The Acts of Saint Richard

Pageant type

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Performances

Place: Hove Greyhound Stadium (Hove) (Hove, Sussex, England)

Year: 1953

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 1

Notes

12 June 1953

[The performance on 12 June was held in the afternoon; there had been an earlier performance of the Pageant outside Chichester Cathedral on 10 June 1953.]

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director [Pageant Master]: Marwood, Geoffrey
  • Stage Manager: Peter Sykes
  • Choir Master: A. Barnard
  • Announcer: Frank Phillips

Names of executive committee or equivalent

n/a

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

  • Werge-Oram, E.

Names of composers

n/a

Numbers of performers

250

Financial information

A guarantee of £300 was provided

Object of any funds raised

n/a

Linked occasion

700th Anniversary of the death of St. Richard and the Coronation of Elizabeth II

Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 10000

Notes

[Source for audience figure: Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 20 June 1953, 10]

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

n/a

Associated events

The Pageant was preceded by a procession of clergy, bishops and Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury

Pageant outline

Seventh Century Scene

St Dunstan at Mayfield, 10th Century

William I at Battle, 1066

Building of Chichester Cathedral by Ralph Luffa and Richard Coeur de Lion

Contrasting Religious Orders of 13th and 20th Centuries

Elizabeth I at Rye

Nineteenth Century Scene

Modern Scene

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Dunstan [St Dunstan] (d. 988) archbishop of Canterbury
  • William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
  • Ralph [called Ralph Luffa] (d. 1123) bishop of Chichester
  • 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
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland

Musical production

Massed choir of 250 directed by A. Barnard

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Portsmouth Evening News
Sussex Agricultural Express
Church Times
Hastings and St Leonards Observer

Book of words

n/a

Other primary published materials

n/a

References in secondary literature

  • Steggle, Matthew. Digital Humanities and the Lost Drama of Early Modern England: Ten Case Studies. Abingdon, 2015, 55.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

n/a

Sources used in preparation of pageant

n/a

Summary

The narrative of religious history in twentieth-century Britain has fixated on the roles of secularization and declining church attendance, often at the risk of all else.1 Callum Brown and S.J.D. Green have both argued, however, that the 1950s was marked by a prevailing conservative sentiment and a slowing of secularization in an era of limited religious revival.2 Whilst most famously this was characterized by Billy Graham’s evangelical public rallies in London and other British cities during 1954, there were also instances of Anglican mass public worship, of which the ‘Acts of Saint Richard’ pageant was a major instance.

The Pageant itself was a revival of a pageant held in Chichester Cathedral in 1933,3 many of whose scenes also featured in the notable Pageant of Sussex Saints (1935), held at the same venue and written by E. Werge Oram. The Acts of St Richard was performed twice, with the main performance in Hove being preceded by a smaller performance on 10 June, staged at Chichester Cathedral to celebrate the dedication of a new window.4

Plans for the celebration of the seven hundredth anniversary of Saint Richard had first been mooted in October 1952, with Portsmouth Council proposing to act as a guarantor. There were some criticisms of this municipal support, namely from Councillor S.H.J. Roth, who complained of a ‘dangerous precedent’ being set by ‘the proposal of a civic guarantee for a diocesan event.’ Roth stated that ‘I do feel we are on very dangerous grounds by what appears to be a continual guarantee of events… I put it all down to the corruption of the welfare state’.5 Roth’s views were a decided minority in the council chamber, however, with Alderman Purchase suggesting that the event would provide ‘cheap publicity for the city’.6

In the event, the Pageant was even more significant than had originally been planned, coinciding both with the Coronation of Elizabeth II and the first official visit of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to the Diocese. Over ten thousand people attended, making it, in the words of the Portsmouth Evening News, ‘the largest religious gathering in Sussex for a century.’7 The Dean of Chichester remarked of the event that ‘the Coronation provided an atmosphere of spiritual grace which formed the foundation for the Chichester observances as nothing else could have done.’ He added that ‘“It began in the spirit of amateur theatricals, but more and more they began to feel they were taking part in a religious act”’, with the performers at Chichester joined by local parishes, schools, associations and colleges from across the county and from Portsmouth as well.8

The Dean’s sentiment was echoed by others, with the Hastings and St Leonards Observer declaring the pageant to be a triumph.9 A procession of a hundred Sussex clergy began the events, followed by the Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, and the Bishops of Lewes, Rye, Eastborne, and Cuckfield. These were joined by the Bishop of Korea, Cecil Cooper, who had recently been released from two and a half years of imprisonment in North Korea.10

Following the Pageant, which was performed on top of a giant map of the county, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the audience, telling them that ‘they had seen something of their own great days. He had watched the scenes in their history and found himself gripped by them’, whilst warning that it was ‘dangerous to look back at the past as if that is all that matters’. Everyone gathered ‘faced problems as they took part in the life of the nation, but he felt sure they all had an immense feeling of re-birth, vision and confidence, and also faith, which had been created by that immense ceremony, the Coronation.’ He went on to praise television as a medium for lifting religious observance (cameras had controversially, though memorably, been allowed into Westminster Abbey for the first time), and expressed his firm belief in the Queen as an upholder of the faith.11

Whilst the ‘The Acts of Saint Richard’ was to be one of the last major religious pageants or, for that matter, major religious gatherings, the event attests to the survival of the Anglican faith as a public religion capable of bringing people together in great numbers into the post-war era.

Footnotes

1. ^ See Callum G. Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000 (London, 2001).
2. ^ S.J.D. Green, Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change, c.1920-1960 (Cambridge, 2011), chapter 7.
3. ^ The Times, 19 June 1933, 8.
4. ^ Sussex Agricultural Express, 12 June 1953, 3.
5. ^ Portsmouth Evening News, 2 October 1952, 6.
6. ^ Ibid; Portsmouth Evening News, 4 October 1952, 6.
7. ^ Portsmouth Evening News, 13 June 1953, 7.
8. ^ Portsmouth Evening News, 17 June 1953, 13.
9. ^ Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 20 June 1953, 10.
10. ^ Ibid.
11. ^ Ibid.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Acts of Saint Richard’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1411/