The Pageant of Wisbech

Pageant type

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Place: Sibalds Holme Park (Wisbech) (Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England)

Year: 1949

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


22 and 23 June 1949, at 3 and 7pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Swinson, Cyril
  • Deputy Pageant Master: Borrill, D.J.
  • Properties: D. Coales, Rev. Harrison, W.P. Wright
  • Costumes: Mrs. D. Shuker, Mrs C. Osborne
  • Music Librarian: Miss L. Kington
  • Horses: A.A. Rose
  • Mistress of the Dance: Miss Wendy Rees, MRAD, SGDA, AISTD, OB, SB, CBB, GTB, GDB

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee

  • The Mayor, Councillor Mrs. B.T. Jeffrey
  • A.O. Chesters
  • Miss D.E. Bubbers
  • Miss A. Pletts
  • R.A. Ward

Pageant Committee

  • Chairman: S.A. Whitteridge

Finance Committee

  • Chairman: The Mayor

Business Management Committee

  • Chairman: R.A. Ward and C.H. Farrow

Box Office

  • Chairman: L.H. Smith


  • Chairman: Cyril McClement


  • Chairman: D. Barr

Stands and Grounds

  • Chairman: J.E. Bridger


  • Chairman: D.A.H. Coates


  • Chairman: S.D. Shawl

Stewards and Seating

  • Chairman: J.B.D. Eddy

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

Swinson, Cyril

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

The Quatercentenary of the granting of Wisbech Town Charter

Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

21s–2s 6d.

Associated events


Pageant outline

Key historical figures mentioned

  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Morton, John (d. 1500) administrator and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India

Musical production

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Swinson, Cyril. The pageant of Wisbech [Souvenir Programme]. Wisbech, 1949.

References in secondary literature

  • Freeman Mark. ‘“Splendid display; pompous spectacle”: historical pageants in twentieth-century Britain’. Social History, 38 (2013) at 439.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Image of the Poster available at ‘Poster for the Wisbech Pageant of 1949, including map of area’, Cambridgeshire Community Archive Network, accessed 9 August 2016,
  • Copy of Programme in Cambridgeshire Local Studies Collection, Cambridge, Reference c.76

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Conybeare, E. History of Cambridgeshire.
  • Conybeare, E.. Highways and Byways of Cambridge and Ely.
  • Darby, H.C. The Medieval Fenland.
  • Gardiner, F.J. History of Wisbech and Neighbourhood during the last Fifty Years. London, 1898.
  • Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire.
  • Walker, Neil and Thomas Craddock. The History of Wisbech and the Fens. Wisbech, 1849.
  • Watson. William. Historical Account of the Town of Wisbech. Wisbech, 1927.


Wisbech had previously held a pageant in 1929 which was written by the famous historian Arthur Bryant. The pageant was witnessed by over 25000 people and made £500 profit. The Wisbech Pageant of 1949 was held on a similarly grand scale. Its Pageant Master and author Cyril Swinson had previously been involved in the St Albans Pageant (1948) and went on to produce a number of pageants in the early 1950s including Hitchin (1951), Rochester (1951) and the King’s Lynn Charter Pageant (1954).1 Swinson wrote in the Programme that:

In studying the history of Wisbech, the fact has impressed me most is the way in which the town has maintained its existence through the years. Since before the Conquest it has struggled to survive: floods more than once have washed away the town, famine and plague have decimated the population, but the will to survive has persisted. Under the guidance of the Guild of Holy Trinity, the Ten Men of the Body Corporate, and the Corporation as it is now constituted, a community has grown, which is at once strong, independent and adaptable. This is the story I have tried to tell in the Pageant.2

Swinson elaborated on the approach he took to writing the pageant and the problems that he faced in the annual report for the Wisbech Society:

When I was asked to write and produce the Charter Pageant I knew that it had been difficult to find anyone willing to undertake either or both of these tasks. So far as the writing is concerned this is indeed understandable. A pageant should have spectacle, colour and crowds of people, and most important of all, dramatic incidents. The history of Wisbech reveals few episodes in which battles have been fought in her streets, or monarchs have arrived with vast retinues to be entertained at the town’s expense, and few famous people have made history here. There has, indeed, been a battle lasting centuries, against the sea and waterways, but it is not easy to show this in dramatic form, all of which makes the writing of a Pageant of Wisbech difficult, if the writer is to succeed in his task.3

Swinson was attesting to the difficulties of staging a pageant and also the growing difficulties in recruiting Pageant Masters in an era of severely reduced pageant profits. Swinson had done his first Pageant at St Albans the previous year for free, only claiming modest personal expenses.4 The Pageant featured scenes involving the arrival of King John, who visited Wisbech shortly before his death in 1216 (on the journey where he lost the Royal Treasure in the Wash), the life of the Bishop of Ely, John Morton, who rebelled against Richard III and became Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VII, and a visit of Princess Victoria to the town.

There is unfortunately little information available about the pageant itself, though it is unlikely to have been as successful as its predecessor.


  1. ^ Mark Freeman, ‘”Splendid display; pompous spectacle”: historical pageants in twentieth-century Britain’, Social History, 38 (2013), 439.
  2. ^ Cyril Swinson, The pageant of Wisbech [Souvenir Programme] (Wisbech, 1949), 7.
  3. ^ Cyril Swinson, ‘The Pageant of Wisbech’, Wisbech Society : 10th annual report (1949), 16.
  4. ^ Freeman, ‘“Splendid Display”’, 439.

How to cite this entry

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