Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant, 1948

Other names

  • Arbroath Abbey Pageant Week

Pageant type


In 1947 the first Arbroath pageant had been a civic initiative but in the months following a pageant society had been formed with a view to making the pageant an annual event; this organisation was called the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society. Although the organisation was formally independent of the council, as part of its statute, some members of the town council were elected to membership of the Society's committee.

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

Year: 1948

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 3


Thursday 19 August 1948, 6.30pm; Friday 20 August 1948, 6.30pm; Saturday 21 August 1948, 2.15pm.

There was a full dress rehearsal on Wednesday 18 August, 6.15pm, to which schoolchildren were admitted at a charge of 1s.1

Each performance was likely around two hours in length including the introductory elements.

The pageant took place within the ruins of the medieval Arbroath Abbey, which has long been roofless and open to the elements.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Thornton, F.W.A.
  • Assistant Producer: Mr George Shepherd
  • Stage Managers: Mr D. Niven and Mr F. Kydd
  • Marshal of Cavalcade: Mr S.E.S. Burnett
  • Procession Convenor: Mr D.L. Gardiner
  • Conductor of Male Voice Choir: Mr Andrew Morrison
  • Radio Communications: H.M.S. Condor
  • Voice Amplification: Mr Andrew Soutar2

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society:

  • Honorary Presidents: The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Airlie, KT, GCVO; The Provost of Arbroath
  • Honorary Vice-Presidents: Sir William Chapel; Hon. John S. McLay, CMG, MP; Dr Agnes Mure Mackenzie, OBE; Dr J.B. Salmond; Miss Louisa Macdonald; Mr George Law; Mr E.J. Joss; Mr H. Witherspoon
  • Chairman: Mr A. Linton Robertson, MRCVS
  • Vice-Chairman: Mr Tom Matheson
  • Honorary Secretary: Lieut.-Col. G.W. Dunn, DSO, MC, Brothock Bank
  • Honorary Treasurer: Mr Alex. Cargill, National Bank of Scotland


  • Convenor: Councillor F.W.A. Thornton
  • Vice-Convenor: Mr W. Stark
  • Other members:
  • Mr George S. Shepherd
  • Mr D.L. Gardiner
  • Mr T.M. Patterson
  • Miss M. Brodie
  • Provost Lamb
  • Bailie McGlashan
  • Treasurer Mackintosh
  • Councillor Mrs Matthew
  • Councillor Mrs Ross


The committee was set up a few months after the 1947 pageant, and most of the committee had been involved with that pageant. In particular, the Chairman, Mr Robertson, played the part of Robert the Bruce, and did so again in 1948 and in successive annual performances after this. The Convenor, Councillor Thornton, was the author, director and commentator for the 1947 pageant and continued to perform these roles in successive years.

A few more women were represented on the executive, although not as office holders. Women were better represented on sub-committees, for example that which organised the activities of the fishing community.

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

  • Milne, J. Crawford
  • Thornton, F.W.A.


The poet, J. Crawford Milne wrote the prologue and the scriptwriter for the play The Laurel Crown which dramatised the trial of William Wallace was written by the pageant master F. W. A. Thornton.

Names of composers

  • Irvine, Jessie Seymour

The tune 'Crimond' is attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine.

Numbers of performers


A large number of horses were involved.

Financial information

Pageant Income: £684. 7s. 6d. (tickets £635, programmes £49)

Pageant Expenditure: £606. 6s. 9d. (Production £93, costumes and properties £195, hire of horses £210)

Surplus: £78. 9d.6

Object of any funds raised

YMCA Overseas Fund and the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society.


Profits from the previous year's pageant in 1947 had all been aimed at the funds of the YMCA. In the wake of the success of the 1947 pageant, and the setting up of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society, which planned to run the pageant as an annual event, it was agreed that any profits made in 1948 and 1949 would be divided fifty-fifty between the Society and the YMCA. Thereafter this association would be severed.7

The Pageant Society reported the sum of £234. 9s.10d. in their bank account; this included donations following the 1948 pageant of £100 from the fishing community in Arbroath (presumably generated from their own events during pageant week) and £32.10s. from the Arbroath Housewives' Association.8 The street collection at the pageant procession and other events had only raised £30. 4s. 8d.9

Linked occasion


Audience information

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


There was a seated area in the pageant arena which had a limited number of reserved seats, but not on a grandstand.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Thursday and Friday evenings: seats, 3s. 6d. and 2s. 6d.; standing room, 1s.
Saturday afternoon: seats, 4s. and 3s. 6d.; standing room, 1s. 6d.10

Associated events

Monday 16 August: Scottish Country Dance, in the Drill Hall, Marketgate.
Tuesday 17 August: Amateur Sports Meeting at Gayfield Park, tickets 1s. or 6d.
Saturday 21 August: 'Festivities with the Fisherfolk' in the evening at the foot of the town.
7.30pm: 'Old Tyme Social Evening and Dance' in the Drill Hall.
9.00pm: Firework Display at the Bathing Pool [cancelled because of bad weather].

Grand Historical Procession: 4.15pm (approx).
Order of Procession:
  • British Legion Highland Pipe Band
  • King Robert the Bruce
  • Barons
  • Foot Soldiers
  • Cross Bearer
  • Acolytes
  • Bernard de Linton, Lord Abbot of Aberbrothock
  • Bishops of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Aberdeen
  • Canons
  • Bearer of the Banner of St Columba
  • Monks
  • Trial of William Wallace
  • Court of King Edward I
  • St Columba landing at Iona, 6th century—Arbroath Boy Scouts
  • Bruce and the Spider, 1305—James Jack, Arbroath
  • Lady Katherine Douglas Barring the Door, 1437—Robb Brothers, Arbroath
  • Mary Queen of Scots kneeling at High Altar, Arbroath Abbey—British Red Cross Society
  • The Four Marys, 1561—Arbroath Branch, British Housewives' Association
  • Mary Queen of Scots' Escape from Loch Leven Castle, 1568—Arbroath Merchants' Association
  • Boys' Brigade Pipe Band
  • Rescue of Crown Jewels from Dunnottar Castle, 1652—Arbroath Branch British Legion Women's League
  • Rob Roy, 1717—3rd Arbroath Coy. Boys Brigade
  • Fenwick Weavers, 1769—Arbroath Co-operative Society
  • John Wesley receiving the Freedom of Arbroath, 1772—Methodist Church, Arbroath
  • Famous Scotswoman ‘Black Agnes’, 1345—Arbroath Branch, British Housewives' Association
  • Orcadian Industry—Arbroath Branch, Scottish Convention
  • ‘The Swordman’—the Palace Cinema
  • Queen Victoria—Miss M. Bowman
  • Braemar Gathering—Innes Henderson and Co. Ltd.
  • Arbroath Instrumental Band
  • Fishermen at Work--Arbroath Fishermen's Association
  • Arbroath Smokie Industry—Arbroath Fish Merchants' Association
  • Fisherwomen at Work—Arbroath Fisherwomen's Social Club
  • Fire Engine—1861
  • Stage Coach
  • Boneshaker and Penny Farthing Bicycles, kindly lent by Mr P.H. Pert, Arbroath; messrs Duthie & Son, Montrose, and Mr James Clements, Arbroath
  • Women—Then and Now—Arbroath Business and Professional Women's Club
  • The Better 'Ole, 1914–1918—Arbroath Branch, British Legion
  • Parade Marshals W.B. Macdonald; Ex-Deputy Chief Constable William Smith'

Pageant outline

Singing of the national anthem

Opening Ceremony

The pageant was formally introduced and chaired by a different dignitary at each performance. This was followed by an opening speech, again given by a different invited speaker.

Thursday 19 August 1948:
Chair: Provost John Lamb
Address: Rt. Hon. Thomas Johnston, PC

Friday 20 August 1948:
Chair: Sir William Chapel
Address: Rt. Hon. The Earl of Airlie, KT, GCVO

Saturday 21 August 1948:
Chair: J. Wilson Paterson, Esq., OBE
Address: Lewis Spence, Esq., Edinburgh13

Service of Dedication

This was conducted by local ministers as follows:

Thursday 19th August 1948:
Opening and Prayer - Rev. W. E. Gladstone-Millar, M.C., B.D., St Margaret's Church
Scripture Reading - Rev. Archibald Russell, Abbey Church

Friday 20th August 1948:
Opening and Prayer - Rev. Alex W. Abel, M.A., Hopemount Church
Scripture Reading- Rev. Andrew M. Russell, B. D., Erskine Church

Saturday 21st August 1948:
Opening and Prayer - Rev. P. F. C. Black, M.A., St Ninian's Church
Scripture Reading- Rev. C.A. Gibson, M.A., Knox's Church.

Following this at each performance there was:
Singing of Psalm XXIII and a Benediction.14

The Pageant

Part I. The Pageant-Play: The Laurel Crown, 1305

Described as a 'Historical Introduction based on the Trial of Sir William Wallace in the Palace of Westminster, August 23rd, 1305.'15 The chief roles were:

Edward I (played by Edward J. Joss)
Earl of Pembroke (Jack Lamb)
Earl of Sussex (John Eddie)
Lord Chief Justice (R.B. Brown)
Sir William Wallace (Ian Spalding)
Constable of the Tower (A.H. Sheddon)
Lord Mayor of London (J.K. Moir)
Other parts were as soldiers and clerks.16

The Prologue

A reading of the Prologue, by the pageant producer Frank Thornton, followed; this consisted of a verse composed by a local poet, J. Crawford Milne. It describes the beauty of Scotland and praises the Scots of long ago and their fortitude. The verse then moves on to describe the start of the wars of independence and the emergence of Wallace, stated to be 'a heroic flame'.17

Part II. The Main Pageant: The Declaration of Scottish Independence, 1320

The pageant is described in the programme as having six scenes as follows:

'1. Entrance of the Lord High Abbot, Bernard de Linton, [played by George S. Shepherd] in Ceremonial Procession with Bishops, Canons and Monks.

2. Arrival of King Robert the Bruce, [played by A Linton Robertson] accompanied by Cavalcade of Barons and Squires, with retinue of Foot Soldiers.

3. The Signing of the Declaration within the Regality Chamber.

4. Departure of King and Retinue.

5. The Lord High Abbot, Bishops and Monks in Ceremonial Procession.

6. The Pageant will Close with the Singing of Psalm CXXIV.'

Only three of the Bishops were named and all were from bishoprics in the North East of Scotland; these were the Bishop of Dunkeld (David L. Gardiner), of St Andrews (Tom Matheson) and of Aberdeen (Alexander Cargill). Two Barons featured; these were Lord James Douglas and Lord Randolph (S.E.S. Burnett and Walter Burnett). The Arbroath Male Voice Choir, who also provided singing during the performance, played Monks. Frank Thornton gave the commentary over all. 18 A diagram of the processions in this scene was included on page eight of the pageant programme:

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305) patriot and guardian of Scotland
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • 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

Musical production

The Arbroath Male Voice Choir who took the parts of monks in the pageant performed choral music. There were also trumpet fanfares which may have been recorded. During the religious services which were part of the introduction to each performance, organ music was 'relayed from the nearby Hopemount Church. The organist was Mrs M. Chroscicka.'

The tune 'Crimond' is reputed to be the work of Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836–87). Composed in 1872, this is commonly used for singing Psalm 23, 'The Lord Is My Shepherd' in Scotland and elsewhere. Overall, the music was choral and religious (psalms and hymns). Ave Verum was sung at the start of the Declaration scene, when the Abbot and Bishops are proceeding to the altar for worship. This is then interrupted by the arrival of the Bruce and his entourage. This arrival is heralded with a trumpet fanfare. It is presumed that the fanfare was recorded music as there is no mention of musicians in any of the press coverage. The 23rd Psalm (The Lord is My Shepherd) was later in the pageant sung to the tune 'Crimond' as the Abbot and King kneel at the altar before the signing of the Declaration.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Arbroath Herald
Arbroath Guide
Dundee Courier
The Scotsman

Book of words


A book of words was not produced.

Other primary published materials

  • Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant within the Abbey of Arbroath, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 19th 20th & 21st August, 1948. Souvenir programme (Arbroath, 1948).

References in secondary literature

  • Gladstone-Millar, Rev. W.E. 'The Abbey Pageant'. In The Third Statistical Account of Scotland: The County of Angus, edited by William Allen Illsley. Arbroath, 1977. At 525.
  • 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

  • Arbroath Public Library has two copies of the programme. 18.394.5ARB.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • A translation of the Declaration of Scottish Independence by Agnes Mure Mackenzie was used for the pageant (this was reproduced in programmes from 1949 onwards).21


The enthusiasm of the pageant organisers at the 1947 Pageant was, if anything, exceeded for the pageant's second outing in August 1948. Having established an Arbroath Abbey Pageant Committee, and having sorted out the thorny issue of how to appease the YMCA which had been the chief benefactor of the first pageant, the pageant producer, Frank Thornton, set about enlarging the show to make it even more of an impressive performance. A short Prologue, written by the local poet J. Crawford Milne was added; this followed a play written by Thornton himself, called The Laurel Crown. The latter was a one-act drama that enacted the infamous trial of William Wallace. This subject of this introductory play was something of a pageant favourite in Scotland, and one which Scots found patriotically stirring and tragic in equal measure. Thornton clearly exploited this widespread sentiment; for it was the case that Wallace, the brave and doomed hero of the people, tended to gather a good deal more popular adulation than did high-born Robert the Bruce, who, of course, featured in the pageant's main scene dramatising the signing of the Declaration.22 Wallace's trial had taken place in London, but the Arbroath pageant was already promoting itself as a nationally important story. These additions effectively created two episodes, as opposed to the single drama that had taken place the previous year. Even so, this was still not an overlong pageant by any means.

The decision to maintain the lengthy introductory element of speeches by local and national worthies, and a short religious service, was probably a concession to several factors. Firstly, although the Abbey had not functioned as a place of worship since the Reformation, it had once had this purpose; and too much frivolity in this setting, or at least theatre delivered unleavened with worship, may not have gone down well with the more devout. Worship delivered by Presbyterian Ministers also diluted any notions of popish idolatry that might have accompanied a pageant that was reliant on depicting the grandeur and solemnity of Roman Catholic worship by Bishops and monks: there would be no brandishing of thuribles or lighting of candles in this opening! Secondly, the Declaration had long been a historical document about which many people in public life had a view, and such views tended to invoke opinion on the especial, freedom-loving nature of the Scots. Speeches that underlined such sentiment could successfully warm up an audience to what otherwise might have seemed a piece of medieval pomp and ceremony, the larger significance of which might have been lost. In the wake of World War II, martial patriotism was still very much in the air, as was the notion that Scotland, as part of the UK, had played an essential role in standing up to a dictator. The introductory speeches were able to capitalise on such feelings and effectively communicate the idea that Scotland had an even longer history of facing down tyranny. This is not to say that Thornton had not been congratulated for delivering clear and stirring commentary for the Declaration scene, for he also wrote this. However, a rousing and patriotic speech given in advance of the drama and centred on the initiative of the Scots and the strength of their national identity, made doubly sure that such an underlying message about the Declaration's lasting meaning was readily received and understood. Lastly, this was a short drama; the introductory parts produced a longer pageant that might be seen as altogether better value for money.

For 1948, the speakers enticed to perform came from different backgrounds, including Lord Airlie, the Lord Lieutenant of Angus, and the former Labour MP Tom Johnston, who had been wartime Secretary of State for Scotland in Churchill's coalition government. Johnston was well known and liked; he was also an impressive speaker.23 For the closing performance on Saturday, the journalist and home-rule supporter Lewis Spence gave the introductory address.24 In this he reminded the audience that the convictions set out in the Declaration made Scotland 'the most venerable nation in Europe' where men could 'speak forthrightly and not under the compulsions of terrorism.'25 Spence's patriotic speech was doubtless inspiring, but his presence at the pageant was a consequence of the fact that many of the pageant organisers, as would become better known in future years, were also supporters of home rule.

The combination of staying with what was tried and tested in 1947 but making some judicious additions seemed to work. Despite heavy rain at the culmination of the week's festivities, the pageant procession went ahead. In addition to the full cast in costume, the parade included 30 colourful tableaux arranged on vehicles, depicting a wide variety of historical figures. Arbroath's streets were described as 'flag-bedecked' and crowded with eager onlookers, including 'English and American tourists'.26 A firework display had to be cancelled because of the rain, but the weather did not deter attendance at the pageant's other ancillary festivities such as the fisher wedding and the dance which followed it. This event, indeed, was so oversubscribed that the police had to control entry to the dance hall.27

The Arbroath Pageant also managed to make itself even better known nationally through a broadcast of extracts from the opening performance on Thursday evening via BBC radio.28 The event was also a financial success and, despite fifty percent of the profit being given to the YMCA overseas fund, the coffers of the Pageant Society were still swelled. The intention to hold another pageant in 1949 was soon announced, and consideration was given as to how to ring some changes in the programme. Thornton favoured opening up the pageant to a public competition for scripts, which would be open to anyone across Scotland. However, this suggestion was deferred.29 It seems likely that many in Arbroath were quickly becoming very possessive of their town's triumph.


  1. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme (Arbroath, 1948) 2.
  2. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme (Arbroath, 1948) 7.
  3. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme (Arbroath, 1948) 12.
  4. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme (Arbroath, 1948) 12.
  5. ^ 'Arbroath Abbey Pageant: "Scotland Oldest Nation in Europe"', The Scotsman, 23 August 1948, 5.
  6. ^ 'Abbey Pageant: Surplus Funds from This Year's Production', Arbroath Guide, 9 October 1948; see also 'Arbroath Fixes Another Pageant', Dundee Courier, 6 October 1948, 2.
  7. ^ 'Future of Arbroath Historical Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 14 September 1947, 7.
  8. ^ 'Arbroath Fixes Another Pageant', Dundee Courier, 6 October 1948, 2.
  9. ^ 'Pageant Success', Arbroath Guide, 4 September 1948, 4.
  10. ^ Advertisement, Arbroath Guide, 24 July 1948, 5.
  11. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 4.
  12. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 7.
  13. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 5-6.
  14. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 5-6.
  15. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 5.
  16. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 9.
  17. ^ The full verse in included in Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 4.
  18. ^ Details quoted from Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 5; cast members listed on 9.
  19. ^ 'Arbroath Pageant', Dundee Evening Telegraph, 21 August 1948, 6.
  20. ^ See entry by Richard Watson in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 180.
  21. ^ The full translation was later published by the Saltire Society see: Agnes Mure Mackenzie On the Declaration of Arbroath (Galashiels, 1951).
  22. ^ For a convincing explanation of why Wallace trumped the Bruce as a popular hero in commemorations of this historical period, see James Coleman, Remembering the Past in Nineteenth-Century Scotland: Commemoration, Nationality and Memory (Edinburgh, 2014), 39–87.
  23. ^ See Graham Walker, January 2011, ‘Johnston, Thomas (1881–1965)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), online edn, accessed 21 October 2014,
  24. ^ Michael Fry, 2004, ‘Spence, (James) Lewis Thomas Chalmers (1874–1955)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), online edn, accessed 21 October 2014,
  25. ^ Quoted in 'Abbey Historical Pageant: Closing Scenes in Memorable Week in Arbroath', Arbroath Guide, 28 August 1948, 6.
  26. ^ 'Abbey Historical Pageant: Closing Scenes in Memorable Week in Arbroath', Arbroath Guide, 28 August 1948, 6.
  27. ^ 'Abbey Historical Pageant: Closing Scenes in Memorable Week in Arbroath', Arbroath Guide, 28 August 1948, 6.
  28. ^ Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 19th, 20th & 21st August, 1948 Souvenir Programme, 5; see also notice in Dundee Courier, 19 August 1948, 2.
  29. ^ 'Abbey Historical Pageant: Closing Scenes in Memorable Week in Arbroath’, 6.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Arbroath Abbey Historical Pageant, 1948’, The Redress of the Past,