The Pageant of Empire

Pageant type

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Place: Wembley Stadium (Wembley) (Wembley, Middlesex, England)

Year: 1924

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 30


26 July–30 August 1924

Each section was performed approximately 10 times, giving 30 separate performances in total.

There were three sections of the pageant; each was given twice during the week (Monday-Saturday), for a total of 6 performances a week.

The pageant was originally planned to run from 21 July until 30 August but due to bad weather its first performance not until 26 July.

At least one further performance was cancelled or curtailed through rain.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Lascelles, Frank
  • Advisors in history: Sir Charles Oman and Sir Edward Denison Ross
  • Scenery designed by: Frank Brangwyn


Lascelles was assisted as Pageant Master by Sir Frank Benson, Mr J.B. Fagan and Mr Patrick Kirwan.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee

  • H.R.H. Prince Arthur of Connaught: President of the Administrative and Finance Committee
  • J.H. Thomas, MP: President of the Empire Pageant Council
  • William Lunn MP: Chairman of the Empire Pageant Council
  • Names of script writers
  • Oman, Charles
  • Wade, F.C.
  • Kirwan, Patrick
  • Wrey, Sir Bourchier
  • Hammersley-Heenan, Mr
  • Luffman, Captain
  • Blankenberg, Lady
  • Struben, A.
  • Stuart, J.
  • Ross, E. Denison
  • Foster, William
  • Darbyshire, T.

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

  • Oman, Charles
  • Wade, F.C.
  • Kirwan, Patrick
  • Wrey, Sir Bourchier
  • Hammersley-Heenan, Mr
  • Luffman, Captain
  • Blankenberg, Lady
  • Struben, A.
  • Stuart, J.
  • Ross, E. Denison
  • Foster, William
  • Darbyshire, T. 


Names of composers

  • Bantock, Granville
  • Barcroft, E.D.
  • Bath, Hubert
  • Bunning, Herbert
  • Byrd, William
  • Clutsam, George
  • Coates, Eric
  • Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel
  • Davies, Walford
  • Davis, J.D.
  • Elgar, Edward
  • Elvey, George Job
  • Finck, Herman
  • Fletcher, Percy
  • Gatty, Nicholas
  • German, Edward
  • Grainger, Percy
  • Handel, George Frideric
  • Hayes, Philip
  • Hill, Alfred
  • James, W.G.
  • Landon, Ronald
  • Lehmann, Liza
  • Lemare, E.H.
  • MacCunn, Hamish
  • Mackenzie, Alexander
  • Phillips, Montague
  • Pointer, John
  • Ring, Montague
  • Rosse, Frederick
  • Shankar, Uday [‘Shandar’]
  • Smart, Henry
  • Sullivan, Arthur
  • Terry, Richard
  • Williams, Ralph Vaughan
  • Woodforde-Finden, Amy

Numbers of performers


In addition to the human performers, there were 300 horses, 50 donkeys, 1000 doves, 72 monkeys, 7 elephants, 8 camels, and 3 bears.

Financial information

HM Treasury allotted £100000 for the Pageant, mostly to allow for the free admittance. Sir Harold Bowden gave a guarantee of £33000. The Corporation of London and nine Livery companies subscribed a sum of £1575 towards the cost of staging the City Companies scene.

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

British Empire Exhibition 1924–1925

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 110000
  • Total audience: 1000000


The figure of 1000000 is an estimate. According to General Sir William Rase, chief administrative officer of the pageant, ‘nearly one million people had seen the Pageant performances’, with several performances still to go.1

The first performance of the pageant was seen by an audience of 50000; the last by 60000.2

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


As The Times reported, there were free seats for 10000, and free standing for 9000. In addition, 16000 covered seats were available at 1s each, 2500 seats behind the Royal enclosure at 2s, and 3000 seats on each side of the Royal enclosure at 4s.3 This made for a total of around 43500 seats, officially—attendances, however, exceeded this figure quite considerably—which suggests that there was other standing space (the official capacity of the stadium was 110000).

Associated events

The British Empire Exhibition 1924–1925

Pageant outline

Part I – Westward Ho!

Prelude. Cabot at the Court of King Henry VII, 1496

Interlude. The Roll of Pioneers

‘Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, and Rodney, with natives of the West Indies and South America, carrying bales of goods. Sir Thomas Smith with Elizabethan seamen and East Indians, followed by James Lancaster with Jacobean sailors and East Indians. Sir Humphrey Gilbert with natives of Newfoundland, and the first English settlers who he had led there. Martin Frobisher and John Davis with seamen and Esquimaux. Cavendish, Hudson, and Baffin with mixed parties of native Americans and English adventurers. William Dampier and Sir Henry Morgan, with West Indians and seamen of the Restoration period. Captain Cook, with South Sea Islanders and Georgian seamen; Scoresby with natives from the Arctic regions, followed by Stamford Raffles (the founder of Singapore) with a troop of Malays. Sir John Franklin, Mungo Park, Speke and Grant, Captain Scott, Cecil Rhodes. At the sounding of a trumpet each party unfurls the national flag of its day, and while the trumpets are still sounding their exist begins to processional music.’

The Pageant of Newfoundland

Scene I. Cabot’s departure from Bristol

Loud cheering comes from a crowd of Bristol locals, as John Cabot rides in their midst with his two sons, Sebastian and Lewis. The Mayor of Bristol and the town council cortege join them, and they procession to the quay-side. The crowd kneel as Abbot Newland passes, and then blesses Cabot. Cabot reads the letters patent, as the Chancellor points out the important items. Cabot then embarks on the ship “Matthew”, and depart to trumpets.

Scene II, The Coming of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, 1583

Scene III, John Guy and the First Settlers, 1610. The “Fishing Admirals,” 1610-1729. The Naval Governors

Scene IV. Establishment of Responsible Government, 1855

Scene V. Science in Newfoundland: The First Atlantic Cable, 1858; Marconi’s Experiments, 1910

Scene VI. Modern Newfoundland

‘The prosperity of modern Newfoundland is displayed by a composite tableau which records the introduction of railways (1880), which first opened up the hitherto undeveloped interior of the island – the development of the great paper and pulp mills at Grand Falls – the first inland town established in Newfoundland – and the growth of the mining industry. But fishery, the original strength of the colony, still remains its main source of wealth, and the codfish is the colonial badge to this day. Sport is not neglected in the tableau, in which the moose hunter and his game are duly displayed. Nor have the devisers of the Pageant forgotten to record the magnificent services of the Newfoundland Regiment at Gallipoli and on other bloody fields in that Great War of 1914-1918, which witnessed the final welding together of the British Empire beyond the seas.’

A Pageant of Learning

Interlude, Setting forth England’s part in the Development of the Spirit of the Modern World ‘A group of monks and scribes is discovered; they are engaged in illuminating manuscripts and copying treatises and chronicles in the centre of the Stadium. To them enters a procession of the founders of the great mediaeval universities; at one end appear the founders of the great colleges of Oxford, at the other those of the great colleges of Cambridge. We note on the Oxford side William of Durham (University College), Walter de Merton (Merton), John de Balliol and Devorguilla his wife, Adam de Brome (Oriel), Walter de Stapledon (Exeter), Robert of Eglesfield (Queens), William of Wykeham (New College; he also founded Winchester College in 1387), Richard Flemyng (Lincoln), Archbishop Henry Chichele (All Souls), William of Waynflete (Magdalen), Bishop William Smyth and Sir Richard Sutton (Brasenose), Bishop Fox (Corpus Christi), Cardinal Wolsey (Christ Church), Sir Thomas Pope (Trinity), Sir Thomas White (St Johns), and Queen Elizabeth (Jesus). At the other end the Founders of Cambrdige Colleges, Hugh Balsham, Bishop of Ely (Peterhouse), Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Clare (Clare), Mary of St Paul, Countess of Pembroke (Pembroke), Edmund de Gonville and Dr Caius (Gonville and Caius), Bishop Bateman (Trinity Hall), William Byngham and Lady Margaret Beaufort (Christ’s), Henry VI (King’s), Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth of York (Queens), Robert Woodlark (St Catharine’s), Bishop Alcock (Jesus), Henry VIII (Trinity), Sir Walter Mildmay (Emmanuel) and the Countess of Sussex (Sidney-Sussex). These seat themselves on thronged seats in a semicircle at either end of the Stadium against an Arras background of blue and gold. Each is accompanied by a banner bearing the collegiate arms. At their feet kneel children holding golden models of the different Colleges. Then enters a float on which is Caxton with his printing press. This rolls to the centre of the Stadium and disperses the group of scribes. Edward IV comes with his court to admire this new invention. But the scribes are furious, their work will be at an end, so they stir up trouble, and, when the King has gone, there is a riot against this invention of the Devil. There is a free fight, and the machine is being smashed to pieces, to the joy of the rioters, when a voice cries out that they shall cease their wrangling, as the tide of the world must flow on. As the voice rings out, the groups become a lifeless picture from which emerges a solitary figure who picks up a book and walks along reading it, away from the printing press, so that he stands alone. It is William Shakespeare, and as he turns the pages, from different entrances there come in the spirits of each of his plays, Hamlet and Ophelia, Romeo and Juliet, Portia and Bassanio, with Shylock followed by a crowd of jeering boys, Falstaff and the Merry Wives, Malvolio, Viola and Sebastian, Rosalind, Macbeth with Lady Macbeth, King Lear and his daughters, and a throng from “A Midsummers Night’s Dream”; all group themselves lovingly round Shakespeare. Then the Founders, monks and scribes come to life, and form into a procession with Shakespeare and his characters in the middle of them’.

The Pageant of Canada

Scene I. The Old French Regime

Scenes II and III. ‘New France’ in Canada

Scene IV. The Heights of Abraham, September 13, 1759

Scene V. The Coming of the ‘United Empire Loyalists’, 1784-85

Scene VI. The Fathers of Confederation, 1867; and the Winning of the West

Part II – Eastward Ho!

Prologue, Scene I, The Days of Queen Elizabeth, 1588

‘The prelude scene of this day shows us London in festal array to celebrate the greatest naval triumph since Sluys [defeat of the Spanish Armada]. The citizens are putting up decorations outside St Paul’s for the Queen’s Thanksgiving Service. Temple Bar is decked, in order that the Lord Mayor and City Companies may there receive Elizabeth in state. The street-life of a feast-day is shown – dances, a bout of quarterstaff, mummers giving their shows, and a joust of knights before the Estrada of the Queen of Beauty. This is broken up by heralds announcing the approach of Elizabeth, to whom Mayor and people do homage, and the great ceremony proceeds, to end with the Thanksgiving Service’.

Prologue, Scene II. England Clears the Seas from Piracy, 1655

‘The Pageant episode commences with an Oriental quay-side scene. A crowd of merchants, muleteers, and loiterers are watching the unlading of the pirate ships by slaves, working under the lash of the chain-gang, in miserable plight. A party of newly captured slaves from the last –arrived Corsair is brought out, and exposed for sale to the merchants, who cluster round them and examine their age and capacities. Presently the Bey with his guards rides down from Tunis to inspect the captives. The crowd draw aside and make way for their prince. He passes over the male Christians, but selects a young woman-captive for his harem – she is dragged away among much wailing from her friends. At this moment a gun is heard – Blake’s squadron has arrived, and has opened on the outer forts of the harbour. A growing cannonade continues – the crowd disperses toward the city – the Bey takes command of his soldiers and crews, and fire from the quay presently begins. As it slackens, Blake’s sailors row in and board the pirate-ships, which they set on fire, after liberating the galley slaves. The surviving pirates fly, and the rescued slaves join with the conquerors in a hymn of thanksgiving.’

The Pageant of South Africa

Prelude. The First Circumnavigation of Africa, BC 605

The scene shows the galleys of Phonecian ships, bearing as their badge the royal ‘Cartouch’ of Necho, halting for a moment in the latitude of the Cape.

Scene I. The Portuguese at the Cape, 1497

The scene displays Vasco da Gama’s three little vessels, each of about 120 tons.

Scene II. The Coming of the Dutch. The Landing of Jan Vie Riebeck, 1652

The scene shows the landing of Van Riebecks’s boats, and the disembarking of settlers. A commander confers with a group of Hottentots, headed by ‘Harry’, a native who had been on an English ship, and could make himself understood. Van Riebeck marks his landing with a short religious ceremony conducted by Pastor Willem Weylant.

Scene III. The French Settlement in South Africa, 1688

The scene shows the first wine made from the new vineyards, and the occasion being celebrated with songs and folk-dances – as the Commander at the Cape, Simon Van der Stel, and other members of the Colony watch on.

Scene IV. The Coming of the British Settlers, April 10, 1820

The scene shows the arrival of the ship Chapman in Algoa Bay, and its 271 settlers. Soldiers, Natives and Malays carry the children from the ship ashore, where they are welcomed by Sir Rufane Donkin.

Scene V. First Meeting of British Settlers in Natal with the Zulu King, Tchaka, 1824

Lieutenant Francis Farwell and Henry Fynn are shown meeting the Zulu King, Tchaka.

Scene VI. Dingaan’s Day: The Battle of Blood River, December 16, 1838

The scene shows the Zulu attack on the laager, and its successful defence by 464 Boers against 10,000 warriors.

Scene VII. Missionary Enterprise: Livingstone and Stanley, 1871

‘The wife of a sheik advances to beseech the Doctor’s mercy for her husband Abdullah, a retired raider. At first Livingstone hesitates, but at the prayer of the woman consents to see the sheik, who is brought in on a stretcher by bearers. He operates on the injured man, who in return makes over his slaves to the healer. Runners then arrive announcing the coming of another white man… A train of bearers with loads file in, followed by Stanley, the seeker of the lost missionary. He hands letters to Livingstone and begs him to return home. Livingstone refuses, with the words, “my work is not yet done”, and Stanley departs. Livingston’s people show great enthusiasm on learning that their leader still intends to abide with them.’

Scene VIII. Wilson’s Last Stand, December 4, 1893

The scene shows Major Wilson’s patrol of 32 men, worn out and with their ammunition almost gone, defending a small part of woodland against an encircling group of Matabele. Wilson’s men gradually fall to the musket fire. Finally, there are no men left.

Scene IX. Cecil Rhodes Makes Peace with the Matabele in the Matoppo Hills, 1896

Epilogue. The Union of South Africa, 1909

The Pageant of India

Prelude, Scene I. The Pioneers

Prelude, Scene II. Sir Thomas Roe at the Court of the Emperor Jahangir, 1616

‘In the background is the throne of Jahangir. While it is being prepared, innumerable figures flock upon the arena to set up a bazaar… The bazaar soon becomes full of movement. Besides the buyers and sellers, there are musicians, snake charmers, mendicants, fakirs etc… A travel-stained cavalcade, comprised partly of Englishmen and partly of Indians, arrives… In the midst of it is a horse litter, in which reclines the English ambassador Sir Thomas Roe, who is to deliver letters of credence from James I to the great Mogul Emperor Jahangir. Jahangir and his court ascend the raised platform and the emperor seats himself upon his canopied throne. Sir Thomas Roe is ushered into the present of Jahangir, and delivers the letter. A procession of elephants, camels, carts, and soldiers now comes in. Finally, as the procession disappears, the emperor and his court withdraw.’

Finis, Imperial India

Part III – Southward Ho!

Prologue. Captain Cook despatched by George III on his first voyage to the South Seas, June 4, 1768

Captain Cook is shown being presented to the King, along with his companions, in the midst of the Fourth of June celebrations (the birthday of George III) at Windsor. George III is surrounded by his court, and loyal visitors from London, including Dr Johnson.

The Pageant of New Zealand

Scene I. Captain Cook’s arrival in New Zealand, October 9, 1769

‘Maoris are encamped on one side of a small estuary; Cook’s boats enter. The natives display signs of hostility, brandishing their spears and stone hatchets, whereupon the Captain causes his interpreter Tupia to harangue them, and to assure them of his peaceful intentions and desire to trade for food. After much signalling Cook lands, but the Maoris are rude and overbearing, and endeavour to snatch away the arms and other belongings of some of Cook’s sailors. This leads to a scuffle, and shots are fired. Cook captures three young Maoris, whom he sends with presents, hoping to conciliate their Chief. The old chief meets Cook and allows him to fill his water kegs, but has little to offer in the way of provisions. After an interval the British sail away, having first taken formal possession of the land in the name of King George.’

Scene II. Early Settlers, 1840

Emigrants are welcomed by Colonel W Wakefield and other officers of the New Zealand Land Co. They have a friendly greeting from the Maoris, tents are pitched along the beach, and goods of all sorts landed and piled toegether. At sunset the Flag is lowered, and the church bell calls the settlers to an evening service.

Scene III. The Maori War – Orakau Pah, 1864

The scene shows the defence of the pah of Orakau by 300 Maoris against a much superior force under General Cameron in March and April, 1864. The Maoris are seen singing hymns in front of their pah, concluding their customary morning service. On report of the approach of the British troops they indulge in a dance of defiance, and retire into their rifle pits. The troops (British regulars and local militia) close in upon the stronghold, and after preliminary skirmishing attempt to carry the pah by direct assault, which fails. The British under Cameron then bring up guns, and after throwing in shells, send forward an officer with a flag of truce to demand surrender. The Chief Hauraki Tonganui answers, ‘We will fight for ever and ever.’

Scene IV. Colonial Prosperity, followed by the Call to Arms, August, 1914

Bush-fellers, shepherds, stockriders, wool lorries, carts with cheese and butter, and reaping machines pass by. Maoris also appear and group themselves together. The assembly is joined by boundary riders, gum-diggers, gold-diggers with cradles and pans, and surveying parties. The Governor-General enters with his suite, and is saluted by the various parties in the assembly. He takes his post in the centre and receives the greetings of leading personages. Suddenly a distant gun is heard. A messenger boy enters and delivers a telegram, which is given by an Aide-de-Camp to the Governor-General. On reading the telegram the latter shows grave concern, as do those about him, to whom he reads the fateful message. It is the news of the Declaration of War on Germany after the invasion of Belgium. The Governor-General summons his Aides-de-Camp, and messengers dash off to the various groups. They obey the call, throwing away their tools and implements. The Union Jack is unfurled in place of the New Zealand Ensign. The men strip off their outer garments and show themselves in Khaki, the women remove their cloaks, displaying themselves as hospital nurses. All sorts and conditions of men, including a Maori contingent, fall into rank together and march off to martial music to answer the Call of Empire.

The Pageant of Australia

Scene I. The First Fleet, 1788

A detachment of marines and bluejackets row ashore, the British colours are hoisted, the proclamation of the Royal Commission creating the Colony are read, a salute of small arms is fired.

Scene II. The Era of Development, 1813-1860: Australia a Nation

A processional scene, displaying the growth of the original Colony of New South Wales. Exploration: Wentworth, Lawson and Blaxland crossing the Blue Mountains in 1813. Early pastoralists drive flocks of sheep and cattle, agricultural settlers follow with bullock-drays and household belongings. The gold rush. A scene of bushranging crime and punishment.

Epilogue, The Australian Commonwealth, 1901. Australia’s Contribution to the Empire

Water seekers strike an artesian well; there follows a copious gush of water, and the Stadium is filled with allegorical crowds representing the miraculous growth of vineyards, orchards, cotton plantations and sugar fields. The scene finishes with the performers circling out to right and left in order to form in outline a coloured map of Australia, showing its State divisions, with the typical products of each.

The Pageant of Heroes

‘Across the stadium there sweeps a group of fifty horsemen, Richard Coeur de Lion with his Crusaders. These form up one side of the Port, and are followed by Cromwell and his Ironsides, who form up on one side of the Port, and are followed by Cromwell and his Ironsides, who form up on either side of the Port. Then the heroes of the Navy – Drake, Sir Richard Grenville, Blake, Anson, Hawke, Hood, Howe, St Vincent, all followed by their men. These in turn form up in groups on either side. On the water is the State Barge, on which is the body of Nelson. The groups on either side become a motionless picture, whilst the funereal coach draws up and Nelson’s body is placed upon it. The funeral procession marches across the Stadium to a Dead March. When it is half across, the groups of Naval and Military heroes join in, as the full chorus sing “Toll for the Brave” and the Pageant becomes a thanksgiving for the Glorious Dead. Small groups from the Dominions, India and the Crown Colonies come to show to the Motherland what they have done, of their sacrifice, their loyalty and love, and their hope for the future. Amongst them are some wounded and blinded soldiers, and a woman shrouded in black, with her orphan children to represent sacrifice; they group around her with arms outstretched. There is a complete silence for a few seconds, everyone is motionless, and then in the distance is heard the Reveille. Then from every entrance, as the music crashes, bells ring and the choirs sing, there streams into the Stadium a procession displaying all the countless units of the Great British Empire, who in a Thanksgiving Service, showing the glories, the wealth, the opportunities and resources of Greater Britain, that mighty commonwealth of Free Nations. They depart as the choir intones the reverent words of Kipling’s “Recessional” the warning against pride, which bids us remember that “unless the Lord build the house, the builders labout but in vain.’

A Thanksgiving to the Glorious Dead

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Cabot, John [Zuan Caboto] (c.1451–1498) navigator
  • Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Drake, Sir Francis (1540–1596) pirate, sea captain, and explorer
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author [also known as Raleigh, Sir Walter]
  • Rodney, George Bridges, first Baron Rodney (bap. 1718, d. 1792) naval officer and politician
  • Smythe [Smith], Sir Thomas (c.1558–1625) merchant
  • Lancaster, Sir James (1554/5–1618) merchant
  • Gilbert, Sir Humphrey (1537–1583) explorer and soldier
  • Cavendish, Thomas (bap. 1560, d. 1592) explorer
  • Hudson, Henry (d. 1611) explorer
  • Baffin, William (1584?–1621) Arctic explorer
  • Dampier, William (1651–1715) buccaneer and explorer
  • Morgan, Sir Henry (c.1635–1688) privateer and colonial governor
  • Cook, James (1728–1779) explorer
  • Scoresby, William, junior (1789–1857) Arctic scientist and Church of England clergyman
  • Raffles, Sir (Thomas) Stamford Bingley (1781–1826) colonial governor and founder of Singapore
  • Franklin, Sir John (1786–1847) naval officer and Arctic explorer [also known as Franklin]
  • Park, Mungo (1771–1806) traveller in Africa
  • Speke, John Hanning (1827–1864) explorer in Africa
  • Grant, James Augustus (1827–1892) explorer in Africa
  • Scott, Robert Falcon [known as Scott of the Antarctic] (1868–1912) naval officer and Antarctic explorer
  • Rhodes, Cecil John (1853–1902) imperialist, colonial politician, and mining entrepreneur
  • Cabot, Sebastian (c.1481/2–1557) explorer and cartographer
  • Newland [Nailheart], John (d. 1515) abbot of St Augustine's, Bristol
  • Guy, John (c.1575–1628) colonial governor
  • Marconi, Guglielmo (1874–1937) physicist and inventor of wireless transmission
  • Durham, William of (d. 1249) theologian and university benefactor
  • Merton, Walter of (c.1205–1277) administrator, bishop of Rochester, and founder of Merton College, Oxford
  • Balliol [Baliol], John de (b. before 1208, d. 1268) magnate and benefactor
  • Balliol, Dervorguilla de, lady of Galloway (d. 1290) noblewoman and benefactor
  • Brome, Adam (d. 1332) administrator and first founder of Oriel College, Oxford
  • Eglesfield [Egilsfeld], Robert [Robert de Eglesfeld] (c.1295–1349) founder of Queen's College, Oxford
  • Wykeham, William (c.1324–1404) bishop of Winchester, administrator, and founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford
  • Flemming [Fleming], Richard (d. 1431) bishop of Lincoln [also known as Flemyng, Richard]
  • Chichele, Henry (c.1362–1443) administrator and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Waynflete [Wainfleet, Patten], William (c.1400–1486) bishop of Winchester and founder of Magdalen College, Oxford
  • Smith [Smyth], William (d. 1514) bishop of Lincoln and a founder of Brasenose College, Oxford
  • Sutton, Sir Richard (c.1460–1524) college head
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • Pope, Sir Thomas (c.1507–1559) founder of Trinity College, Oxford
  • White, Sir Thomas (1495?–1567) founder of St John's College, Oxford
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Balsham, Hugh of (d. 1286) bishop of Ely and benefactor
  • Clare, Elizabeth de [Elizabeth de Burgh; known as lady of Clare] (1294/5–1360) magnate and founder of Clare College, Cambridge
  • St Pol, Mary de, countess of Pembroke (c.1304–1377) magnate and founder of Pembroke College, Cambridge
  • Gonville [Gonvile], Edmund (d. 1351) ecclesiastic and founder of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
  • Caius [Kay, Key], Thomas (c.1505–1572) antiquary and college head
  • Bateman [Norwich], William (c.1298–1355) diplomat, founder of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and bishop of Norwich
  • Bingham [Byngham], William (d. 1451) ecclesiastic and founder of Christ's College, Cambridge
  • Beaufort, Margaret [known as Lady Margaret Beaufort], countess of Richmond and Derby (1443–1509) royal matriarch
  • Henry VI (1421–1471) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
  • Elizabeth [Elizabeth of York] (1466–1503) queen of England, consort of Henry VII
  • Wodelarke, Robert (d. 1481?) founder of St Catharine's College, Cambridge
  • Alcock, John (1430–1500) administrator and bishop of Ely
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Mildmay, Sir Walter (1520/21–1589) administrator and founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge
  • Radcliffe [née Sidney], Frances, countess of Sussex (1531?–1589) benefactor of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
  • Caxton, William (1415x24–1492) printer, merchant, and diplomat
  • Edward IV (1442–1483) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet
  • Blake, Robert (bap. 1598, d. 1657) naval and army officer
  • Donkin, Sir Rufane Shaw (1773–1841) army officer
  • Shaka (c.1783–1828) king of the Zulu
  • Fynn, Henry Francis (1803–1861) mariner and settler in Natal
  • Livingstone, David (1813–1873) explorer and missionary
  • Stanley, Sir Henry Morton (1841–1904) explorer and journalist
  • Wilson, Allan (1856–1893) soldier and pioneer in Africa
  • Roe, Sir Thomas (1581–1644) diplomat
  • Jahangir (1569–1627) Mughal emperor
  • George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
  • Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784) author and lexicographer
  • Wakefield, William Hayward (1801–1848) colonist in New Zealand
  • Cameron, Sir Duncan Alexander (1808–1888) army officer
  • Richard I [called Richard Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart] (1157–1199) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Grenville, Sir Richard (1542–1591) naval commander
  • Anson, George, Baron Anson (1697–1762) naval officer and politician
  • Hawke, Edward, first Baron Hawke (1705–1781) naval officer
  • Hood, Samuel, first Viscount Hood (1724–1816) naval officer
  • Howe, Richard, Earl Howe (1726–1799) naval officer
  • Jervis, John, earl of St Vincent (1735–1823) naval officer
  • Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758–1805) naval officer

Musical production

Music for the Pageant was played by 110 musicians selected by Mr Henry Jackson [Jaxon], the Master of Music and Mr I.A. de Orellana from the London Symphony orchestra, the Albert Hall and the Covent Garden Opera orchestras.

There was a choir of 400 singers, drawn from Alexandra Palace, Crystal Palace, Royal Choral, Harrow Choral, Northwood Choral Societies, and Wembley choir.

Part I – Westward Ho!

  • Edward Elgar, Empire March.
  • Edward German, Country Dance (from Nell Gwynn)
  • Frederick Rosse, Doge’s March (from The Merchant of Venice)
  • Edward German, Coronation March
  • Byrd, The Earl of Oxford March
  • Landon Ronald, prelude to The Garden of Allah
  • Coleridge-Taylor, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast
  • George Clutsam and Hubert Bath, Young England
  • Montague Phillips, gavotte from The Rebel Maid
  • Percy Fletcher, Empire Song
  • Elgar, Sailing Westward (set to verses specially commissioned from Alfred Noyes)
  • George Elvey, Festal March
  • Nicholas Gatty, march from Prince Ferelon
  • Edward German, pavane from Romeo and Juliet
  • Arthur Sullivan, Graceful Dance from Henry VIII
  • Walford Davies, Solemn March
  • Mackenzie, Benedictus
  • Edward Elgar, Sursum Corda
  • The Maple Leaf Forever
  • O Canada
  • Fletcher, For Empire and King
  • Elgar, A Song of Union (set to verses specially commissioned from Alfred Noyes)
  • Elgar, The Heart of Canada (set to verses specially commissioned from Alfred Noyes)

Part II – Eastward Ho!

  • Edward Elgar, Empire March
  • Eric Coates, prelude of In the Meadows
  • Eric Coates, In a Country Lane
  • Edward German, dances from Merrie England
  • Edward German, Long Live Elizabeth
  • Percy Fletcher, The Spirit of England
  • Elgar, Shakespeare’s Kingdom (set to verses specially commissioned from Alfred Noyes)
  • Henry Smart, Te Deum in F
  • Edward Elgar, Imperial March
  • Coleridge-Taylor, march from Nero
  • John Pointer, Mariners of England
  • Montague Ring, African Dances
  • Mackenzie, Britannia
  • Momet, Bouree
  • ED Barcroft, African Suite
  • Hamism MacCunn, cantata from Livingstone the Pilgrim
  • Coleridge-Taylor, Bamboula
  • Parry, War and Peace
  • Elgar, Land of Hope and Glory
  • Elgar, Crown of India
  • Amy Woodforde-Finden, Indian Love Lyrics
  • Liza Lehmann, In a Persian Garden
  • Shandar [Uday Shankar], Old Indian Dances

Part III – Southward Ho!

  • Elgar, Empire March
  • Percy Fletcher, Sylvan Scenes
  • Philip Hayes, Minuet
  • Herman Finck, Pageant March
  • God Defend New Zealand
  • Richard Terry, various sea shanties
  • WG James, When the Yellow Kowbai Blooms
  • Eric Coates, overture from Merrymakers
  • Granville Bantock, Benedictus
  • Alfred Hill, Waiata Poi
  • Alfred Hill, Tangi
  • JD Davis, Pro Patria
  • Edward German, Harvest Dance
  • Elgar, Empire March
  • Percy Grainger, Colonial Song
  • Herman Finck, March Blanc
  • Advance, Australia Fair
  • Elgar, The Blue Mountains (set to verses specially commissioned from Alfred Noyes)
  • Elgar, The Islands (set to verses specially commissioned from Alfred Noyes)
  • WG James, Stockrider’s Song
  • George Clutsam, Plantation Songs
  • Handel, Hallelujah Chorus
  • Sullivan, Imperial March
  • EH Lemare, Solemn March
  • Elgar, For the Fallen, with Proud Thanksgiving
  • Elgar, Empre March
  • God Save the King
  • Hebert Bunning’s setting of Kipling’s Recessional.4

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The pageant was covered in all major newspapers, and almost certainly the majority of local newspapers too. The Times, Observer, and Manchester Guardian provide particularly broad coverage.

Book of words


Other primary published materials


British Empire Exhibition. London, 1924.

British Empire Exhibition 1924: Handbook of General Information. London, 1924.

Musical scores (in British Library):

Empire march: the British Empire March : from Pageant of Empire (1924) : for full orchestra / Edward Elgar. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. Ledbury : Acuta Music, c2008.

Pageant of Empire. The Empire March, 1924. [P. F.] Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London, etc : Enoch & Sons, 1924.

The Pageant of Empire, 1924. A Song of Australia. The Blue Mountains ... Poem by A. Noyes. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London: Enoch & Sons, 1924.

A Pageant of Empire, 1924. The Heart of Canada. Song, the poem by A. Noyes. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London: Enoch & Sons, 1924.

A Pageant of Empire, 1924. The Islands. A Song of New Zealand, the poem by A. Noyes. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London: Enoch & Sons, 1924.

Pageant of Empire, 1924. Merchant Adventurers. Song, with harmonized refrain, ad lib., the poem by A. Noyes. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London: Enoch & Sons, 1924.

A Pageant of Empire, 1924. Sailing Westward. Song, the poem by A. Noyes. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London : Enoch & Sons, 1924.

A Pageant of Empire, 1924. Shakespeare's Kingdom. Song, the poem by A. Noyes. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London : Enoch & Sons, 1924.

The Empire March. [Military band parts.] Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London: Boosey & Co, [1924]

Pageant of Empire. [Song.] Words by R. H. Parkinson. George W. Byng London: Novello & Co, [1924]

The Immortal Legions. Song, etc. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London: Enoch & Sons, 1924.

The Immortal Legions. Two-part Song, etc. Edward Elgar, 1857-1934. London : Enoch & Sons, 1924.

Oman, Charles. The Pageant of Empire: An Historical Survey. London, 1924.

Pageant of Empire: Souvenir Volume. London, 1924.

References in secondary literature

  • Foreman, Lewis. ‘A Voice in the Desert: Elgar’s War Music’, in Lewis Foreman (ed), Oh, My Horses! Elgar and the Great War. Rickmansworth, 2001. At 279-84.
  • Ghuman, Nalini, Resonances of the Raj: India in the English Musical Imagination, 1897-1947. Oxford, 2014.
  • Knight, Donald R. and Alan D. Sabey, The Lion Roars at Wembley: British Empire Exhibition 60th Anniversary. London, 1984.
  • Richards, Jeffrey. Imperialism and Music: Britain, 1876-1953. Manchester, 2001.
  • Simonelli, David. ‘“[L]aughing Nations of Happy Children who have Never Grown Up”: Race, the Concept of Commonwealth and the 1924–25 British Empire Exhibition’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 10 (2009).
  • Stephen, Daniel. The Empire of Progress: West Africans, Indians, and Britons at the British Empire Exhibition 1924-25. New York, 2013.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • British Empire Exhibition 1924: responsibility for the control of the Pageant of Empire. Original Correspondence:
  • Colonies, General: Original Correspondence. Correspondence, Original – Secretary of State. Offices: Colonial. (Described at item level). British Empire Exhibition 1924: responsibility for the control of the Pageant of Empire. Original Correspondence From: Colonial Office.
  • Other references: 14141/1924
  • Held by: The National Archives – Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices
  • Date: March 1924
  • Reference: CO 323/925/14
  • Subjects: International
  • British Empire Exhibition 1924. Control of expenditure on Pageant.
  • Board of Trade: Department of Overseas Trade: Establishment Files. British Empire Exhibition 1924. Control of expenditure on Pageant.
  • Held by: The National Archives - Board of Trade and successors
  • Date: April 1924
  • Reference: BT 61/19/9
  • Subjects: Trade and commerce
  • British Empire Exhibition, 1924: proposed organisation of a 'Pageant of Empire'; invitation for co-operation …
  • Colonies, General: Original Correspondence. Correspondence, Original – Secretary of State. British Empire Exhibition, 1924: proposed organisation of a 'Pageant of Empire'; invitation for co-operation and representation of colonies. Original Correspondence.
  • Held by: The National Archives - Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices
  • Date: 01 September 1923 - 31 October 1923
  • Reference: CO 323/915/24
  • Subjects: International
  • British Empire Exhibition 1924. Insurance of Pageant performers against injury by animals etc.
  • Board of Trade: Department of Overseas Trade: Establishment Files. British Empire Exhibition 1924. Insurance of Pageant performers against injury by animals etc.
  • Held by: The National Archives – Board of Trade and successors
  • Date: 01 June 1924 - 31 August 1924
  • Reference: BT 61/20/7
  • Subjects: Trade and commerce

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Pageant of Empire took place over the course of a wet six weeks in July and August 1924 in the huge newly-constructed concrete Wembley Stadium. It was just one attraction of the monumental British Empire Exhibition (1924–25), an event that had been in the making since before the First World War, and one that has been described by historian Jeffrey Richards as ‘in many ways the culminating exhibition of Empire’.5 Though the pageant was perhaps not as popular as envisaged and, as with the Empire Exhibition more generally, probably made a large financial loss, it was still one of the biggest and most ambitious of the twentieth century. Nearly one million people saw one of the thirty or so performances, and the press lavished thousands of column inches on (mostly) positive reports.6 The pageant shared much in common—in ethos, style, and purpose—with the Pageant of London that had taken place in 1911 as part of the Festival of Empire. This was unsurprising, given that it was mastered by the same indefatigable Frank Lascelles, the ‘Man Who Staged the Empire’. After the war, Lascelles continued to pursue his spectacular form of pageantry, now taking even more advantage of technologies such as spotlighting and amplification, and paying even greater attention to scenery, in this case aided by the artist Frank Brangwyn. By the mid-1920s, the different forms taken by pageantry had become increasingly well defined—rural, religious, political, institutional; it had also become associated with many different purposes—from fundraising, to propaganda, to commemoration. The smaller rural and religious pageants continued to have a great deal in common with the Parkerian vision laid out in the first years of the twentieth century (see, e.g. entries for Sherbone in 1905 and Warwick in 1906). But in the big civic pageants that flourished in Britain’s industrial cities in the interwar period, it was the form of production pioneered by Lascelles that came to dominate. His Pageant of Empire thus marks a clear watershed in the evolution of the historical pageantry movement.

The British Empire Exhibition was first proposed in 1913 by Lord Strathcona, who had been a vice-president of the successful Franco-British Exhibition in 1908 at the White City, London. But the War, naturally, interrupted the planning. The idea was revived at the close of hostilities, and the Exhibition organisation was formally launched in 1920, a special Act of Parliament being passed that same year authorising the government to contribute (heavily) to the Guarantee Fund.7 King George V, in opening the exhibition, summarised its official aims concisely: ‘to take stock of the resources, actual and potential, of the Empire as a whole; to consider where these exist and how they can best be developed and utilised; to take counsel together how the peoples can co-operate to supply one another’s needs, and to promote national well-being.’8 The aggressive jingoism of late Victorian and Edwardian imperial patriotism was here replaced with a more ‘confident emphasis on the material, technological and moral value of the empire’ which—following the colonial contribution to the First World War—was now described as a ‘commonwealth’ of free nations.9 As Alexander C.T. Geppert has outlined (though surprisingly without reference to the pageant), the motives of the Exhibition were, in this context, both reactive and contentious. The First World War, he argues, had led to an increased awareness of the fragility of the Empire’s unity—as well as its importance in providing soldiers for mass conflict. The Exhibition aimed to help overcome these tensions, as well as aiding in the process of post-war demobilization and unemployment by providing jobs for soldiers. At the same time, it presented London as the Capital of the Empire in a manner ‘worthy of its size and importance’—as, incidentally, had been the aim back in the Festival of Empire in 1911.10

It is not clear at what point the pageant became a part of the Exhibition, but its message was in tune with the celebration more generally. The storyline did celebrate the usual set of imperial and military heroes, from Drake to Nelson, but there was a new ‘accent on inter-racial unity’—the War having shown the world, according to the Exhibition’s official guidebook, that the empire had ‘a hundred languages and races… but one soul and mind, and could… concentrate all its power for a common purpose’.11 The Prince of Wales, President of the Exhibition, similarly said that the pageant was a grand representation of ‘all the races under our flag’, and one ‘which would illustrate fully the economic resources of all our territories and our peoples’.12 William Lunn (Chairman of the Empire Pageant Council), speaking at a dinner staged for Lascelles following the close of the pageant, was especially frank about what the purpose of the pageant had been. As he put it, the development of the Empire would not come ‘through the hatred or fire of any political platform, but through the love and affection of what was meant by family life.’ Even the Labour party—‘not perhaps regarded hitherto as a great Empire party’—could develop ‘an imperial policy and do much to strengthen the bonds of empire.’13 This emphasis on the ‘family’ of the British Empire was a more general theme of the Empire Exhibition. One guidebook for the Exhibition, for example, stressed that it would be a great ‘Family Party’.14 Despite this aim, there seemed to be less enthusiasm from the Dominions for this outing in pageantry than there was at the Pageant of London in 1911, where 3000 people from overseas took performing roles. Although there were some Dominion performers in 1924, most notably ‘nearly half’ of those presenting the South African episode being descended from the early ‘settlers’, the Times stressed that Indian representatives especially were inclined to ‘the view that the practical and financial difficulties’ would make ‘satisfactory materialization doubtful’.15 As had also been the case with the earlier Pageant of London, the majority of volunteers came from London boroughs, who took responsibility for individual episodes.

Lascelles was aided by several other pageant-masters and theatrical directors, such as Patrick Kirwan, H. Granville Barker, and the influential theatre impresario and pageant-master Frank Benson. The latter especially had clearly formed ideas on the role of historical pageantry in the specific post-1919 era—what he dubbed ‘a world, war-wounded’. In a 1920 volume, Rejoice Greatly: How to Organise Public Ceremonies, Benson argued that pageantry was ‘Not only… the festal garb of Nations, their “robe of glory”’, but also

the expression of their inmost natures… Pageantry shows the nation in its mating plumage. It marks the tides of National life. It shows us a people romancing about itself, striving to make the reality fit the dream or to materialise the vision. Because it is all this and much more, Pageantry enables us to appraise the degree of National vitality, estimate the quality, nature and intensity of National culture. It shows us a people romancing about itself, striving to make the reality fit the dream or to materialise the vision. Because it is all this and much more, Pageantry enables us to appraise the degree of National vitality, estimate the quality, nature and intensity of National culture…16

Whether through Benson’s influence, or the more general pervading culture of pageantry at this time, these ideals were carried through into the Pageant of Empire.

Also involved were Edward Elgar and Rudyard Kipling, the latter agreeing to arrange all the speeches and dialogue—though, in the event, there was little of either, the Times reporting that ‘owing chiefly to the inexperience of some of those who first had charge of the preparations, much previous work by both Mr Kipling and Sir Edward Elgar was wasted’.17 Music, though, as Jeffrey Richards has detailed, was certainly a ‘vital ingredient’, being necessary to fill the vast space of the stadium and to stand in for the almost complete lack of spoken words.18 The two dominant forms of music used were the march and the dance— ‘conveying at the same time the idea of discipline and joyousness in the imperial adventure.’19 Elgar’s specially-composed Empire March was used at many points during the three parts of the pageant to provide ‘imperial continuity’. Though it was met with praise at the time, it has never, as Richards acknowledges, achieved the same popularity as the Pomp and Circumstance marches, as ‘it seems to lack the genuine inspiration [of those pieces]… The confidence sounds forced, the tone bombastic. It is Elgar imitating himself.’20

Notable performers included Admiral Mark Kerr playing Henry VII, Lady Diana Cooper playing Elizabeth of York, and Captain Oldham playing Robert Blake.21 The part of John Cabot was taken by someone of the same name, and Captain Cook was played by a descendant.22 Such casting met the standards set down by Louis Napoleon Parker, the first pageant-master, who believed that (where possible) parts should be taken by descendants or performers who were of a similar social caste to the historical figure they impersonated. At one point Parker was also attached to the project, ostensibly to create a ‘Merry Old England’ Elizabethan scene, though his name was not reported beyond January 1924. The reasons for this are unclear, though his autobiography published four years later may give some clues. In this book Parker claimed, in general, that his invention had been subverted, commercialised, and overly popularised. The only pageant-master he deigned to give anything much in the way of appreciative respect was George Hawtrey—by that point already a decade dead. In his memoir, Parker described as the opposite of Hawtrey and himself an unnamed pageant-master ‘in patent-leather boots, check trousers, white waistcoat, frock coat, straw-coloured gloves and a dazzling topper, coming on in the final tableau and making his bow like a prima donna. O ye gods and little fishes!’ One wonders if he was referring to the eccentric Frank Lascelles. It certainly seems possible, since Parker did not contribute to a volume of essays and recollections published in Lascelles’s honour several years later.23

In any event the pageant did not look like one of Parker’s creations. Indeed, the narrative was, in many ways, simply an expansion of the final part of Lascelles’s Pageant of London in 1911. Each part—‘Westward Ho!’, ‘Eastward Ho!’, and ‘Southward Ho!’—showed the expansion of the British Empire in a different part of the world. To do so the scriptwriters, led by Oxford historian Sir Charles Oman (again, a scriptwriter and historical advisor for the 1911 pageant), anchored the narrative in a teleological vision that began with the adventurers and explorers of the late-medieval and early-modern period, and ended with the Empire as it essentially stood in the first decades of the twentieth century. This was, according to Oman, a case of historical events finding their ‘logical consequence’. Thus, the ‘vague grant’ from Henry VII to explorer John Cabot found its end-point in the great Dominion of North America (though one that had been, of course, substantially whittled down to Canada by 1924); the development of naval power under Elizabeth I (symbolised by the destruction of the Spanish Armada) led to British domination in India and South Africa; while the ‘modest expedition’ of Captain Cook, sent by George III in 1768 led to the foundation of great British communities in the southern seas, notably Australia and New Zealand. As Oman summed it up, ‘From small beginnings mighty consequences come, when the spirit is willing and the heart strong and adventurous.’24 This was, then, very much a tale of British dominance at sea—adventurously, militarily, and economically. Although Alfred the Great was not portrayed in the pageant itself, Oman related to readers of his Historical Survey that this dominance had its origins when Alfred had built ‘the first national navy’ and defended the country from the Vikings—though he acknowledged that Britain’s imperial destiny had only started its realisation from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.25 Interestingly, despite this story being one of contemporary British power, the form of national identity on show here was indubitably English. In the Pageant of London in 1911, lip service had at least been paid to the other constituent nations of the British Isles; in 1924, the story was almost entirely, as Oman described, ‘an incident of English history developing into an act of the mighty drama of the building up of Greater Britain.’26

Unlike the pre-1914 pageants, the Pageant of Empire was much more comfortable in portraying recent events, connecting them to older aims and ideas; and it was also more at ease with the technological developments that accompanied (indeed facilitated) the conquest of far-off lands. Thus, the last scene in Part I (‘The Fathers of Confederation, 1867; and the Winning of the West’) featured the construction of the transcontinental railways to the pacific which, according to the scriptwriters, ‘were the real fulfilment of the ancient dreams of kings and explorers’.27 Another scene, ‘Modern Newfoundland’, included the building of railways, the development of paper and pulp mills, and the growth of the mining industry. Similarly, the section on Australia depicted the development of new industries, the construction of railways and roads in all directions, and the development of modern methods of transport, and postulated that this growth played a key role in the culmination of the Australian Federation and then Commonwealth. Alongside this concentration on modern industry, however, was also praise for the older basis of the imperial economy—from Newfoundland fisheries, to New Zealand orchards, to West Indian banana plantations.

Even more striking than the focus on modern technology, however, was the portrayal of a much more emotional event: the First World War. The Pageant of Empire was not the first pageant to depict the conflict, but it was, and probably remains, the largest to attempt some form of theatrical acknowledgement.28 Being a Pageant of Empire, this was a case of demonstrating the response of the Dominions to the call of the mother nation—and not just of British settlers. In the New Zealander scene, for example, Maoris were positively included for their contribution—in contrast to an earlier scene, where they had resisted the British (though in a brave and chivalrous manner).29 Most significant, however, was the solemn, commemorative final scene, where the sacrifices made by the men of Britain and the Empire in 1914–18 provided the symbolic end of the event. The finale began with Edward Elgar’s musical version of ‘The immortal legions’, a poem by Alfred Noyes that paid tribute to the fallen of the Great War.30 As Richards describes, the piece was ‘sombre and deeply felt, with the orchestra echoing the solemn tread of the dead and the living who serve the Empire, and the lament of the dead rising to a triumphant note of celebration of lives of service and sacrifice.’31 Then came a solemn organ march and a rendition of Elgar’s ‘With Proud Thanksgiving’, and finally a closing tableau (‘The Empire’s Thanksgiving’), the musical elements of which were Nicolas Gatty’s ‘Anthem of the Sister Nations’, and Herbert Bunning’s setting of Kipling’s poem ‘Recessional’.32 In the Pageant Souvenir, illustrated poems by John McCrae (‘In Flanders Fields’) and Rupert Brooke (‘The Soldier’) continued this solemn observance.

The Pageant was in fact the second held at the Festival of Empire. Lascelles had persuaded the organisers of his other Pageant that summer, Bristol's Cradle of Empire, to decamp for three days, 7-9 June, to Wembley Stadium to perform their own pageant, which had a number of imperial resonances. Unfortunately, the crowds who attended failed to be persuaded that Bristol's local Civic Pageant merited inclusion in such a large and prominent Festival and the stadium recorded attendances in the mere hundreds, leading to a significant loss on the part of Bristol's Pageant.

Although the pageant did show some great battles, if only for their spectacular and popular appeal, there was a greater focus on peace and conciliation. Cecil Rhodes, for example, was shown as ‘realising how costly and endless’ war was with the ‘Matabele’ (Northern Ndebele) in 1896.33 The following scene, ‘The Union of South Africa’ in 1909, portrayed ‘two proud races’—the Dutch and British’—signing a treaty which enabled ‘the blending of the two races politically’ to ‘the immortal credit and honour of both’.34 Being an exercise in propaganda, there were naturally aspects of imperial history that were not shown. Given the growing nationalism in India, there was no attention given to the various more bloody or brutal episodes in the colonisation of that country—even if they could have promoted a sense of the triumph against adversity narrative that so characterised pageants. Instead, it was the nobleness of the Mughal Empire, and the beautiful colour and exoticism of the scenes, that was meant to grab the audience. In depicting the colonisation of Africa, however, the problem was different, given the intense competition the ‘Scramble’ had encouraged between European nations. As the Manchester Guardian reported, ‘Its history, of course, had to be tactfully edited for Imperial purposes, and the continent was shown as the meeting (and battle) ground of black and white, and not of white and white.’ Here, then, battles were shown—but only between the Zulus and the British.

In terms of style and production, the Pageant of Empire was undeniably a spectacular affair, the likes of which had not been seen since Lascelles’s pageant in 1911. As well as a 15000-strong cast, the pageant included a cornucopia of exotic animals— elephants, llamas, camels, bears, tigers, and tropical birds—many of which had been shipped from the colonies especially for the purpose. The scenery encompassed a large artificial lake in the stadium, a full-sized cathedral front, and what the press called the largest carpet ever made. Frank Brangwyn, a polymath artist-craftsmen important in avant-garde circles, was enlisted by his friend Lascelles to be the scenery designer. Deborah Sugg Ryan has argued in relation to the pageant that Brangwyn wanted to ‘bring pleasure to the masses’; creating a whole new world in front of their eyes was part of this agenda.35 But making Brangwyn’s scenery was no mean feat. After he had drawn his designs, one hundred skilled men and women artists spent night and day transferring his scheme on a large scale to around ten thousand square yards of canvas. The effect, the Observer predicted, would be the complete transformation of the stadium—with the skyline of the scenery concealing all the roofing (though in the event there were still pillars that poked above, an artistic travesty so great that Brangwyn refused to attend any of the performances).36 Certainly the Manchester Guardian picked up on the difference here between other pageants and the vision crafted by Lascelles and Brangwyn. As the newspaper put it, there was ‘none of the teasing effect produced in some pageants where the tin and tinsel of play-boy warriors is set off against the fatal realism of a genuine antique castle.’ Instead, the stadium was all ‘artifice, lavish, colossal artifice.’ The effect of the sheer size of the pageant stadium, and the huge number of performers, meant the action was like Lascelles ‘tossing a thousand scraps of human confetti on the grass.’37

The Manchester Guardian had some criticisms: it thought, for example, that the sheer size of the stadium gave the detail ‘a rather niggardly air’, with only the ‘collective or communal jest[ing]’ being able to carry to the faraway audience. Even the choir ‘sounded remote and faint’.38 But the paper also had much good to say—and especially about the ‘mass pictures’, which were ‘much the most successful’. Particularly good, it felt, was the scene of the Mogul Emperor meeting an envoy from the East India Company in the early seventeenth century. ‘The procession’, the Guardian insisted, ‘was beautiful beyond the dreams of a Beerbohm Tree’—referencing the actor and London theatre manager of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, an important influence on the historical and mass-scale of pageantry.39 The Times also made an interesting comparison between film and pageantry, describing how a pageant

In some ways… resembles a carefully and correctly constructed historical film. It is full of action, free from solemn and set speeches, and, like the film, has the advantage of being able to leap the centuries if need be. Both are greatly helped by their musical accompaniment and interludes. On the other hand, the pageant has what the film has not—colour, atmosphere, and life. A film might have provided more magnificent backgrounds, but it could not have given us such convincing human characters.40

Such a spectacle meant that, as the Manchester Guardian noted, ‘if one drops the programme and lets the history go, one can gaze down from the immensities of the Stadium on a fascinating world of coloured mannikins [sic] spinning a dainty design of motion, now furious, now stately, now shimmering in a pathway of light, now vanishing into the shadowland that the light has missed.’ The effect of this was that ‘History dissolves and the pageant becomes a pattern which a hidden host of stage-managers is creating with the limitless human thread.’41

With little to no dialogue, more processional than theatrical, history often occluded, and dependent on colour and movement, the pageant was, as Ryan has argued, an exercise in mass spectacle and entertainment.42 But, despite this, contemporary observers (at least, the press) could acknowledge the entertainment form of the pageant of Empire while still recognising the message within—especially when placed within the context of the wider celebration. As the Observer noted:

It would be a grievous error to regard the pageant as an amusement. It has been devised to provide the historical background of all the activities which Wembley summarises. In so far as it is spectacular and romantic that is because there is both spectacle and romance in the story of Empire. In fact, Wembley is incomplete without the pageant, while the pageant in turn owes its meaning to the exhibition within whose circuit it is held.43

The Manchester Guardian agreed, stating that

Exhibitions on this scale are apt to be an impressive chaos; they represent a world of business and commercial affairs and a world of pleasure and amusement, and both worlds are again subdivided to catch the tastes of Everyman with all his varying inclinations. The Pageant should represent the core and the message of the whole complicated spectacle and supply a worthy and memorable symbol of the Empire and its scattered peoples.44

Despite pageantry’s now well-established status within British culture, the Guardian also had more reflective thoughts about the purpose of historical performance—and its key differences from other forms of education. On one hand, mass spectacles could be ‘far more exciting than anything achieved by the professional historians’. But it was also, the newspaper acknowledged, a selective history: ‘without tears, [and instead] all costumes, cheerful cries, and the easy victory of virtuous empire-builders.’ But historical accuracy, it insisted, was less important that showing the meaning or ethos of a historical time or place. Thus, so far as one meeting between Drake and Queen Elizabeth went, ‘Whether this happened… or not the Pageant Master convinced us that it ought to have happened. And that is the end for which pageant masters exist. Theirs is a higher and a more romantically coloured truth.’45 The Times made much the same point, stating that the pageant was ‘undoubtedly the way in which to teach British history—so much more amusing, so much more convincing and effective, so much more real than the way of ink and books and dates’ and arguing that ‘Those who saw the counterfeit presentment last night at Wembley of some of our great national heroes and heroines must have believed in them as never before they did.’46 In a sense, this was pageantry as a sort of hyper-history—where ‘truth’ or accuracy was less important than the ideas and ethos the telling of the story encapsulated.

As usual, the point here was to connect the deeds of the past with the progress of the present and future. In the Souvenir to the pageant, for example, J.H. Thomas (Secretary of State for the Colonies) stated that the pageant would help spectators to ‘light the torches of the future at the glowing heart of the past’.47 As the Times similarly elaborated:

Leaving the Stadium last night the audience must have felt moved by the inspiration and the truth of this Empire Pageant, and moved more deeply still by the realization of the fact that these episodes, these slices of British history, were things wherein they themselves shared and that one of the greatest rewards of British citizenship was kinship with the great ones who in past days laid the foundations of the inheritance which is symbolized at Wembley.48

This ethos met with the aims of the Empire Exhibition more generally. As the Handbook stated, it would ‘emphasise our racial achievements up to date, and will convey to the visitor not only a wider and more definite idea of what our people have accomplished in the past, but a clearer knowledge of what it will be possible for us to achieve in the future.’49 Historical re-enactment, then, bridged the gaps between past, present, and future by laying out a vision of what society had been and could be.

But education seemed perhaps lower on the list of stated aims than it had been in the similar Pageant of London thirteen years earlier, where it had been a dominant feature. The adverts for the pageant, at least, made little note of the instructive value of the pageant—instead highlighting the ‘magnificence and beauty, of wonder and thrills that it will provide an unforgettable memory for the thousands and thousands who will throng to see it.’50 But the organisers certainly did think there was still a lesson to be learned. William Lunn, the Chairman, told the House of Commons that the Board of Management of the British Empire Exhibition (with the support of the Treasury to the tune of £100000) had arranged free seats and standing room for 19000 people for each performance—this to allow all a chance to see the event. As Lunn said, ‘The government have come to this decision in spite of the sacrifice of revenue involved, because they realize that the Pageant will be not merely a magnificent spectacle, but also an educational instrument of the highest value; and they desire to give all classes of the community, and especially children, every reasonable facility for witnessing it.’51 During the pageant’s run, a film of the exhibition—‘An Hour of Wembley’, recorded by Pathé Frères, which almost certainly included the pageant—was shown around the country in cinemas.52 Later in the run of performances there was another official film, called ‘Wembley at Night’, which seemingly also included footage of the pageant—‘a complete camera record of the matinee performance of the pageant of Empire’ having been made.53 Oman also provided, with collaborators, a Historical Survey that detailed the basis of the episodes portrayed in the pageant. Originally this was going to be included in the programme, but (presumably due to its size) it was eventually sold separately for a price of 2s 6d. Oman’s aim, in his own words, was ‘to place the spectators of the Pageant of Empire in a position to understand the historical meaning of the various scenes which are displayed before them.’54 A big and beautifully illustrated souvenir volume accompanied the pageant, essentially acting as an anthology of art (Brangwyn, Macdonald Gill, and Spencer Pryse) and poetry (Wordsworth, Newbolt, Longfellow, and others).55 Despite these educational motives the organisers did have to, nonetheless, pay entertainment tax – as was the case for most pageants.56

For the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, who gave a Sunday Service in the Stadium, there was a serious message behind ‘the vast rallying of our Empire’s life and product’: understanding ‘from Whom and under Whom we are a knitted commonwealth of peoples’. He referenced in particular the growing spirit of nationalism in India, and emphasised that the future generation of imperialists must understand the motives, whether ‘wise or foolish’, of ‘those on whose labour you depend for the trade you look for’. ‘Christ’s questions to us’, he argued, were: ‘what are to be the conditions—physical, moral, educational, spiritual’—of these ruled peoples?57 The Handbook to the Empire Exhibition took a more mealy-mouthed or at least consciously optimistic note, when it said that ‘The Empire is at last on the way towards becoming self-supporting and independent.’ All that was needed now, it argued (or perhaps naively hoped) was ‘inter-Empire co-operation to knit together the various powerful communities of consumers and producers within the realm into one great patriotic fabric.’58 How far the pageant could achieve such lofty aims is, of course, debatable. The Pageant of Empire was, as Ryan outlined in a recent lecture, an entirely modern spectacle—in its style and production especially. In this sense, the pageant was part of a wider culture of spectacle and visual language. There was less of an attempt at realism, and more of a concentration on the sensory, participatory and collective experience of witnessing the pageant from within a great stadium that had been transformed to conceal its architecture. Rather than this only being an educational venture, she further argues, the pageant enabled a wide variety of responses—from unruly crowds, to courtship rituals among performers. Individual audience members thus could, feasibly, simply want to be part of something ‘big’, rather than the vessel for the imperial education of anxious politicians.59

Ascertaining the relative success of the pageant is difficult. It was reported that almost one million people saw a performance (as compared to over a million in 1911), but it almost certainly (like the Exhibition more generally, which lost £1.5m) made a terrific financial loss. This was partly due to bad luck with the weather. The opening performance, for example, was something of a disaster. Pouring rain and ‘a dismal sky’ meant that the picture was somewhat spoiled, and four episodes had to be totally abandoned.60 There was talk of extending the run of the pageant after audiences picked up for later performances, but there was more enthusiasm from the organisers than there was from the cast members. Given the capacity of the stadium, and the length of the season, the pageant clearly did not play to sell-out audiences at any point. But the press was, in the main, highly supportive, as were the organisers (at least in public; according to Ryan, the Foreign Office reported the pageant as being a failure).61 Lascelles was honoured at a dinner presided over by Prince Arthur of Connaught following the close of the pageant, with many performers appearing in costume. Connaught told the assembled guests how Lascelles was known ‘by the Iroquois name of “the man of infinite resource” and the Basuto name of “the father of the wonderful thought.”’62 But the pageant perhaps occupied a similar position to the Exhibition, which, as Geppert argues, was ‘deeply ambiguous’. It represented, at once, a great triumph in presenting the imperial theme on such a grand and dominant scale. But at the same time, it ‘simultaneously epitomized the symbolic beginning of the Empire’s end… reinventing the Empire, [yet] it simultaneously foreshadowed the Empire’s subsequent political disintegration.’63 Despite the difficulties of understanding the pageant in relation to the status of the Empire, its importance to the historical pageantry movement more generally is easier to appreciate. In terms of style, production, and size, it was a watershed in the continuing evolution of Parker’s blueprint, and a clear forebear of the huge urban pageants that came to be the most successful of the later interwar years. If it was not the biggest pageant of the century, it was certainly the biggest of the interwar period—and arguably of the postwar period too.


  1. ^ ‘The Pageant of Empire’, Observer, 24 August 1924, 11.
  2. ^ Donald R. Knight and Alan D. Sabey, The Lion Roars at Wembley: British Empire Exhibition 60th Anniversary (London, 1984), 13.
  3. ^ The Times, 15 July 1924, 8.
  4. ^ Jeffrey Richards, Imperialism and Music: Britain, 1876-1953 (Manchester, 2001), 202-204.
  5. ^ Ibid., 194.
  6. ^ ‘The Pageant of Empire’, Observer, 24 August 1924, 11.
  7. ^ British Empire Exhibition 1924: Handbook of General Information (London, 1924), 4; Knight and Sabey, The Lion Roars at Wembley, 2-3.
  8. ^ King George V quoted in Knight and Sabey, The Lion Roars at Wembley, 13.
  9. ^ The Daily Chronicle said that the Exhibition was meant to celebrate ‘the most wonderful experiment in government that the world has ever seen… a great commonwealth of free nations, free to live its own life in its own way, and yet strong as iron in its unity’: cited in David Simonelli, ‘“[L]aughing Nations of Happy Children who have Never Grown Up”: Race, the Concept of Commonwealth and the 1924-25 British Empire Exhibition’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 10 (2009). For the ‘progress’-oriented character of the exhibition, see Daniel Stephen, The Empire of Progress: West Africans, Indians, and Britons at the British Empire Exhibition 1924-25 (New York, 2013).
  10. ^ Alexander C.T. Geppert, Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (Basingstoke, 2010), 143.
  11. ^ ‘And those who live’: cited in Richards, Imperialism and Music, 194.
  12. ^ Times, 28 July 1923, 12.
  13. ^ ‘Tributes to Empire Pageant Master’, Manchester Guardian, 9 September 1924, 12.
  14. ^ The British Empire Exhibition (London, 1924), 10.
  15. ^ ‘Pageant of Empire’, Times, 18 July 1924, 12; ‘Empire Pageant at Wembley’, Times, 10 January 1924, 9.
  16. ^ Frank Benson and Henry Wilson, ‘Pageantry’ in
  17. ^ ‘Pageant of Empire’, Times, 14 January 1924, 7; ‘Empire Pageant’, Times, 12 June 1924, 7.
  18. ^ Richards, Imperialism and Music, 201.
  19. ^ Ibid., 204.
  20. ^ Ibid., 204-5.
  21. ^ ‘Evening Lights at Wembley’, Times, 10 July 1924, 16.
  22. ^ ‘Young scholars at Wembley’, Times, 17 July 1924, 12.
  23. ^ Louis Napoleon Parker, Several of My Lives (London, 1928), 297; Earl of Darnley (ed), Frank Lascelles, ‘Our Modern Orpheus (Oxford, 1932).
  24. ^ Charles Oman, The Pageant of Empire: An Historical Survey (London, 1924), prefatory note.
  25. ^ Ibid., 9.
  26. ^ Ibid., prefatory note.
  27. ^ Ibid., 22.
  28. ^ For the earliest depictions, see Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, and Paul Readman, ‘“And those who live, how shall I tell their fame?” Historical pageants, collective remembrance and the First World War, 1919-1939’, Historical Research (forthcoming 2016).
  29. ^ Oman, Pageant of Empire, 34-7.
  30. ^ Alfred Noyes and Edward Elgar, The Immortal Legions: Song (London, 1924).
  31. ^ Richards, Imperialism and Music, 205.
  32. ^ Lewis Foreman, ‘A Voice in the Desert: Elgar’s War Music’, in Lewis Foreman (ed), Oh, My Horses! Elgar and the Great War (Rickmansworth, 2001), 279-84.
  33. ^ Oman, Pageant of Empire, 29.
  34. ^ Ibid., 30.
  35. ^ Deborah Sugg Ryan, ‘The 1924 Pageant of Empire: Modernity, Spectacle and Reimagining Space’, unpublished paper: History in the Limelight: Performing the Past, c. 1850 to the Present (Conference at UCL Institute of Education, London, September 2016).
  36. ^ ‘Pageant of Empire’, Observer, 13 July 1924, 7; Ryan, ‘1924 Pageant of Empire’.
  37. ^ ‘Empire Pageant Opened’, Manchester Guardian, 26 July 1924, 9.
  38. ^ ‘The Empire Pageant Revisited’, Manchester Guardian, 18 August 1924, 11.
  39. ^ ‘The Empire Pageant Revisited’, Manchester Guardian, 18 August 1924, 11. Ryan made this point regarding Tree in ‘The 1924 Pageant of Empire’. Tree’s Henry VIII (1910) was the most specular of his productions, drawing a total audience of 375,000: Michael R. Booth, Victorian Spectacular Theatre 1850-1910 (London, 1981), 158.
  40. ^ ‘The Pageant of Empire’, Times, 18 August 1924, 8.
  41. ^ ‘Empire Pageant Opened’, Manchester Guardian, 26 July 1924, 9.
  42. ^ Ryan, ‘The 1924 Pageant of Empire’.
  43. ^ ‘The Wembley Pageant’, Observer, 20 July 1924, 12.
  44. ^ ‘The Wembley Pageant’, Manchester Guardian, 20 March 1924, 8.
  45. ^ ‘The Empire Pageant Revisited’, Manchester Guardian, 18 August 1924, 11.
  46. ^ ‘Pageant of Empire’, Times, 26 July 1924, 17.
  47. ^ J.H. Thomas, ‘Preface’ in The Pageant of Empire: Souvenir Volume (London, 1924).
  48. ^ ‘Pageant of Empire’, Times, 26 July 1924, 17.
  49. ^ British Empire Exhibition 1924: Handbook of General Information (London, 1924).
  50. ^ ‘Display Ad 1’, Manchester Guardian, 21 July 1924, 3.
  51. ^ ‘Houses of Commons’, Times, 15 July 1924, 8.
  52. ^ ‘Wembley By Night’, Manchester Guardian, 18 August 1924, 8.
  53. ^ ‘Art at Wembley’, Times, 16 August 1924, 8.
  54. ^ Oman, Pageant of Empire, prefatory note.
  55. ^ The Pageant of Empire: Souvenir Volume (London, 1924). The Times, however, complained that it did not contain enough colonial poets, such as Kendall, Lawson or Robert Service: ‘The Pageant of Empire’, Times, 1 August 1924, 18.
  56. ^ Ibid.
  57. ^ ‘Empire Pageant at Wembley’, Manchester Guardian, 26 May 1924, 7.
  58. ^ British Empire Exhibition 1924: Handbook of General Information (London, 1924), 3-4.
  59. ^ Ryan, ‘The 1924 Pageant of Empire’.
  60. ^ ‘Pageant of Empire’, Times, 26 July 1924, 17.
  61. ^ Ryan, ‘The 1924 Pageant of Empire’.
  62. ^ ‘Tributes to Empire Pageant Master’, Manchester Guardian, 9 September 1924, 12.
  63. ^ Geppert, Fleeting Cities, 143.

How to cite this entry

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