Chester Historical Pageant

Other names

  • Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo

Pageant type


This was Chester's second civic pageant; the first was held in 1910 in the grounds of Eaton Park.

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Place: College Grounds (Chester) (Chester, Cheshire, England)

Year: 1937

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 8


5–10 July 1937

The pageant took place at 2.45pm, Monday 5–Saturday 10 July, and at 7.30pm on Wednesday and Friday nights.1

There was a full dress rehearsal attended by an audience of schoolchildren on Thursday 1 July.2

Each day's performance was given a different designation as follows:

  • Monday 5 July: 'Royal Day' [opened by J.J. Tollemache, Vice-Lieut. of Cheshire].
  • Tuesday 6 July 'Civic Day' [opened by the Mayor of Liverpool, supported by the mayors of the three counties].
  • Wednesday 7 July 'Clergy Day' [opened by the Lord Bishop of Chester, supported by clergy of all denominations].
  • Thursday 8 July 'County Day' [opened by Major T.C. Toler, DL, Chairman of Cheshire County Council, supported by members of the council].
  • Friday 9 July 'Empire Day' [opened by W.A. Jordan, High Commissioner for New Zealand].
  • Saturday 10 July 'Welsh Day' [opened by Lt-Col. R.W.A. Williams-Wynn, CB, DSO, JP, Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire].3

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Monck, Nugent
  • Director: Edward Baring
  • Assistant to Producer, Costumes and Lectures: Mabel G. Iremonger
  • Press: W.C. Fox
  • Hon. Master of the Grandstand: Charles Greenwood, MICE, MIMCE, City Engineer
  • Hon. Master of the Grandstand: J.K. Grant, AMICE, Deputy City Engineer and Surveyor
  • Hon. Master of Designs: Alfred Mayson, ARCA (Lond), Headmaster, School of Art
  • Designer: Major Bennett Bamford
  • Designer: Miss M. Biscombe
  • Designer: Miss Kathleen Bridge
  • Designer: Miss F.M. Faulkener, ATD
  • Designer: F. Greenwood
  • Designer: Miss E.B. Jones
  • Designer: A. Mayson, ARCA
  • Designer: Miss G. Moore
  • Designer: Miss M.L. Parr, ATD
  • Designer: Miss Pepa Robinson
  • Designer: J.L. Stell, ATD
  • Designer: Miss A. Sutton, ARCA
  • Designer: W. McA. Turner, FRSA
  • Designer: Mrs T.E. Williams
  • Designer: T.E. Williams, MA4


Women were heavily involved in the staging of the pageant.

The pageant had 66 named patrons. These included Queen Mary; the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Wales; the Bishops of Chester, Sheffield, Carlisle, Liverpool, Blackburn, Newcastle, Manchester, Southwell, Wakefield, Bradford and Shrewsbury; the Lord Mayor of Liverpool; the Mayors of Chester, Sale, Flint, Macclesfield, Wallasey, Birkenhead and Stockport; a great many titled men and women including the Duke of Westminster; and sixteen men with military titles.5

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Officials of the Pageant:

  • President: Sir Wm. Bromley-Davenport, KCB, CMG, CBE, DSO, Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire
  • Vice President: Rear Admiral R.G. Rowley-Conwy, CMG, Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire
  • Vice-Chairman: Col. R.W.H.W. Williams Wynn, CB, DSO, TD, Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire
  • Chairman: The Right Worshipful The Mayor, Alderman Robert Matthewson, JP
  • Hon. Treasurer: James White, FIMTA, City Treasurer


  • Chairman: The Right Worshipful The Mayor, Alderman Robert Matthewson, JP
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor T. Davies-Jones
  • Honorary Joint Secretary: J.H. Dickson (Town Clerk)
  • Honorary Joint Secretary: J.H. Moore Dutton

Publicity Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor W. Fletcher
  • Vice-Chairman: Stanley G. Dutton

Music Committee:

  • Chairman: Rev. A. Jessop Price, MA
  • Vice-Chairman: E. Pritchard
  • Hon. Secretary: F. Hewitt
  • Hon. Director of Music: A.J. Armstrong, FCV, MRST
  • Hon. Director of Music: Malcolm C. Boyle, MusBac, FRCO. ARAM
  • Hon. Director of Music: J. Roland Middleton, MusDoc, FRCO

Designs Committee:

  • Chairman: Alfred Mayson, ARCA
  • Hon. Secretary: Miss M.L. Parr, ATD

Properties Committee:

  • Chairman: A. Nicholson
  • Hon. Secretary: W.F. Morris

Performers Committee:

  • Chairman: F.F. Potter, MA, BSc
  • Vice-Chairman: C.W. Baty, MA
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs M.G. Hibbert

Historical and Lecture Committee:

  • Chairman: The Very Rev. F.S.M. Bennett, MA, Dean of Chester
  • Hon. Secretary: C.J. Vincent

Transport Committee:

  • Chairman: S.M. Johnson
  • Hon. Secretary: E. Llewellyn Jones

Grandstand and Grounds Committee:

  • Chairman: Alderman E. Peter Jones, JP, CC
  • Vice-Chairman: Alderman W. Matthews Jones
  • Hon. Master of Grandstand: C. Greenwood
  • Hon. Secretary: E.F. Humphrey

Horse Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor E. Davies-Jones
  • Master of the Horse: H.C. Martin

Exhibition Committee:

  • Chairman: C.J. Vincent, MA
  • Hon. Secretary: P.E. Haines

Searchlight Tattoo and Evening Displays Committee:

  • Director: Major G.P. Harding

Ball Committee:

  • Chairman: Mrs Robert Frost
  • Vice-Chairman: Mrs J.H. Dickson
  • Hon. Secretary: Miss I. Gordon Smith

Episode Committees:


  • Chairman: Richardson Peele, MA
  • Vice-Chairman: Mr Hall
  • Producer: Miss M. Clarke
  • Assistant to Producer: Miss Innes
  • Costumes: Miss F.M. Faulkener
  • Costume Assistant: Miss Lindsay
  • Costume Assistant: Miss Kerr
  • Hon. Secretary: G.A. Chappell

Episode I:

  • Chairman: Col. W.R. Wilson
  • Vice-Chairman: Miss Paige-Cox
  • Producer: Rev. H.B. Newall
  • Marshal: H. Dawson
  • Costumes: Mrs Campbell
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs F. Lyons
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs Nash
  • Properties: Mr Lancaster
  • Hon. Secretary: C.A. Wilson
  • Hon. Treasurer: H.F. Taylor

Episode II:

  • Chairman: The Very Rev. The Dean of Chester
  • Vice-Chairman: L. Bebbington
  • Producer: Rev. W.W. Wilson, BA
  • Assistant Producer: Mrs F.R. Graesser-Thomas
  • Marshal: Mrs F.R. Graesser-Thomas
  • Assistant Marshal: Major C. Topham
  • Assistant Marshal: H. James
  • Costumes: Mrs M.R. Newbolt
  • Costume Assistant: Miss R. Dobie
  • Properties: Miss Hilda Giles
  • Properties Assistant: E.G. Williams
  • Properties Assistant: J.H. Bailey
  • Hon. Secretary and Treasurer: W.J.S. Bolland
  • Assistant: J. Roberts

Episode III:

  • Chairman: D.H. Gunter
  • Producer: Miss O. Morris, BA
  • Chief Marshal: E. Tremlett
  • Costumes: Miss D. Williams
  • Costume Assistant: Miss Q. Darling
  • Properties: W.A. Jones
  • Hon. Secretary and Treasurer: J.H. Godwin, MC

Episode IV:

  • Chairman: Rev. A.W. Sarson
  • Producer: Dr W.E. Pyecroft
  • Chief Marshal: J.J. Poole
  • Costumes: Mrs Jarvis
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs Herbert
  • Properties: Mrs Ouseley-Smith
  • Hon. Secretary: H.C. Wickham
  • Hon. Treasurer: A. Saladine

Episode V:

  • Chairman: Mrs Ramsden Jodrell
  • Vice-Chairman: Mrs T. Gibbons Frost
  • Producer: Mrs Harold Mitchell
  • Properties and Marshal: Chas. Gamon
  • Hon. Secretary: Miss M.V. Trant
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mrs J.H. Dickson, JP

Episode VI:

  • Chairman: C.W. Crosby
  • Vice-Chairman: Lady Hall
  • Producer: W.O. White
  • Assistant Producer: Miss L. Abley
  • Chief Marshal: E. Partin
  • Assistant: Councillor B. Reynolds
  • Costumes: Mrs W.O. White
  • Costumes: Mrs C.W. Crosby
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs Sprang
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs Massey
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs G. Owens
  • Properties Mistress: Miss Banks
  • Properties Mistress: Mrs King
  • Properties Master: J.W. Foster
  • Properties Master: Councillor T.M. Hooson
  • Properties Master: C. Hutton
  • Hon. Secretary: L.H. Smith
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mrs Penfold

Episode VII:

  • Chairman: Mrs Delmege
  • Vice-Chairman: Hon. Mrs Egerton Warburton
  • Producer: Nugent Monck
  • Chief Marshal: Mr Marshall
  • Assistant Marshal: Miss Behrens
  • Costumes: Mrs Marshall
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs Kelly
  • Costume Assistant: Mrs Bleasdale
  • Properties: Mrs Yates
  • Properties: Mrs R. Seddon
  • Hon. Secretary: Miss Gorst
  • Assistant: Miss Mayers

Episode VIII:

  • Chairman: W. Lewis, FGI
  • Vice-Chairman: H.C. Teasdill
  • Producer: W. Lewis, FGI
  • Secretary: P. Jackson
  • Treasurer: V. Martin
  • Costumes: Miss E. Williams
  • Costumes: Mrs N. Dawson
  • Costumes: J. Roberts
  • Costumes: Mrs Hamer
  • Costumes: Mr Chambers
  • Costumes: J. Bennion
  • Costumes: Miss D. Storey
  • Costumes: Mrs Ainsworth
  • Costumes: Miss R. Blower

Episode IX:

  • Chairman: Mrs Hewitt
  • Producer: Mabel G. Iremonger
  • Marshal: F.W.R. Taft
  • Costume Mistress: Mrs Beck
  • Properties: G. Thomas
  • Assistant: Mrs Wright
  • Assistant: Mrs Davies
  • Assistant: Mrs Jones
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs Rice
  • Hon. Treasurer: Miss Davis
  • Property Master: Mr Girton
  • Chief Postillion: Mr George Thomas
  • Postillion: Mr John Melia
  • Costumier: Miss Evelyn Watts
  • Costumier: Miss K. Jones


In addition to office holders, the executive committee had 23 ordinary members. These appear to have all been men. Among the membership were two engineers who had positions within local government, the city treasurer, the county director of education, three elected councillors, the Dean of Chester and another local clergyman, and a professor of archaeology at Liverpool University (R. Newstead).

In addition to office holders, the committees' memberships were made up as follows:

  • The publicity committee had 10 ordinary members, all men.
  • The music committee had 39 ordinary members of whom 11 were women.
  • The designs committee had 17 ordinary members of whom 8 were women.
  • The properties committee had 13 ordinary members with only one being a woman.
  • The performers committee had 102 ordinary members including 44 women.
  • The historical and lecture committee had 20 ordinary members of whom 2 were women.
  • The transport committee had 12 ordinary members, all men.
  • The grandstand and grounds committee had 7 ordinary members, all men; this included the Chief Constable.
  • The horse committee had 16 ordinary members of whom 2 were women; of the others, 9 had military titles.
  • The exhibition committee had 10 ordinary members of whom only one was a woman.
  • The searchlight tattoo and evening displays committee had 42 ordinary members of whom 20 were women.
  • The ball committee had 31 ordinary members of whom 22 were women.

Overall, there was a much larger representation of women on the episodes' committees compared to the general organisational committees.

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

  • McIntire, W.T.
  • Atkins, S.H.
  • Dutton, Hugh T.
  • Tunstall, Beatrice


  • Beatrice Tunstall was responsible for writing Episode V.
  • S.H. Atkins was responsible for writing Episode VII.
  • Hugh Dutton was responsible for writing Episode IX.
  • The professional author, W.T. McIntire, did all the other writing; in addition, it is probable that he was overall script editor.

Names of composers

  • Arbeau, Thoinot
  • Benet, John
  • Boyle, Malcolm
  • Middleton, Roland
  • Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
  • Playford, John
  • Purcell, Henry
  • Schumann, Robert
  • Williams, Ralph Vaughan
  • Warlock, Peter

Many items of music were especially composed for the pageant by Roland Middleton.7

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Bookings: £3759. 11s. 10d.
Total at Gate: £2465. 19s. 5d.
Profit on Pageant Ball: £25. 2s. 4d.
Exhibition in Grosvenor Park: £67. 5s. 4d.8
Total Receipts: £10655. 18s. 9d. (including donations of £3144. 3s).
Total Income: £3663. 1s. 1d.

Director's Fee: £711. 10s.
Producer's Fee: £400
Pageant Stand: £1217. 12s. 7d.
Advertising: £1409. 16s. 9d.
Street Decorations: £105
Wages and Insurance: £591. 6s. 10d.
'Honorariums, Musical Directors, Pianists, Groundsmen': £107. 10s.
Preparing and Restoring Pageant Ground: £78. 2s. 2d.
Scenery: £243. 14s. 6d.
Hire of Costumes: £180. 9s. 3d.
Hire of Horses: £86. 18s. 4d.
Hire of Rifles, Uniforms, etc.: £271. 16s. 10d.
Orchestra: £97. 14s. 6d.
Total Expenditure: £6903. 17s. 8d.

Net Income: £1403. 3s. 1d.
Entertainment Duty: £877. 1s. 2d.

Net Profit after Payment of Entertainment Tax: £525. 19s. 11d.

Object of any funds raised

Local charities, including Chester Royal Infirmary.


The sums quoted in the financial information are complicated and were not released until almost two years after the pageant took place. A difficulty arose because the pageant was deemed not to be entitled to relief from entertainments tax, as its receipts did not exceed fifty percent of the total expenditure. Accordingly, £877 was paid in tax. However, an anonymous donor obtained by Chester Infirmary later came forward offering the sum of £2260, which, when combined with the money (£122) already allocated to the infirmary, allowed the income going directly towards a charity to exceed expenditure by more than fifty percent. This meant the organisers were able to reclaim the tax. The donation was given on the condition that this sum, together with the repaid tax, had to be donated to Chester Royal Infirmary rather than any other charity. The remainder of the net profit of £525. 19s. 11d (minus £122 already apportioned to the infirmary) was distributed among a number of other local charities. Other charities that benefited were as follows:

  • Federation of Women's Institutes: £150.
  • Chester College Building Fund: £128. 1s. 1d.
  • The British Legion Benevolent Fund (Chester): £25.
  • The Chester & District Boy Scouts Association: £25.
  • The St John Ambulance Brigade: £25.
  • The British Red Cross Society: £25.
  • Chester Council of Social Welfare: £25.10

In total, £3663 was passed on to charity.11

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 5000
  • Total audience: 24658


7000 attended the opening performance on Monday 5 July. In total, 24658 tickets for the pageant were sold.12

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

10s. 6d–2s. 6d.

Numbered and reserved seats: 10s. 6d.; 7s. 6d.; 5s.; 3s. 6d.; 2s. 6d.

Admission to the Searchlight Tattoo: 2s. 6d.; 1s. 6d.; 1s.

Associated events

A Tattoo was held on the pageant grounds each evening on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of pageant week, commencing at 8.30 pm. This included the following attractions:

Monday 5 July:
  • Community singing conducted by Mr F. Hewitt.
  • A display by the Girl Guides.
  • A country dancing display.
  • A demonstration of exercises by the Women's League of Health and Beauty.
  • Trick riding by the Chester Motor Cycle Display Team.
  • A dance display performed by 'Miss C. Kendrick's pupils'.
  • A Military Tattoo [music played by the band of The King's Shropshire Light Infantry; trooping the colour; tent pegging; 'David and Goliath' fighting with wooden staffs; a gymnastic display; a re-enactment of 'An Incident on Watling Street' involving the capture of highwaymen who have attacked a coach, and re-enactments of various famous battle scenes that involved the regiments]. 

Tuesday 6 July:
  • Community singing conducted by Mr F. Hewitt.
  • A display by the Girl Guides.
  • A display by the Westminster Smarter Fire Brigade.
  • Continental Moto Ball, by the Chester Motor Cycle Display Team.
  • A dance display performed by 'Miss C. Kendrick's pupils'.
  • A Military Tattoo [programme as for Monday].

Thursday 8 July:
  • Community singing conducted by Mr F. Hewitt.
  • A gymnastic display by the Boys' Brigade.
  • A country dancing display.
  • A demonstration of exercises by the Women's League of Health and Beauty.
  • Trick riding by the Chester Motor Cycle Display Team [different examples of tricks from on Monday].
  • A dance display performed by 'Miss C. Kendrick's pupils'.
  • A Military Tattoo [programme as for Monday].

Saturday 10 July:
  • Community singing conducted by Mr F. Hewitt.
  • A gymnastic display by the Boys' Brigade.
  • A demonstration of exercises by the Women's League of Health and Beauty.
  • Continental Moto Ball, by the Chester Motor Cycle Display Team.
  • A dance display performed by 'Miss C. Kendrick's pupils'.
  • A Military Tattoo [programme as for Monday].

Details of Tattoo:
  • Men from the Cheshire Regiment and the King's Own Shropshire Regiment performed the tattoo. The programme of the Military Tattoo took place under floodlighting and was as follows:
  • The Sounding of Tattoo (Last Post).
  • The Sounding of a Fanfare.
  • Trooping the Colour.
  • Tent Pegging.
  • 'David and Goliath' [staged fight between 'the biggest and smallest men now serving at the Depot, the Cheshire Regiment'].
  • Gymnastic Display [involving five trained men and nine recruits from the regiment].
  • The Band [playing by the musicians of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry].
  • 'An Incident on Watling Street' [involving the pursuit and capture of highwaymen who have attacked a mail coach outside an inn; the performance was carried out by NCOs and troopers of the Cheshire Yeomanry].
  • 'The Recruit's Dream' [a squad of recruits listen to a talk on regimental history; one of the number falls asleep and his dream is enacted. This involves regimental activities in different periods from the seventeenth century through to the First World War. In the latter, men taking part were from a machine-gun platoon and an anti-tank detachment of the Cheshire regiment].
  • Music [men from the Recruit's Dream march to a selection of music including: music from the ‘Beggar's Opera’, 'The Duke of York's Troop', 'South African War Tunes' and 'It's a Long way to Tipperary'].
  • The Finale [marching, music and singing by massed choirs; raising of the Union Jack].
  • Singing of the National Anthem.

Also held:
An 'Industrial, Historical and Bygones Exhibition' at Grosvenor Park, Chester, open all week from 11am to 10pm.
A Fancy Dress Ball, Chester Town Hall, Thursday 8 July 1937.

Pageant outline


The scene is set in the 'magic realm of Deva, tutelary goddess of the Dee'; Clio, the muse of history, enters.14 She bears a scroll and 'the burning torch of history'. Clio proceeds to entice 'two groups of Chester children who enter from opposite sides of the arena'. Alongside the pageant chorus, the children sing a song about how they have been lured to the realm in order to hear tales of long ago. Clio calls on Deva to appear 'from thy pools and eddies deep'. The goddess comes, accompanied by nymphs and Nereids of the Dee. Groups of 'Spirits' of 'Starlight', 'Moonshine' and 'the Rainbow' enter; each performs a dance on entrance. Then all the groups come together in formation to make a 'gigantic rainbow around Deva'. The goddess addresses the spirits and bids them to conjure up the ghosts of the past so that the children may see them. At this, the figure of Leon Gawer, 'the fabled founder of Chester', appears; the spirits and children shrink back, but he tells them not to be afraid and promises that the children will 'learn then, your Fathers' noble deeds to praise'. The children then leave the arena led by Deva and the nymphs and spirits. Leon watches while the performers in Episode I arrive before taking his leave.

This introduction to the pageant was organised by Cheshire schools, and a very large number of schoolchildren took part. This episode had a great many child performers who played the nymphs, Nereids and spirits as well as the children of Chester.

Episode I. Scene Outside the Roman Amphitheatre at Deva, AD 109

The scene is set outside the Roman amphitheatre in Chester (Deva) where the Roman Governor, Titus Pomponius Mammilianus, has organised games to entertain the local public. While the pageant chorus sings, the arena gradually fills up with the spectators made up of Romans, Britons, soldiers of the Twentieth Legion (wearing colours in support of their favoured chariot racers), pedlars and merchants of many kinds (including a wine merchant). A lively discussion takes place between some centurions, which eventually descends into bickering. A melee appears about to erupt between two factions, which is stopped by the appearance of an optio of the legion called Titus Placidus. He chides the soldiers for their behaviour and tells them that they should think themselves lucky being garrisoned at Chester, for they could be with the 'ninth legion, fighting against the Caledonians'. The soldiers demur but state that their own 'expeditions into the Cambrian land against the mountain tribes are no child's play'.

At this, a centurion called Aufidius Lentulus appears, leading some British captives including a young chieftain named Galgacus. Some British women show sympathy towards the prisoners and their fate. Mammilianus and his wife, Valeria, take their seats, and there is applause. Valeria is unhappy and homesick and refers to their current home as 'this bleak ultima thule'; a Greek dance is performed to cheer up Valeria, and while this takes place, Aufidius approaches Mammilianus. He announces that he has destroyed the villages of unruly tribes and captured Galgacus, who appears defiant as the crowd bays for his death. Mammilianus offers to spare him ('for noble thou art') if he will return to the side of the Romans, against whom his tribe has rebelled, but the chieftain refuses. Reluctantly, the governor orders that Galgacus die at the hands of the gladiators; on hearing this order, the daughter of the governor, Cornelia, declares her love for the chieftain and begs that he is spared. Valeria is outraged by this declaration and openly calls for the death of Galgacus.

A procession of athletes and chariots and two groups of gladiators then enter the arena; as the parade of competitors arrives, the choir sings 'the Song of the Gladiators'. Mammilianus thanks the two leaders of the gladiators (Spado and Licinius) and looks forward to the sport. As he calls for wine in order to offer a 'libation to the divine Caesar', a commotion erupts and a breathless and wounded messenger comes on the scene. The messenger delivers the news that the ninth legion 'has been slain to a man in wild Caledonia' and that the 'Brigantes of the north' have joined the victors and all are making their way south. General panic results which Mammilianus calms, after which he rallies the troops and pleads with Galgacus to return to the Roman side and help defend all of them from a common foe. Galgacus agrees as the troops march off and all exit the arena.

The organisation behind this episode was the charge of local members of the British Legion. Several different actors played some of the main parts over the course of the week's performances; overall, around 120 players were involved in the episode with roughly equal numbers of men and women taking part.

Episode II. Translation of the Relics of St Werburgh, AD 875

The episode is set in the countryside outside the walls of Legancaster (as Chester was known in this period). The city is experiencing a 'precarious existence' during this time of Danish invasions. Townspeople, including many 'cripples and other sick folk', rally to witness the arrival of the saint's body, which 'the inhabitants of Hanbury, alarmed by the successes of the Danish army', have decided to bring to relative safety in Legancaster. The Bishop of Mercia arrives in a procession to welcome the relics, and with him is Ceolwulf, a thane placed in charge of Chester following the flight of King Buhred as Danes descended on Mercia. As the bishop and Ceolwulf converse (the bishop reassuring Ceolwulf that the saint will protect him), singing is heard and a great procession headed by the Abbess of Hanbury arrives bringing the relics. As the singing ends, the procession reaches the centre of the arena, and all those waiting kneel down. The bishop greets the abbess, and as they prepare to move within the walls of the city, a cry goes out from two of the assembled sick who declare themselves healed. The bishop gives thanks and there is general rejoicing as all depart.

Clery and congregants of Chester cathedral organised this episode. The episode had a large cast of around 200 players; at least half of these were women in the roles of nuns and Saxon inhabitants of Chester.

Episode III. The Fortifying of Chester by Ethelfleda, AD 907

This episode is set outside the walls of the city during a period when it was controlled by the Danes. A crowd of homeless peasants mill around and lament 'the tyranny of their Danish masters'. Thorkil, the Danish overlord, appears on the scene accompanied by his wife, Indeg, and their entourage. The party have returned from a hunt; Indeg says she is tired, and so the party rest and take wine while a 'skald' entertains with harp playing. Indeg warns her husband about the threat from Ethelfleda, but he pours scorn on the notion that a woman might be a foe he should fear. This peaceful scene is disturbed by the announcement that Ethelfleda and Ethelred are on their way 'to wrest the city from the Danes'. The Saxons suddenly descend and arrest the Danes. Ethelfleda takes control and orders the rebuilding of Chester and its walls. Her sister, Aethelgifu, is with the party and pleads for the rebuilding of the ancient Roman church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul where Werburgh's relics are buried. Ethelfleda assents to this request. The scene ends with her sparing the Danish captors and entering the city victorious. In her entourage are many Mercians who will repopulate the decimated city.

Chester and district teachers organised this episode. This episode had quite a small core cast in only twelve main roles, though more than one actor played some of the roles at different performances. It is evident, however, that a large cast played the dispossessed citizens of Chester and the conquering party.

Episode IV. Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, Founds the Abbey of St Werburgh, AD 1093

The drama is set in front of a partially completed Abbey of St Werburgh and begins with the pageant chorus singing a song. The final verse focusing on the Earl of Chester, whose ruthlessness towards the Welsh earned him the nickname of Lupus (i.e. the wolf):

Man of wrath and cruel lust,
True withal to England's trust,
Thee hereafter men shall praise,
Who you minister fair did'st raise—
Queenly Chester's sacred crown—
Which, grim Earl, to thy renown
Chester's sons shall cherish yet
And thine evil deeds forget.

Foreign masons are engaged in the construction of the abbey. A crowd of Chester residents watch them, and a quarrel breaks out between the Normans and the English as to whether Hugh is a worthy lord. The Normans take the side of Hugh against the Saxon English who have no love for the earl. The town constable arrests the agitators just as Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester, arrives on the scene. He is lately returned from a campaign against the Welsh and brings with him many prisoners, including the Welsh chieftain Caradoc. Hugh's wife, Lady Ermentrude, and his son, Richard, come to meet him, but he is in a quarrelsome mood and appears unwell. In this frame of mind, he condemns the captured Welsh to be put to death. The chaplain Gerold intervenes, and Hugh reluctantly agrees to spare their lives on payment of 'a fat ransom from their relatives'. Anselm, Abbot of Bec, then arrives, having been invited to Chester by Hugh to discuss the new abbey. Anselm scolds Hugh for his many misdeeds and advises him to atone for these by becoming a monk. Hugh declines but states that his endowment of the abbey will be his legacy.15 Ermentrude and several lords offer gifts to the abbey, and Hugh gives permission to the canons of the 'College of St Werburgh' to retain their prebends for life. Anselm recommends his own chaplain, Richard, for the position of abbot. The scene ends with all the characters exiting the arena in procession while the choir sings a psalm.

Representatives from the parish of Handbridge oversaw this episode. Around one hundred players took part.

Episode V. Edward I Sets Out From Chester to Wales, AD 1282

The scene is set on 16 June 1282 (the day before the king's 43rd birthday) within the city of Chester where a crowd is assembled to witness the departure of Edward I on a campaign against the Welsh. A castle gardener and the farmer of the Mills of Dee greet each other. The farmer sings a cheerful song telling of his happiness and good fortune in the prosperous settlement of Chester. Accompanied by Queen Eleanor, the royal princesses (Joanna and Eleanor), and a huge train of courtiers and soldiers, Edward arrives and is met by the Bishop of Lichfield, who curses the Welsh with bell, book and candle. The Welsh among the crowd break into song, and one of their number curses Edward, calling him 'the devil's whelp'. The king says farewell to his family, treating his wife with great affection. The king and his army leave with great fanfare and the crowd departs.

This episode was organised by representatives from the county of Cheshire rather than the city of Chester. It was written by Beatrice Tunstall and had a huge cast of characters: there are around 100 named characters and probably many more individuals playing ladies in waiting, pages, acolytes and monks. Several performers played some of the larger roles over pageant week.

Episode VI. Richard II is Brought by Henry of Bolingbroke, a Prisoner to Chester, AD 1399

Set in Chester in the area 'leading up to the castle', this episode opened with a crowd assembled to witness the arrival of the captured king. A song is sung by a soloist which describes Richard's capture and arrival in Chester. Some townspeople discuss the misdeeds of Richard, and a 'jongleur' loudly recites some verse that foretells the end of Richard's reign. A local follower of Richard voices his views and a brawl ensues; this is stopped by the intervention of the mayor. The mayor's wife urges clemency towards the supporter, but the mayor states that Richard's days are numbered and they must welcome Bolingbroke, who then appears in triumph within a 'brilliant cavalcade'. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the High Sheriff of Cheshire and other supporters accompany Bolingbroke. They bring Richard to them. The king is dressed in a friar's robe and riding a 'sorry nag'; he is escorted by the Earls of Northumberland and Salisbury and the Bishop of Carlisle. The king's loyal supporter, Jean Creton, who resents the insults hurled at his master, attends the king and tries to defend him. Richard pacifies Creton and urges him to join those who now support Bolingbroke. The Archbishop of Canterbury announces that he bears a papal bull granting remission of all sins to those who come over to Bolingbroke's side. The crowd cheers, and the Bishop of Carlisle angrily scolds them. Bolingbroke 'tries with smooth words to lull his captive's suspicions'; but Richard is not fooled and is resigned to his fate. Salisbury rushes to pledge his continued allegiance to Richard, but Bolingbroke warns him against this. The king is led away to captivity in the castle by the Earls of Gloucester and Arundel. The Abbot of St Werburgh offers him a blessing as he leaves, stating that although he has done great evil, he will atone for this. The scene ends with the monks of the abbey singing as all exit the arena.

There was no single institution in charge of this episode; its organisation was led by 'citizens of Chester'. There was a small cast of around 20 named players and roughly 120 performers playing townspeople; most of these were women.

Episode VII. Elizabethan Revels, AD 1599

The scene presents Chester at its famous midsummer fair on 'the Roodee'. A pavanne is danced and dignitaries of the town's guilds enter. A Puritan protests loudly against the celebrations and people call for him to be taken to the stocks. The master of shoemakers presents the traditional 'six gleaves' to the mayor: these will be given to those 'who are fleetest of foot' in a race. Young men cheer and prepare to race. The master of saddlers then gives a silver bell to the company of drapers. The bell will be awarded to the owner of the fastest horse in a race. Morris dancing is ongoing. The silver gleaves are then awarded. Within this lively scene, a woman calls out that a thief has made off with her Cheshire cheese. Two constables seize the culprit and put him in the stocks next to the Puritan. A 'Country Lad' spots his sweetheart being escorted by a 'Chester apprentice'; he is annoyed by this and challenges the apprentice to fight. A fight with staffs ensues, while a sword dance is going on in the background. The performance of a play is then announced. A morality play then takes place on the subject of the seven deadly sins. Other characters include the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. The scene closes with the arrival of the Earl of Essex (Earl Marshal of England) on his way to Ireland to subdue the rebellion of Tyrone. A page gives the earl some wine and a beautiful girl ties a favour to his arm. The earl raises a toast to Queen Elizabeth and the crowd cheers as he rides off. All then dance out of the arena.

The Cheshire Federation of Women's Institutes took charge of this episode. It had a very large cast, likely numbering several hundreds.

Episode VIII. Charles I at Chester, AD 1642

The episode is set in the centre of Chester a few years before it finds itself under siege. A large crowd awaits the arrival of the king from Shrewsbury. The choir sings 'The Siege of Chester'. Sir William Brereton attempts to proclaim the cause of the Parliamentarians but is prevented from doing so by the mayor, Thomas Cowper. The mayor goes off to welcome the king. Some ladies, including Lady Gamul, Lady Strange and the mayoress, converse; it is clear they are fearful for the safety of the city. The mayor returns with the king and his entourage; this includes his infant son, Charles. The mayor offers a formal welcome, and the monarch thanks the citizens of Chester for this and for the city's continued support. Some Parliamentarians, including Sir Richard Wilbraham, offer greetings to the king but are rebuffed. A messenger arrives with news that Prince Rupert has won a victory at Worcester. The king is delighted by this news and takes his leave, escorted by the mayor. The crowd all cheer.

Chester Co-operative Society organised this episode. It had a large cast of at least 300 players including men, women and children in the roles of citizens, Royalist ladies, Puritans, Cavaliers and Parliamentarians.

Episode IX. Princess Victoria Visits Chester, AD 1832

The drama takes place at the opening of the famous Grosvenor Bridge in Chester on 18 October 1932. A group of labourers are at work clearing up the roadway; a drinking song is sung. Their foreman bemoans the fact that the bridge's architect, Thomas Harrison, has died before his work was completed and bids the men finish their work quickly in order to welcome the 'little princess'. A crowd assembles and a procession of city dignitaries, including the mayor, the local MP, the MP for Newark (W.E. Gladstone) and members of the clergy, arrive on the scene.

A second procession follows from 'Eaton Hall' in which are several carriages carrying many representatives of the Grosvenor family. The Princess Victoria and her mother the Duchess of Kent come in one of the carriages; on arrival at the bridge, all alight. The Marquis of Westminster introduces the mayor to the princess. Thereafter, Victoria declares the bridge open. There is loud applause, and a band plays the national anthem. A series of introductions to the princess are made to which she responds politely. The final audience involves the 'High Sheriff', who invites the princess to visit the castle. Victoria enquires if there is anything of interest there. Lady Catherine Jenkinson intervenes, telling the princess that there are many men and women imprisoned there for debt who would like to see her. The princess responds by ordering her mother's equerry, Sit John Conroy, to give the sheriff twenty five pounds to buy beef and beer for the prisoners and to tell them that this comes from the Princess Victoria 'who is sorry for them'. The equerry protests this amount of money, but Victoria is firm. The party moves on towards the city, and the scene ends with much cheering and dancing.

The organisation of this episode was by Chester Townswomen's Guild. It had a large cast of over 300 participants. The majority of players were female and included girls from a local dance school and young women from Chester Girls' Club.


All the characters of the episodes group themselves in the arena. Characters who took place in the prologue then enter. Together with the pageant choir, all sing 'A Chorus in Praise of Chester'. Clio implores Deva to bring forth some of the 'famous dead'. Trumpets sound, and then various characters from Chester's past who did not feature in the episodes enter; Deva reads from a scroll and comments on their place in history as each comes onto the arena. These historical characters include:

Randolph Bludeville, Earl of Chester, who appears dressed as a crusader.
Randolf Higden (author of the Polychronicon) dressed as a monk.
Henry Bradshaw (author of The Life of St Werburgh in the early 16th century).
Sir Richard Tunstall (Chamberlain of Chester and supporter of the House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses).
Dame Mottershead (a local woman stated to have saved the lives of 'many Irish Protestants' with her quick thinking).
A group of Chester citizens led by the Bishop of Stratford.

Following these are boys from the 'Bluecoat School' founded in 1700 by the Bishop and various others from Chester.

Characters famous for giving service to Chester Hospital then enter, including Dr John Haygarth, Dr W.M. Thackeray, the Misses Wilbraham, and Jane Bird (a nurse). All cross the arena.

Deva gives her scroll to a 'Speaker' who speaks the passage from Ecclesiastes 44 commending 'famous men and our fathers that begat us'. Clio then hands the 'lamp of history to the leading character of the first episode'; this is then passed on to a character in each episode, while the hymn 'O God Our Help in Ages Past' is sung by the choir and audience.

The arrangement of the groups taking part in this episode was by Miss Kathleen Dring.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Werburh [St Werburh, Werburgh, Werburga] (d. 700x07) abbess
  • Ceolwulf II (fl. 874–879) king of the Mercians
  • Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
  • Æthelred (d. 911) ruler of the Mercians
  • Avranches, Hugh d', first earl of Chester (d. 1101) magnate and founder of Chester Abbey
  • Anselm [St Anselm] (c.1033–1109) abbot of Bec and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine Edward I
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Castile] (1241–1290) queen of England, consort of Edward I
  • Richard II (1367–1400) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Percy, Henry, first earl of Northumberland (1341–1408) magnate and rebel
  • Henry IV [known as Henry Bolingbroke] (1367–1413) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Creton, Jean (fl. 1386–1420) historian and poet
  • Fitzalan, Thomas, fifth earl of Arundel and tenth earl of Surrey (1381–1415) soldier and administrator
  • Arundel [Fitzalan], Thomas (1353–1414) administrator and archbishop of Canterbury
  • Percy, Henry, first earl of Northumberland (1341–1408) magnate and rebel
  • Humphrey [Humfrey or Humphrey of Lancaster], duke of Gloucester [called Good Duke Humphrey] (1390–1447) prince, soldier, and literary patron,
  • Montagu [Montacute], John, third earl of Salisbury (c.1350–1400) magnate and courtier
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Brereton, Sir William, first baronet (1604–1661) parliamentarian army officer
  • Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
  • Victoria, Princess [Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld], duchess of Kent (1786–1861) mother of Queen Victoria
  • Gladstone, William Ewart (1809–1898) prime minister and author Gladstone
  • Ranulf (III) [Ranulf de Blundeville], sixth earl of Chester and first earl of Lincoln (1170–1232) magnate
  • Higden, Ranulf (d. 1364) Benedictine monk and chronicler
  • Bradshaw, Henry (d. 1513) scholar and hagiographer
  • Haygarth, John (1740–1827) physician

Musical production

Music was live. There was a 100-piece orchestra and a chorus of 500 voices. The band of the Shropshire Light Infantry also provided music.

  • A.J. Armstrong. Orchestration, 'A Fanfare of Three Trumpets' (opening of pageant).
  • 'God Save the King' [Chorus and Audience] (opening of pageant).
  • Vaughan Williams. 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Men' [Chorus] (Prologue).
  • Roland Middleton. Arrangement, unspecified tune (Prologue).
  • John Playford. 'Lady Banbury's Hornpipe' from Dancing Master [orchestration by C.F. Smyly] (Prologue).
  • Roland Middleton. 'The March and Chorus of Gladiators' (Episode I).
  • Robert Schumann. 'The Warrior Dance' from Etude Symphonic [orchestration by C.F. Smyly] (Episode I).
  • Unknown composer. 'Bryn Calforea' [Welsh hymn sung by the choir] (Episode II).
  • Malcolm Boyle. 'Pseudo-Plain Song Chant' [chorus] (Episode II).
  • 'Praise to the Holiest' [hymn sung by chorus and audience; lyrics by Cardinal Newman] (Episode III).
  • Unknown composer. 'Sons of the Storm' [described as 'Old Somerset Melody' sung solo and accompanied by playing on a small Celtic harp] (Episode III).
  • Roland Middleton. 'Soul of Chester's Warrior Lord' [chorus] (Episode IV).
  • Peter Warlock. 'Entrance Music of Hugh Lupus' [described as based on a dance tune from Arbeau (1588), No. 6 of the Capriol Suite'; orchestration by A.J. Armstrong] (Episode IV).
  • 'Christ Our Corner Stone' [hymn sung by the chorus and audience] (Episode IV).
  • 'I Live By the Mill' [Welsh air sung by the chorus; orchestration by A.J. Armstrong] (Episode V).
  • 'Forth to the Battle' [sung by a Welsh Choir in Welsh] (Episode V).
  • 'Sumer Is a Cumin' In' [round sung by the chorus] (Episode VI).
  • 'Bushes and Briars' [East Anglian folk song sung by the choir; orchestration by A.J. Armstrong] (Episode VI).
  • John Benet [sic]. 'All Creatures Now' [chorus] (Episode VII).
  • Thoinot Arbeau. 'Pavane' from Orchésographie [arrangement by Peter Warlock] (Episode VII).
  • 'Country Gardens' [Morris dance; arrangement by Cecil Sharp] (Episode VII).
  • 'The Sleights' [sword dance; orchestration by A.J. Armstrong] (Episode VII).
  • 'The Guid Man of Ballinguie' [country dance described as 'a popular tune in the Beggar’s Opera from Playford's “Dancing Master”’] (Episode VII).
  • Roland Middleton. 'Chester Siege' (Episode VIII).
  • Henry Purcell. Incidental music [orchestration by A.J. Armstrong] (Episode VIII).
  • Roland Middleton. 'A Drinking Song' [chorus] (Episode IX).
  • Mozart. Dance music [not specified, played to accompany the entrance of Victoria; arranged by C.F. Smyly] (Episode IX).
  • Roland Middleton. 'A Chorus in Praise of Chester' (Epilogue).
  • 'O God Our Help in Ages Past’ [hymn sung by the chorus and audience; orchestration by A.J. Armstrong] (Epilogue).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Chester Chronicle
Cheshire Observer
Hull Daily Mail
Manchester Guardian
Gloucester Citizen
Nottingham Evening Post
Staffordshire Sentinel
Sheffield Independent
Tamworth Herald
Yorkshire Post

Book of words

Chester Historical Pageant, the College Grounds, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937: Book of Words. Shrewsbury, 1937.

Copies of the book of words are widely available.

Other primary published materials

  • Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/-. Shrewsbury, 1937.
  • Chester Historical Pageant in the College Grounds, Monday to Saturday, July 5th to 10th 1937: Book of Music. No publication details.
  • Handbook of the Chester Historical Pageant in the Beautiful Grounds of the College, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937. Chester, 1937.
  • Selection of photographs with captions. Cheshire Life 4, no. 2 (July 1937), 24–25

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Cheshire Archives and Record Office:
  • One copy of Chester Historical Pageant, the College Grounds, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937: Book of Words (Shrewsbury, 1937). Ref: 205569.
  • Two copies of Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937). Refs: 213507 and 205568.
  • One copy of the Handbook of the Chester Historical Pageant in the Beautiful Grounds of the College, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937 (Chester, 1937). Ref: 213508.
  • Cassette tapes of soundtracks for the pageant. Ref: ZCS/5.
  • Cheshire Central Library:
  • One copy of Chester Historical Pageant in the College Grounds, Monday to Saturday, July 5th to 10th 1937: Book of Music (np). Ref: 213509.
  • One copy of Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937). Ref: 205568.
  • One copy of Handbook of the Chester Historical Pageant in the Beautiful Grounds of the College, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937 (Chester, 1937). Ref: 213508.
  • Two copies of Chester Historical Pageant, the College Grounds, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937: Book of Words (Shrewsbury, 1937). Ref: 205569.

Sources used in preparation of pageant


Clearly, the script used for the pageant in 1910 must have been the starting point for source material, but this is not acknowledged in any of the literature produced in 1937.


The historical pageant held in Chester in 1910 had been one of the great pageant extravaganzas held in England during the Edwardian era. A generation later, and in very different times, Chester decided to stage another. To this end, an abundance of organising committees was formed; although the pageant was a civic-led initiative, representatives from all areas of Cheshire society sat on these committees alongside elected local councillors. Notable among the institutions involved were women's organisations such as the Women's Institute and the Townswomen's Guild, which flourished in the inter-war years; and in the usual gallery of portraits of pageant worthies, included within the official souvenir brochure, women are very visible.18 Planning for the event began well ahead of its performance in July 1937, and royal patronage was obtained from the widowed queen mother, Queen Mary, who as Princess Mary had been a patron in 1910. Although the pageant was not part of a stated 'Civic Week', it had many of the hallmarks of such events, namely a temporary exhibition showing aspects of industry and history; and the organisers went all out to provide a plethora of additional entertainments, most notably an elaborate, illuminated military tattoo held on the pageant grounds in the evening. The latter, which involved local organisations as well as the army, ran for three hours at each performance and perhaps reflected the militaristic spirit of the times in the run-up to World War II.19 The second Chester pageant aimed to be as prestigious, successful and elaborate as its predecessor.

The theatrical impresarios, the Baring Brothers, were employed to oversee the pageant, as indeed they had been in 1910. To all intents and purposes, the Barings had corned the market in the organisation of large-scale civic pageants in the North and Midlands of England by the inter-war era. Edward Baring brought in the pageant master, Nugent Monck, to take charge of the performance. This theatre director had also obtained a reputation as an ambitious pageant master. The show was intended as a fundraiser for local charities, but clearly no expense was spared in order to ensure that the event would be big and successful enough to see a profit turned.

In 1910, an unfortunate tenant farmer had been temporarily relieved of much of his land on the Duke of Westminster's Eaton estate on the outskirts of Chester in order to house the pageant grounds. However, in 1937, the pageant was held in the grounds of Chester College. But this change should not suggest that aristocratic backing had decreased where Chester's pageant was concerned. Indeed, the Duke of Westminster remained a patron of the pageant, as did a host of other individuals with landed titles, including the Earl and Countess of Derby, Lord and Lady Delamere and Lady Gladstone of Hawarden. By this period, Chester College had obtained a longstanding reputation as an institution for learning, having been established as a teacher-training school in 1839. This fitted well the image that Chester liked to portray of itself: which was that of an ancient settlement whose remnants of the past were still very much a part of the city's everyday fabric. In 1937, some of the pageant's influential patrons were the descendants of those responsible for setting up the college, all of which gave these grounds and the event held there an extra patina of prestige.20 The college had the added advantage of being close by the city centre and near to Chester's other known attractions (the cathedral, the parks, shops and restaurants, and the city’s attractive architecture). In combination, this made Chester and its pageant week an especially promising draw for visitors. The other powerful reason for choosing this site rather than more open parkland was that amplification was now regularly used in pageants and was employed at Chester.21 This doubtless worked better in a relatively contained space.

The 1937 performance was not an exact rerun of its predecessor; instead, a professional writer, W.T. McIntire, was brought in to rewrite much of the script and act as overall script editor, though as with the 1910 production, some local experts took responsibility for writing some of the episodes. There appears to have been one exception to this; an Elizabethan scholar from Tunbridge Wells by the name of Dr S.H. Atkins wrote Episode VII.22 Perhaps McIntire wished to establish greater authenticity for this particular element of the performance, for by the 1930s the standard Elizabethan episode in pageants had come to be seen as rather hackneyed, particularly when it was shoehorned into places where Elizabeth had never visited. McIntire had cut his pageant teeth when he was brought in to assist an amateur writer on the Carlisle pageant in 1928. Following this, he had gone on to work on Newcastle's 1931 pageant. He had also worked as scriptwriter on the Nottingham pageant in 1935 when the pageant master had been Nugent Monck; it is therefore likely that he had established a relationship with Baring Brothers.23 All this underlines the fact that by the 1930s, there was a well-established stable of writers, directors and producers available for hire when a town or city decided to enter the pageant fray, and these individuals seem to have been able to make healthy additional income from the pageant season. In the case of Chester, Monck was an obvious choice, for in addition to his long experience as a theatre director and his track record with pageants, he had in his younger days worked on productions of the Chester Mystery Plays in both Chester and London.24

The 1937 Chester pageant was performed every afternoon and on two evenings over a week. It began with a prologue that was similar to 1910's pageant in that it used child dancers to represent the river Dee. This was a key feature in Chester's history and had been the original reason for the city's strategic geographical importance. Once again, a colourful, introductory spectacle was the aim, but McIntire's interpretation simplified the earlier version in some ways and used fewer characters. McIntire also introduced the mythical figure of Leon Gawer—a giant who was said to have routed the Picts from this territory and founded the city. This shift towards incorporating known myth is, of course, typical of the adaptations that were made to pageants in the inter-war years. It also demonstrates McIntire's knowledge and sensitivity to local legend.

The strategic importance of Chester was again to the fore in Episode I, which featured the Romans. While the Roman episode in 1910 had been of the generic type, with Agricola dispensing wisdom and mercy towards the Britons, in 1937 the episode was made more place specific. The reason for this was that the now famous remains of the Chester amphitheatre had been uncovered in 1930.25 So for the 1937 pageant these were of course incorporated into the storyline, which this time featured a fictional governor—Titus Pomponius Mammilianus. Much like his real-life counterparts, however, he was depicted as a dispenser of wisdom and mercy. The most interesting aspect of the episode is that the narrative managed to incorporate the geographical and historical closeness of Chester to Wales, while also giving prominence to the perennial threat of the Scots for communities in the North of England. In this way, the Romans are depicted as protectors and as a necessary bulwark against troublesome tribes from beyond the borders of England. They are also shown to be instrumental in bringing the Welsh and English into closer union when these two groups join together under Roman command in order to protect the city against the northern hordes. The episode had a cast of over 100 players, of which roughly half were women; in the quest for authenticity it was reported that natural redheads were sought for the cast in order to reflect the Roman fashion for red hair in this period.26

Episode II was the first real departure from the narrative included in the earlier pageant of 1910. It depicted the translation of the relics of Chester's patron saint, Werburgh, to the city from their original burial place in Staffordshire. This transition was made in order that the saint's holy remains might be kept safe from the invading Danes. This new episode replaced what had been an iconic scene in the previous pageant—in which King Eadgar received the homage of princes from other parts of Great Britain, including the Scottish King Duncan. This was likely a difficult and expensive scene to stage, as it required a mechanical boat and a large cast to represent the river Dee; such problems—rather than any sensitivity about the subject matter which celebrated the ascendancy of the Anglo-Saxons—probably explain why McIntire chose to replace it. McIntire may have taken the idea of the Werburgh drama from a similar scene in Carlisle's pageant in 1928, when St Cuthbert's purported remains were trundled on to the arena during a flight from the Norse hordes. In both pageants, this narrative served to underline the historical importance of these cities as ecclesiastical centres, and the drama was accompanied by sacred music.

Episode III was another departure and centred on Queen Ethelfeda's rescue of Chester from the Danes. Even so, though it was a new element in the story, it served to emphasise further Chester's religious significance. In stating her intention to rebuild the ruined city, Ethelfleda also returns Christianity to Chester by granting her sister's wish that the old Roman church of SS Peter and Paul be restored and re-dedicated to St Werburgh. This narrative thread is again pursued in Episode IV, though in this instance the storyline returns to the one enacted in 1910, featuring the cruel, sexually incontinent and grossly obese Palatine earl, Hugh Lupus (so named ‘the wolf’ for his ferocity towards the Welsh), and his attempts to redeem his soul by the founding of the abbey of St Werburgh. This edifice grew into Chester Cathedral, and so its history was of clear contemporary importance to the city.

Edward I and his campaigns against the Welsh came next, again echoing the content of the 1910 pageant. McIntire did not write this scene; instead, a Cheshire novelist, Beatrice Tunstall, took charge.27 This episode depicted one of the many visits made to the city by Edward I and underlines the strategic position Chester then had, given that the river Dee was the passage used to travel into Wales. Edward's subjugation of the Welsh was the subject of the drama. The monarch gets a very sympathetic treatment in the episode as a 'noble King', as does his wife who is depicted as full of concern for her husband's wellbeing. The queen asks Edward to stay a while longer in Chester for 'he is weary', but the king replies, 'Nay, Eleanor, seek not to delay the dream that thou thyself hast waked in me—the vision of a kingdom that shall be one, undivided, filled with joy and trust under one King'.28

The next instalment in the pageant, Episode VI, again went over ground covered in 1910, with a drama depicting the capture and humiliation of Richard II by the future King Henry IV. It is clear that McIntire merely adapted the same storyline that had been used in 1910.29 Episode VII was a departure, however, and it is difficult to know exactly why, for the presentation given in 1910 had proved very popular. In 1910, the episode had two scenes, the first of which featured James I. He was played in comic fashion, and the scene went down very well with audiences. The second part was the standard Elizabethan fair scene. However, McIntire gave James I the chop, giving responsibility for this episode to a historical expert on the Elizabethan period—S.H. Atkins. Although James I had been somewhat lampooned in 1910 and given many stereotypical and unflattering Scottish traits, it is doubtful that any sensibilities about offending the Scots led to the scene's demise in 1937; after all, this was an age when the variety entertainer, Harry Lauder, had achieved international renown for similarly making fun of the Scots. A more likely explanation is the greater need in the inter-war period to present a huge and colourful spectacle—and perhaps a little fatigue with the inevitable Elizabethan revels that were standard pageant fare. The episode was organised by the Cheshire Federation of Women's Institutes and had an enormous cast involving members of 33 local branches of this organisation, so there can be no doubt that a spectacle was achieved. In addition, there was a clear attempt to present something that more genuinely reflected the late sixteenth century. Thus, as well as the usual elements of Morris dancers, hobby horses and market stalls, this depiction of Chester's traditional midsummer fair also contained a short enactment of a morality play. The 1910 pageant, though an overall success, had been criticized for not acknowledging Chester's medieval Mystery Plays.30 In a historical note made in the pageant souvenir programme, the writer of the episode pointed out the manner in which Chester had flourished during the era of the Tudors, and doubtless this scene aimed to reflect this. Atkins also made it clear that he had set the scene in a particular year in order to include the historical fact of the Earl of Essex's visit to the city on his way to suppress a rebellion in Ireland.31 This once again underlined Chester's strategic importance within the North West of England. No doubt, all these factors added to an image of greater historical authenticity.

Episode VIII brought the pageant to the Civil wars, as it had done in 1910. The central character is Charles I, though in 1937 he is given a slightly more sympathetic treatment than before—depicted when the Royalist cause was on the winning side rather than later on during the grim siege of Chester. The infant Charles II is also included in the drama in a way that suggests that Chester, despite suffering for its support of the Royalist cause, will win through in the end. The final episode was entirely new and featured a subject never before seen in a historical pageant—Queen Victoria. In time for the 1937 pageant, the ban on dramatising the person of Queen Victoria was lifted in the UK; and this well-publicised change was knowingly exploited in the Chester pageant.32 Four hundred applications were reputedly made for this part.33 In the end, 150 young women were auditioned to play the role of the princess aged 13.34 In the performance, the young actress was dressed in a costume that was a replica of that worn by the princess when she visited Chester, and she was brought into the arena in an authentic coach specially loaned for the event by the Duke of Westminster.35 Though the Princess Victoria was depicted as a child at her appearance opening Chester's famous Grosvenor Bridge (reputed to have had the largest stone arch in the world at the time), she showed many of the traits later popularly attributed to her as queen. For example, when the young princess demands money to make a gift to citizens imprisoned for debt in Chester's castle and this is not immediately granted, the future monarch is not amused and stamps her dainty foot!36 Needless to say, she gets her own way.

The official souvenir of the pageant stated that 'in all the length and breadth of England there is no place which possesses a more legitimate claim than does the ancient city of Chester to be chosen as the background for the performance of a great historical pageant'.37 Yet in terms of inter-war civic pageants generally, Chester's event was perhaps not likely to set the pageant world on fire. It was traditional in many ways: aside from the serendipitous inclusion of Queen Victoria, most of the narrative stayed with medieval history and, like pageants of yore, there was a strong religious theme running through, as well as no shortage of Merrie England on display with its folk music and dancing.

Nonetheless, as it had been the case in 1910, the pageant was well supported by municipal government and citizens alike. The performance was ably organised in terms of location, transport arrangements, and advertising. A plethora of printed items resulted from the event, and musical items from the performance were recorded and used in BBC radio broadcasts.38 The pageant scriptwriter, W.T. McIntyre, appears to have done a good job in highlighting local history that intersected with the national historical landscape, and he successfully blended legend with a fair degree of historical accuracy. Amplification was now available and was added to the performance, and McIntyre seems to have made every effort to ensure that this worked to the advantage of the script. The dialogue included was simplified compared to that used in 1910 and would have appealed more easily to a wide spectrum within the audience. Alongside a large and colourful spectacle, such features served to blend pageant traditions with contemporary innovations in stagecraft.

Furthermore, underneath the traditional and predictable aspects of the outdoor pageant, there was some novelty and originality employed in Chester's second civic pageant. For example, there was a radio programme featuring conversations with several pageant participants including a dress designer, a property man and an actor. These broadcasts aimed to show the work that went into making a pageant through first-hand experience. This type of coverage was symbolic of the fact that modern historical pageantry had now truly come of age and was capable of innovation. Moreover, the backstage secrets of the pageant were now well and truly out! This programme was heard on local stations right across the UK.39 The pageant master, Nugent Monck, also claimed that there was a running theme to this pageant and that this had encouraged him to experiment. This theme, he stated, was the repeated 'intervention of civic authority between various factions'. The pageant master decided that rather than try to disguise this repetition, he would highlight it, as it seemed to be an essential element in Chester's history.40 Monck's pageant experimentation at Chester further included a refusal to disguise the microphones that were arranged in an arc across the arena; he told the Manchester Guardian that although he was no fan of amplification, at Chester there would be 'no ivy twined round the rods', as had evidently been tried elsewhere.41 The pageant master also employed a colour theme in the pageant, with each episode using a limited scheme for costumes so that when the whole came together in the Epilogue, the spectacle would be enhanced. The influence of similar approaches in cinema, where new innovations in Technicolor were just around the corner, seems clear.

Exact figures for attendance have not been recovered, but an assessment based on the number of tickets sold suggests that the pageant was far from sold out. On the other hand, thousands of people did come and it was said that 'hundreds of Americans' touring the UK booked seats to see the pageant.42 Although a small profit was made, the pageant initially fell foul of the entertainments tax, which severely reduced the anticipated sum that could be given to charity. However, an anonymous donor saved the day with a large donation which, under the tax rules applied at the time, allowed the organisers to claim back the tax initially collected. The rebate, plus the donation and the pageant’s profits, meant that a substantial amount could be given over to Chester Royal Infirmary. However, this did not happen until a full eighteen months after the pageant. The effort and expense (as well as resulting success) that were involved in both of Chester's pageants dictate that this relatively compact city deserves a place in the roll call of the great civic pageants held in the North of England. The level of commitment entailed, however, meant that Chester's pageants were truly once-in-a-generation events.


  1. ^ 'Chester Pageant', Tamworth Herald, 26 June 1937, 8.
  2. ^ 'City Relives its Past', Guardian, 2 July 1937, 12.
  3. ^ 'Special Days and Openers', Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  4. ^ Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  5. ^ Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  6. ^ All committees and their members listed in Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  7. ^ For details of music pieces and composers, see Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  8. ^ The exhibition was noted to have made a net loss, although the sum is not specified; see 'Chester Pageant Accounts', Cheshire Observer, 18 March 1939, 16.
  9. ^ 'Chester Pageant Accounts', Cheshire Observer, 18 March 1939, 16.
  10. ^ 'Chester Pageant Accounts', Cheshire Observer, 18 March 1939, 16.
  11. ^ 'Chester Pageant: £3663 Allocated to Charitable Funds', Staffordshire Sentinel, 18 March 1939, 3.
  12. ^ 'Chester Pageant Accounts', Cheshire Observer, 18 March 1939, 16.
  13. ^ For all information about associated events, see Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  14. ^ Text of the synopses is based on Chester Historical Pageant, the College Grounds, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937: Book of Words (Shrewsbury, 1937), and Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations in the synopses are taken from the Book of Words.
  15. ^ As it turned out, the dissolute and perhaps penitent Hugh would become a monk in 1101, the year of his death.
  16. ^ 'Chester Pageant', Tamworth Herald, 26 June 1937, 8.
  17. ^ For details of music, see Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  18. ^ There are 122 small portraits of pageant organisers included in the official pageant souvenir; 57 of these are of women.
  19. ^ The tattoo was popular locally, and in 1939 in the run-up to the war another was planned to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Cheshire regiment. In the event, perhaps because of the contemporary climate, this had to be cancelled; see 'Chester Military Display Cancelled', Cheshire Observer, 25 February 1939, 16.
  20. ^ The College is generally acknowledged as the first dedicated school for the training of teachers; opened in 1839, it was run by the Church of England and known as Chester Diocesan Training College. Two of its founders were the British Prime Ministers, W.E. Gladstone and Edward Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby.
  21. ^ 'Chester Historical Pageant', Guardian, 17 June 1937, 7.
  22. ^ Atkins was awarded a PhD from the University of London later in 1937. The fact that he had written this episode for the Chester pageant was mentioned in a newspaper note; see Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 17 December 1937, 10.
  23. ^ McIntire was a prolific author of local history books and contributor of historical essays to newspapers; among his many writing projects, he was the editor of the Transactions of The Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society during the 1930s and 1940s. Nugent Monck was, at the time of the pageant, director of the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich.
  24. ^ 'Chester Historical Pageant', Guardian, 17 June 1937, 7.
  25. ^ 'Amphitheatre at Chester: Great Roman Work Found', The Guardian, 26 September 1931, 11.
  26. ^ 'Roman Tresses', Yorkshire Post, 17 June 1937, 8.
  27. ^ Tunstall was a Cheshire-based writer of historical romances. Though popular in the middle of the twentieth century, her fiction appears to have fallen out of fashion and very little further information about her has been recovered. Popular novels included The Shiny Night (1931), The Long Day Closes (1934) and The Dark Lady (1939).
  28. ^ Chester Historical Pageant, the College Grounds, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937: Book of Words (Shrewsbury, 1937), 58.
  29. ^ In 1910, the episode depicting Richard's humiliation at the hands of Bolingbroke was written by two local women, Miss Beatrice Clay and Miss Claribel Spurling.
  30. ^ See, for example, 'The Chester Pageant', The Times, 18 July 1910, 12.
  31. ^ Introduction to Episode VII by D.H. Atkins. For all details of the music, see Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  32. ^ The change in the law was much anticipated but finally took place in June 1937; see, for example, 'Chester Pageant Benefits from Withdrawn Ban', Nottinghamshire Evening Post, 19 June 1937, 7.
  33. ^ Untitled note, Guardian, 22 March 1937, 12.
  34. ^ 'Queen Victoria Plays', Gloucester Citizen, 9 June 1937, 1.
  35. ^ Ibid.
  36. ^ Chester Historical Pageant, the College Grounds, Chester, July 5th–10th, 1937: Book of Words (Shrewsbury, 1937), 99.
  37. ^ 'Beautiful Chester', Chester Historical Pageant Also Searchlight Tattoo July 5–10, 1937: Sole Official Souvenir & Programme 1/- (Shrewsbury, 1937), np.
  38. ^ These were advertised across the country in local press radio listings (everywhere from Scotland to the South of England).
  39. ^ This programme was advertised widely; see, for example, 'Wireless Notes', Hull Daily Mail, 26 June 1937, 4.
  40. ^ 'Chester Historical Pageant', Guardian, 17 June 1937, 7.
  41. ^ 'Chester Historical Pageant', Guardian, 17 June 1937, 7.
  42. ^ 'Chester Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 6 July 1936, 6.

How to cite this entry

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