The Colchester Pageant

Pageant type


This entry was compiled by Kathryn Thompson.

Jump to Summary


Place: The Castle Park (Colchester) (Colchester, Essex, England)

Year: 1909

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 6


21–26 June 1909

21–26 June 1909 at 3pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Parker, Louis Napoleon
  • President: Earl of Warwick (Francis Greville)
  • General Committee President: Gurney Benham (Mayor of Colchester)
  • Consultative Military Committee President: General F.S. Robb
  • Consultative Historical Committee President: Dr H. Laver
  • Grand Stand Committee Chairman: Alderman H.H. Elwes
  • Master of the Horse: Colonel H.L. Griffin
  • Properties Committee Chairman: H.L. Griffin
  • Master of the Music: George Wilby
  • Music Committee Chairman: C.H. Martin
  • Reception Committee Chairman: Asher Prior
  • Ladies’ Committee President: Mrs Henry Goody
  • Mistress of Designs: Miss Hastings-Irwin
  • Mistress of Robes: Mrs W. Claridge
  • Embroideries: Mrs Reginald B. Beard; Mrs Edwin J. Sanders
  • Wardrobe: Mrs Sansom
  • Mistress of Head-Dresses: Miss Senior
  • Mistress of Dances: Miss Gladys Francis

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Finance and Executive Committee:

  • President: Wilson Marriage
  • Vice-President: R.B. Beard
  • Treasurer: Capt. N.A.C. de H. Turnell

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

  • Parker, Louis Napoleon
  • Rhoades, James
  • Benham, W. Gurney
  • Benham, Charles E.

Names of composers

  • Wilby, George
  • Parker, Louis Napoleon

Numbers of performers


One of the performers was the artist Paul Nash (Ronald Blythe, Time by the Sea: Aldeburgh 1955-1958 (London: 2013).

Financial information

Total Income: £6286. 10s. 11d.

Pageant Master Fees: £727. 10s. 9d.
Grand Stand and Ground Costs: £1923
Properties, Materials and Tools: £503
Advertising: £438
Costumes: £642
Music: £154. 15s.
Expenses for Pageant House: £336. 19s. 7d.
Military Assistance: £171. 0s. 8d.
Payments in Honorariums: £308. 4s.2

Total ‘Profit Carried to Distribution Account’: £1012

Monies from profit distributed to the Following Charities:

  • Essex County Hospital: £157. 10s.
  • Eastern Counties Asylum for Idiots: £80
  • District Nurses Association: £60
  • Colchester Poor Children’s Fund: £100
  • Memorial Shelter on the Pageant Arena: £115
  • Mayoress’s Badge: £17. 10s.3

Object of any funds raised

Money distributed to various local charities (see financial information).

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: 5000
  • Total audience: 60000


Sources for attendance figures: The Times, 22 December 1908, 11; Wendy Brading, ‘Colchester: Pageant Plan…100 Years On’, Gazette News, 31 December 2008, accessed 11 June 2016, .

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

21s.–2s. 6d.

‘Tickets: 2s. 6d., 5s. 6d., 10s. 6d. and 21s.’7

Associated events

Special service held on the pageant grounds attended by 10,000–15000 people to whom the Bishop of Colchester delivered an address.

Pageant outline

Episode I

Scene I. AD 5.

Kymbeline and his Queen talk to the Court about his son fleeing to Rome and the Romans coming to conquer Britain and overthrow them. Aneurin returns from the river with oysters, and the men begin to eat them, having the first oyster feast.

Scene II. AD 43

Aulus Plautius and his legionaries descend on Colchester and defeat the Britons. Claudius sends a message that the barbarians should build a temple for him. Claudius enquires about the name of the town and is told that it is Camalaunuidun, but he decides that the Romans will call it Colonia. Claudius receives word that his wife Agrippa and Nero are plotting to overthrow him, so he rushes back to Rome, telling Suetonius Paulinus to ‘rule them with iron’ and to ‘show no mercy’. There are mutterings amongst the men that they are bored, so Suetonius takes half of them to kill the inhabitants of the Isle of Mona (Anglesey). Dancers distract the other soldiers, so the Britons stop working on the temple, leaving it only half-built. A pedlar is dismissed by the remaining Romans but mentions Boadicea’s name to the Britons. They disappear into the trees to prepare to fight.

Scene III. AD 61

The soldiers, after hearing a noise, are on their guard and discuss rumours of a great queen. Flavia explains stories of the queen of the Iceni and her rebellions. The Britons rush on, and Boadicea follows on her chariot surrounded by her daughters and Iceni men. The Romans are easily defeated and Boadicea makes a speech declaring that they are now free, encouraging them to follow her to Londinium.

Scene IV. AD 274

An old woman explains to a boy that the half-built temple was a Roman temple, but a queen had killed all of the Romans before it could be finished. She also explains how they have to pay yearly tribute to the Romans. The king, Coel Godebog, enters and gives the old woman some coins, which the nobles protest as it is part of the yearly tribute which they now cannot afford to pay. In order to placate the Roman Emperor, Constantius Chlorus, Coel announces that they will finish building the Roman temple. He summons his daughter, Helena, who declares she does not like the Roman Gods and does not want her father to build the temple to them. In order to appease her, Coel allows her to build a temple to her god, and she says that she will go to Jerusalem to learn his story. Constantius Chlorus arrives; he is immediately drawn to Helena and asks her to be his empress, adding that just seeing her has paid the tribute. He tells Coel that a tribute will never be necessary again if Helena agrees to marry him, which she does.

Episode II

Scene I. AD 650

Men and women are working hard in the fields discussing the temple, the old gods and stories of a new god who was to save them but is in a far-off country. Osyth enters and explains to the people that she had married Sighere, King of the East Saxons; however, not long after they married, he went to battle the Danes and she dedicated her life to God. She explains to the people who her God is, and then Sighere arrives to ask why she has left him. She encourages everyone to listen to a priest who explains who God is. Then the Danes rush in and kill some of the people who are running away.

Scene II. AD 870

Ubba and Ingvar (Danes) order the temple to be pulled down, which is done quickly. They brag about killing ‘Pale Edward’ at Beodricsworth and that the land is theirs as a result. They hold a woman, whose husband was a fierce fighter, and threaten to kill her child if she does not tell them where her husband went. Her child declares it is better for him to die than his father, and his mother agrees. Ingvar says that they can find him without his wife and child, as he had a child at home who would have spoken the same way. Ubba and Ingvar let them go but state they will lay waste to the land.

Scene III. AD 921

Ecgwyn and 12 girls are gathering flowers, surrounded by sheep; they discuss the battles being fought and King Edward (good King Alfred’s son) who drove the Danes back. The girls see a man and start to run away, but Ecgwyn stays to feed her sheep. Edward enters and asks why the girls have fled. Ecgwynn does not recognise him, and so they have a discussion about the king and what she would do if she were queen. Edward asks her to marry him and, still not knowing who he is, says that he is just a lowly farmer and she a lowly farmer’s daughter. Ecgwyn agrees to marry him but is confused when soldiers bow to them, finally discovering who he is.

Episode III

Scene I. AD 1096

A crowd of people gathers and chatters. Lord Eudo has been appointed Dapfier to the royal household and been given many lordships by ‘Norman William’, as Eudo had helped him take the throne. Eudo and other nobles enter, and Eudo addresses the crowd about the things he has built for them and how they must think about their souls. Eudo approaches the bishop about a holy man (Siric) who built a church in honour of John the Baptist and how miracles have been performed there. A witness, Thomas Christmasse, comes forward and describes how he had chains around his wrists, but as he prayed there was a thunderbolt and the chains were removed. Eudo asks to build an abbey on the site of the church. A few people add to Eudo’s gift to the church. However, the monks of Rochester protest to the site, so Eudo decides to give the abbey to Hugh of York and his brethren. A leper approaches, and they run away from him and throw stones. Eudo encourages charity and brotherly love.

Scene II. AD 1157

King Henry II and Queen Eleanor, on their way to Walsingham, visit Colchester with Thomas Beckett and other bishops. When he hears the only problem is quarrelsome monks, he jokingly suggests they be whipped. He is reminded that only the church can reprimand the clergy, and Beckett warns that any who try to meddle in church affairs regrets it, infuriating Henry. Henry gives Hubert de St Clare the castle to defend. He grants John, the abbot of St Johns of Colcestre [Colchester], a piece of land called West Castle. Morris dancers entertain the king and queen.

Scene III. AD 1189

A proclamation is read, and a man called Simon interrupts every time he does not understand a word. The proclamation states that they can choose bailiffs and Justices of the Peace, are free of Scot and Lot, Danegold and Mudrum, and are exempt from tolls and the like; the proclamation also states that no royal or any other family can be lodged in their homes by force.

Episode IV

Scene I. AD 1215

William de Langvale and his wife, the daughter of Hubert de St Clare, and their friends are in a meadow discussing their lives. Hubert died in service to the king, so his daughter was married to a suitable man who became the governor. Robert, prior of the Crouched Friars, and his monks approach them and ask to show them the shrine that has been made. Adam, the abbot, criticises it, but William finds the builder, Walter, and gives him a gold chain. Adam protests against this, but William congratulates Walter. The monks of Canterbury request that Walter set up a shrine for them.

Scene II. AD 1337

The bailiffs announce to the town that King Edward III and Queen Philippa are passing through the town on their way to visit the king’s mother, the dowager Queen Isabelle. The people cheer for Prince Edward, and Philippa holds up Princess Elizabeth and Princess Joanna to be cheered in their turn. Philippa entreats the people to establish a trade in wool, like the people of Norwich. The king and queen leave, and a fisherman comes in shouting that Lionel de Bradenham of Langhoe has taken their fisheries. The bailiff approaches Bradenham and asks him about it. The people say it is theirs by King Richard, and Bradenham and his men are badly beaten. He gives up the fisheries and is escorted home.

Scene III. AD 1376

Sir John Cavendish and two bailiffs start to settle a charge of murder brought against John Bodenham by John Huberd. Bodenham calls Huberd a liar, and Sir John declares that the two will fight it out. Bodenham is defeated, so Huberd is allowed to go free and Bodenham is to be hanged. William Westbon (a Crouched Friar) bursts in and shouts that the shrine holding the holy relics of St Helen had been stolen and accuses the Guild of St Helen of the crime. Another Crouched Friar tells Sir John that William’s brain is addled, and the friar confirms that the shrine is in its place. William declares it a miracle but insists on seeing it himself.

Scene IV. AD 1445

The constable, in rhyme, says to the people that King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou are passing through on a trip to Walsingham. The bailiffs approach to give a silver cup to the king, but the abbot demands they give it to him so that he can present it. The king gives a gold chain and a coin purse to the Master of Trinity. He also gives the Lord of Oxford the fisheries, which the people argue against. A fishwife speaks to the king, explaining that the fisheries belong to the people and so are not the King’s to give away. She tells him that when Bradenham tried the same thing, the people beat him away and that the queen would argue for the people, which she does. Henry restores the fisheries to the people, and the fishwife promises to send him a barrel of oysters.

Episode V

Scene I. AD 1515

The bailiffs and other council officials discuss Queen Catherine of Aragon’s arrival and how the Lord Abbot will monopolise her time. Thomas Audley, a town clerk, carries a purse he will present to the queen. When the queen enters, he presents it, and as the abbot starts to speak, Audley signals for the singing to start, which, once underway, the abbot demands is stopped. The queen, however, instructs the signers to continue. When the singing is done, the queen gives money to the performers. The queen asks the abbot to talk to a gipsy, who tells the queen she will be mother to a mighty sovereign. The queen then watches a stately dance. When it is finished, the queen thanks them and leaves. The gipsy tells Audley that he will become a lord and will whisper to the king himself. Audley declares her a mad woman.

Scene II. AD 1539

Citizens explain that Thomas Beche, the abbot, is to be hanged. The lords, bailiffs, aldermen and the men-at-arms enter. There is a cheer for Lord Audley, and he greets John Smallpiece as a friend. The Lord Commissioners enter, and Beche is brought in front of them, accused of treason against Henry VIII. John Martin is called as a witness and claims to have heard Beche say the King was not the rightful head of the Church. Robert Rome is called, and he says he heard Beche say the King’s Highness has evil councillors. Thomas Nuthake says that he heard Beche say the reason why the king broke with Rome was because he wanted a divorce. John St Clare says he heard the abbot say that the king will only have his house against his will, as the king could not take it by law. The commissioners sentence him to death, and Beche is led away.

Scene III. AD 1510

Six pirates are brought from a barge before Master Maynard for seizing one of the oyster vessels. The pirates are said to have ‘unsensed’ John Minter, Charles Bradsted and Edgar Newman and thrown John Bateman, Esquire of Brightlingsea, into the mud of Alresford Creek.9 Maynard sends them to the gaol until they can hold an inquisition.

Scene IV. AD 1578

Sir Francis Walsingham, the recorder, arrives ahead of Queen Elizabeth to check everything is in order. John Pye, the bailiff, and Richard Symnell, the deputy town clerk, greet him. Symnell takes Walsingham through the preparations, quite officiously. As the queen arrives, Walsingham sends Symnell to stand behind the pike-men to ensure he cannot talk to the queen. Walsingham hands her the cup, and she excuses the reading of the address, instead declaring that she knows they will happily pay taxes and that the bailiffs will avoid in-fighting. The queen greets the boys of the grammar school and the Flemish weavers. The queen goes to the Oyster Feast and is introduced to Doctor Gilberd, who wants to explain his inventions to her; however, Leicester keeps interrupting him, so the queen hits him with her fan. After showing her his experiment, the queen announces that Gilberd will receive money and become a Physician in Ordinary. The queen goes to the Oyster Feast and listens to songs, declaring Colchester as ‘Merry Colchester’. The children do a performance of King Cole, and as they file past the Queen, she gives ‘King Cole’ a chain to wear and, ‘as is the custom between monarchs’, she greets ‘your mighty majesty with a cousinly salute’ and kisses him on both cheeks. The boy thanks her, calling her cousin and runs to his mother.

Episode VI. AD 1648

The mayor, Henry Barrington, and the aldermen discuss the loyalties of the people to the Parliamentary forces. Lord Goring, Sir Charles Lucas, Sir Bernard Gascoigne, Sir George Lisle and other Royalists force their way into the town. Barrington and the aldermen eventually agree to give the Royalists shelter in order to save their lives and their town. Lord-General Fairfax sends a message to Goring stating that if his forces surrender, less blood will be split. Goring sends a message back saying, ‘I Heard he was ill with the gout, but (touching his sword) I will cure him of all diseases’. Lord Capel comes in after a fight and explains that they managed to stop the Parliamentary forces, not without loss. Barrington complains to Goring that the people are starving and urges him to yield the town, which Goring says he will not do as Prince Rupert’s forces will be there in two weeks. The people tell the officers they shall starve to death before Rupert can get to them. Lisle tells Goring that he has had 20 horses killed for meat. A soldier tells Goring that the enemy has set up artillery on St John’s Green, so Goring orders a marksman be put up on St Mary’s Tower. Lucas finds a one-eyed gunner who claims to be a better marksman than most men with two eyes. Goring orders Lucas to send some of the Parliamentary soldiers they have captured back to Fairfax to see if they will be able to make a treaty.

An arrow with a note attached is shot over the walls from Fairfax, and he offers clemency to any Royalist soldiers who desert. The men are unmoved by this, but Goring hears that Fairfax will not discuss a treaty until after all the Parliamentary soldiers are released, and Goring sees no other way. The people fight over the body of a starved cat. Goring sends the Parliamentary prisoners back; hearing of this, the Royalist soldiers threaten to go over to the enemy, but Goring placates them. Goring hopes the Northern forces will come and relieve them, but he receives another note from Fairfax that the Royalist forces in Lancashire and the Scots have been defeated.

Colonel Tuke re-enters with peace terms. All the soldiers and people will be given quarter, but the Lords and officers will have to surrender themselves to the Lord-General. Colonel Ewer (one of the prisoners) enters with a group of Parliamentarians. He orders the officers to surrender themselves to his keeping and states that they will appear before a council of war. Fairfax discusses with his officers what to do with the Royalist leaders. Ireton says that there should be no thought of mercy. Whaley dissents, but Ireton insists on their deaths. Fairfax holds a vote, and it is decided they must die. The Royalists are brought in, and Fairfax commends their bravery, declaring that only Sir Charles Lucas, Sir George Lisle and Bernard Gascoigne will be shot. Lucas is shot, then Lisle. Their estates are split up and Barrington asks if the town will get any compensation. Instead, Ireton orders the town pay 14000 pounds, of which half will be paid by the company of Baymakers. A mourning figure and a maiden enter. The mourning figure represents the town Colcestria and the maiden represents hope. Hope takes Colcestria by the hand and helps her through her grief.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Cunobelinus [Cymbeline] (d. c.AD 40) king in southern Britain

  • Plautius, Aulus (fl. AD 29–57) Roman governor of Britain
  • Claudius [Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus] (10 BC–AD 54) Roman emperor
  • Suetonius Paullinus, Gaius (fl. c.AD 40–69) Roman governor of Britain
  • Boudicca [Boadicea] (d. AD 60/61) queen of the Iceni
  • Constantine III [Flavius Claudius Constantinus] (d. 411) Roman emperor proclaimed in Britain
  • Osgyth [St Osgyth, Osyth, Osith] (fl. late 7th cent.) abbess of Chich
  • Edward [called Edward the Elder] (870s?–924 king of the Anglo-Saxons
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Aquitaine] suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204), queen of France, consort of Louis VII, and queen of England, consort of Henry II
  • Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Richard I [called Richard Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart] (1157–1199) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
  • Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince] prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376), heir to the English throne and military commander [also known as Edward the Black Prince]
  • Cavendish, Sir John (d. 1381) justice
  • Henry VI (1421–1471) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
  • Vere, John de, seventh earl of Oxford (1312–1360) magnate and soldier
  • Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIIIThomas Audley- Lord Chancellor
  • Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate [also known as Sutton, Lord]
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Walsingham, Sir Francis (c.1532–1590) principal secretary
  • Goring, George, Baron Goring (1608–1657) royalist army officerSir Charles Lucas- royalist army officer
  • Gascoigne, Sir Bernard [Bernardo Guasconi] (1614–1687) royalist army officer and diplomat
  • Lisle, Sir George (d. 1648) royalist army officer
  • Capel, Arthur, first Baron Capel of Hadham (1604–1649) royalist army officer and politician
  • Honywood, Sir Thomas, appointed Lord Honywood under the protectorate (1587–1666) parliamentarian army officer and local politician
  • Ireton, Henry (bap. 1611, d. 1651) parliamentarian army officer and regicide
  • Rainborowe [Rainborow], Thomas (d. 1648) parliamentarian army officer and Leveller
  • Whalley, Edward, appointed Lord Whalley under the protectorate (d. 1674/5) regicide and major-general
  • Fairfax, Thomas, third Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1612–1671) parliamentarian army officer
  • Tuke, Sir Samuel, first baronet (c.1615–1674) royalist army officer and playwright
  • Lucas, Sir Thomas (1597/8–1648/9) royalist army officer

Musical production

Music from the Royal Marines Band (Portsmouth Division), led be Lieutenant Miller, reinforced by local professional and amateur musicians, conducted by C.J. Phillips, head of the Cheltenham Philharmonic Society, who was the Master of Music. The performance included ancient and modern music, with a focus on local composers.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times
Manchester Guardian
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
Chelmsford Chronicle
Essex Newsman
Tamworth Herald
Diss Express
Framlingham Weekly News
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Grantham Journal
London Daily News
Grays and Tilbury Gazette
Western Daily Press
Sheffield Evening Telegraph

Book of words

Souvenir and Book of Words of the Colchester Pageant. Norwich and London, 1909.

Price: 1s.

Other primary published materials

  • Report of pageant and pictorial supplement. Essex County Standard, 26 June 1909.
  • The Colchester Pageant. Programme. Norwich and London, 1909.

References in secondary literature

  • Freeman, Mark. ‘“Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle': Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’. Social History 38, no. 4 (2013). At 426.
  • Yoshino, Ayako. Pageant Fever: Local History and Consumerism in Edwardian England. Tokyo, 2011. At 35, 66–71, 77–80 and 203.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Essex Records Office:
  • Copies of printed material related to the Colchester Pageant. T/Z89/.
  • Papers and ephemera of Mrs Gladys Laura Mellon relating to the pageant. C632.
  • Pageant Committee Minute Book. C1432.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Observer newspaper wrote of the Colchester Pageant that ‘it was inevitable, in these days of pageants, that Colchester should sooner or later seek to prove its claim to be considered, in many respects, the most interesting city in Great Britain’.11 In Edwardian times the staking of a city’s place in wider national life had to be done through a historical pageant, recreating scenes from the town’s illustrious (and occasionally not so illustrious) history.

The Colchester Pageant of 1909 was held to mark the 2000th anniversary of the town, and, as such, featured the town’s most important, historical events. It was held in the grounds of Colchester Castle with over six performances in June. Louis Napoleon Parker was Pageant Master; he was also joint script writer, along with Mr W. Gurney Benham, the Mayor of Colchester, and Mr Charles E. Benham. Many people from Colchester were involved in performing and organising it. A house was rented close to the castle for the pageant committees to meet, make costumes and build sets. The idea of a pageant had been mooted as early as August 1907, with a long preparation time, which by this point was becoming standard for pageants.12 The town responded with enthusiasm to the pageant, with volunteers for parts including the Mayor and Mayoress of Colchester and the principal citizens of the town; indeed, ‘practically every district of Essex’ was represented. The Chelmsford Chronicle noted that ‘prominent families’ volunteered for court groups, ‘prominent Churchmen are accepting the ecclesiastical parts’, and the ‘military authorities of the ancient Roman fortress’ (Colchester was still a military town) ‘are co-operating in a way which will render the military scenes most impressive.’13 The Chronicle predicted that the pageant ‘bids fair to become another great triumph for Colchester.’14 After complaints were voiced about the cost of the tickets, with the cheapest ticket costing some 2s. 6d. (by contrast, the cheapest price at Winchester was 1s.),15 a scheme was ‘formulated by the Committee to give all classes an opportunity of witnessing the Colchester Pageant’, arranging school and friendly society visits and discount tickets ‘with a view to enabling the working classes to see the pageant at a reasonable rate.’16 In the event, after such measures were taken, there were few complaints from those who could not afford to visit the pageant.

The episodes and events were chosen to mark important parts of Colchester’s history and to show some of its biggest achievements. The oyster feast is an annual event in Colchester and this was marked in the first episode with the discovery of oysters and the first ‘feast’.17 The Roman conquest and Boudicca’s war against the Romans are also shown; for a time, the Romans used Colchester as a capital, but the Roman fortress was destroyed by Boudicca’s forces. The other scenes chronicle the visits of various Kings and Queens to Colchester.

The decision to portray the second civil war in the last episode was particularly interesting, at a time when few pageants  presented a continually-contentious subject, preferring to end in the Tudor period Indeed, this was the first time that Louis Napoleon Parker portrayed the Civil War. Compared to the other scenes, it is quite a bit darker; however, it was a large part of Colchester’s history. The episode depicts the Royalist forces, led by Sir Charles Lucas, forcing their way into the town and the beginning of the Siege of Colchester. The Siege lasted eleven weeks, and the people of Colchester were particularly affected. They had been on the side of the Parliamentarians during the First Civil War and were not enamoured with the Royalist forces forcibly entering their city and taking all their food. They ended up eating cats, dogs and horses, as shown in the pageant with the ordering of horses to be killed and the people fighting over a dead cat. The episode depicts Fairfax sending over notice that the Royalist army had been defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Preston; as a result, the Royalists attempted to enter into negotiations with Fairfax. However, he demanded that the officers give themselves over to him. This scene was probably chosen because of the huge impact it had, not only on the town but also on the Civil War. Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle were executed after a military court, rare for the Civil War, as officers’ fates were normally decided by Parliament; this was justified by Fairfax and Ireton, who claimed that by continuing the siege they would cause unnecessary death.

The opening of the pageant was almost as grand as the scenes themselves and represented the height of the town’s civic pride. The Lord Mayor of London was joined by thousands in a massed procession to the pageant ground, including representatives from 30 cities, led by mounted police, the Colchester Fire Brigade, and the scholars of Colchester Royal Grammar School. At the pageant ground 10000 heard a service conducted by the Bishop of St Alban’s, which reminded one reporter ‘of a great revival’. Visitors to the pageant’s opening included HRH the Princess Louise, a noted fan of pageants, who at one point asked that the banners of the towns of Colchester beyond the seas be presented to her.18 Other visitors who enjoyed the ‘cool breezes and bright sunshine’ included representatives from the Russian Duma on a state visit to Britain. The Times remarked that ‘the beauty of some of the scenes is quite remarkable, even in these days of brilliant pageantry.’ The newspaper went on to lavish praise on the scenes with Claudius, the arrival of Boudicca, and the procession of Plantagenets and Lancastrians which ‘afforded great delight to the audience yesterday, to judge from the applause which was evoked.’19

The pageant went very well overall, with large audiences attending every day. There were some small problems, such as an injury during one of the dress rehearsals. Corporal Watson, a cavalier whose horse bolted and collided with other Cavaliers, was hurled from the horse; he was attended by doctors who were taking part in the pageant and suffered ‘a fractured skull and broken nose.’ Although the press noted that a number of those watching fainted, there is no indication of what happened to the fallen horse, which one assumes fared badly.20

The pageant closed five days later, this final performance being blessed with fine weather. However, the Chelmsford Chronicle noted that ‘it is a pity the weather was not a little more kind to the performers, who, especially on Friday, when they played through storms of tropical intensity, were commendably brave.’21 The pageant, being a mere 45 minutes from London Liverpool Street (with special trains provided at discount rates), was very well attended, despite meteorological vicissitudes, attracting over 60000 visitors.22 The newspapers praised the pageant and Parker for creating a truly memorable occasion. At the close of the pageant, Parker was dragged through the town in Emperor Claudius’ Triumphal Car, hauled by a strange assortment of Danes and Civil War cavalrymen and pelted with roses.23 In fact, there was such enthusiasm that several hundred of those who had taken part in the pageant reassembled at Colchester Hall in costume to enact several of the scenes from the pageant again.24

The pageant was a financial success as well, making a profit of £1012, a considerable sum in 1909.25 This figure included the proceeds of a strange auction for props, with Kymeline’s throne selling for 5s. and Helma and Constantinus’ shields for only 6d., while two oak chairs used in the pageant sold for the princely sum of £3. 6s.26 The pageant consistently had large numbers in the audience, on most occasions filling the seating that was built for 5000 people and with more standing. Parker remained a local hero in the town, and A.M. Jarmin, the Honorary Secretary and very much the instigator of the pageant, was able to build a successful political career on the strength of the pageant, becoming Mayor in 1917.27 Colchester became a national benchmark for a successful pageant, which genuinely raised the status of the town. In 2009 an exhibition was put on at Hollytrees Museum commemorating the 1909 pageant.28 

Essex continued to have a tradition of pageants including Southend (1909) Saffron Walden (1910), and the Pageant of Essex at Ilford in 1932.

By Kathryn Thompson


  1. ^ The Times, 22 December 1908, 11.
  2. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 3 December 1909, 2.
  3. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 3 December 1909, 2.
  4. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 16 July 1909, 3.
  5. ^ The Times, 22 December 1908, 11.
  6. ^ Wendy Brading, ‘Colchester: Pageant Plan…100 Years On’, Gazette News, 31 December 2008, accessed 11 June 2016,
  7. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 18 February 1909, 2.
  8. ^ Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 22 June 1909, 6.
  9. ^ Souvenir and Book of Words of the Colchester Pageant (Norwich, 1909), 47.
  10. ^ Gloucestershire Echo, 6 July 1908, 1.
  11. ^ Observer, 13 June 1909, 6.
  12. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 9 August 1907, 4.
  13. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 19 February 1909, 2.
  14. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 16 April 1909, 2.
  15. ^ Ayako Yoshino, Pageant Fever: Local History and Consumerism in Edwardian England (Tokyo, 2011), 69–70. Yoshino has calculated that the price for a working-class family of six to attend the Colchester Pageant would have been around 15s., equivalent to a week’s food budget.
  16. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 14 May 1909, 5.
  17. ^ For the history of the Oyster Feast, see David Cannadine, ‘The Transformation of Civic Ritual in Modern Britain: The Colchester Oyster Feast’, Past & Present, 94 (1982), 107-30.
  18. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 25 May 1909, 7. For Princess Louise’s pageant enthusiasm, see David Duff, The Life Story of H. R. H. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (London, 1949), 252.
  19. ^ The Times, 22 June 1909, 12.
  20. ^ Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 21 June 1909, 9.
  21. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 2 July 1909, 7.
  22. ^ Wendy Brading, ‘Colchester: Pageant Plan…100 Years On’, Gazette News, 31 December 2008, accessed 11 June 2016,
  23. ^ Observer, 27 June 1909, 9.
  24. ^ Essex Newsman, 3 July 1909, 4.
  25. ^ Chelmsford Chronicle, 3 December 1909, 2.
  26. ^ Diss Express, 9 July 1909, 8.
  27. ^ Essex Newsman, 29 January 1927, 3; The Times, 22 October 1917, 5.
  28. ^ ‘Exhibition Recalls Town’s Pageant’, BBC News, 30 July 2009, accessed 18 May 2016, There was an early report that there would be a restaging of the pageant; see Brading, ‘Colchester: Pageant Plan…100 Years On’.

How to cite this entry

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