Preston Parish Church: A Pageant
The pageant was held to celebrate the centenary of the rebuilding of the church of St John's in Preston. With grateful thanks to Paul Morgan for additional information.
Place: St John's Parish Church (Preston) (Preston, Lancashire, England)
Number of performances: 1
21 June 1955, at 7.30pm.
The pageant was held indoors. Paul Morgan (one of the participants) recalls a procession along Fishergate to the Methodist Church in Lune Street, where a rehearsal seems to have been held some time in advance of the performance proper. If so, this is an interesting example of interdenominational collaboration.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Morgan, Frank Charles
The Rev. Frank Charles Morgan was curate at the time. He was the lead organiser. Mrs Dorothy Gorton was in charge of the costumes, many (all?) of which seem to have been made by local women, and Mrs Dorothy Smith was responsible for make-up.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Morgan, Frank Charles
The script was written by the curate, the Rev. Frank Charles Morgan, who masterminded the whole affair. The vicar, the Rev. W.G. Fallows, had published a history of the church in 1955: it seems likely therefore, that he also had a hand in providing some of the materials on which the pageant was based.1
Names of composers
- Elvey, George Job
- Sullivan, Arthur
The religious anthem 'I Was Glad When They said Unto Me' based on the words of Psalm 122 and composed by George Job Elvey was sung by the choir in the introductory part of the pageant, following delivery of the prologue.2 The hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers' with lyrics by Arthur S. Sullivan was sung at the close of the pageant.
Numbers of performers180
The number of performers given is a rough estimate. Most were children. Press cuttings kept by the Rev. Frank Morgan (in the possession of his son Paul) suggest that more than 150 children were involved.
Object of any funds raised
This pageant was an anniversary celebration; any funds raised almost certainly went towards the work of the parish and upkeep of the church building.
Linked occasionCentenary of the rebuilding of St John's Church in Preston.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Information about the audience has not been recovered.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
It is possible that any funds raised through this event were obtained by collection rather than ticket sales. Evidence that it was ticketed has not been recovered.
It is very likely that special church services were held but no information about these has been recovered.
The hymn, 'Thy Hand O God Has Guided' was sung by the choir.
Prologue and Prayers
This was delivered by the church's vicar; no further details are provided in the programme.
This involved singing by the choir of the anthem 'I was Glad When They Said Unto Me'.4
Scene 1: 927 AD
Taking part in this scene are 'The King's Party' which includes the characters of King Athelstan, two 'lords', two 'warriors'' and a Page; 'The Bishop's Party' which includes the Bishop of York, a cross-bearer and two chaplains, and a party of 'Northmen' which includes the 'Chieftain' and three 'warriors'. The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'Athelstan, King of Northumbria, having purchased the region of Amounderness from the "Northmen," granted it to the Cathedral of St. Peter, York. 'All of the actors involved were male. 5
Scene 2: 1070 AD
Taking part in this scene is 'The Count's Party' which includes the characters of Roger de Poitou, a herald, a knight, and three men-at-arms, and an 'Abbot's Party', which includes the Abbot of Sees and two monks. The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'Count Roger of Poitou, first Lord of the Honour of Lancaster, granted the land around Preston to the Abbot of Sees, for the endowment of an independent priory at Lancaster.' A female actor played the part of Roger; all other performers were male.
Scene 3: 1277 AD
Taking part in this scene is a 'Farewell Party', which includes Walter de Merton, a chaplain, two serving-men, two noblemen, three ladies and four children. The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'Walter de Merton, Rector of Preston, Bishop of Rochester, while crossing the Medway at the beginning of a journey, fell from his horse and was drowned.' Aside from the chaplain and two of the children, all of the actors were female including those who played Walter and the three noblemen.
Scene 4: 1322 AD
A party of twenty 'Homeless Townsfolk' perform in this episode. The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'A Strong force of Scottish invaders under Bruce and the Earl of Moray, burnt Preston to the ground, leaving many homeless and without means of support.' The players were made up of male and female actors in equal proportion.6
Scene 5: 1395 AD
This scene includes the characters of John Robinson and John Atkinson, a priest, and ten 'Angry Townspeople'. The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'John Atkinson of Balderstone, having killed Thomas Banastre of Preston, fled to the Parish Church for sanctuary.' The players in the main roles were all male and the townspeople consisted of eight female players and two male.7
Scene 6: 1572 AD
Included in this scene are the characters of William Wall and Nicholas Daniel, and six 'Complaining Burgesses'. The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'Nicholas Daniel, Vicar of Preston from 1572, was much hindered in his ministry by the curate, William Wall against whom there were many complaints about his openly evil life.' Female actors played four of the burgesses; the remainder of the cast were male.
Scene 7: 1621 AD
The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'Sir Richard de Hoghton, Patron of the Living of Preston, presents James Martin as Vicar.' Other characters include the Bishop, the Archdeacon and two churchwardens. All players in the episode were male.
Scene 8: c1650
This episode includes the characters of the Mayor, four Aldermen and nine 'Ladies'. It depicts the attendance of these characters at 'Divine Service in the Parish Church' on Sunday morning and afternoon 'sitting in the "pewes" appropriated for them'. Male actors played the Mayor and Aldermen; the ladies were all played by female actors.
Scene 9: 1704 AD
Scholars from the 'Blue Coat School' are depicted alongside a 'Catechist' in this episode. Four girls and twelve boys played the children.
Scene 10: 1715 AD
This episode includes the character of Samuel Peploe alongside Jacobite troops (played by 15 female actors). The programme gives the following description of the drama: 'When Samuel Peploe was Vicar of Preston, Jacobite troops occupied the town, The Vicar's life was threatened because he continued to read the State Prayers at Divine Service.'
Scene 11: 1715 AD
This episode continues the tale of the Jacobites in Preston and was meant to represent events a few days after those depicted in scene 10 when the 'Rebel (Pretender's) Troops were defeated and the only building large enough to accommodate the numerous prisoners taken was the Church.' The Jacobite troops who appear in scene 10 are shown as prisoners held by four 'Loyal Soldiers'. The entire cast was made up of female players.8
Scene 12: 1820 AD
This episode contains the following characters: the 'Mayor-Elect', his wife, the 'Retiring Mayor', his wife, the town clerk, a 'Recorder', four councillors, two halberdiers, two mace-bearers, the 'Town Banner' (presumably a carrying this object) and six 'Ladies'. The scene depicts the investment of the 'newly-elected Mayor' within the 'Chancel of the Parish Church'. Twenty-one players took part, roughly evenly divided between male and female performers.
Scene 13: 1853 AD
Four male players performed as builders in this scene which commemorates the rebuilding of the church in 1853. No further details are provided in the programme.
Scene 15: Finale
The programme gives the following brief details regarding the Finale: 'all the characters are recalled, while representatives of many of the parishes formed out of the ancient Parish of Preston pay tribute to the Mother Church.'
The Vicar delivered a blessing; no further details recovered about the content.
The hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers' was sung.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Æthelstan [Athelstan] (893/4–939) king of England
- Merton, Walter of (c.1205–1277) administrator, bishop of Rochester, and founder of Merton College, Oxford
- Peploe, Samuel (bap. 1667, d. 1752) bishop of Chester and religious controversialist
Musical accompaniment was live and there was a choir; an organ was also likely involved although no note of this has been recovered. Details of music as follows:
- Hymn: 'Thy Hand O God Has Guided' [words by Edward Hayes Plumptre] (Introduction).9
- Hymn: 'Onward Christian Soldiers' [words by Arthur S. Sullivan, music by Sabine Bearing-Gould] (close of pageant).10
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
A book of words was not produced; press coverage was not available to consult but it is likely that this event is covered briefly in the Lancashire Evening Post.
Other primary published materials
- Preston Parish Church: A Pageant, Depicting Scenes from the History of the Ancient Parish Church. Preston, 1955.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Preston Harris Library and Lancashire Archives and Record Office, Preston, each hold one copy of the programme, ref: LJ2 Preston/Pre
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Fallows, W.G.. A History of St John's Preston Parish Church. Preston, 1955. Available online at http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/prestonian/st_johns_history.htm accessed 17 August 2016.
- Fallows’s History provides the following citations to published and unpublished research:
- Tom Smith, The Victoria County History, Records of Preston Parish Church. 11
- Clemesha, A History of Preston.12
- 'Notes on the rebuilding of the Church compiled by Mr. Robert Smirk'.
- 'An article on the Parish Church Registers written by Mr. R Sharpe-France, M.A., F.S.A., and Archivist of the Lancashire County Records Office' (reproduced within the text).
- 'Valuable notes on the Church Bells compiled by Mr. Cyril Crossthwaite' (printed as an Appendix to the text).
Although it is not clearly indicated in the programme, it is likely this history, which was published contemporaneously with the pageant, provided the basis for the drama enacted.
In 1955, the vicar of St John's parish church in Preston stated that:
When William the Conqueror's Commissioners came to survey the region of Amounderness there can be no reasonable doubt that they found a Church in Preston, and it is likely to have been on the site which our Parish Church now occupies. Our history therefore goes back beyond the Conquest to Saxon times and stretches over a thousand years.13
However, the anniversary being celebrated in 1955 was of a shorter duration—a mere hundred years—since the church had been rebuilt at the height of mid-Victorian anxieties over religious observance. Nevertheless, the pageant staged in the church to celebrate this centenary rejoiced in the antiquity of St John's and depicted history stretching back to before the arrival of the Normans. The pageant was organised by the curate at the time, the Rev. Frank Charles Morgan, who had previously been involved in amateur dramatics in his native Tyneside. Morgan seems to have acted as pageant master and scriptwriter combined, as well as playing the part of narrator to introduce each episode.
Most of the performers in the pageant were children, and the pageant was preceded by a procession from the local Church of England parish school to the parish church, where the pageant proper took place. Over fifteen scenes, the past from the time of Athelstan in the tenth century through to the rebuilding of the church in nineteenth century, was recalled. In between, much of the history unfolded was particular to the parish and involved its clergy. The larger backdrop was not ignored: the Scottish Wars of Independence get a mention in episode in scene 4, and the troublesome Scots turn up again in scenes 10 and 11 with the arrival of the Jacobites in 1715. For the most part, however, this was drama based on parochial history. It is difficult to know how far religious reform was dealt with, as programme notes are brief. However, it is clear that the civic identify of Preston was reflected in the pageant, which featured many appearances by mayors, aldermen, burgesses and councillors. The inclusion of representatives of local governance in many scenes highlights the close relationship that long existed between town and parish.
The pageant probably did not have a very large cast: each episode had a small group of twenty or fewer main players made up of young people and children. Judging from photographs supplied by Paul Morgan, son of the pageant organiser, it seems that children did play a prominent part in the performance: press reports suggest more than 150 were involved. Paul was himself one of the children. He featured in Scene 3, set in 1277, which showed noblemen, women and children bidding farewell to the departing Rector. Paul remembers that his mother Mona 'like other parents, had contrived costumes, and had made me a soft ball for me to throw & catch. I had to call out a couple of words, and was rather insulted to be told by a helper, that if I couldn't manage the Hebrew, I could say "ice cream", as that would sound like the real phrase' required. (Quite why his line was in Hebrew rather than Norman French remains a mystery!)
As Paul's testimony suggests, many (perhaps all?) of the children involved would have been associated with Sunday Schools or the plethora of other youth groups that the Church of England was keen on promoting in the post war period. And in the finale, this band of perhaps 150 players was joined by representatives from many other Church of England parishes in Preston who looked to St John's as the 'Mother Church' of the town. In this way, the central position that St John's had played historically was underlined. While it is unclear if there was dialogue, there was certainly voiceover narration. Both the introduction and close of the pageant included religious music, but sadly, we have no further information about musical accompaniment to the scenes. It does seem unlikely however, that music was absent from these given the presence of an organ and a choir.
In the post war years, St John's was still one of a great many Church of England parishes in Preston but its antiquity and its place in the centre of the city meant that it was well known as the parish church. It is therefore probable that this event obtained a respectable audience from among its own congregation and those of other local parishes at its single performance. Unfortunately, we have little information about the pageant's reception, but it does seem that local press coverage was enthusiastic. A press cutting preserved by Frank Morgan (in the possession of his son Paul) describes the performance in very positive terms, noting that the audience was a large one. In Lancashire however, pageants were regularly part of church celebrations and commemorations, and were very much a part of the cultural life of individual parishes, so it is unlikely the congregants of St John's would have been anything less than enthusiastic about this celebration of their church's long history.
- See information about the history of the church and reproduction of a pamphlet called A History of St John's Preston Parish Church (Preston, 1955) written by the vicar W. G. Fallows at: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/prestonian/st_johns_history.htm accessed 16 August 2016.
- Preston Parish Church: A Pageant, Depicting Scenes from the History of the Ancient Parish Church (no publication details), 3.
- Ibid., 4.
- For information about the introductory parts of the pageant see ibid., 3.
- For information about scenes 1 to 3 of the pageant see ibid., 4.
- Ibid., 5.
- For information about scenes 4 to 10 of the pageant see ibid.
- For information about scenes 11 to 14 of the pageant see Preston Parish Church: A Pageant, Depicting Scenes from the History of the Ancient Parish Church (Preston, 1955), 6.
- For information about scenes 4 to 10 of the pageant see ibid., 3.
- For information about scenes 4 to 10 of the pageant see ibid., 7.
- Tom C. Smith, Records of the Parish Church of Preston in Amounderness (originally published 1892).
- Henry Wordsworth Clemesha, A History of Preston in Amounderness (Preston, 1912).
- See W. G. Fallows, A History of St John's Preston Parish Church (Preston, 1955) accessed online 17 August 2016 at: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/prestonian/st_johns_history.htm Amounderness is the name given to one of the six historic divisions of Lancashire and dates back to Norman times.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Preston Parish Church: A Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1316/