to different epochs as these came along in the chronological narrative. An added conceit was the 'play within a play' strategy, as the entire drama is supposed to have been enacted for the entertainment of a young queen and her court. This gives the pageant its subtitle of 'The Queen's Heritage'.
The pageant was written by a local author and its presentation was made in two parts. Part I contains four episodes which begin in pre-history and, rather predictably, feature Druids and their dastardly rituals. Somewhat more unusually, a Roman or Christian missionary does not come to the rescue; the slaughter does take place. Unfortunately, we have no details of just how this drama was managed. Despite the inclusion of the sacrifice, the pageant contained copious accolades to the influence of Christianity, and indeed, such commentary features a great deal in the versified words spoken by the Chronicler. The Romans soon come along in the third episode of Part I, which features a Roman governor called Maximus. A legend about St Chad, involving the Saxon king of Mercia—Wulfhere—continues the drama; the message of this episode is Wulfhere's conversion to Christianity. Part II of the pageant begins its narrative in medieval times with the popular ceremony surrounding the appointment of a Boy Bishop. The pageant then moves through the period of the Reformation, giving this a particularly local focus through the tale of the parish church's ceiling, which in legend is purported to have come from a dissolved abbey. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, also makes an appearance in Part II, in which his evangelicalism is treated sympathetically.
Other episodes and several music 'interludes' allow the pageant to include such generic features as country dancing and folk songs, until Episode V brings the narrative up to the mid-Victorian period. This tells some unspecified aspect of the life and tenure of a famous local vicar of the parish church called George Gibbons. This type of story underlines the fact that the pageant seems to have revolved around the parish church's history, and overall, the historical focus of this pageant was very much on the local past. Notably, in common with many pageants in Cheshire, commonality with the history of the Welsh is prominent and there is even singing of popular Welsh anthems. Sadly, it has not been possible to recover any details about audience sizes for the five performances and the success or otherwise of this event remain a mystery. It appears likely however, that it was a pageant that unashamedly aimed to both garner the enthusiasm of its young performers, and appeal to a local audience, rather than to make any grand patriotic statements. Nonetheless, singing of 'Jerusalem' was shoehorned into the event!
- These committees and particular schools involved are mentioned in the pageant handbook; see Northwich Pageant: 'The Queen's Heritage', June 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th, 1949 at 7.30 p.m. Amphitheatre, Dane Fields, Northwich. Handbook, 3d. (Northwich, 1949), 16.
- Northwich Pageant: 'The Queen's Heritage', 15.
- Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations in synopses are taken from Northwich Pageant: 'The Queen's Heritage'.
- According to one biographer, a 'vernacular legend of Chad links his well with a thirsty stag and with the conversion of an otherwise unknown son of Wulfhere, king of Mercia, called Wulfhade'. See D.H. Farmer, ‘Ceadda (d. 672?)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition accessed 6 September 2016: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/4970
- This sung musical piece composed by Edward Elgar is based on 'The Saga of King Olaf'—a poetic sequence by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first published in 1863 as part of his book Tales of a Wayside Inn.
- These letters are given as the title of this song, see Northwich Pageant: 'The Queen's Heritage', 6.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Northwich Pageant: the Queen's Heritage’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1300/