Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1964

Pageant type

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

Year: 1964

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 6


22–26 August 1964

Saturday 22 August 1964, 2.30pm and 9.30pm; Sunday 23 August 1964, 9.30pm; Monday 24 August 1964, 9.30pm; Tuesday 25 August 1964, 9.30pm; Wednesday 26 August 1964. 9.30pm1

There was a full dress rehearsal on Friday 21 August; children were admitted to this with tickets priced 1s.2

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Thornton, F.W.A.
  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Shepherd, George S.
  • Commentary: F.W.A. Thornton
  • Lighting: Ken Heathfield
  • Sound Recording: Bill Shaw
  • Sound Reproduction: Ian Cuthill.3


For the 1964 production, Frank Thornton and George Shepherd acted as co-producers of the pageant.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society

  • Chairman: A. Linton Robertson, Esq.
  • Vice-Chair: F.W.A. Thornton
  • Secretary: E.B. Mackintosh
  • Treasurer: James Ewart
  • Publicity Officer: J. Chisholm
  • Other members: Rev. T. Gemmell Campbell, G.S. Shepherd, Councillor J. O'Riley, J.W. Evans, D.Y. Cargill, and James Riley


The names of the executive committee listed may be incomplete, having been extracted from a list of members re-elected at the end of 1964. There is no note in this of those members, if any, who may have resigned.

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

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


The prologue was written by the poet J. Crawford Milne; it had been used in some previous presentations of the pageant. The pageant producer, Frank Thornton wrote the script of the play, The Laurel Crown as well as 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 undertaken by the historian Agnes Mure Mackenzie and had been used at every performance of this scene since at least 1948. Mackenzie was a long time supporter of the pageant until her death in 1955.5

Names of composers

  • Irvine, Jessie Seymour

Psalm XXIII was sung during the pageant to the tune 'Crimond', which is usually attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine.

Numbers of performers


The figure of 100 performers is an estimate. A large number of horses were involved. It is difficult to estimate the number of players. The pageant required a complement of 80 players for the main scene plus between 10 and 15 for the play 'The Laurel Crown'. In practice, this number was rarely achieved. Many players took part in both scenes and the main scene was sometimes performed with 60 actors or fewer. The figure of around100 includes members of the production team who may have taken supporting roles as performers.

Financial information

Total revenue: £859. 17s. 5d.

Total expenditure: £1277. 8s. 6d.

The pageant made a loss of £417.7

Object of any funds raised

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society


Fundraising had been ongoing between the pageant performed in 1956 and that held in 1964 in order to establish sufficient finances to re-institute the pageant and cover any subsequent losses made.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 250
  • Total audience: 4000


4000 over the six performances.8

A very much smaller grandstand than had been hired in previous years was used.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

12s. 6d.–3s. 6d.

Covered grandstand: 12s. 6d.
Other seats: 10s.; 7s. 6d.; 5s.; 3s. 6d.
Children: Half-price.9

The grandstand was covered and much smaller than the open stand previously provided for the pageant.10

Associated events


Pageant outline

The National Anthem

The introductory Ceremony (Saturday 22 August 1964)

  • Introduction by A. Linton Robertson Esq.
  • Prayer of Dedication by the Rev. T. Gemmell Campbell, Minister of the Old Church, Arbroath
  • Psalm XXIII (‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, verses 1 and 5 to the tune of 'Crimond')
  • An Address by Andy Stewart, Esq.
  • A Vote of Thanks by R.R. Spink, Esq., Provost of Arbroath12



This was an established text which had been performed in the earlier years of the pageant alongside the one-act play, The Laurel Crown. It was written by the local poet J. Crawford Milne and, as with all of the commentary, spoken by F.W.A. Thornton. The Prologue was a verse extolling the beauty of Scotland and praising the Scots of long ago and their fortitude. The poem then moves on to describe the start of the Wars of Independence and the emergence of Wallace as a heroic figure.

Pageant-Play: The Laurel Crown [1305]

This covered the trial and execution of William Wallace and was written by the pageant's producer, F.W.A. Thornton. It was first performed in the Arbroath Pageant of 1950. The scene was set in Westminster Hall in London in 1305. The following were the main roles:

King Edward I of England (played by Bruce Matthew)
Earl of Pembroke (Brian Hosie)
Earl of Sussex (Jack Laing)
Sir Peter Malory, Lord Chief Justice of England (W.D. Shaw)
Lord Mayor of London (D. Stewart Newton)
Constable of the Tower of London (Tony Wishart)
Sir William Wallace (Ian Spalding)13

The Signing of the Declaration of Scottish Independence [1320]

This was the same performance that had taken place (with possible small amendments in different years) in every pageant that had been held in Arbroath from 1947 on. It enacted the famous signing of the Declaration that was then purported to have been drafted by Abbot Bernard de Linton.14 The action was briefly as follows:

1. Entrance of the Lord High Abbot, Bernard de Linton, in Ceremonial Procession with Bishops, Canons and Monks.
2. Arrival of King Robert the Bruce, accompanied by Cavalcade of Barons and Squires, with retinue of Foot Soldiers.
3. The Signing of the Declaration.
4. Departure of King and retinue.
5. The Lord High Abbot, Bishops and Monks seen in Ceremonial Procession.

The following were the main roles:

Bernard de Linton Abbot of Aberbrothock (played by George S Shepherd)
Bishop of Aberdeen (J.O. Riley)
Bishop of St Andrews (D.Y. Walker)
Bishop of Dunkeld (John Mentiply)
Robert Bruce (King of Scots) (Jim McGugan)

Also taking part were performers in the roles of Barons, Canons, Monks and Standard Bearers; Frank Thornton wrote and performed the commentary.15

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

  • Arbroath Male Voice Choir. Director of Choir: Andrew Morrison. The choir performed singing of the Ave Verum (specific arrangement unknown) during the Declaration scene.
  • A fanfare was played but this may have been recorded music.
  • An organ accompanied the singing of Psalm 23 at the opening of the pageant, but there is no note if this was recorded or played live. The tune was 'Crimond', usually attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836–1887). Composed in 1872, this is commonly used for singing Psalm 23, 'The Lord Is My Shepherd', in Scotland and elsewhere. 

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Arbroath Herald
Arbroath Guide.
The Glasgow Herald

Book of words


No book of words was produced.

Other primary published materials

  • Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey August 22nd to 26th, 1964 Souvenir Programme One Shilling. Arbroath, 1964.

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 pageant was featured in this travel article around literary shrines in Scotland.
  • Ritchie, 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

  • Angus Archives near Forfar holds a large number of undated photographs of the pageant which may include some taken in 1964. See, for example, shelfmark: MS781.
  • Arbroath Public Library holds two copies of the Souvenir Programme. Shelfmark: 18.94.5.
  • The National Library of Scotland holds one copy of the Souvenir Programme. Special collections. Shelfmark: Doig.66.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Mackenzie, Agnes Mure. Translation of the Declaration.

The Translation of the Declaration by Agnes Mure Mackenzie was first published in the 1949 souvenir pamphlet and was read in performance of the signing of the document. This was reproduced in the 1964 souvenir programme and in many previous programmes.


This was the eleventh enactment of the pageant; the last had been held in 1956 and as it had been since 1948, the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society was responsible for organising it. Between 1948 and 1956, the Society had spearheaded the pageant but there was always a certain amount of involvement by the town council as well, with many of the Society's committee members being drawn from among the town's elected councillors. There were also wider ancillary aspects of the pageant, such as a pageant parade through the town which involved many other Arbroath organisations. When the Society reintroduced the pageant in 1964, the involvement of the council and of wider institutions in the town was less evident.

In the souvenir programme for 1964, the Arbroath Pageant Society made clear that there had been an abeyance in the annual performances of the Arbroath pageant when they thanked various agencies for 'making possible the revival of the pageant'.17 The programme's appearance in itself hints at the fact that a lack of funds underlay this temporary halt to the annual staging, for, unlike previous publications, it contains no colour illustrations or plates. Moreover, most of its eighteen pages carry advertisements for local companies, indicating that this income was particularly crucial to the pageant's resumption. Beyond the adverts, there are a few black and white photographs of pageant players in costume. Also included is a short contextual history of the Declaration, a one-page re-issue of Agnes Mure Mackenzie's popular translation of the original document, programme details, and names of cast members, with the latter information all printed onto an economical single page. It is a dull example of a pageant souvenir, but it was possibly all that could be afforded in the circumstances.

Following its last performance in 1956, the plan had been to stage the pageant again in 1960, but this year came and went without a pageant being held. Some attempt seems to have made to hold the pageant in 1962, but these plans came to nought.18 During the 1950s, successive annual pageants had lost money and the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society must have aimed to build up a reserve of funds before risking another presentation. But lack of money was likely not the only reason for the Society’s hesitancy: one of the influencing factors which had made the organisers take a break from annual productions had been the lack of new material, which it was felt was needed to keep the event fresh. In 1955 they had gone so far as to hold a competition for new scripts for the introductory play to the Declaration scene, but this had attracted only seven entries, with none of them being deemed good enough to be performed.19 Lack of enthusiasm among the local population had also regularly been blamed, as there were never sufficient willing performers and helpers and all the work of the production had been left to the same small band of enthusiasts—many of whom, after ten years, had run out of inspiration.

The gender dynamics of the pageant possibly did not help either, since the dramas enacted almost always called for male players, with women confined to backroom tasks or fundraising efforts within a 'ladies' committee. In the context of the post-war years, this situation was compounded by the fact that young men were not always available; Thornton commented that once they were called off to National Service, they returned with the ‘“could not care less” attitude of the Serviceman, and their interest in any form of voluntary work was gone'.20 However, the 1960s had dawned, National Service had ended and the pageant had had time to take stock; and one of the heartening elements of the 1964 pageant was that young men, in the end, did volunteer. Many of the old guard were able to take more of a back seat: Archie Linton Robertson, for example, retained his position on the organising committee but bowed out from playing Robert the Bruce, so allowing this plum role to be taken on by a new and enthusiastic performer.

The apparent eagerness shown by new entrants to the pageant in 1964, initially, may have come as something of a surprise to many of the old-timers, since at preliminary meetings held in 1963 things had not looked so good. At the first of these, the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society had formed a 'ways and means' sub-committee from among those present in order to 'consider all that a Pageant next year would involve and sound local enthusiasm'.21 The results of this informal enquiry did not look too hopeful. At a second meeting of the Society for which invitations to 130 members had been sent, only seventeen showed up. The pageant producer Frank Thornton was in the chair, and he said 'that it would be an act of faith' to go ahead 'in view of tonight's turnout'. But mindful that this was how things had been quite often in the past, when they had even had 'to rope in holidaymakers to make up the numbers', the decision was taken to have a pageant anyway. Thornton stated that he felt that they had 'a social obligation' to get the pageant going again.22 The obligation in question was that the 650th anniversary of the Declaration of Scottish Independence was coming up in 1970; Thornton must have realised that preparations for this would have to start sooner rather than later.

Yet although the need for innovation had often been acknowledged, there was something of a return to tradition in 1964 that was perhaps at odds with wider social changes taking place, although it is often jokingly said that the sixties did not happen in Scotland until the seventies! The religious service at the start of the pageant, which had been abandoned in the late 1950s, was once again reinstituted (though for the opening afternoon performance only) and may perhaps have been seen as anachronistic. There were no real script changes either. The tried and trusted prologue written by a local poet was once again used. The one-act play, The Laurel Crown, which depicted Wallace's trial, was also resurrected, and the Declaration scene was once more unpacked from mothballs.23 The local press was defensive about this and stated that readers should remember that 'the pageant society was the pioneer of what has become a fashionable entertainment elsewhere where lesser history was made!'24 In making this comment, they were probably alluding to the use of illumination in the Arbroath pageant despite its otherwise traditional approach. Time-served society members also continued to perform in some roles. For example, in the Laurel Crown Ian Spalding once again played William Wallace. And George Shepherd, who had co-produced the pageant year-on-year and had always played Bernard de Linton, reprised this role in the Declaration episode; however, following a knee injury, he was replaced at one performance by one of the cohort of new young players.25

The pageant revival attracted quite a lot of publicity with Linton Robertson and the producer Frank Thornton appearing on BBC Radio Scotland's home service to discuss the event. It was also filmed by Scottish Television and Grampian TV with extracts later appearing on news bulletins broadcast across Scotland.26 The fact that the popular entertainer, Andy Stewart, who had as a young man taken part in the pageant, agreed to perform at the opening ceremony on Saturday afternoon, must also have been a significant draw as he was then at the height of his fame. Nevertheless, publicity aside, it was the case that the Pageant Society had long ago abandoned the notion of making any kind of financial profit on the production regardless of how successful it was in other respects. Indeed, in this way, they tenaciously clung to the foundational ethos of historical pageantry, defending their pageant as a means of celebrating and commemorating the past, and involving the local community in order to do so. Despite a colossal financial loss, it must have been a boost for them to receive praise, and Thornton declared afterwards that 'the cast was imbued with tremendous spirit' because of this.27 Although, following the 1964 event, any talk of reinstituting the pageant as an annual event was not mentioned within the reporting of the Society's AGM, for that ship had certainly sailed, there was sufficient buoyancy of spirits for plans to be announced for another pageant two years later in 1966.28

The pageant of the 'Great Charter of Freedom', as it was now being dubbed, was back and advertising itself in a way that aimed to make it relevant to a world in thrall to the loss of freedoms that were then a fearsome feature of the Cold War in many parts of the world.29 The new blood in the cast and within the committee had also started to think bigger in respect to raising the profile of the pageant. At the Society's AGM, it was proposed that publicity should be sent to Caledonian Societies overseas to appeal for help. Yet, domestic politics were not entirely off the organisers' agenda. The pageant's new Robert the Bruce (the performer Jim McGugan) stated that expatriates were 'the kind of people who had the funds (and the Nationalism) to make the trip'.30 That old spectre of home rule, which had always been suspected by many as fuelling enthusiasm for the Arbroath pageant, had not quite disappeared, despite the time lapse between pageants.


  1. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 22nd to 26th, 1964, Souvenir Programme, One Shilling (Arbroath, 1964), np.
  2. ^ Advertisement, Arbroath Herald, 14 August 1964, 1.
  3. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 22nd to 26th, 1964, Souvenir Programme, One Shilling (Arbroath, 1964), np.
  4. ^ 'Next Pageant in 1966', Arbroath Herald, 11 December 1964, 17.
  5. ^ See entry by Joan Morrison Noble in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 229.
  6. ^ 'Kings Grow Beards for This Month's Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 7 August 1964, 7.
  7. ^ Arbroath Herald, 11 December 1964, 17.
  8. ^ ‘4000 Saw the Pageant Revival: Better than Ever after Eight Years', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1964, 6.
  9. ^ Advertisement for the pageant, Arbroath Herald, 7 August 1964, 1
  10. ^ Arbroath Herald, 7 August 1964, 7.
  11. ^ An epilogue, which usually closed the performance, was not included in the programme in 1964.
  12. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 22nd to 26th, 1964, Souvenir Programme, One Shilling (Arbroath, 1964), np.
  13. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 22nd to 26th, 1964, Souvenir Programme, One Shilling (Arbroath, 1964), np.
  14. ^ It was later established that the Abbot in question was not de Linton who was not Chancellor of Scotland and was an Abbot in the Scottish Borders, but another, usually called 'Bernard of Arbroath', who was Chancellor in the period of the document's creation as well as Abbott at Arbroath Abbey. It should be noted, however, that it is almost certain that the document was the work of more than one author. See Edward J. Cowan, For Freedom Alone: The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320 (East Linton, 2003), 54.
  15. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 22nd to 26th, 1964, Souvenir Programme, One Shilling (Arbroath, 1964), np.
  16. ^ See entry by Richard Watson in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 180.
  17. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 22nd to 26th, 1964, Souvenir Programme, One Shilling (Arbroath, 1964), np.; those thanked by name include the Town Council, Messrs Alexander Shanks & Sons Ltd., Messrs W.L. Grant & Son and the Commanding Officer of HMS Condor, Arbroath.
  18. ^ 'Arbroath Pageant Revived', Glasgow Herald, 4 May 1961, 7.
  19. ^ 'Next Pageant in 1960', Arbroath Herald, 30 November 1956, 7.
  20. ^ 'Does Arbroath Want Its Pageant?' Arbroath Herald, 23 September 1955, 7.
  21. ^ 'New Hope for Abbey Pageant: Revival under Way', Arbroath Herald, 8 November 1963, 8.
  22. ^ 'Arbroath Pageant Gets Go Ahead For '64', Arbroath Herald, 13 December 1963, 10.
  23. ^ it was usual
  24. ^ Arbroath Herald, 7 August 1964, 7.
  25. ^ ‘4000 Saw the Pageant Revival: Better than Ever after Eight Years', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1964, 6.
  26. ^ ‘4000 Saw the Pageant Revival: Better than Ever after Eight Years', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1964, 6..
  27. ^ 'Next Pageant in 1966', Arbroath Herald, 11 December 1964, 17.
  28. ^ 'Next Pageant in 1966', Arbroath Herald, 11 December 1964, 17.
  29. ^ See advertisements for the 1964 pageant, for example Arbroath Herald, 7 August 1964, 1.
  30. ^ Arbroath Herald, 11 December 1964, 17.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1964’, The Redress of the Past,