King’s Lynn Charter Pageant 1204-1954
Place: Red Mount Field (King's Lynn) (King's Lynn, Norfolk, England)
Number of performances: 5
22–26 June 1954 at 7pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Swinson, Cyril
- Deputy Pageant Master: Calvert, F.
- Hon. Organising Secretary: C.H. Senior
- Hon. Treasurer: R.C. Hankinson
- Assistant Hon. Treasurer: H.A. Ely
- Assembly Marshal: H. Shaw
- Musical Adviser: G. Collings
- Wardrobe Mistress: Mrs. V.E. Ash
- Master of Properties: H.S. Kenyon
- Assistant Master of Properties: R.D.
- Master of the Horse: Major R. Hoare
- Assistant Master of Horse: A. Atterbury
- Assistant to Deputy Pageant Master: Miss
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: His Worship the Mayor, B.E.
- President: Lord Wise of King’s Lynn
- Ald. T.W. Blomfield, Ald. C.A.
Freestone, Cllr A Bacon, Cllr H.B.
Fisher, Cllr J. Lewin, Cyril Swinson, F. Calvert, E.W. Gocher, A.A. Gray, R.C.
Hankinson, H.A. Ely, H.G. Ridler, C.H. Senior
- Chairman: B.E. Bremmer
- Chairman: Cllr. A. Bacon
- Chairman: T.A. Valentine
Stands and Grounds Committee
- Chairman: Cllr. H.B. Fisher
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Gray, A.A.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers1000
Object of any funds raised
The 750th Anniversary of the granting of the town charter
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Spoken by the spirit of the town, who talks about Ancient Britons, the Romans, and the Saxons.
Episode I. The Founding of St. Margaret’s Church – 1101
Two Jews discuss the pernicious nature of tithing and their unenviable position as outsiders within the community and its potential for violence. Athelstan, a dispossessed Saxon, arrives and is incensed by the Normans. Norman soldiers and Bishop de Lozinga enter and proclaims his desire to build a church. Normans give money for the church and then force one of the Jews to give money too. Athelstan complains that the church is built on the oppression of Saxons.
Episode II. The Granting of the Charter – 1204
Bishop John de Grey enters with a procession. He is anticipating the arrival of King John, who enters presently. John praises the town’s loyalty and expects the safe transport of the Royal Regalia and jewels. A herald reads out the town’s charter which the Bishop accepts. They exit through the joyous crowd.
Episode III. Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt – 1349
A crowd throngs around a Pardoner, selling relics. Presently the Pardoner dies; the crowd is revolted. The Death Cart enters with an old man declaring ‘bring out your dead’ (King’s Lynn Charter Pageant 1204-1954 (King’s Lynn, 1954), 9.) and the Pardoner is put on it. John Bowyer extols death as a release from ‘poverty and fear, injustice, and all ills that spring from out the times.’ He predicts the end of the old order and incites the townspeople against tax collectors before they are charged by the Bishop and soldiers.
Episode IV. The Lollard Martyr – 1401
Lollards arrive to witness the trial of William Sawtre for heresy. He recants and is pardoned. A Herald reads a proclamation against heresy. Sawtre is pelted by drunken sailors for his cowardice, and he continues to affirm Lollard doctrine.
Episode V. The Opening of the Chapel of the Mount – 1485
A Mayoral procession enters. A Commons council is begun and various orders of business are read out. There is some disagreement over particular items. An ecclesiastical and guild procession enters, followed by a procession from Walsingham. The Bishop opens the Chapel.
Episode VI. King Henry the VII Visits Bishop’s Lenne – 1498
A crowd gathers to witness Henry’s retinue. The Mayor and burgesses greet the King and pledge their allegiance. King Henry praises their loyalty. There is dancing and the Royal Procession retires.
Episode VII. Preparation for the Armada – 1588
There is a fayre with the Clerk collecting dues for piccage and stallage. The Mayor impounds cloth for being of an unfair length. A witch steals fruit. A party complains about her and is cursed and predicts the wreck of four-fifths of the fleet to sail against the Armada. She is arrested. A messenger declares that the Spanish ships have been sighted, and the Mayor orders the beacon be lit. Captains and crews are mustered as the crowd cheers and wives and children weep.
Episode VIII. A Loyal Borough – 1643
There is talk of war and that Oliver Cromwell’s messenger has been refused admission to the town. Groups of Roundhead and Cavalier sympathizers almost come to blows. There are complaints about the Ship Tax. Captain Slaney and others prepare fortifications. Cromwell’s messenger demands to know who the town supports. The Mayor has the messenger arrested and sent to Wisbech castle. The Mayor asks the crowd who they support and there is universal support for the crown. A Royal standard is unfurled among jubilation, dancing and singing, with a few unhappy. Roundhead troops fire on the town and there is dismay. The town prepares for the long siege.
Episode IX. Eighteenth Century Lynn – 1771
A Mayor’s procession enters and talks with various citizens of the town, including the Burneys and Vancouvers. George Vancouver announces that he will sail with Captain Cook. A fortune teller predicts his journeys and also predicts Fanny Burney’s famous career as a writer. Fanny confesses she is secretly writing ‘Evelina’. There is a commotion and drunken merriment.
Episode X. The Opening of the Docks – 1869
Lord Stanley and Mr Jarvis discuss the construction of the docks whilst waiting for the delayed arrival of the Royal Party by the train. Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra enter and are greeted. The Prince hopes that the railway and docks will bring renewed prosperity to the town. The dock is formally opened to much cheering and fireworks.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Gray, John de (d. 1214) administrator
and bishop of Norwich [also known as Grey, John de]
- Sawtre [Sawtrey], William (d. 1401) Lollard
- John (1167–1216) king of England, and
lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England
and lord of Ireland
- Elizabeth [Elizabeth of York]
(1466–1503) queen of England, consort of Henry VII
- Vere, John de, thirteenth earl of Oxford
- Pole, Edmund de la, eighth earl of
Suffolk (1472?–1513) nobleman and claimant to the English throne
- Slanning, Sir Nicholas (1606–1643) royalist
army officer [also known as Slaney, Sir Nicholas]
- Percy, Henry Algernon, fifth earl of
Northumberland (1478–1527) magnate
- Vancouver, George (1757–1798) naval
officer and hydrographer
- Burney [married name D'Arblay], Frances
[Fanny] (1752–1840) writer
- Stanley, Edward Henry, fifteenth earl of
Derby (1826–1893) politician and diarist
- Edward VII (1841–1910) king of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the British dominions beyond
the seas, and emperor of India
- Alexandra [Princess Alexandra of
Denmark] (1844–1925) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Ireland, and the British dominions beyond the seas, and empress of India,
consort of Edward VI
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Thetford & Watton Times and People's Weekly Journal
Book of words
- None known
Other primary published materials
- Howe, R.G., ed. King’s Lynn Charter Pageant 1204-1954. King’s Lynn, 1954.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Programme in British Library
- ‘King’s Lynn Charter Pageant’, 1954 Silent Colour Film, East Anglia Film Archive, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/841
Sources used in preparation of pageant
King’s Lynn had attempted, and failed, to hold a pageant in 1908 due to general lack of interest. This prompted Holcombe Ingelby to produce and privately print Shade of a Pageant: King’s Lynn (1908), which detailed what would have taken place had the pageant gone ahead. The town finally got around to producing a pageant in 1954. The pageant master was Cyril Swinson, who was responsible for a number of pageants after the Second World War, including St Albans (1948), Wisbech (1949), Hitchin (1951), Rochester (1951), and Dunstable (1963).1 The pageant, of which there is a colour film available,2 was fiercely monarchist in its ideological complexion; thus the town’s Royalist stance during the Civil War, for example, was given fairly predictable treatment. In the light of the recent coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and the enthusiasm surrounding that event, the monarchism of the performance might be expected. Nonetheless, King’s Lynn’s enthusiasm for royalty extended to a positive portrayal of King John (he had granted the town its Charter in 1204).3 Several weeks after the pageant, on July 26, the Queen Mother was granted the freedom of the borough: an act which stressed the continued loyalty of a somewhat out-of-the-way town which remained deeply proud of its history.4
The President of the Pageant, Lord Wise of King’s Lynn, remarked in the souvenir programme that
This Charter Week of Pageantry is a great occasion for King’s Lynn. We have been able to bring together our townsfolk and neighbours to enact scenes which long ago were significant in the lives of those who in their times dwelt within our boundaries. These have been given due place as such in our Chronicles preserved throughout the ages. Our predecessors laid the foundations of a goodly town, helped to make our history and left for us a heritage worthy of our care and preservation.5
Overall, the King’s Lynn pageant seems to have been a success, at least as a spectacle (though details of its financial performance are lacking). There was one minor mishap: it seems that a medieval cannon, one of two that had previously flanked the entrance of Gaywood Hall drive, went missing during the pageant.6
The Times, 12 January 1963, 12.
‘King’s Lynn Charter Pageant’, 1954 Silent Colour Film, East Anglia Film Archive, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/841
Alexander Hutton, ‘Remembering Bad King John’, Talking Humanities, accessed 24 October 2016, https://talkinghumanities.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2016/09/06/remembering-bad-king-john/
‘History of King’s Lynn Town Hall’, King’s Lynn Town Hall, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.kingslynntownhall.com/townhall/history/
King’s Lynn Charter Pageant 1204-1954 (King’s Lynn, 1954), unpaginated.
Norfolk Heritage Explorer, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/record-details?MNF15687-Reused-post-medieval-cannon-at-entrance-to-Gaywood-Hall-drive&Index=14792&RecordCount=56734&SessionID=15a1549b-24cd-4633-901d-0eb5aa71a224
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘King’s Lynn Charter Pageant 1204-1954’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1384/