Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1970

Other names

  • The Scots' Pageant

Pageant type


Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society

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

Year: 1970

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 7


22–29 August 1970

Saturday 22 August 1970, 9pm.

Monday 24–Saturday 29 August, 9pm.

This was the first Arbroath pageant where all performances were held at night.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Producer [Pageant Master]: Walker, Tom
  • 'Play Direction': Alistair Duncan
  • Lighting: Ken Heathfield
  • Sound Recording: Bill Shaw
  • Sound Reproduction: Ken Macdonald
  • Wardrobe: Ella Heathfield
  • Stage Management: Margaret Kerr
  • Props: John Evans
  • Costume Design: Ruth Walker1

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society:

  • Chairman: Mr D.Y. Cargill
  • Vice-Chairman: Dean of Guild, H.A. Farmer
  • Secretary and Treasurer: Mr D. Langlands.


Names of office holders that have been recovered are those committee members re-elected following the 1970 pageant.

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

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


The local poet J. Crawford Milne wrote the prologue; this had been performed at many Arbroath pageants. F. W. A. Thornton who had been involved with the pageant since 1947 wrote the scenario and commentary for the Declaration scene; this scene was always the main feature of the pageant. The historian Agnes Mure Mackenzie had done a translation of the Declaration of Independence from the original Latin which was recited during the declaration scene. This translation had been used at every Arbroath pageant since at least 1948. The pageant play, The Soul at Lairge was written by the celebrated author, Sydney Goodsir Smith who had adapted the piece from his longer drama, The Wallace, especially for performance at the 1970 Arbroath pageant.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


The plan was to involve a cast of 300, but this number included volunteers undertaking backstage activities. 150 were said to be required for the Declaration scene and between 64 and 70 for the play, The Soul At Lairge. More took part than in any previous Arbroath pageant.

Financial information

Expenditure: £2488

Income from ticket sales: £1780

Deficit as at October 1970: £7074

Object of any funds raised

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society


It was reported that this was the largest sum ever made at the Arbroath pageant from ticket sales.5

Linked occasion

650th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 900
  • Total audience: n/a


Audience figure unknown. The revenue made from ticket sales suggests that there was a good level of attendance generally, although this was far from capacity. There is no note of any dress rehearsal that included an audience.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Grandstand: 15s., 12s. 6d., 10s., 7s. 6d., 5s. (children half-price). Front area (flat): 7s. 6d.7

All tickets were for seated accommodation. There were seats at the front of the stage area in addition to those in the grandstand.

Associated events

There was a year-long programme of events because of the 650th anniversary of the Declaration. These took place across Scotland as well as in Arbroath.

Pageant outline



This was an established text which had been performed many times within the pageant. The local poet, James Crawford Milne, wrote it and the former pageant producer, F.W.A. Thornton, gave a pre-recorded narration, although he no longer performed as narrator. The Prologue is 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:

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...


Pageant-play. The Soul At Lairge [1305].

Written by the celebrated poet, novelist and dramatist, Sydney Goodsir Smith, this was an extract from his longer verse play, The Wallace, which had been premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960.8 It was the first and only staging of this work as part of the Arbroath pageant. Although its specific subject matter (the trial of William Wallace) was a regular feature at Arbroath, the treatment of this historical event within Smith's play had some new features, including the appearance of female performers playing 'ladies of the court', and it had a much larger cast than had previously characterised such curtain-raiser episodes to the main Declaration scene.

The drama enacted contained two chroniclers, one English (played by Bill Shaw) and the other Scottish (Arthur Kerr). The local press described these two as engaged in 'sketching the story that has led to the trial, each from their own points of view.'9 Throughout the trial scene, King Edward appears and 'towers in arrogance and rage' over the 'gentle Wallace'.10 The action begins with the entry of the Scots and English Chroniclers, their conversation describing the war and Wallace's capture. The Scottish chronicler delivers his speech in Scots while that given by the other is made in Standard English. Each contradicts the other in terms of Scottish and English intentions. For example, English Chronicler:

It was about this time that our good King Edward, hearing reports of the unsettled state of the Kingdom of Scotland, that was under his protection as overlord and superior, deemed it proper for the safety of that kingdom that all castles and places of strength should be delivered to him and that the Kingdom of Scotland should come under his dominion in the same manner as the principality of Wales, for the preservation of peace in the realm...

Scots Chronicler:

And sae in the guise of friend and ally, Edward invadit and owrehailit the nation and did muckle skaith in slauchter and herschip, and wha wad nocht bow til his empire he garnt be slain, and all places whar he passed he clean brunt, leaving nocht behint but stane and water. The great lords were aye at enmite and made nae concourse, and Edward had his will in Scotland.11

While this is taking place, an 'English Herald and as many Artisans as necessary to set stage' enter.12 While the Chroniclers continue speaking, the Artisans, 'directed by the Herald', go about 'setting up [a] throne, which they have carried in, setting out documents, stools and other appurtenances as may be needful, and with, at first, much hammering erect the dock—a platform, [sic] not as high as the King's dais, fenced round with solid wooden railings.' 13

Following this, a distant fanfare sounds. The chroniclers and artisans exit and 'Men-At-Arms, followed by Minor Clerics, Clerks of Court, Lords and Gentlemen' all enter. The Herald then announces the arrival of Edward. There is a grand fanfare while he seats himself. The two main characters of the King and Wallace thereafter carry most of the dialogue. In this, Edward accuses Wallace of treachery and, in turn, Wallace defends his position. Several other supporting characters supply small amounts of background information before the trial ends with Wallace refusing to accept the overlordship of the English King, who states:

But now I offer you a nobler crest,
The first under the Crown of Scotland.
Is this not vanity's reward enough?
But, seriously. Think again. I assure you
I would not regret it. Be my Duke, Wallace!

To which Wallace replies:

Regrets there'd be aaricht! And gin
They werena yours, Edward, then certies
They'd be mine!14

Wallace then recommends the man who betrayed him, the Earl of Menteith, for this position.

The other characters in the play, some of whom had speaking parts, included:

Sir John de Menteith (Bill McGugan);
The Prince of Wales [later Edward II] (Mike Cossans);
Sir Jeffrey de Hartepool (Jack Laing);
Sir Peter Mallory (Neal Geaughan);
John de Backwell (Ron Cargill);
Sir Ralph de Sandwich (Burns Mitchell);
The Archbishop of Canterbury (John Nicol);
The Archbishop of Chichester (Stewart Ferguson);
The Earl of Lancaster (Alec Thoms);
The Bishop of Glasgow (Tom McNeill);
The Earl of Ross (Ian Jack);
The Earl of Angus (Alan Bell);
Sir Robert de Keith (Alistair Watson);
Sir John de Mowbray (Tom Fraser);
Sir John de Segrave (Maurice Sievwright);
Sir John de Comyn (Matthew Kerr);
Mayor of London, Sir John le Blunt (George Dawson);
Robert de Brus, Earl of Carrick (Jim McGugan).

In addition, there were several banner bearers and foot soldiers, as well as ten ladies of the court. Frank Thornton provided some introductory commentary. 15

Signing of the Declaration of Scottish Independence [1320].

This central scene performed every year had a slightly altered introduction in 1970. The commentator was introduced with faint organ music, then a fanfare; the lights then focussed on the commentator who began (as was usual) with a set piece inviting the audience to return in imagination to 6 April 1320, the date appended to the Declaration. However, he then asked them to recall first the death of Alexander III, which ushered in the Wars of Independence. In this piece he declaimed:

go further back, back to that dark day for our country when the morning dawned to reveal the broken body of Alexander III of glorious memory... Ours was a prosperous country till that day, now leaderless she became the object of Angevin greed and for nearly thirty years knew the horrors of a ruthless aggression... In these years Wallace rose a champion of his people, only to be beaten down under pressure of fearful odds, yet ere he died he cast on the torch of freedom, into the eager hands of the Robert Bruce... one of the noblest stories in the history of any country...16

The distant sound of battle is then heard and the lights shine on the two chroniclers who had been part of the previous scene (The Soul at Lairge). They each state a view on the battle of Bannockburn. The sound of battle and the lights then fade out together.

The commentator then resumes with a description of the Abbey in 1320, and states that 'a parliament of the Scottish people had been called here in Aberbrothock' (the antique name for Arbroath).17 He proceeds to describe how the Abbey would have appeared in this time and comments on the atmospheric scene as some of the performers enter. In this:

silence seems to wait, like bated breath, for some great and soul-stirring event... And now that silence is broken, as we watch we hear the soft chanting of the monks as in solemn procession they follow the Lord High Abbot to devotions at the High Altar.18

The commentary then describes the procession and those within it; thereafter, the sound of an 'approaching cavalcade' is heard; this is 'a martial sound alien to the scene before us'.19

A further fanfare then sounds and the 'great doors of the Abbey slowly swing open to reveal... the dynamic and inspiring leader of the Scottish people, Robert the Bruce, by the grace of God, King of Scots'.20 The King is then described as striding up the pillared nave of the church to greet his friend, Abbot Bernard; Bruce then kneels to receive the Abbot's blessing. The remainder of Bruce's entourage then enter. The audience is asked by the Commentator to 'imagine ourselves walking with the King and his Barons to the Regality Chamber above the Portcullis Gate where the Parliament did in fact meet'.21 The scene then enacts the king witnessing, from a throne, as each of the signatories to the Declaration affixes his seal. The Commentator states that 'a nation is reborn that will endure forever'.22 The Commentator then reads out the charter using a translation made in the 1940s by Agnes Mure Mackenzie.

The Abbot lifts the document and holds it aloft, then gives it to the King on bended knee. The King reads it through, then hands it back. The royal retinue then leave with great ceremony and the Abbot places the document into a cask. The monks then form a procession again and the cask is carried within this by the Bishop of Aberdeen before being given to two knights who are to take it to the Pope at Avignon. They both kneel to receive the Abbot's blessing. Throughout, there is singing by the choir of monks. The commentary ends with a speech that had previously been given as a separate epilogue:

The freedom which is yours is precious, it was dearly bought and you must hold it safe within your trust, and as a beacon light shines out into the world of night so may this message from the past send its light of hope to all the oppressed nations of this earth.23

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
  • Menteith, Sir John (d. 1323?) soldier and administrator
  • Comyn, Sir John, lord of Badenoch (d. 1306) magnate
  • Sandwich, Sir Ralph (c.1235–1308) justice and administrator
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine

Musical production

  • Arbroath Male Voice Choir. Director of Choir: Andrew Morrison.
  • There were fanfares played; this was recorded music.
  • Organ music was played, again likely recorded.
  • As was usual at the pageant, the Arbroath Male Voice choir provided choral music as part of the Declaration scene. It is presumed that this included an arrangement of Ave Verum although precise details have not been recovered. The choral music may have been sung live, or pre-recorded, this is unclear.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Arbroath Herald
The Glasgow Herald

Book of words

The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970. Arbroath, 1970.

One copy held in NLS. Also widely available elsewhere.

Other primary published materials

  • Arbroath Abbey Pageant Founded in 1949 Within the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey 22nd to 29th August 1970, Souvenir Programme One Shilling (Arbroath, 1970).

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, 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

  • The National Library of Scotland has a copy of the published script. See The Scots Pageant: the Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970. Arbroath, 1970. Shelfmark: HP1.78.4414.
  • The National Library of Scotland has a copy of the programme of the special service held that year. See The Declaration of Scottish Independence: Royal Burgh of Arbroath 1970, 650th Anniversary Commemoration Service (Interdenominational) / Conducted by T. Gemmell Campbell; Address: J.B. Longmuir. Shelfmark: HP3.93.801.
  • Arbroath Public Library has one copy of the published script and one copy of the souvenir programme. Both shelfmark: 18.394.5.
  • The National Library of Scotland has a copy of a circular from the Scottish Education Department in Edinburgh to education authorities throughout Scotland alerting them to the 650th anniversary of the Declaration of Scottish Independence and advising them on events taking place and relevant teaching materials. 'Circular No. 744'. NLS. Shelfmark: GEB.24 [744].

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Mackenzie, Agnes Mure. Translation of the Declaration.
  • Smith, Sydney Goodsir. The Wallace. Edinburgh & London, 1960..

The Translation of the Declaration from the original Latin was by Agnes Mure Mackenzie; this was first published in the 1949 souvenir pamphlet and was read in performance of the signing of the document. It was reproduced in the 1970 souvenir programme and in many previous programmes.

The play The Soul At Lairge was specially adapted for the pageant. It was essentially an extract from the longer dramatic piece, The Wallace, by Sydney Goodsir Smith. The play's author undertook the adaptation himself. The pageant Book of Words suggests that Smith was a supporter of the pageant.24


The celebration of the 650th anniversary of the coming into being of the Declaration of Scottish Independence occurred in 1970. This anniversary date ensured that planning to hold the pageant had long been in place—the prior outing for the pageant having been four years previously in 1966. The event in 1970 was the thirteenth Arbroath pageant held, and the organisers intended that the performance would be lucky for all involved. However, unlike in previous years, as a celebration of the Declaration, the pageant was only one event in a plethora that was held across Scotland. Interest in the document had grown in the post-war years, and it was certainly felt by many that in this special anniversary year more Scots should learn of its significance. To this end, the Scottish Education Department in Edinburgh sent out a circular to all education authorities throughout Scotland alerting them to the 650th commemoration and advising them on some of the events taking place and relevant teaching materials that could be used in schools. The circular letter states that the declaration is:

[E]vidence of the strong determination of the Scots to maintain their freedom, and in later times has become a symbol of Scotland's pride in her national identity. The Anniversary, therefore, is an important occasion which offers schools a special opportunity to re-examine relevant aspects of the Scottish heritage.

Various events and activities are planned to mark the Anniversary. The Keeper of the Records of Scotland proposes to mount an exhibition of documents, including the only contemporary copy of the Declaration which is still extant... A colour facsimile, the first to be based on a contemporary copy of the Declaration, has been prepared... along with a translation from the Latin and a historical note and is available from HMSO (price 5s.). A special commemorative postage stamp will be issued by the Post Office. The Burgh of Arbroath itself is planning a number of activities to celebrate the Anniversary, including a historical pageant. For teachers and others who wish to learn more of the history of the Declaration, a scholarly commentary by Sir James Fergusson will be published by the Edinburgh University Press. An interpretative account of the historical significance of the Declaration will be given by Professor A.M. Duncan of Glasgow University in a booklet to be published by the Historical Association.25

The circular’s mention of the pageant indicates the special place of Arbroath in the anniversary’s narrative of the Declaration; this must have put the Pageant Society under quite a bit of pressure to put on an extra special show. At the beginning of 1969, the Society had even proposed to run it as a partly 'professional production with professional actors' and had had discussions with the Scottish Arts Council about available funding for this.26 However, sufficient money to employ professional actors was not forthcoming, so the amateurs once again dusted down their costumes. After the disappointing contribution made by the Arts Council, the budget set to organise the event was £2000, and despite its remaining a wholly amateur production it was proposed that the anniversary merited something even more spectacular than had been put on at previous pageants. The long-time producer and writer for the pageant, Frank Thornton, now took more of a back seat on the committee and was no longer involved with its production. But in view of the anniversary, he proposed to rewrite and enlarge his play, The Laurel Crown. In the event, Thornton changed his mind and it was reported that he' felt that he could not do this for a variety of reasons'.27 However, this problem was solved when the celebrated poet, playwright and acknowledged proponent of the Scottish literary renaissance, Sydney Goodsir Smith, agreed to adapt part of his verse play, The Wallace, especially for the pageant. This work had provided a controversial version of the Wallace story and Smith was a known nationalist. Notably, in his dramatic interpretation of Wallace's trial, Smith had included the attendance of the Earl of Carrick (the future King Robert the Bruce). This device underlines a sentiment held by many Scots that the real hero of the Wars of Independence had been the more lowly born Wallace, with the aristocratic Bruce merely taking up the mantle of power that Wallace by his courage had made possible.28 Much of the play's dialogue was in Scots, which was a hallmark of Smith's writing.

A central feature of The Soul At Lairge was the exposition of the Wallace story through a dialogue delivered by two chroniclers—one English and one Scottish—with the latter delivering his version of events in broad Scots. The language difference between the two chroniclers served to underline the differences of interpretation on the contemporary situation in fourteenth-century Scotland. Moreover, it also suggests that this history might be open to different interpretation within the English tongue. The two chroniclers were incorporated into the main scene where they introduced this in company with the scene's commentator. In this introduction, they describe the defeat of the English at Bannockburn in 1314 from opposed perspectives. This innovation gave a little more narrative unity to the pageant overall than had existed in previous years. However, thereafter the main scene proceeded with Frank Thornton's usual commentary and the remainder of the drama continued as it always had with Robert the Bruce and his entourage arriving at the Abbey, the barons appending their seals, then the whole company leaving once again. During this ceremony, the commentator, as always, read an English translation of the Declaration, and the commentary and dialogue was pre-recorded and then mimed by the performers. The use of pre-recorded audio had featured in the Arbroath pageant from as early as 1954 and at the time this had been implemented, it was used against the advice of the BBC.29. In 1970, all of the commentary and dialogue was pre-recorded enabling the audience to hear all of the discourse clearly, regardless of weather conditions or where they were seated. In this way, Arbroath pageant organisers were well ahead of a trend that would become commonplace for historical pageants held in the 1970s.

Pre-recorded audio must have been particularly important for presentation of Smith's play for it ran for 45 minutes, which was twice as long as any previous introductory drama to the Declaration scene.30 The bigger than usual cast which appeared also aimed to expand the spectacle generally. The latter included female performers acting as courtly ladies in Smith's play; there were only ten women, but this was still an uncommon feature in the Arbroath pageant. Altogether around 220 performers are estimated to have taken part and it is likely that, as had been promised, a much more colourful display was achieved. In 1970, finally, a Book of Words for the pageant was also published. The text of the main declaration scene, including the text of the declaration itself runs to only four pages; thus indicating that in this scene there was greater dependence on spectacle than on the spoken word. This underlines perhaps the most persuasive reason why floodlit performances had been so successful. Under clever lighting and in the impressive setting of the Abbey ruins, the beautifully costumed performers, engaged in a carefully choreographed ritual, possibly did appear as figures from the past come back to life.

Yet despite such enlargement of the drama, other aspects of the production were scaled back. As was usual, the pageant took place in August towards the end of Arbroath's holiday season. In 1970, however, the new producers stuck with the crowd-pleasing illuminated performances and did not include an afternoon show, which typically had included an opening ceremony and invited guests. This was the first ever pageant where there was no such daylight performance given. The absence of this might be explained by the fact that a large civic occasion had already taken place as part of the anniversary celebrations when an inter-denominational service was held on 6 April, the date stated as that when the document was completed and sent to the Pope in 1320. This service opened Arbroath's contribution to national commemorations and was attended by the great and the good from all over Scotland, among them the Scottish Secretary of State, William Ross, many Scottish MPs from all parties, including Donald Dewar and Winnie Ewing, as well as Provosts and representatives of towns from all over the country. The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Scotland were also in attendance. A an audio relay to the outer precincts of the ruin was set up and in all 1500 spectators inside the abbey ruins and a further 500 outside heard sermons by local ministers, the singing of massed choirs, and a speech given by the former pageant producer, Frank Thornton.31 At the conclusion of the service, the Countess of Erroll, followed by the assembly of guests, processed to the 'raised lawn to the north of the great west doorway, where she lit a propane-fed Flame of Independence on a pedestal'.32 This flame was supposed to burn for the six months of the town's celebrations and had been a gift to Arbroath from 'a petroleum company' at the cost of £1000.33 The whole occasion was slightly marred, however, by both terrible weather and the appearance of the then well-known protestant extremist, Pastor Jack Glass, accompanied by his usual band of supporters. However, the police were on hand and only one arrest was made.34

The ‘no popery’ cries of these protestors highlight one of the issues that had always been an undercurrent at Arbroath. Although overt sectarianism had rarely raised its head, it is likely that some Scots were made uncomfortable by the decidedly traditional ceremony included in the drama, which included the chanting of monks and evidence of priestly ritual. Yet here the organisers' will to attain a measure of authenticity had successfully trumped any Presbyterian reservations. Even so, high altars and genuflections had probably not been to everyone's taste in post-war Scotland. The other bogeyman of the pageant had been less easy to subjugate: this was political nationalism. Two days before the religious service, the Scottish National Party held its own celebration, which attracted 2000 party members and a full-page report in the local press.35.

This party political rally was held on the Abbey Green after the Secretary of State had refused permission for it to take place within the ruins. With little apparent heed for his scheduled appearance at the religious service, Frank Thornton, this time in his capacity as a local SNP organiser, presided over the occasion and read the words of the Declaration, after which there was several minutes of silence broken by the playing of a Pibroch by a lone piper. The leader of the SNP, William Wolfe, then made a speech in which he stated that the SNP sought to 'give back to the people of Scotland their responsibilities and opportunities as a nation'. Wolfe railed against increasing 'centralisation' and said that 'we must grow up as a human community in Freedom. This was Arbroath's message of 1320. It is also Arbroath's message of 1970.'36 The reading out of 'a new Declaration' by the actor Stuart McGugan followed this:

To-day we reaffirm our nationhood in the words and in the spirit of the Declaration of Arbroath... Scotland is no northern appendage of England, but a kingdom in treaty relations with a neighbouring kingdom... Scotland's nationhood is as real as England's or that of any other nation; as deeply rooted in history; as fully expressed in national institutions and as completely embodied in a distinctive national genius and character... Scotland had survived, refusing to be submerged into a region, because a fierce democratic spirit and love of freedom have burned in this land for centuries, in spite of all the most consistent and determined efforts to quench them...37

As a further protest against the Secretary of State's decision to keep the SNP's demonstration out of the Abbey, many of those attending the party's ceremony then paid a shilling to enter the building. Some of the standard-bearers who were there took their flags up to the window arches so that the 'Lion Rampant and the Saltire soon flew from every embrasure'.38

Whether to detract from potential controversy or for more prosaic reasons of cost, Arbroath held few more specially convened events between the day of the opening service and the pageant. Instead, the usual round of summertime regulars such as the Angus Show (a livestock and highland games-type fixture) and the local flower show were advertised as having the added gloss of taking place in the 650th anniversary year. And the publicity surge did seem to work. News spread and Arbroath's special celebrations even made it into the New York Times.39 The article, called 'Behind Historic Scottish Pageant Lurks Dreams of Independence' and written by Peter Bloxham, reported that an 'upsurge of Scottish nationalism has added political tang to an otherwise purely theatrical occasion'.40 It also cautioned that visitors to this 'wind-swept, east-coast fishing port... had better be ready to engage with those dour Scots skeptics [sic] if you join this northbound pilgrimage. To some, even to some in Arbroath, the celebrations are a lot of unnecessary fuss...'41

Perhaps predictably, and despite the anniversary year and good levels of attendance at most performances, the 1970 Arbroath Abbey Pageant again lost money. Meantime, the anniversary had also primed the interest of historians and, characteristically, some of these sounded notes of caution with regard to the significance of the Declaration. Dr Grant Simpson of Aberdeen University gave a lecture to a local history society in the town in which he stated that 'the traditional story of an Assembly in the Abbey could not be proved or disproved; events were more involved.' Simpson further stated that 'the significance of the document must not be exaggerated, even in its own time—he regarded any comparison with Magna Carta as inaccurate and saw the Declaration as a diplomatic letter, not a legal document'. He concluded by saying however, that the document was 'one of the masterpieces of political rhetoric of all time.'42

Yet undaunted by financial loss or any doubts cast by professional historians on the authenticity of the re-enactment of the signing of the document, the organisers yet again claimed that 1970 was not the end for the pageant. They planned to hold it again in 1975 and on an even more ambitious scale, though in the event the next performance was not until 1980. The pageant's co-producer, Tom Walker, stated that five years 'was needed to raise money and to publicise the Pageant much further in advance than had ever been done before'. Walker asserted that the Pageant Society would have to 'get in touch with the organisers of tourist trips and the Clan Societies in America, Canada and Australia at least two or three years before the production.' He was further reported as commenting that, with the next production, 'Arbroath could become known as Scotland's Oberammergau... There is no point in being under-ambitious... we have a production and setting that is unparalleled anywhere is Scotland. We must be ambitious...'43 Historians might have their opinion but they almost certainly fell on deaf ears where the pageant was concerned. For by 1970, this had accumulated a history of its own and one which its organisers saw as intrinsic to the identity of the town.


  1. ^ Listed in 'Brilliant Climax to Declaration Year', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1970, 7.
  2. ^ 'Next Pageant in Five Years' Time', Arbroath Herald, 16 October 1970, 9.
  3. ^ Arbroath Herald, 24 October 1969, 5.
  4. ^ Arbroath Herald, 16 October 1970, 9.
  5. ^ Arbroath Herald, 16 October 1970, 9.
  6. ^ Arbroath Herald, 24 October 1969, 5.
  7. ^ Advertisement, Arbroath Herald, 14 August 1970, 1.
  8. ^ For information about Smith's career, see Scottish Literary Papers, 'About Sydney Goodsir Smith' at:, accessed 18/1/2016; also Tom Hubbard, ‘Smith, Sydney Goodsir (1915–1975)’, May 2010, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), online edn,, accessed 18/1/2016.
  9. ^ 'Brilliant Climax to Declaration Year', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1970, 7.
  10. ^ 'Brilliant Climax to Declaration Year', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1970, 7.
  11. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 6–7.
  12. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 6.
  13. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 6.
  14. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 24.
  15. ^ All cast names retrieved from the article 'Brilliant Climax to Declaration Year', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1970, 7.
  16. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 31.
  17. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 32.
  18. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 32.
  19. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 32.
  20. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 32.
  21. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 33.
  22. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 33.
  23. ^ The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970 (Arbroath, 1970), 36.
  24. ^ Foreword to The Scots Pageant: The Script of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant August 1970(Arbroath, 1970), 4.
  25. ^ The Declaration of Scottish Independence, 650th Anniversary. Circular (Great Britain. Scottish Education Department) no. 744.
  26. ^ 'Pageant Goes on Next Year', Arbroath Herald, 30 May 1969, 7
  27. ^ 'Enlarged Pageant Next Year', Arbroath Herald, 24 October 1969 5.
  28. ^ For discussion of this, see James Coleman, Remembering the Past in Nineteenth-Century Scotland: Commemoration, Nationality and Memory (Edinburgh, 2014), 39-44.
  29. ^ ' "Laurel Crown" Sound Track Recorded', Arbroath herald, 29 August 1980, 20.
  30. ^ 'New Play for Bigger-than-Ever Arbroath Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 17 July 1970.
  31. ^ 'The Three Estates Honour the Declaration', Arbroath Herald, 10 April 1970, 12.
  32. ^ 'The Three Estates Honour the Declaration', Arbroath Herald, 10 April 1970, 12.
  33. ^ 'Arbroath Pageantry Defies Rain and Slogans', Glasgow Herald, 7 April 1970, 1.
  34. ^ Glasgow Herald, 7 April 1970, 1.
  35. ^ 'New Declaration of Nationhood', Arbroath Herald, 10 April 1970, 6.
  36. ^ 'New Declaration of Nationhood', Arbroath Herald, 10 April 1970, 6.
  37. ^ 'New Declaration of Nationhood', Arbroath Herald, 10 April 1970, 6.
  38. ^ The party had applied to hold this meeting within the Abbey but this had been declined. For a description of the meeting, see Arbroath Herald, 10 April 1970, 6.
  39. ^ 'America Hears about Arbroath', Arbroath Herald, 7 August 1970, 17.
  40. ^ The article appeared in the travel section of the New York Times, 26 July 1970, 280.
  41. ^ The New York Times, 26 July 1970, also quoted in reporting about the article in Arbroath Herald, 7 August 1970, 17.
  42. ^ 'Antiquary Club Hears about the Declaration of Arbroath', Arbroath Herald, 2 October 1970, 8.
  43. ^ 'Next Pageant in Five Years' Time', Arbroath Herald, 16 October 1970, 9.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1970’, The Redress of the Past,