The Chipping Sodbury Pageant
Place: Downleaze (Chipping Sodbury) (Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, England)
Number of performances: 4
18–20 July 1935
7pm daily and a matinee on 20 July at 2.30pm.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Produced by [Pageant Master]: Bedford, Cicely
- Designer of Dresses: Mrs P.L.E. Walker and Commander Begbie
- Master of the Horse: Mr A. Wilson
- Master of the Arena: Commander Begbie
- Mistress of the Music: Miss E. Bowles
- Property Master: Mr H. Turner
- Mistress of the Work-Room: Mrs Boon
- Publicity: Mr E. Stone
- Hon. Secretary: Mr C. Knight
- Assistant Secretary: Miss M. Limbrick
- Treasurer: Mr A.V. Cox
- Mistress of the Dance: Miss K. Coombes
- Hand Book: Mr E.M. Hoborow
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- President: His Grace the Duke of Beaufort, GCVO, MFH
- Chairman of the General Committee: Rev A.G. Robinson
- Rev A.G. Robinson
- Mrs A.G. Robinson
- Mr G. Holboro
- Miss C. Bedford
- Mr A.V. Cox
- Mrs L. Boon
- Dr T.C. Leman
- Mrs M. Moreton
- Commander H.H. Begbie
- Mrs E. Savory
- Mr S.H. Hobbs
- Mrs Newman
- Mr A.H. Vizard
- Mrs H. Sweatman
- Mr E.M. Holborow
- Mrs Howell
- Mr H. Turner
- Miss S. Allen
- Mr R.B. Arnold
- Miss D. Turner
- Mr R.A. Turner
- Miss E. Bowles
- Mr L. Gale
- Miss K. Coombes
- Mr T. Tily
- Miss L. Trotman
- Mr M. Moreton
- Miss E. Trotman
- Mr E. Stone
- Mrs Richards
- Mr H. Sweatman
- Miss Bowlder
- Mr A. Wilson
- Miss M. Limbrick
- Mr C. Knight
- Picture I. Group Leaders: Mrs Newman, Mr and Mrs M. Moreton
- Picture II. Group Leader: Mr C. Knight
- Picture III. Group Leader: Mr T. Tily
- Picture IV. Group Leaders: Mrs H. Sweatman and the ladies of the Women’s Institute
- Picture V. Group Leader: Mr R.B. Arnold
- Picture VI. Group Leader: Miss Allen
- Picture VII. Group Leader: Mrs Savory
Patrons: 37, drawn from nobility, the Church, mayors of nearby towns (such as Bath and Bristol), and other members of the public.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Bedford, Cicely
- Cholmondely, E.C.
- Prologue. Devised by Cicely Bedford, Words by E.C. Cholmondely.
- Epilogue. Cicely Bedford, Words by E.C. Cholmondely.
Names of composers
- Boughton, Rutland
- Dyson, George
Numbers of performers500
Object of any funds raised
Any funds raised were to go towards the Church Schools and for the enlargement of the burial ground.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 400
- Total audience: n/a
Grandstand capacity: 400 plus space on surrounding slopes.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Booths and sideshows.
Children are dancing and playing when the Spirit of Mischief enters and calls on Ignorance and Sloth. The Mistress of the Dames School tries to make the children go to class, but they chant ‘No History for us to-day, We want to stop outside and play’. The Mistress explains that History is play—and that the beautiful hills are full of History. She wishes that a Spirit of History would give her words with which to paint the past. The Spirit of History enters and speaks to the children, and announces that he will ‘unroll the panelled tapestries of Time’ of the local people who lived and worked in the area. He instructs the children to chase away Ignorance and Sloth and Mischief.
A group of Britons are collecting for a service. Druids enter down the hill at back chanting. They proceed to their altar and a white goat is led in for sacrifice. A Roman soldier is observed on the bank at the left. The Arch Druids stir the people up to attack him. Other Romans run up to his assistance and the Druids retire with their insignias—Publius Ostorius Scapula enters in his chariot with legionnaires. The Britons waver and flee pursued by the Romans, who capture some of them and force them to kneel to the Roman Standard—and take them off in chains.
Picture II. 26 May 946 AD
The servants of King Edmund are preparing a feast on St Augustine’s day. Edmund returns from a boar hunt in his forest of Kingswood, and entertains Aylward, Abbot of Thornberie, nicknamed ‘Snow.’ An itinerant Trouvère sings the legend of Beowulf. Leofric the bandit enters, and seats himself at the Kings’ high table calling for wine. The King orders his cupbearer to throw him out but the cupbearer is overthrown. The King, dashing to his assistance, is stabbed by the bandit and falls dead. In the confusion Leofric escapes. King Edmund is carried off by Monks to be later buried at Glaston.
Picture III. 1188
The townspeople of Chipping Sodbury have assembled to greet the Earl of Albermarle William, surnamed Le Gros. He rides in with his daughter, Harvise, Jordan Bishop, Lord of Little Sodbury, and their attendants. The Burghers present a petition asking for the liberties pertaining to the ‘Law of Bristol,’ and for the Benefaction on the Ridings and Meads Riding. A Scribe then reproduces the Charter Roll which is sealed by Le Gros amid cheers.
Picture IV. 1250
The Weavers’ Guild of Chipping Sodbury is in session. The Guild Masters elect a Warden for the year. Apprentices are approved and their Indenture sealed. A piece of cloth is produced by a dissatisfied buyer and examined by two Searchers, who condemn it. The Maker is brought before them; he and his apprentice are censured and put in the stocks amidst the jeers of the crowd. A procession from the Guild Chapel enters and after a short religious service the Master of the Guild presents the Priest with a sign of costly material for the Chantry. The Priest pronounces a blessing and the crowds disperse.
Picture V. 1522
The children of Sir John Walshe with their nurse, Tabitha, prepare for their lessons with their tutor, William Tyndale, at Little Sodbury Manor. Sir John and Lady Walshe return from a hawking expedition with Sir William and Lady Ann Denny of Dyrham Park with their hounds and hawks and serving men. They dismount and go into the house. A pedlar sells his wares. A passing mendicant Friar stops to listen to William Tyndale who is reading a portion of his translation of the Scriptures in English. The Friar hastens off to tell Sir John who, with Master William Knight, Prebendary at Horton, expostulates with Tyndale. The servants come and show their affection and respect for Tyndale, who decides he must leave.
Sir John and Lady Walshe are entertaining Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn at Little Sodbury Manor. Servants under the direction of a major-domo prepare a dais for the King, greatly hampered by the ‘assistance’ of Will Somers, the King’s Jester. Crowds assemble on the bank and a procession of ladies and gentlemen from the neighbourhood enter, among them Henry, Second Earl of Worcester, Thomas, Lord of Berkeley and his wife, formerly Ann Savage, maid of honour to Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Courtney, Countess of Devon of Rangeworthy Court, Sir Nicholas and Lady Poyntz of Iron Acton, Sir William Tracy of Dodington, etc. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn enter under a canopy carried by men in his livery of green and white, attended by pages and maids of honour, Sir John and Lady Walshe, Lord Daubeny of Ashton Court, the King’s Chamberlain, Sir Anthony Browne, his Standard Bearer, Sir William and Lady Ann Denny of Dyrham Park, and others. They group themselves on the dais and a Greek Masque is performed. As the Masque ends, Anne Boleyn sends a page to fetch Pluto (from the Masque) and offers him her handkerchief. With a bellow of jealous rage Henry snatches it from her and stumps into the house, leaving the rest to disperse as best they may.
Picture VII. September 1651
Harvest home celebrations are in progress in Chipping Sodbury. Young men and maidens are singing and dancing outside an inn. A wagon is piled with corn and the horses decked with ribbons, bringing more revellers to the scene. A drinking song is sung. A number of Cromwellian soldiers enter and stop the revels, trampling the trophies of corn underfoot and dispersing the crowd. A Royalist prisoner is brought in, questioned, baited, and ducked in the horse trough outside the inn. His hat falls off. Meanwhile, Charles II, disguised as Will Jackson, a serving man, rides down the drive with Jane Lane on a pillion behind him. The Roundheads call to them to stop and they ride up to the door of the Inn. Charles busies himself with the horse but is dragged forward and questioned. Picking up the hat of the Royalist and placing it on his head, he swaggers up and down laughing. He throws the hat into the trough and goes back to his horse and leads it behind the inn. The Roundheads hesitate, but seeing two more Cavaliers riding down the drive they dash off to intercept and capture them. Jane Lane comes out of the inn, calls for her horse and rides off behind Charles. More Cromwellians gallop down the drive and join in baiting the Cavalier prisoners and all exit.
The Spirit of History enters and tells the children that their lessons are finished for the day—much to their upset. They plead for more. The Spirit now shows them a glimpse of the future—their great grandchildren living still in the area, and continuing prosperity and ingenuity.
The Ghosts of the past march past and fill the arena. Heralds sound a fanfare as History comes to the centre.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Ostorius Scapula, Publius (d.AD 52) Roman governor of Britain
- Edmund I (920/21–946) king of England
- Adgar [William] (fl. 1150x1200) Anglo-Norman translator
- William le Gros, count of Aumale and earl of York (c.1110–1179) magnate
- Hawisa, suo jure countess of Aumale, and countess of Essex (d. 1213/14) noblewoman
- Tyndale, William (c.1494–1536) translator of the Bible and religious reformer
- Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
- Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536) queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII
- Somer [Sommers], William (d. 1559) court fool
- Browne, Sir Anthony (c.1500–1548) courtier
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Lane, Jane, Lady Fisher (d. 1689) royalist heroine
Orchestra under the direction of Miss E, Bowles performed a number of pieces, including:
- Picture II: The setting of the Legend of St Beowulf was specially composed by Rutland Boughton.
- Following the Finale: ‘Praise’, by George Dyson.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Western Daily Press
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Chipping Sodbury Pageant, July 18-19-20 1935 (Chipping Sodbury, 1935).
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Gloucestershire Archives. D6822/43.
- Newspaper cuttings on pageant, 1935.
- Programme of pageant, 1935.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Chipping Sodbury Pageant was a small pageant staged four times in south Gloucestershire in summer 1935. It was produced and mostly written by Cicely Bedford, who had been producing plays since 1913, though the pageant was her first professional engagement.1 It gained a little local press coverage, but no national coverage—reflecting its small size and local concentration. Bedford told the press that all the performers belonged to the district, that most of them had made their own costumes, and that the pageant was ‘a great communal effort, intended to prove that a really big pageant can be staged without enormous expense.’2
Perhaps reflecting the lack of dialogue, Bedford dubbed the episodes ‘pictures’. The pageant began with the Spirit of History undertaking the task of educating present-day children in the history of their locality. The following episodes ranged from the coming of the Romans, complete with a Druid sacrifice, to the escape of Charles II from Cromwellian soldiers in 1651. In between, the episodes were typical for this period. They featured royal visits; local fairs and celebrations; the granting of charters; and the celebration of local figures of importance. At the close of the pageant the Spirit of History returned and gave the children a glimpse into the future—where their great grandchildren were still living in a prosperous neighbourhood. The narrative concentrated on fun and spectacle but still had mostly serious historical intent below the surface—though the lack of dialogue presumably limited the extent to which history could be properly portrayed.
Not much detail survives about finances or attendance. With a grandstand holding only 400 (though there were surrounding slopes for people to sit on), and just four performances, it is likely that only a couple of thousand people saw the pageant. However, the press was still positive. The Western Daily Press said that ‘Every scene was memorable… and every scene should have a special mention’, and that ‘The whole performance was well worth seeing; there was a sort of ‘unpretentious lavishness’ about it that was most stimulating’.3 Other reports described how the pageant had ‘entailed hard and exacting work’ but the performers had ‘responded most readily to the calls of Miss Cicely Bedford, the producer, and all who have witnessed it vote the pageant “a really great show.”’4
The lack of detail surviving about the Chipping Sodbury Pageant perhaps tells us something about historical pageantry in the inter-war period. Pageants were still happening frequently on the local stage, especially in Gloucestershire, (see entries for Gloucester 1930 and Tewkesbury 1931)!, and they were hardly newsworthy in that respect, as both press and public enthusiasm had waned since the days of the great Pageant of Gloucestershire in 1908. However, they still attracted positive attention from the local press and were remarkably popular ways of bringing together small communities.
- ‘Historical and Gay Scenes at Chipping Sodbury’, Western Daily Press, 19 July 1935, 11.
- Ibid., 11.
- Ibid., 11.
- Unknown newspaper clipping from ‘Cuttings on pageant, 1935’, Gloucestershire Archives. D6822/43.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Chipping Sodbury Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1032/