The Pageant of the Silver Penny
<p>Staged by local Girl Guides.Entry researched and written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow.</p>
Place: Ampthill Park (Ampthill) (Ampthill, Bedfordshire, England)
Number of performances: 1
7 June 1965
Name of pageant master and other named staff
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 1400
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
1955 Bedfordshire International Camp
The Narrator introduces the Pageant of the Silver Penny, with hope that the Girl Guides of Bedfordshire will bring to the audience scenes of Guiding in the county alongside the historical background of these places and a retelling of ‘stirring’ events and legends of Bedford’s history. Twenty Guides enter the scene bearing large replicas of the county emblem. The Narrator explains the adoption of the Silver Penny by the Bedfordshire Girl Guides in 1921—900 years after its institution, and in doing so, introduces the first episode.
A group of disorderly soldiers enter. A conversation occurs between four of the soldiers about expecting payment in silver pennies from Edward the Elder for holding against the Danes. Thane Oswy and the King’s Treasurer enter with men carrying a heavy chest. The Treasurer opens the chest and Oswy gives a short speech, as the King arrives with his soldiers. The King’s sister Ethelfleda arrives and is greeted more warmly than the King. She outlines her plans for resisting the Danes. The soldiers march out to continue their campaign.
The narrator links the story of Edward and Ethelfleda by relating the call to battle with the call to service that the Guides respond to. A procession enters and they continually move, aiming to create an atmosphere of ‘controlled confusion’. The narrator elaborates on the duties of the Rangers, Cadets and Guides in relation to the Church, Creche, Refuges, the Elderly and the sick.
Scene 1: Watling Street, Dunstable. Early 12th century.
Narrator sets the scene, where vicious robbers lurk in the woods and harry anyone using the road, causing King Henry to issue a Royal Proclamation to clear the woods. A scene of woodsmen vigorously chopping down trees plays out to a musical accompaniment. King Henry and his court appear with a crowd looking up at the King. The Narrator tells of Henry building a house to live among his subjects. As further reassurance, he declares that the Royal Ring shall be fixed in the place as a reminder that no property is to be stolen, and whoever shall take the ring will be put to death. The Narrator continues, setting the next scene, with talk of the villagers sleeping peacefully knowing of their security. A robber enters and steals the King’s ring. The alarm is sounded, and the sheriff alerts the King. The villagers find the robber and he asks for mercy but the sheriff orders him to be taken away.
Scene 2: 1950
The Narrator now turns to the modern generation, and a conference held in Oxford in 1950 for Guiders the world over. He introduces the Colour Party who carries the Guide World Flag symbolising this international meeting. Scrolls of friendship are seen to be dispersed across the country and carried county to county—passing from Bedford to Luton and received at the Town Hall by the mayors, who join the Colour Party procession.
Scene 1: Pilgrim’s Progress
John Bunyan enters to an introduction by the Narrator, along with Vanity Fair in one big crowd. Bunyan, on a raised level, reads from his writing about the hubbub of the fair, and those who attend it, including a jester running across the rostrum, following by laughing and screaming children; a wizard carrying a crystal ball; two actors dressed as red Devils either dancing or fencing, and pedlars. Pilgrim and Faithful enter the scene. They refuse to put money in the Devil’s box or pay attention to the wizard, and both performers retire in fury. Pilgrim and Faithful are arrested for being enemies to and disturbers of trade. Faithful’s objections get him condemned to death but Bunyan states that Faithful made it to the ‘celestial gates’.
All the Vanity Fair characters leave but Bunyan remains to remind the audience that his influence outlived him. His works were a witness to his faith in God, and the modern generation bear their witness also. The audience is reminded that the first promise of the Girl Guides is to ‘do her best to do her duty to God and the Queen’.
Ickwell, Bedfordshire. Children dance around a maypole while the Narrator expostulates on the changing fortunes of dance, from Puritan rule, when dancing was forbidden due to its pagan origin, to the Restoration of the monarchy, when it was revived. The Guides enter in their modern uniforms to dance around the maypole.
Scene 1: tableau
The most famous people from Bedfordshire’s past enter in a procession. These included Margaret Beaufort, clockmaker Thomas Tompion and prison reformer John Howard with his prisoners. Each mounts the stage in turn for the Narrator to deliver a short biography of each figure.
With narration, the Guides depict some of the proficiency badges which can be won in the Guide Movement. They show the Gardener’s Badge, Agility Badge, Sick Nurse, Cook and Dairymaid Badges, Laundress, First Aid and Camper’s Badges. The Handicapped Guides of the 1st Bedfordshire Post Company show the Birdwatcher's Badge.
Catherine of Aragon enters with her household. At the manor of Ampthill in 1533, Catherine prepares to make her final stand against Henry VIII’s plot to take the power of the Church into his own hands. Mountjoy enters carrying a document and hands it to Catherine. It is a summons from Archbishop Cranmer, ordering her to court so he might asses the validity of her marriage. She refuses to attend, and insists on remaining Henry’s wife and England’s Queen. Catherine waits in a visibly busy household to hear from Mountjoy about Cranmer’s decision regarding her marriage. Cranmer has declared her marriage null and void. Catherine gathers her court and exits with dignity.
The Narrator brings the audience from 1533 to 1933 in the same location, and Scouts and Guides form a Guard of Honour in the centre of the arena. The Narrator tells the audience of a gathering in Ampthill for a great Jamborally, which included a visit from the Founder of the Movement and his wife, the World Chief Guide and was dedicated by the Bishop of St. Albans. Also, in 1955 where Bedfordshire International Camp took place with a procession representing each country which took part entering. To end, the World Chief Guide and the County Commissioner are invited to the rostrum to give speeches.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Edward [called Edward the Elder] (870s?–924) king of the Anglo-Saxons
- Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
- Henry I (1068/9–1135) king of England and lord of Normandy
- Bunyan, John (bap. 1628, d. 1688) author
- Beaufort, Margaret [known as Lady Margaret Beaufort], countess of Richmond and Derby (1443–1509) royal matriarch
- Tompion, Thomas (bap. 1639, d. 1713) horologist and maker of scientific instruments
- Howard, John (1726?–1790) philanthropist
- Blount, William, fourth Baron Mountjoy (c.1478–1534) courtier and literary patron
- Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Photo album – X698/11/19
- Script – X698/11/16
- Bedfordshire Archives and Records.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Although it was performed only once, the Pageant of the Silver Penny was a week-long affair, based in the Bedfordshire countryside. An article by Dorothy Clarke in The Guider documented the festival atmosphere at Ampthill Park, where as early as June 2nd the marquee and tents were beginning to be erected. As cars, lorries and buses began to arrive, a sense of excitement was brewing. Very quickly, four camps (Whipsnade Park, Someries, Great Ouse and Twin Woods) were established, with a fifth becoming a place for coffee and conversation.
Sunday brought a different atmosphere. The day began with Holy Communion in three marquees—a Methodist service, Church of England service and a well-attended Roman Catholic Mass. That afternoon, a Guide service was given in the natural amphitheatre, and a Trainer from C.H.Q. led the campfire that night.
According to Dorothy Clarke, Monday was different again, ‘the camp seemed to hold its breath with excitement’. The performers fluttered around the site like butterflies in their coloured bows to mark their Division and the performers, dressed as Puritans, the court of Catherine of Aragon, a pantomime cow and medieval royalty mingled among the crowd. At midday, the Chief Guide arrived, waving regally from an open top Land Rover to loud cheers. The performers took their place in a long procession and, along with a fanfare of trumpets, the narrator’s voice, and music, marked the beginning of the Pageant.
The Pageant ran for eighty minutes, where episodes in Bedfordshire’s history were cleverly intertwined with the virtues of the Girl Guides. Characters which remain prominent in the history of Bedfordshire, such as John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress, and Catherine of Aragon resisting her impending divorce, taught Guiding lessons. The Narrator brought together these scenes with practical depictions of modern Guiding, such as explanations of the proficiency badges which could be won in the Guiding movement.
After the Cadets, Rangers and Guides mimed and danced, the World Chief Guide was announced and took the state to raucous applause. The Chief Guide then gave a speech thanking the people of Bedfordshire for their commitment and contribution to the Guiding movement.
By Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowd
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of the Silver Penny’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1307/