The Axbridge Pageant 2000

Pageant type

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

Year: 2000

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 3


26–28 August 2000, 2pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director [Pageant Master]: Bailey, John
  • Committee Secretary: Jane Friswell
  • Operations Manager and Chief Marshal: Dave Williams
  • Narrator: James McKay
  • Dressmakers [in charge of]: Caroline Peebles-Brown and Jackie Fowler

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Bev Davies


Very incomplete information available; Bev Davies seems to have been the main organizer.

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

  • Cowap, Chris

Names of composers

  • Johnson, John

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion


Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


£10 for adults and £5 for children

Associated events


Pageant outline

Scene I, Roman Conquest, 55 AD (Axbridge Youth Club)

In 43 A.D. the Emperor Claudius invaded Britain. Within six years his troops were shipping lead from Charterhouse-on-Mendip. The conquered Britons were forced to labour in the mines, whence it was taken to Rackley and on by barge to Uphill to swell the wealth of the Roman Empire.

Scene II. King and Saint, 943 AD (Rotary [Club])

Dunstan, a Benedictine monk, was for a time in high favour with King Edmund. Then jealous courtiers influenced the King to dismiss Dunstan from court. Three days later Edmund, having narrowly escaped death while hunting in Cheddar Gorge, vowed, in gratitude to God, to recall Dunstan. King and monk met, an old chronicle says, in Axbridge, and Edmund made Dunstan Abbot of Glastonbury.

Scene III. A Royal Hunt, c.1207 AD (Mendip Round Table)

King John, as everybody knows, ‘was not a good man,’ but no King has worked harder at the business of government. Like many of our Saxon, Norman and Plantagenet kings, he relaxed by hunting in the Royal Forest of Mendip. Our fine old ‘King John’s Hunting Lodge’ is actually Tudor, but may be on the site of a building used by King John.

Scene IV. Elizabethan Charter, 1599 AD (Axbridge Town Trust)

Many monarchs have conferred charters on the Royal Borough of Axbridge, giving special rights to its citizens. That of Henry III (1229) is in our Museum. In 1599 Elizabeth I granted the charter under which, basically, Axbridge was governed until 1883. Members of the present-day Town Trust are the administrative descendants of the Mayor and other officers designated in the Elizabethan charter.

Scene V. A Queen’s Visit, 1644 AD (Axbridge Ladies’ Evening Out)

During the Civil War opinion in Axbridge was sharply divided between Cavalier and Roundhead. We know from our Church Records that in 1644 twelve shillings were paid to ‘Richard Stroude for beere for the Ringers at the cominge of the Queene to Axbridge.’ Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s French wife, was probably on her way to Exeter to join the King.

Scene VI. Monmouth’s Rebellion, 1685. (‘Red Lion’ Group)

In 1685 Charles II was succeeded by his Roman Catholic brother, James II. Charles’ illegitimate but Protestant son, the Duke of Monmouth, claimed the throne and raised rebellion in the West Country. Seven Axbridge men went to fight for Monmouth, but scythes and pitchforks were no match for guns, and, at Sedgemoor, Monmouth was routed. Five of the Axbridge men were brutally executed.

Scene VII. Come to the Fair, Mid-Eighteenth Century (Axbridge Women’s Institute, British Legion and Girl Guides)

In the days before Labour Exchanges, a Hiring Fair was held annually in Axbridge Square. Here prospective workers and employers would meet, each worker identified by a symbol of his trade. When a worker was hired, his new master gave him a ‘fasten-penny’ to show that he was bound from Michaelmas to Michaelmas.

Scene VIII. Hannah More, 1891 AD (Brownies, Parents, and Brothers)

In the late 18th century there was great ignorance and poverty in the Mendip region. Hannah More, a well-to-do and cultured lady, was so shocked by conditions that she set up schools in several parishes, including Axbridge, where she found the drunken Rector a grave stumbling-block. In 1791 she and her helpers gave a great ‘Feast’ on Callow Hill for children of the area.

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

Scene X. The Iron Horse, 1869 AD (Axbridge Ladies’ Guild)

For untold ages Axbridge folk relied on foot and horse for transportation, but just under a century ago the railway reached the town. At the same time strawberry growing was developing, and crops could now be quickly marketed. The woman-folk were also happy, no doubt, to go shopping in Wells and Bristol.

Scene XI. The Twentieth Century.

‘A whole new scene covering the two world wars and the history of Axbridge within the 20th century.’1 [It is unclear if this is a different twentieth-century scene from the 1990 pageant]

Grand Finale

‘At the end of the pageant the past is brought full circle in a scene where people from all the different ages come in to the square. Children are a key feature of this scene with Victorians, evacuees, and present day children in Axbridge First School Uniform. They sing a song especially written by John Johnson, head of performing arts at Kings of Wessex School in Cheddar.’2

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

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

North Somerset Mercury
Cheddar Valley News
Wells Journal

Book of words


Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature

  • Mottram, Harry. ‘The Axbridge Pageant’. Somerset Magazine 10, August 2000, 28-29.

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

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

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Axbridge Pageant of 2000 was the fifth outing for the event first staged in 1967 to commemorate the opening of the A371 Axbridge bypass. Again the pageant was performed three times, though with a slightly smaller cast than in 1990. In contrast to the previous Axbridge Pageants, however, the 2000 event was supported by a comprehensive planning and publicity campaign. It was, like the other pageants, a great success—and inspired a further commitment to local theatre and community in the town.

The director was John Bailey, a drama teacher at Wyvern Community School in Weston-Super-Mare who lived only steps away from the town square in which the pageant took place.3 James McKay, a local performer, acted as the narrator. The pageant script remained fairly unchanged, apart from the removal of the workhouse scene and the extending of the twentieth-century scene; the themes of the pageant, therefore, remained resolutely similar to the previous events (see entries for 1967, 1970, 1980 and 1990). Indeed, the history of the pageant itself was clearly important. Bailey said that he wanted to ‘retain the spirit of the original and the scenes that were involved, as people expect to see them’. Intriguingly, the performance of the pageant was actually written into the pageant – seemingly in the final twentieth century scene.4 Finally, the sister of Chris Cowlap, one of the pageant’s original creators, came from her home in the USA to see the event—upon which she was presented with a memorial booklet about her sister.5 Reflecting the continuing ethos of the original event, costumes were still mostly homemade, with two local women, Caroline Peebles-Brown and Jackie Fowler, leading a team—spending up to 16 hours a day at work.6 Again, each scene was still enacted by one of the town’s clubs or groups, such as the Women’s Institute or the Town Trust,.7

In contrast to the previous pageants, the publicity seems to have been really ramped up—starting in 1999, well before the first performance. In November, the local writer, journalist and performer Harry Mottram coined a new play, ‘The House on the Square’. Performed in the Town Hall in Axbridge, and directed by John Bailey, it was used as promotional material for the following year’s Pageant.8 With no props, and just a black backdrop, for 25 minutes performers, dressed in costumes from a variety of eras, ‘explored the colourful history of Axbridge.’9 Also late in 2009, there was a promotional evening held in the town hall, attended by more than 100 residents; clips from the 1990 pageant were shown to encourage enthusiasm in the town.10 A pageant newsletter, delivered to every household, also kept the town informed in the run up to the performance.11

Clearly, by this point, the pageant was locally a big deal. Bailey said that he had ‘done countless productions at school but nothing on this scale.’12 Unsurprisingly, then, it had become a celebration of the notion of community in the town, as much as it was about its history. As Bailey stated: ‘It will be a spectacle but it is very much about the ordinary people too, not just the saints, kings and queens.’13 This ethos was further highlighted in the local press, which declared that ‘the common theme of the event… is the people who have made the town and created its history, from the early Roman soldiers to the current residents who have put the pageant together.’14 Following the pageant the director, John Bailey, made a short speech in which he thanked ‘the people and the community of Axbridge who come together to make it a success.’15 Jane Friswell, a committee member, declared that ‘The pageant has bridged so many gaps and brought people together. What it has done for the community is tremendous.’ Elspeth Richards added: ‘It just took over and made a real euphoric feeling within the community. I spoke to some people who saw the event who said to me that it must be a real privilege to live in such a place. Everyone enjoyed it, were delighted to be in it, and felt very proud.’16

Memory of the event was also important. A reunion event was held in the October after the event, where a pageant video was launched alongside an exhibition of photographs of the event taken by Geoff Dunlop.17 Indeed, such was the success of the pageant that the Axbridge Community Theatre was formed to ‘harness the enthusiasm generated’. Unsurprisingly it began with events based on Axbridge’s history.18 Completely cemented in the culture and popular projection of the town, it is unsurprising that the future pageant was already being planned, with an archive being created of ‘a complete record of the event’s production as well as the video and photographs’ that the committee hoped would ‘become a valuable source of reference for the organisers of the next pageant in 2010.’19


  1. ^ ‘Pageant 2000 Preparations’, unknown newspaper cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,
  2. ^ ‘Pageant 2000 Preparations’, unknown newspaper cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,
  3. ^ Harry Mottram, ‘The Axbridge Pageant’, Somerset Magazine 10, August 2000, 29.
  4. ^ ‘Pageant 2000 Preparations’, unknown newspaper cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,
  5. ^ ‘And Now… the Video’, Cheddar Valley News, undated newspaper cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,
  6. ^ ‘Rush to Get Ready for Town Pageant’, unknown newspaper cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,
  7. ^ Mottram, ‘The Axbridge Pageant’, 29.
  8. ^ Harry Mottram’s personal website, accessed 11 June 2014, Now available at, accessed 9 September 2015.
  9. ^ ‘Cast Acted Well in the Smoke’, unknown newspaper cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,; ‘Pageant Returns to the Past’, North Somerset Mercury, 19 November 1999, press cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,
  10. ^ ‘Town Hall Launch of Millennium Show’, unknown newspaper cutting, accessed 9 June 2014,
  11. ^ ‘Pageant 2000 Preparations’.
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ ‘Vivid Depiction of Town History’, Mid Somerset Newspapers [Likely Cheddar Valley News], 31 August 2000, 50, accessed 9 June 2014,
  15. ^ Ibid., 50.
  16. ^ ‘And Now… the Video’.
  17. ^ Ibid.
  18. ^ Ibid.
  19. ^ Ibid.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Axbridge Pageant 2000’, The Redress of the Past,