The Axbridge Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Town Square (Axbridge) (Axbridge, Somerset, England)

Year: 1990

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 3


25–27 August 1990, 3pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director [Pageant Master]: Griffiths, Anne
  • Narrators: Huw Griffith; the Mayor; and Peter Mayer.

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Cowap, Chris


The same script as 1967 and 1970 was used, which was written by Chris Cowap, with some additions/changes by an unnamed author in 1980, and other changes in 1990 – presumably from the director.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Horses, a bull, a pair of parrots, homing pigeons, and a pack of hounds.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

To raise funds for the 2000 pageant.


‘Profits from the weekend delve into history will go towards the pageant planned for the year 2000.’2

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 500
  • Total audience: 4000


‘Up to 4000 people packed into the medieval town square over the bank holiday weekend to watch the history unfold.’4

‘Every seat was sold well before the weekend.’5

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

Reduced prices were available for children and OAPS.6

Associated events

  • A Festival of Flowers in the 13th century parish church and in the Methodist church, which reflected the themes of the pageant scenes.
  • On the Sunday morning a Songs of Praise-style service was held in the Parish Church in the Square on the Pageant set. Many of them wore their costumes.
  • An art exhibition in the Lamb Inn by local artist Sarah Shallish, consisting of several single caricatures of the leading pageant performers in costume and one large picture of a 17th-century Fair Scene in the Square which contains 20 caricatures. Also included paintings by Sarah and her husband Roy in several mediums and ceramics by Sara Parsons. Open during licensing hours on all three days of the pageant.
  • On Monday night a giant open air party in the Square, with dancing to the music of a jazz band.

Pageant outline

Scene I. Roman Conquest, 55 AD

In 43 AD Emperor Claudius invaded Britain. Within six years his troops were shipping lead from Charterhouse on Mendip and the conquered Britons were forced into labour.

Scene II. King and Saint, 943 AD

A fifteenth century Axbridge Chronicle tells the story of King Edmund’s quarrel with St Dunstan and how, having narrowly escaped death on Cheddar cliffs, he made his peace.

Scene III. A Royal Hunt, c.1207 AD

Like many early monarchs King John relaxed by hunting on [the] Mendip [Hills]. Our museum, a fifteenth century Merchant’s House, has long been called ‘King John’s Hunting Lodge’.

Scene IV. Elizabethan Charter, 1599 AD

Axbridge has many Royal Charters (the first from Henry III in 1229). Elizabeth I granted the Charter by which Axbridge was governed until 1883.

Scene V. A Queen’s Visit, 1644 AD

Twelve shillings was paid to ‘Richard Stroude for beere for the Ringers at the coming of the Queen to Axbridge’. The Queen here is Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

Scene VI. Monmouth’s Rebellion, 1685

Seven Axbridge men joined the Duke of Monmouth’s doomed attempt to claim the Throne of England.

Scene VII. Come to the Fair, Mid-18th Century

Ancient Charters granted four annual fairs at the Feast of St Blaixe, Lady Day, St Bartholomew and St Simon and St Jude.

Scene VIII. Hannah More, 1891 AD

The great feast on Callow Hill was part of Hannah More’s attempt to reform the wretched children of Axbridge.

Scene IX. The Bull Anchor Scene of 1820 – [No details available]

Scene X. The Children of the Axbridge Workhouse in 1870 - [No details available]

Scene XI. The Iron Horse, 1869 AD

The hundred years between 1869 and 1969 saw the coming and the going of the railway at Axbridge.

Scene XII. The Twentieth Century

Grand Finale - [No details available]

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Edmund I (920/21–946) king of England
  • Dunstan [St Dunstan] (d. 988) archbishop of Canterbury
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
  • More, Hannah (1745–1833) writer and philanthropist
  • Jeffreys, George, first Baron Jeffreys (1645–1689) judge

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

Cheddar Valley Gazette
Somerset Express

Book of words


Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Bartie, Angela, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme and Paul Readman. 'Performing the Past: Identity, Civic Culture and Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Small Towns'. In Small Towns in Europe and Beyond: 20th-21st Century, edited by Luda Klusakova. Prague, forthcoming.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Pageant website. Accessed on 9 September 2015,
  • Photos. Accessed on 9 September 2015,

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Axbridge Pageant of 1990 was the fourth outing for the original performed in 1967, and even bigger and more popular than the previous three (see entries for 1967, 1970, 1980). It followed on from a ‘mini-pageant’ staged five years previously to celebrate the tricentenary of the Battle of Sedgemoor—also an episode in the main pageant.10 Anne Griffith returned as the pageant director, and there were two new narrators joining Huw Griffith (narrator in 198) —the Mayor, and shopkeeper Peter Mayer.11 The cast was substantially enlarged, doubled to 600, the pageant was extended from two to three performances, a proper grandstand was built, and up to 4000 people saw the show—a sell-out crowd.12 The accompanying programme of events for the pageant also grew, with a Songs of Praise style service being held, at which many of the congregation wore their costumes. There was also a festival of flowers in the parish church, reflecting the themes of the pageant scenes, an exhibition in a local pub of painted caricatures of pageant performers, and—following the final performance—a public dance in the town square, complete with jazz band.13

In terms of its production several changes were made from the 1980 event. For the first time a theatre in the round was used, which was to give ‘greater flexibility for the actors and which also allows more of the fine buildings that line the square to be used in the sets’. Moreover, hand held microphones were also introduced.14 The fifth scene of the 1980 pageant, Jacobean Maces 1623 AD, which at the time was new, was taken out. Added in were two new scenes; The Bull Anchor Scene of 1820, which featured a live Charolais bull, and a scene featuring the Children of Axbridge Workhouse in 1870.15 While it is not possible to say with any certainty at this point, it would appear that several scenes from the 1980 pageant were consolidated into the final twelfth scene: Scene XI Horseless Carriage 1900-1930, Scene XII Remembrance, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, and Scene XIII Hope for the Future. In general, however, the narrative themes of the pageant remained the same as previous incarnations (see entries for 1967 and 1980 in particular).

Interestingly, and in comparison to Axbridge’s previous pageants which had at first been free and which then raised money for charitable purposes, the 1990 event aimed to raise money for the next planned pageant in 2000.16 To this end, the production was advertised on local radio and television, and filmed by a video film company for public release after the event.17 The Cheddar Valley Gazette was, as usual, exceedingly complimentary—describing the town’s now well-embedded pageant as ‘spectacular’ and a ‘ten-yearly extravaganza’.18 Griffiths, too, was confident in her post-pageant comments: ‘I was not a bit surprised at how it turned out. There is something about the people of Axbridge. They never let you down.’19 Indeed, such was the self-assurance in the town’s enthusiasm for its relatively new-found enthusiasm for pageantry that, on the final night, a giant open-air party was held in the Square, with a jazz band and dancing, as everyone ‘joined the Pageant chairman in this final public duty—a toast to the Axbridge Pageant 2000.’20

In summary, the Axbridge Pageant of 1990 was still, in most senses, an example of the longevity of the Edwardian aspects of pageantry (see the entry for Axbridge 1967). It had, in some respects, evolved slightly—particularly in its use of microphones, its advertising on a variety of media formats, and its aim of making a profit to go towards the staging of future pageants. However, it was mainly a faithful recreation of the 1967 script that had kicked off ‘pageant fever’ in Axbridge. Most importantly, it had grown again in popularity—with more performances and a higher attendance, it is unsurprising that the town was already planning the 2000 pageant before the 1990 event had even finished.


  1. ^ ‘Visitors Flock to Pageant’, Somerset Express, 30 August 1990, 90.
  2. ^ ‘Visitors Flock to Pageant’, Somerset Express, 30 August 1990, 90.
  3. ^ ‘Prelude to the Pageant’, Mid Somerset Series [presumed Cheddar Valley Gazette], 9 August 1990, 8, accessed 4 June 2015 on Axbridge Pageant website,
  4. ^ ‘Town’s March of Time’, Cheddar Valley Gazette, 30 August 1990, 24.
  5. ^ ‘Visitors Flock to Pageant’, Somerset Express, 30 August 1990, 90.
  6. ^ ‘Axbridge Pageant—August 25, 26, 27, 1990’, unknown newspaper cutting on Axbridge Pageant website, accessed 4 June 2014,
  7. ^ ‘Axbridge Pageant—August 25, 26, 27, 1990’, unknown newspaper cutting on Axbridge Pageant website, accessed 4 June 2014,
  8. ^ ‘Pageant Weekend!’ unknown newspaper cutting on Axbridge Pageant website, accessed 4 June 2014,
  9. ^ ‘Town’s March of Time’, Cheddar Valley Gazette, 30 August 1990, 24.
  10. ^ ‘Prelude to the Pageant’, Mid Somerset Series [presumed Cheddar Valley Gazette], 9 August 1990, 8, accessed 4 June 2015 on Axbridge Pageant website,
  11. ^ ‘Town’s March of Time’, Cheddar Valley Gazette, 30 August 1990, 24.
  12. ^ ‘Visitors Flock to Pageant’, Somerset Express, 30 August 1990, 90.
  13. ^ ‘Axbridge Pageant—August 25, 26, 27, 1990’, unknown newspaper cutting on Axbridge Pageant website, accessed 4 June 2014,
  14. ^ Ibid.
  15. ^ ‘Town’s March of Time’, 24.
  16. ^ ‘Visitors Flock to Pageant’, 90.
  17. ^ ‘Axbridge Pageant—August 25, 26, 27, 1990’.
  18. ^ ‘Town’s March of Time’, 24.
  19. ^ Ibid., 24.
  20. ^ Ibid., 24.

How to cite this entry

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