The Pageant of Launceston
Place: Castle Green (Launceston) (Launceston, Cornwall, England)
Number of performances: 5
21–23 July 1931
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Writer and Pageant Master: Kelly, Mary
- Secretary and Producer: Mrs W.G. Evans
- Chairman: J. Trevelean
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Kelly, Mary
Names of composers
Numbers of performers400
A number of performers came from the local chapter of the British Legion
Object of any funds raised
In aid of the Launceston Hospital, Ambulance Brigade and Nursing Association
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Episode I. ‘Castle Terrible’, 1089
Seneschal and a company of Normans, who have recently dispossessed the land from the natives, come down from the castle to hold a market. The market is held in an atmosphere of heightened anxiety, which isn’t interrupted by a religious procession led by the Dean. The Count Seneschal receives petitions imperiously and dispenses rough and unmerciful justice. The Dean’s petition is rejected, a cheating chapman is sentenced to have his hands cut off. A group of English are led in, having been denounced by Conan, a Cornish spy. Edwy, their leader, denounces the Normans in scathing terms and the Count sentences them to hang.
Episode II. Visit of the Black Prince, 1353
The Prince is on leave from the French wars. The citizens and mayors assemble to put on a show. The Prince arrives with the Prior of Launceston and a large number of Cornish gentlemen and their families. The Prince is given the keys to Dunheved and witnesses various displays, including a dance by angels. The next item is a mock fight between King Richard and Saracens before the party retires.
Episode III. The Cornish Rebellion, 1549
Companies of women struggle in demanding news of the men in Master Arundell’s army. The Mayor declares the remnants of Arundell’s army of Cornishmen is approaching the town, but insists that Launceston will have no part in the rebellion. The town guard attacks them and the Royal Army led by Peter Carew arrives to take them prisoner. The Mayor warns the women to return home which they do, lamenting the fate of their husbands and their sons, and their own impending hunger and poverty.
Episode IV. Sir Richard Grenville and the Prince, 1646
The young Prince Charles is expected at Launceston to be met by the tyrannical Sir Richard Grenville, whose men have been stretching the patience of General Goring’s army, stealing and drinking the contents of a cart of cider, robbing women of their baskets, and kissing girls, throwing the town into mayhem. The Prince arrives at the height of this in a purple cloak. The women tell him that Sir Richard refuses to serve in Lord Hopton’s army. Grenville is thrown in prison and cashiered from the army, nearly provoking a mutiny of his loyal men and nephew, John Grenville. Sir Richard Grenville quells the riot, accepting his sentence and the crowd is calmed as the Prince and John Grenville go off to witness a horserace.
Episode V. The Coming of the Railway, 1862
Rejoicing at the introduction of a bill that will bring the railway to Launceston. One person, a Mr Dawe of Callington, dissents from the general view. The Mayor suggests that Launceston’s prosperity, now gone, might return. A messenger rides on with a telegram announcing the passing of the bill and there is jubilation, church-bells ringing and a marching band.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as
the Black Prince], prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376) heir to the
English throne and military commander
- Arundell, Humphrey (1512/13–1550) rebel
- Carew, Sir Peter (1514?–1575) soldier
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of
England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Grenville, Sir Richard, baronet (bap.
1600, d. 1659) royalist army officer
- Goring, George, Baron Goring (1608–1657)
royalist army officer
- Hopton, Ralph, Baron Hopton (bap. 1596,
d. 1652) royalist army officer
- Grenville, John, first earl of Bath
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Cornish and Devon Post
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Book of words
- Kelly, Mary. The Pageant of Launceston. Np., 1931.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Kelly, Mary. How to Make a Pageant. London, 1936.
- Kosugi, Sei. ‘Representing Nation and Nature: Woolf, Kelly, White’. In Locating Woolf: The Politics of Space and Place, edited by A. Snaith and M. Whitworth, 81–98. Basingstoke, 2007.
- Rendell, Joan. Launceston from Old Photographs. Stroud, 2013.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Images of book of words and newspaper cuttings available at Roger Pyke. ‘1931 Launceton Pageant’, Launceston Then, accessed 21 February 2017, http://launcestonthen.co.uk/index.php/home/launceston-events/1931-launceston-pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Launceston’s Pageant Master, Mary Kelly, was key force behind the Village Dramatic Society. The society was founded in 1919 in Kelly’s native Devon, and put on numerous plays and pageants in the 1920s and 1930s, including Selborne (1926), Rillington (1927), Bradstone (1929), Bude (1932), Exeter (1932) and Selborne again (1938), with the aim of reviving English local drama and rural culture.1
The Launceston Pageant was one of very few held in Cornwall (see Tremarton, 1914). Its scenes resolutely stressed the fierce independence—even isolation—of the region from the rest of the country, and its ambiguous loyalty to the crown. The first episode contained references to the Norman dispossession, and clearly distinguished between native Cornish, English, and Welsh visitors to the market. Other scenes depicted wavering loyalties in the face of the the tyranny of Henry VIII (the king’s oppression prompting a local rebellion of common people), and the town’s own ambivalence to the garrisoning of Royalist troops there during the English Civil War.
The Cornish and Devon Post reviewer, the Launcestonian Sydney Brimmel, waxed lyrical about the nature of the pageant:
Launceston’s first pageant; I wonder why it should have been the first? That is the question I have been asking myself ever since Tuesday afternoon, when for two hours by the clock I sat and witnessed that wonderful revival of scenes dug up from the depths of Dunheved’s hoary and historic past, a revival that was as wonderful in its colour as in its realism. So thus it is that I have been wondering why in this age when the pomp and panoply of pageantry are seen throughout the length and breadth of the land, it is not until this year that Launceston should have drawn upon its rich and probably inexhaustible store of history to present such a series of living pictures as have been seen this week. It would be profitless to go on wondering for one might never probe sufficiently deep to find the reason; one can only feel glad that at last the thing has been done, and done moreover in such, a manner that the pride of Dunheved’s citizens in the achievement should have combined with it feelings of gratitude for those who have been mainly responsible for the production.2
The Pageant was evidently some success—and was even visited by a correspondent from the Times.3 Kelly continued to put on a number of pageants in the West Country, and was subsequently employed by the Exeter University College Extramural Department to run drama courses and plays in the region.4 Despite the final scenes of Launceston’s Pageant celebrating the coming of the railway in the 1860s, the original Great Western Railway station closed to passengers in 1952, and trains no longer stopped at the town after 1966.5
Mick Wallis, ‘Kelly, Mary Elfreda (1888–1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 7 January 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/69833?docPos=1; Mick Wallis, ‘Drama in the Villages: Three Pioneers’, in The English Countryside Between the Wars: Regeneration Or Decline? ed. Paul Brassley, Jeremy Burchardt and Lynne Thompson (Woodbridge, 2007), 102–115. See also the interesting blogpost by Julie Sampson, accessed 7 January 2016, http://scrapblogfromthesouth-west.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/mary-kelly-devons-c1920-village.html.
Sydney D. Brimmel, Cornish and Devon Post, 25 July, np., quoted in Roger Pyke, ‘1931 Launceton Pageant’, Launceston Then, accessed 21 February 2017, http://launcestonthen.co.uk/index.php/home/launceston-events/1931-launceston-pageant/
The Times, 22 July 1931, 14.
Wallis, ‘Drama in the Villages’, 114-5.
G.H. Anthony and S.C. Jenkins, The Launceston Branch (Headington, 1997).
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Launceston’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1491/