Arbroath Abbey Pageant 2000; Arbroath Abbey Pageant: a Millennium Production

Pageant type

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Place: Arbroath Abbey (Arbroath) (Arbroath, Angus, Scotland)

Year: 2000

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 7


21–26 August 2000

The pageant took place nightly, commencing at 9.30pm; there was an additional 'matinee' performance at 6pm on Saturday.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Shaw, W.
  • Co-producer: Fiona Kerr
  • Musical Director: Loraine Cant
  • Lighting Operator: Martin McLeod
  • Lighting Installation: Northern Light
  • Sound: Paul Smith
  • Sound System: Apex Acoustics
  • Make-up: Brenda McLeod
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Lex Sawley

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Committee

  • Chairman: Anita Walker
  • Vice-Chairman: Bill Shaw
  • Secretary/Treasurer: David Langlands

Other members:        

  • Fiona Kerr
  • Arthur Kerr
  • Brenda McLeod
  • Martin McLeod
  • Lawrence Tait
  • Ian Lamb
  • Tom MacGowan
  • Lex Sawley
  • David Smith
  • Peter Paterson
  • Ian Angus
  • Angus Nairn
  • Steve Crowe
  • Janet Webster
  • Alistair Gray
  • Donna Smith
  • Bill Smith
  • James Lindsay


Many of the committee members had been involved with the pageant when it had been performed in 1981 and 1999, including pageant master Bill Shaw and Anita Walker (who became chairperson of the Society in 1999). Generally, women were much better represented than they had been in the earlier years of the pageant. 

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

  • Milne, J. Crawford
  • Mackenzie, Agnes Mure
  • Thornton, F.W.A.


The poet J. Crawford Milne wrote the prologue; it had been used in many previous presentations of the pageant, including those of 1980, 1981 and 1999. The former pageant producer, Frank Thornton, wrote the commentary given during the Declaration scene. A further part of this scene was a recitation, in English translation, of the text of the Declaration of Scottish Independence. This translation was by the popular historian Agnes Mure Mackenzie and had been used at every performance of this scene since 1948. Mackenzie had been a great supporter of the pageant until her death in 1955. [See entry by Joan Morrison Noble, in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 229.]

Names of composers

  • Glover, William

William Glover had been a teacher of music in Angus and composed original music for the 1980 pageant; this score was used again in 1981, 1999 and 2000. 

Numbers of performers

180 - 220

Numerous newspaper articles state that the pageant had around two hundred performers. In the Arbroath pageants of the late 1940s and 1950s all, or almost all, of the performers had been male. However, this changed in 1999 and parts were created for women; this was repeated in 2000. However, none of the small number of women involved had speaking roles. In the main Declaration scene, girls played 'waifs and strays'.

Financial information

Surplus: £580.72

Object of any funds raised

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society


In 2000, the pageant received financial support from 'the Heritage Lottery Fund, Angus Council, the Millennium Festival Fund and various local trusts and local commerce and industry' (Arbroath Abbey Pageant: a Millennium Production (Arbroath, 2000), 1). An article in the Arbroath Herald reported that following the pageant, the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society had funds of £5287.25 in its account, and 'debtors of £1,692.72'. As it had done in 1999, the pageant returned a surplus; while many of the specifics of pageant finances were not published in the local press in either 1999 or 2000, comment was made that figures for income made through advertising revenue and sales of tickets and programmes were broadly similar to those achieved in 1999. However, expenditure was said to have been a little higher in 2000. One reason for this was that seven performances were put on, as against five in 1999. This suggests that even with fewer performances, the surplus achieved in 1999 had been higher than that made in 2000, which amounted to £580.72 (Arbroath Herald 1 December 2000, 16). 

Linked occasion

Nationwide millennium celebrations

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


In 2000, newspaper reports stated that the grandstand was larger than that in place in 1999; however, its capacity was not given. Audience figures are unknown but thought to be respectable, although not sold out.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


[Tickets cost £8, with 'concessions' at a reduced price of £5. These concessions are not specified but it assumed they applied to children and pensioners (Advertisement, Arbroath Herald, 18 August 2000, 1).]

Associated events

A 'Sea-Fest' took place over the weekend preceding the pageant (12–13 August); pageant performers appeared at some of the events of this festival, which celebrated Arbroath's maritime culture. The performers appeared in costume to read out a proclamation about their event and sell tickets for the forthcoming pageant. It was said that many tickets were purchased in this manner ('Another Feast of Pageantry at Arbroath Next Week', Arbroath Herald, 18 August 2000, 7).

Pageant outline


This was a verse written by the local poet, J. Crawford Milne; it had been performed many times as a prologue to the pageant. Up until 1970 the former pageant producer, F.W.A. Thornton, had narrated the prologue, initially live but from the mid-1950s onwards as a pre-recorded reading. In 1999, Ewan Stewart, who was the son of the popular entertainer Andy Stewart, delivered a pre-recorded narration. This was again used in 2000. The verse, purported to be the words of an ancient Scots warrior, extols the beauty of Scotland and praises the Scots of long ago. The poem then moves on to describe the start of the Wars of Independence and the emergence of Wallace as a heroic figure:

Yet was England's hammer made to know
That one Scot lived who held his manhood sure.
Within the heart of Wallace freedom stirred
And quickened to his country's need...
Throughout the narration, the figure of an old warrior mimes to the narration.

[Synopses taken from Arbroath Abbey Pageant: a Millennium Production (Arbroath, 2000) and 'Tension and Drama lead to patriotism Stirring Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 1 September 2000]

Pageant Play. The Laurel Crown, 1305

The pageant programme details that this play was written by F.W.A. Thornton 'as a prelude to the great central fact of the pageant'. It had been performed many times within the Arbroath pageant. The drama features the trial of William Wallace at Westminster Hall in London in August 1305. Together with Wallace (played by Joe Wishart), the central characters are Edward I (Alan Mowatt), the Earl of Pembroke (Steve Crowe), the Earl of Sussex (Louis Benson), the Lord Chief Justice of England (Mark Masson), the Lord Mayor of London (Geoff Bray), and the Constable of the Tower (Rab McMonagle). Supporting players took the roles of guards, bishops and ladies and gentlemen of the court; a number of the supporting players were women. Altogether, it had a cast of around 30. The dialogue was delivered live; this was made possible by the installation of a new sound system.

The Scene of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence at Arbroath Abbey, 6 April 1320

This episode had been performed at every Arbroath pageant since 1947. Although small adjustments had been made over the years, it had remained largely unchanged. The episode opens with the commentator setting the scene; following this, the Abbot and monks process into the arena. While they are engaged in their devotions, King Robert the Bruce and an entourage of bishops, barons and soldiers arrive at the abbey gates. The signing of the Declaration then takes place with much ceremony, during which time the words of the Declaration are proclaimed. In 2000, an additional piece of drama was included: while the signing of the declaration proceeds a 'group of waifs and strays appeared under a spotlight'. This tableau was meant to represent 'the real victim of the invaders' aggression, Scotland's future'. While in the majority of previous performances the narration had been pre-recorded, it is probable that most of it was delivered live in 2000 (firm evidence to confirm remains elusive). The narrator was the pageant producer, Bill Shaw. The exception to live delivery was the reading of the words of the Declaration; for this, a recording made many years previously by the late pageant producer, Frank Thornton, was used. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the Abbot blesses the Bruce, after which the king and his associates leave. The scene ends with the Abbot and monks processing out of the arena. Religious music accompanies this drama. The main characters in the piece are Robert the Bruce (played by Jamie Millar), Lord Randolph (Harry Ritchie), Lord Douglas (Lawrence Tait), and Abbot Bernard (Michael Walker).

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305) patriot and guardian of Scotland
  • Robert I [Robert Bruce] (1274–1329) king of Scots
  • Bernard (d. 1330/31) administrator and bishop of Sodor
  • Douglas, Sir James [called the Black Douglas] (d. 1330) soldier
  • Randolph, Thomas, first earl of Moray (d. 1332) soldier and guardian of Scotland
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Valence, Aymer de, eleventh earl of Pembroke (d. 1324) magnate
  • Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey [earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne] (1286–1347) magnate

Musical production

Music was original and the work of a local composer—William Glover. Some of the music was played live and musical direction was by Loraine Cant; information is scanty, but it is probable that a recording of the music that featured in the Declaration scene was used; this included plainsong chanting. The compositions involved brass, percussion, recorders and voice; further details have not been recovered.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Arbroath Herald

Book of words

None known.

Other primary published materials

  • Arbroath Abbey Pageant: a Millennium Production. Arbroath, 2000.

References in secondary literature

  • There is a brief mention in The Third Statistical Account of Scotland, see Gladstone-Millar, Rev. W.E. 'The Abbey Pageant'. In The County of Angus, edited by William Allen Illsley. Arbroath, 1977. At 525.
  • Hutchison, Isobel Wylie. 'Poets' Voices Linger in Scottish Shrines'. National Geographic Magazine CXII, October 1957, 437–87. The 1956 Arbroath pageant was featured in this travel article around literary shrines in Scotland.
  • Ritchie, J. N. Graham. 'Images of the Declaration: The Arbroath Pageant.' In The Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting, edited by Geoffrey Barrow. Edinburgh, 2003. At 86–107.

Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Mackenzie, Agnes Mure. Translation of the Declaration.

    At the time of writing (January 2017), the programme for this pageant does not appear to have been catalogued in any library or archive in Scotland. The Redress of the Past project is grateful to the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society for allowing access to the copy held by them. The Declaration of Scottish Independence has been translated many times. The version used at all of the Arbroath pageants was that prepared by the popular historian Agnes Mure Mckenzie in the 1940s; McKenzie was a supporter of the pageant and likely did this translation specifically for use by the Arbroath pageant. The Saltire Society later published it as a booklet. [On the Declaration of Arbroath by Agnes Mure Mackenzie (Edinburgh, 1951).]


The pageant was organised by the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society founded in 1947 following the first Abbey Pageant. In 2000, the performance was given a larger profile because of nationwide millennium celebrations and local government had more of an interest in the pageant production.

To some extent, it was the fact of the coming millennium, and the financial support mechanisms put in place to fund local celebrations during this year, that brought the Arbroath Abbey pageant out of mothballs in 1999 after an eighteen year hiatus (the previous pageant had been held in 1981). It was always planned that it would be held again in 2000. Thereafter, the future of this once-annual event was a little more uncertain. The performances held in 1999 and 2000 differed little from a time-honoured formula. This had three components: a prologue written by a local poet, a curtain-raiser pageant play on the subject of Scotland's number one patriotic hero—William Wallace—and the 'main scene' itself, in which Robert the Bruce and his barons congregate at the abbey in 1320 in order to affix their seals to the famed Declaration. Yet even before the pageant run commenced in 2000, it was announced that though the pageant would go on into the next century, the millennium performances would be the final outing for the pageant in its traditional format. While making this promise, the pageant organizers very likely found themselves in a difficult situation. Where innovation was concerned, on the one hand, it was recognized that audience expectations had changed and this was a matter that needed to be addressed. On the other hand, the pageant had been perfected in this format by two highly venerated local figures, and their particular dramatic arrangement had in itself obtained the patina of local tradition through being so long running. Local loyalties were at stake.

By the time the pageant of 2000 closed, however, both the two founders were dead: Frank Thornton had died several years previously, and in November 2000, George Shepherd died. This marked the end of an era for the pageant and change was in the air. The Arbroath pageant had stagnated somewhat in terms of content, though in fairness, technical innovation in lighting and sound had always been employed and used to great effect. Indeed, the hallmark of this pageant was a highly atmospheric bringing of the past to life via nighttime performances that used special effects with lighting. Over the years, no expense was spared on this aspect of the production. For Thornton and Shepherd's successors, what was needed now was the material means to further innovate in order to keep the production going. Change therefore, it was asserted, was the only means of staying true to the spirit of the pageant's founding fathers' ambitions to keep the pageant alive. Just a few days after the news of Shepherd's death, at the annual general meeting of the Pageant Society, the producer Bill Shaw delivered an appreciation, stating:

The Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society owes its very existence to George S. Shepherd as its co-founder with the late Frank Thornton. He was only 23 when it all began at the first pageant in 1947, and he provided all the drive and energy of youth to assist in the establishing of an event that was to gain national importance both for itself and the town of Arbroath... The Society and the community of Arbroath which supports it, owes a deep debt of gratitude to George Shepherd which can only be repaid in our determination to continue to portray 'The Declaration of Scottish Independence' within the walls of our great Abbey where it actually took place—to the greater good of Arbroath and as a lasting tribute to George.1

The will to keep the pageant going into the twenty-first century was tempered, however, by a new dose of realism. The pageants of 1999 and 2000 had a combined cost of around £65000.2 When this financial reality was placed alongside the ambition to shake up the content of the episodes, it was clear that a huge fundraising drive would be necessary, and that it would be some years before the pageant could be held again. Production costs had also escalated because greater health and safety measures were now a feature of such events. In 2000, the Society's chairperson, Anita Walker, alluded to this in a statement in which she described the 'new grandstand' as having not only 'a very professional appearance’ but also ‘all safety measures covered'.3 Such diligence cost money and fundraising began almost immediately, even before the end of the millennial year, with 2005 being promoted as the target date for the next pageant.

The claim that national importance was attached to the pageant is very revealing; for although this was a local enactment that celebrated the great heritage contained in the ruined walls of Arbroath Abbey, it was also always self-consciously a drama about an historical event that had national significance for Scots: indeed, it was regularly touted as 'The Scots Pageant'. The pageant's subject matter was an understandable call to patriotism; yet, patriotism alone had not encouraged Thornton and Shepherd to keep the Arbroath pageant flame alive. For these men, the pageant came to speak an essential truth of nationhood: self-determination. Both these men had begun their pageant odyssey as supporters of greater devolution for Scotland, and ended their lives as political nationalists in favour of Scottish independence.

Yet in each year the pageant had been performed, great pains were taken to avoid direct discussion of the politics of its organizers, lest the event be accused of being ultra-nationalist, or even anti-English. Unfortunately, this often led to a type of contradictory doublespeak that probably fooled no one. Conversation around the pageant of 2000 continued this trend when Bill Shaw told the press that the Arbroath pageant 'has perhaps taken on even greater significance now that Scotland once again boasts its own Parliament'. He was of course referring to the devolution referendum of 1997 and subsequent re-establishment of the Scottish parliament in 1999, but in an attempt to defuse the significance of this remark, Shaw then went on to state that 'the Pageant is not really about politics. The signing of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in 1320 was a significant event in the shaping of the Scottish nation and the pageant is a sincere re-enactment by Arbroathians of a momentous event in the history of the town'.4

Did the Arbroath pageant win hearts and minds to the cause of Scottish political nationalism? Was the persistence of this pageant a reflection of a slowly growing change in Scottish mentalities, within which there was a need to look to the past in order to see a way forward in the present? Or, did the pageant survive because it spoke most loudly to the already converted, nationalist-minded few who simply kept faith with it regardless of whether its subliminal message fell on deaf ears? When the pageant began in the post-war era it seems likely that this message did little to win voters over to the nationalist cause; however, what it did do was to posit an alternative view of patriotism, one that was not hijacked by British or imperial sentiment. In the year 2000, in a much-changed social and political climate, the Scottish patriotic message was delivered to spectators who were arguably more receptive to appreciating its contemporary political connotations.


1. ^  'Future Abbey Pageant Content to Be Decided by New Committee', Arbroath Herald, 1 December 2000, 16.
2. ^ 'Arbroath Abbey Pageant', The Scots Independent, August 1999, 7-8.
3. ^ 'Future Abbey Pageant Content to Be Decided by New Committee', Arbroath Herald, 1 December 2000.
4. ^ 'Nobility Sign Up for Independence Celebrations at Arbroath Abbey', Arbroath Herald, 14 April 2000, 14.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Arbroath Abbey Pageant 2000; Arbroath Abbey Pageant: a Millennium Production’, The Redress of the Past,