Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1999

Pageant type


The pageant was organised by the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society founded in 1947 following the first Abbey Pageant.

Jump to Summary


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

Year: 1999

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 5


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

25–28 August 1999

The pageant took place Wednesday 25–Saturday 28 August 1999 nightly at 9.30pm, plus a matinee on Saturday 28 August at 2.15pm.1 The show lasted approximately 90 minutes.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Shaw, William D.
  • Co-Producer: Fiona Kerr
  • Musical Director: William Glover
  • Stage Manager: Margaret Kerr
  • Lighting Operator: Martin McLeod
  • Make-Up: Brenda McLeod
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Lex Sawley
  • Production Assistant: Fiona McQuade
  • Lighting Installation: Northern Light
  • Sound System: Apex Acoustics2

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society:

  • Chair: Anita Walker
  • Vice-Chairman: Peter Paterson
  • Secretary/Treasurer: David Langlands
  • Other members: Jim Forrester; Arthur Kerr; Fiona Kerr; Margaret Kerr; Ian Lamb; Frank Moir; Tom McGowan; Lex Sawley; Bill Shaw; Lawrence Tait


Many of the committee members had been involved with the pageant when it had last been performed in 1981, including pageant master Bill Shaw and Anita Walker who became chairperson of the Society in 1999. Generally, women were better represented than they had been previously. For the first time, the former pageant producers and long-time members of the pageant committee, Frank Thornton and George Shepherd, do not appear in the committee membership. Following the 1981 pageant, both had been made honorary vice-chairs of the Society in recognition of their services to the pageant.5 By 1999, Thornton had died, but George Shepherd's name appears in the list of the pageant's sponsors.6

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 held in 1980 and 1981. The former 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 by the popular historian Agnes Mure Mackenzie and had been used at every performance of this scene since 1948. Mackenzie was a great supporter of the pageant until her death in 1955.7

Names of composers

  • Glover, William

William Glover had been a teacher of music in Angus and composed original music for the 1980 pageant, which was again used in 1981; he undertook musical direction once more in 1999 when it is assumed that his previous score was reused.

Numbers of performers


Numerous articles state that the pageant had around 200 performers. A photograph included in the pageant programme shows some of the cast. As with previous pageants, the majority were adult men. However, some women took part in the pageant play, The Laurel Crown, and women also featured in the main Declaration scene for the first time, playing the parts of 'ladies'; previously, all roles had been male. There were also a number of boys in the cast of the main Declaration scene.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society


In 1999, the pageant received financial backing and donations in kind from many local charitable trusts, businesses and individuals.9 It was also in receipt of substantial grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Angus Council and the Millennium Festival Fund.10 A Heritage Lottery grant of £30000 was made in January 1999.11 However, it appears likely that this was not received until later in the year and was aimed at financing the pageant in the year 2000.12 It was stated that £65000 in total was needed to stage the pageant in 1999 and 2000.13

Linked occasion

400th anniversary of the granting of Arbroath's burgh charter.

Audience information

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


In 1980, a 1000-seater grandstand had been erected; while it is not known what size was used in 1999 it is likely to have been similar. Shortly before the opening performance it was announced in the local press that almost all seats for the evening shows had been sold, though there was still availability for the matinee on Saturday.14

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


All tickets cost £8 with 'concessions' priced at £4.15

Associated events

The quater-centenary was celebrated in the town with a variety of events, including an exhibition, special concerts and sporting events; these were held throughout the year and sponsored by the local authority. A local festival called 'Sea Fest' which celebrated Arbroath's maritime heritage was held for the third successive year in 1999; pageant performers attended this in costume, and it was said that this greatly helped with the sale of pageant tickets.

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 live narration.18 The verse extols the beauty of Scotland and praises 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 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'.19 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 which preceded his execution. Together with Wallace (played by Alan Patterson), the central characters are Edward I (played by Alan Mowatt), the Earl of Pembroke (Steve Crowe), the Earl of Sussex (Louis Benson), the Lord Chief Justice of England, Sir Peter Mallory (Mark Masson), the Lord Mayor of London (Geoff Bray) and the Constable of the Tower (Rab McMonagle).20 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 35. 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 until 1981 when the local press suggested that a new tableau was to be performed, depicting 'the English harassment of the Scots'.21 Such a scene would likely have been controversial; in the event, surviving evidence gives no indication whether or not this went ahead, and equally there is no evidence that it was included in 1999. More probably, the established format for this scene was performed. This began with the commentator setting the scene; following this, the Abbot and monks processed into the arena. While they are engaged in 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. While in previous performances, the narration had been pre-recorded, it is possible that it was delivered live in 1999; however, evidence to confirm this has not been recovered. The narrator was the pageant producer, Bill Shaw. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the Abbot blesses the King, after which the King and his associates take their leave. The scene ends with the Abbot and monks processing out of the arena. Religious music accompanied this drama, and the score used in 1980 was again used in 1999. 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 (Ian Lamb).22

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

Musical Director: William Glover.

For many years, the Arbroath pageant's music had been pre-recorded, and from the small details that have survived it is likely that it was played on a church organ. In 1999, however, the music was live and played by 10 musicians on brass and percussion instruments; six female singers also played recorders, although it is unclear in which part of the performance this music was heard. A choir of monks sang live during in the Declaration scene. It is likely that most of the music was original.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Arbroath Herald

The Scots Independent

Book of words


A Book of Words was not published.

Other primary published materials

  • Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2. Arbroath, 1999.

References in secondary literature

  • Gladstone-Millar, Rev. W.E. 'The Abbey Pageant'. In The County of Angus, edited by William Allen Illsley. Arbroath, 1977. See p. 525 for brief mention of the pageants in The Third Statistical Account.
  • 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.

The pageants held in Arbroath are discussed in these texts; however, none of these deal with the later pageants held after 1970.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Arbroath Public Library: two copies of the souvenir programme.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Mackenzie, Agnes Mure. Translation of the Declaration.

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 the performance of the signing of the document. It was reproduced in most subsequent souvenir programmes, including that issued in 1999.


In Arbroath, during the second half of the twentieth century, the performance of a pageant had become part of the tradition of the town. A number of factors had influenced the urge to carry on enacting aspects of the Scottish past, time after time and despite many setbacks. Such motivations included attracting visitors to Arbroath, commemorating anniversaries, and displaying the magnificent ruins of Arbroath Abbey; however, one factor ran through all the instances of this pageant's performance—the politics of Scottish independence. In the town, it must surely have been an open secret that many involved with the pageant were nationalists. However, local sentiment played its part too, and as each new outing for the pageant arrived, new reservoirs of affection for the town and its history were tapped. This combination of local and national loyalties is well displayed in the following words which appeared in an advertising feature in the Scottish National Party's monthly newspaper in August 1999:

Anyone who has ever taken part in a pageant will tell you of the special feeling they get as they help to re-enact that scene of 679 years ago. There is a unique magic in watching the ancient sandstone walls of the abbey growing upwards from ground level as the floodlights rebuild the abbey in the mild August darkness, and shafts of ‘sunlight’ shine through the long mullioned windows of the nave as it would have done all those centuries ago. The monks' chorus (supplied by the Arbroath Male Voice Choir) has the uncanny effect of helping to transport the cast and the audience back through the centuries and, for an hour of two, Arbroath and its abbey are again centre stage in Scotland's struggles with its southern neighbour.24

The pageant in 1999 was the sixteenth time the signing of the Declaration of Scottish Independence had been enacted at Arbroath, having been resurrected after an eighteen year interval—its longest ever gap of time. This episode of the signing of the Declaration, often referred to as the 'main scene', had always been given centre stage in the Arbroath pageants, even as other aspects had changed or rotated. The rotation of different episodes had mostly been a feature in earlier pageants from the late 1940s through to the mid-1950s; following this, the pageant had settled into a more or less fixed programme. This consisted of a prologue in verse, a pageant play featuring the end days of the freedom fighter William Wallace, and—last but certainly not least—the main Declaration scene. Local authors had written all these texts. The use of son et lumière lighting had become the pageant's main selling point, this technique having been pioneered at Arbroath in the early 1950s. While innovation in the script had perhaps been sought after in the early days of the pageant, in its later incarnations the notion of changing the programme had clearly been rejected. Indeed, it is fair to say that by 1999 the pageant not only celebrated aspects of Scotland's medieval past, but it also celebrated Arbroath's own pageant tradition which had begun in the post-war years. Therefore, despite the gap of 18 years, pageant organisers paid little heed to the fact that the glory days of historical pageantry were long gone; there was no move to alter the pageant to accommodate changing tastes. Indeed, Arbroath seemed to relish the fact that its pageant had endured in spite of change, still having something to offer a modern audience. The local press implied this when it commented that:

The Arbroath Abbey Pageant is one of the few events of its kind to recreate a moment of history on the exact spot where that occurred, and brought vividly to life [sic]. Within the walls of rich red stone, in a setting dazzling with heraldic colour and splendour of Court and Nobility, the mists of six and a half centuries will be drawn aside to bring a vibrant, exciting and moving experience to all who come to share in it.25

The extra-long hiatus for the pageant can be partly explained by the fact that tragedy had struck in 1984 when the premises used to store the large stock of pageant costumes had been totally destroyed by a fire. Although insurance was paid out, the sum received was insufficient to replace the huge loss of assets. This, together with the very small balance in the Pageant Society's account following the financial failure of the pageant held in 1981, caused plans to be shelved. £1800 had been recovered from insurance, but this gave the Society just over £2000 in hand by late 1984, and—with the estimated cost of putting on another pageant then set at £22000—there was simply no way of going forward with another performance any time soon. The Pageant Society recognised that 1987 would be the fortieth anniversary of the Abbey Pageant, but even so the earliest year mooted for a revival was 1990. The year came and went without a pageant, however, and the long break could very well have put an end to pageants at Arbroath except that 1999 happened to be an anniversary year. The town’s fortunes had not flourished during the 1980s and 1990s, with a decline in many of its traditional industries, notably fishing and textiles. In this context, the local authority decided to ginger up community spirit by celebrating the anniversary of the town’s charter, granted by James VI in 1599, and Arbroathians got behind this civic agenda. Moreover, towards the end of the 1990s, the political climate in Scotland changed dramatically, and interest was accordingly stirred:

It is especially poignant that the Abbey Pageant should be revived in this year when Scotland faces a new era with the devolution of the new Scottish parliament and as part of the 400th anniversary of the signing of Arbroath's charter.26

In May, following the first elections to the Scottish Parliament, Angus returned a Scottish Nationalist Party candidate with a large majority.27 The local council allowed a reconvened Pageant Society to use premises in the town as a base, and recruitment got on way with an excellent response. All costumes were made from scratch, with many local organisations and individuals sponsoring the cost of this. Many were locally made in true pageant tradition; for example, a local training group for unemployed young men made twenty swords.28 While local enthusiasm of this type was important, there was also an acknowledgement that this kind of event could no longer be put on solely through voluntary donations of money or payments in kind. Larger commitments of resources were crucial.

All the effort paid off, however; the pageant was a great success, and by its opening night it had almost sold out its tickets.29 This kind of achievement had rarely been seen in the pageant's history. Moreover, with a huge programme of heritage events planned in Scotland for the millennium year, the Pageant Society was able to be confident about future funding. This came via a large grant of £30000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and an unspecified sum from the Millennium Festival Fund (another lottery-backed initiative specifically aimed at looking after celebrations planned for the year 2000 in the UK). Arbroath had experienced a long wait for a pageant, but, in 1999, it looked as though this wait had been worthwhile.


  1. ^ Advertisement for pageant, Arbroath Herald, 6 August 1999, 1.
  2. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 14.
  3. ^ 'Arbroath Abbey Pageant', The Scots Independent, August 1999, 6 and 7.
  4. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 14; see also 'Public Response Encourages Pageant Organisers', Arbroath Herald, 19 February 1999, 9.
  5. ^ The appointment of Thornton and Shepherd to this role is mentioned in 'Pageant '82 Gets Go-Ahead', Arbroath Herald, 23 October 1981, 13. Contemporary reports of the 1999 pageant indicate that Thornton had died, although the date of his death is not mentioned; see 'Scene Set for Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4; for photograph of cast, see Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 3.
  6. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 14.
  7. ^ See entry by Joan Morrison Noble, in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 229.
  8. ^ 'Scene Set for Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4; for photograph of cast, see Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 3.
  9. ^ These are listed in the programme; see Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 14.
  10. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 1.
  11. ^ See Heritage Lottery Website, accessed 29 January 2016,
  12. ^ '£30,000 Boost for Arbroath Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 12 November 1999, 11.
  13. ^ 'Arbroath Abbey Pageant', The Scots Independent, August 1999, 7–8.
  14. ^ 'Scene Set for Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4.
  15. ^ Advertisement for pageant, Arbroath Herald, 6 August 1999, 1.
  16. ^ '400th Celebrations Well Ahead', Arbroath Herald, 19 February 1999, 12.
  17. ^ 'Scene Set for Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4.
  18. ^ 'Scene Set for Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4.
  19. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 7.
  20. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 7.
  21. ^ Few descriptive details of the 1981 performance have survived, and it is not known if this additional scene went ahead; for mention of the new tableau, see 'Scotland's Heritage', Arbroath Herald, 28 August 1981, 20.
  22. ^ Performers’ names listed in Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 9–10.
  23. ^ Arbroath Abbey Pageant, Souvenir Programme £2 (Arbroath, 1999), 14.
  24. ^ 'Arbroath Abbey Pageant', The Scots Independent, August 1999, 7 and 8.
  25. ^ 'Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4.
  26. ^ 'Public Response Encourages Abbey Pageant Organisers', Arbroath Herald, 19 February 1999, 9.
  27. ^ 'SNP Triumph in Historic Scottish Parliament Poll', Arbroath Herald, 14 May 1999. The MSP was Andrew Welsh.
  28. ^ Photo caption, 'Angus Training Group', Arbroath Herald, 25 June 1999, 3. The young men were pictured holding the swords.
  29. ^ 'Scene Set for Spectacular Abbey Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 20 August 1999, 4.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1999’, The Redress of the Past,