The Pageant of Ercildoune

Pageant type


Organised by the Earlston Girls’ Club.

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Place: Carolside Estate (Earlston) (Earlston, Scottish Borders, Scotland)

Year: 1934

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


7 July 1934, 3.00pm and 7.30pm

Carolside is a country house estate and is still in private ownership; at the time of the pageant it was owned by Colonel and Mrs Ferguson who were both involved with the organisation of the pageant. Ercildoune is the antique name for Earlston and is most famous for its association with the thirteenth century seer, Thomas of Erceldoune, otherwise known as Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director [Pageant Master] Ferguson, Col.
  • Assistant Director [Pageant Master]: Simpson, Stanley
  • President of Earlston Girls’ Club: Mrs Ferguson
  • Maypole Dance and Children’s Games arranged by: Mr Burt
  • Other dances arranged by: Mr Ion Jamieson
  • Choir master: Mr Louden Melrose
  • Period Costumes: Sheldon Bamber
  • Other costumes: Mrs Winchester and Miss Gill
  • Scenery Effects: Mr Biggar, forester at Carolside
  • Seating: Mr Betts, gardener at Carolside
  • Carting and stabling: Messrs Roger, Gibson (Groom at Carolside), Cunningham and Roxburgh2

Names of executive committee or equivalent


It is assumed that the Girls’ Club committee undertook organisation; the President of the committee was Mrs Ferguson whose husband, Colonel Ferguson, acted as Pageant Master. The Carolside Estate where the pageant took place was then the residence of the Fergusons.

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

  • Ayton, William E.


There is no specified author for this pageant; however, a great many of the verses spoken or sung were traditional ballads. Those used were possibly versions published by Francis Child in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads which was released in eight volumes over the course of the 1890s and/or collected by Sir Walter Scott. William E. Ayton’s poem ‘Edinburgh after Flodden’ featured in Episode III.

Names of composers

  • Sanderson, James

Numbers of performers


Men, women and children. There were a number of horses involved at various parts of the pageant and sheep dogs appeared in Episode V. Although the pageant was under the auspices of the Girls' Club more than half of the named performers are male; it is not possible to arrive at precise numbers because some names, particularly for Episode I, which had 44 named players, are stated with initials only and no title.

Financial information

Profit: £203 3

Object of any funds raised

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the Sick Children’s Hospital, Edinburgh.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


In press reviews, the audience is described as large.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Admission: 1s.
Cars: 1s.
Seats: 2s. and 1s.
Teas: 2 prices—1s. 6d. and 1s.4

It is likely that a significant number of the audience paid only for admission. Seating was on ‘rows of chairs and garden seats’; however, it was reported that many people preferred to ‘recline on the grass on the river bank or lean upon the pillar trunks of the stately trees.’5

Associated events


Pageant outline


A ‘gaily-garbed Herald’ plays a trumpet announcing the start of the pageant. Then the ‘Announcer’ introduces the pageant as follows:

This is the pageant of Ercildoune,
You will see unfolded before you soon
Scenes of a by-past day,
Woven together grave and gay.
Those who have lived and loved and died,
Wander again by the Leaderside.
Some you may think were better away,
Some you will wish had come to stay.
But all are seen through a haze of gold,
The glamour that clings to the days of old,
When knights were brave and their ladies fair,
And hearts were lighter and free of care.
But our Border country is lovely still,
And her people loyal through good and ill;
And the Earlston lasses are just as fair,
And the lads as bold as they always were.
Ladies and Gentles, the Prologue is done,
Hark to the music, the pageant’s begun.

The choir, which was ‘hidden in a leafy chamber’, sang the ‘Broom of the Cowdenknowes’.6

Episode I. Thomas the Rhymer, 13th Century

The Announcer explains the alleged historical background to this well-known story, describing its protagonist as the ‘Border poet’, Thomas of Erceldoune. It is presumed that parts of the verse were then recited and that the drama of how Thomas meets the Fairy Queen was enacted. The scene included elves and fairies, maypole dancers, ‘battledore and ball players’ and village women. The Fairy Queen was described in a review within the local press as ‘a vision of loveliness, dressed in grass-green silk, and riding a milk-white pony.’7

Episode II. The Death of Marmion, 1513

This scene depicts the parts of Scott’s long poem which describe the Battle of Flodden and the death of his protagonist, Marmion. The death was described as taking place ‘on a hill near Flodden’. In the episode, a ‘screen of smoke’ through which glimpses ‘of flashing swords and tossing banners’ could be seen was used to recreate the battle. The audience could also hear the sound of ‘steel on steel’. Two squires, Bennet and Fitz-Eustace, then lead away the injured Marmion and lay him down; Marmion tells the squires to return to the battle. After their departure, the Lady Clare approaches him. The death of Marmion is accompanied by song (the song of Constance de Beverley). The scene ends with the return of the squires who bear aloft the body of the slain Marmion; a procession of monks precedes the body of Marmion and at the end of this mournful convoy is the Lady Clare who carries Marmion's helmet and sword.

Episode III. The Riven Banner, 1513

This episode is taken from William E. Ayton’s poem ‘Edinburgh after Flodden’ and describes the return of the poem's protagonist, Captain Randolph Murray, from the Battle of Flodden. In this verse, Murray commands the contingent of troops from Edinburgh who have gone to support King James. The scene opens on the outskirts of the city as a crowd of citizens awaits news of the battle. Into view comes Murray on horseback and the crowd rushes to greet him; he carries the Scottish flag, 'the riven banner', which is described in the poem as 'stained with the life-blood of your King.' The episode ends with bagpipe playing of the song ‘Flowers of the Forrest’; this is played as Edinburgh's 'civic fathers filed past' the banner.8

Episode IV. Mary Queen of Scots Visits a Gypsy Camp, c. 1565

The Announcer describes this episode as an 'as yet unrecorded episode in the history of Mary... Rizzio and Darnley were both alive... Bothwell had not yet shown himself in his true colours'. Mary, accompanied by ladies, courtiers, Bothwell, Darnley and Rizzio is seen riding into a picturesque gypsy encampment at Yetholm.9 The ensemble is described as 'splendidly apparelled and mounted'.10 A young couple dance to fiddle music, and there is a fire with a pot suspended over. Mary has her fortune told by a 'spae-wife'. The scene ends with Mary encouraging the gypsy children to dance to the tune of the 'Three Scheepskins'. Mary and her party then depart.

Episode V. The Conventicle at Pilmuir Brae, 1674

The episode begins with the Announcer explaining that Berwickshire 'took a principal share' in these times and that:

Mr Donaldson of Smailholm died in 1673, and that parish, which had been a great refuge of the Presbyterians, was presently occupied by Mr Gideon Brown at Ledgerwood, who made himself notorious as a persecutor of Covenanters.

The drama then enacts the first conventicle held in the Scottish Borders region at Pilmuir Brae. In this, the congregation comes 'stealing in from all points of the compass' and includes 'shepherds and their collies... which were called to heel by the regular worshippers'. They all sing the psalm, 'I to the Hills'. Red-coated dragoons then descend on the scene; the Minister is captured and despite pleading by his wife, he is led away.

The dragoons were played by members of the Lauderdale Hunt.11

Episode VI. The Wappinshaw, 1764

This episode depicts a traditional archery contest and country fair that was purported to have taken place at Carolside in the eighteenth century. A crowd of onlookers watch and applaud the competition. The laird and 'his lady' then ride into the throng to greet the contestants and 'folks at the Fair'.


The Scottish flag is raised and the choir sings ‘Hail to the Chief. as the cast assemble. The performance closes with singing of the national anthem.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Thomas of Erceldoune [called Thomas the Rhymer] (fl. late 13th cent.) supposed author of poetry and prophecies
  • Mary [Mary of Guise] (1515–1560) queen of Scots, consort of James V, and regent of Scotland
  • Stewart, Francis, first earl of Bothwell (1562–1612) courtier and politician
  • Stewart, Henry, duke of Albany [known as Lord Darnley] (1545/6–1567) second consort of Mary, queen of Scots
  • Riccio, David (c.1533–1566) Italian musician and courtier to Mary Queen of Scots

Musical production

There was an orchestra but no details about size. The orchestra appears to have been under the direction of a named flautist (Mr Fisher). A piper (Mr Gordon) also played during parts of the performance. There was a choir of 4 male voices and 20 female voices. The following pieces were performed:
  • ‘The Broom of the Cowdenknowes’. Traditional ballad, sung by the choir (Episode I).
  • Song of Constance de Beverley. Musical arrangement by Mr J. Loudon Melrose (Episode II)
  • ‘The Flowers of the Forrest’. Lament performed on the bagpipes (Episode III).
  • ‘The Three Sheepskins’. Traditional fiddle tune, said to have been 're-discovered by Mr Ian Jamison of Langshaw' in the Scottish Borders (Episode IV). 
  • ‘Waken Lords and Ladies Gay’. Song from the verse 'The Hunting Song' by Walter Scott, 1808 (Episode IV).
  • ‘I to the Hills’. Psalm 121 (Episode V).
  • ‘Hail to the Chief’. Walter Scott, 1810, adapted as a song by James Sanderson, 1812 (Finale). 
  • The National Anthem. At close of performance (Finale).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Southern Reporter
Dundee Courier

Book of words


It is unlikely that a book of words was produced.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Aytoun, William Edmonston. Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers and Other Poems. Edinburgh and London, 1849.
  • Brown, James Wood. The Covenanters of the Merse: Their History and Sufferings, As Found. Edinburgh and London,1893.
  • Child, Francis J., ed. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Numerous editions. Successive volumes first published between 1882 and 1898.
  • Scott, Walter. Marmion. 1808.
  • ___. The Lady of the Lake. 1810.
  • ___. The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Numerous editions. First published 1802.

Episode I:
Either: ‘Thomas Rhymer’, traditional ballad, no. 37 in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, ed. Francis J. Child.
‘Thomas the Rhymer’, in Walter Scott, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

Episode II:
‘The Broom of Cowdenknowes’, traditional ballad, no. 217 in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, ed. Francis J. Child.
Walter Scott, Marmion.

Episode III:
‘Edinburgh after Flodden’, in William Edmonston Aytoun, Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers and Other Poems.

Episode V:
James Wood Brown, The Covenanters of the Merse: Their History and Sufferings, As Found.

'Hail to the Chief', adapted as a song from the original verse in Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake.


The Pageant of Ercildoune was a bespoke affair, held under the auspices of Earlston Girls' Club specifically to raise money for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and for the Children's Hospital in the city. For Borderers in the 1930s, serious illness would have necessitated a journey to the capital and, therefore, this was a cause of local interest. The pageant, which nominally was organised by Colonel Ferguson, was more likely in the hands of his extremely able and well-connected wife who happened to be President of the Girls' Club and doyenne of the Carolside estate where the pageant was held. Like many upper-class women of the times, Elinor Ferguson was not content to be a hostess but took a lead role in local women's organisations and used her influence to get things done in the name of welfare for women and children. In obituaries, Mrs Ferguson was recalled both in the Borders and in her native Aberdeenshire as a sociable woman who was an able social worker and fundraiser for good causes.15 The pageant would have been an occasion to relish for her, and it is likely that she gained the idea for this from an earlier event held at Minto House near Hawick in 1930, which was a great success: the Border Historical Pageant at Minto was run under the auspices of the Girl Guides and managed to attract Prince George to attend.

As a smaller scale affair, Ercildoune did not draw in royalty, but it was a successful event and it certainly attracted the great and the good of Borders society as both performers and spectators. The Scotsman newspaper recorded that 'notable families and sports people' gave it their support.16 Although it only ran to only five episodes, the pageant capitalised on traditional narratives and themes in Border history, and, like its predecessors, avoided any mention of the Union between Scotland and England. Perhaps inevitably, this meant that Flodden gained centre stage taking up two whole episodes, although interestingly one of these enacted the effect of the disastrous battle on the city of Edinburgh, as recounted in Aytoun's long poem ‘Edinburgh after Flodden’. This perhaps highlights the partly metropolitan interests of the upper classes involved with this pageant, many of whom graced the Borders in country houses for only part of the year.

In terms of truly local elements, the opening episode harks both to the historical and literary heritage of the small town of Ercildoune. In more modern times, this place became known as Earlston, but its archaic name is forever associated with ‘Thomas the Rhymer’, the subject of a supernatural ballad of the same name. The historical Thomas had property in the area and is purported to have been a poet himself (something that is claimed in the pageant) although no writing of his survives. The ballad, which was collected by the literary hero Walter Scott among others, had been enacted in pageant form before at the National Exhibition held in Glasgow in 1911. Although not strictly historical, depending more on a supernatural yarn where Thomas is enticed to fairyland by the Queen of the Fairies and lives there for seven years, this proved an excellent subject for a bucolic setting such as the Carolside estate. Here the pageant was staged over two performances in a 'green holm around which the River Leader circled. The large crowd from all over the Borders saw the colourful pageantry from a green terrace across the stream.'17 The Thomas episode featured a host of lively fairies and elves and its success may be measured by the fact that the Selkirk Centenary pageant of the following year also used dancing fairies dressed in brightly coloured costumes.

Episode IV featured a regular of historical pageantry in Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots (played by the Hon. Jean Campbell). However, as an antidote to the catastrophe of Flodden, in this instance none of the tragedy of her life is central to the narrative. Instead, she is seen enjoying herself in the company of Borderland gypsies. This minority group, who were an ancient feature of life in the Scottish Borders, are treated sympathetically for this piece. It must be said, however, that while the characters were historical, the narrative of the episode was entirely fictitious. The remaining and closing episodes return to issues that were more contentious; this concerned the Covenanters who also left a long historical memory in the area. This enactment was able to make use of the local hunt which undertook to play the parts of the dastardly dragoons who break up the worship of devout Presbyterian Borderers.

There was an 'Announcer', simply named as this rather than as a Spirit or Herald. However, there almost certainly was no dialogue by the performers and the episodes were enacted simply as tableaux vivants accompanied by singing or recitation. This meant that traditional music of the area, much of it linked to the verse of Walter Scott, played a large part in this pageant, although only some details of what was performed have survived. The Girls’ Club, we must assume, took a full part, but given the size of Earlston this would not have been a large society, and indeed at least half of the performers were adult males. A programme may have been produced for this event, but no copies have come to light and recovery of this pageant has depended on surviving news coverage. Articles written serve to highlight that it was the Carolside staff that provided most of the organisation on the ground, and the active involvement of the Colonel and Mrs Ferguson as hosts, organisers and performers ensured its success. It attracted large audiences from across Berwickshire and raised a respectable sum for good causes.


  1. ^ Advertisement, Southern Reporter, 28 June 1934, 1.
  2. ^ 'Pageant of Ercildoune', Southern Reporter, 12 July 1934, 3.
  3. ^ Southern Reporter, 12 July 1934, 3.
  4. ^ Southern Reporter, 28 June 1934, 1.
  5. ^ Southern Reporter, 12 July 1934, 3.
  6. ^ All quotations and information concerning the prologue are from 'The Pageant of Ercildoune', Southern Reporter, 12 July 1934, 3.
  7. ^ Southern Reporter, 12 July 1934, 3.
  8. ^ ‘Successful Border Function: Legend and History', The Scotsman, 9 July 1934, 7.
  9. ^ This is a village near Kelso in the Scottish Borders and is a historically significant site for travellers in the region. See ‘The Yetholm Gypsies’, The Gypsies, accessed 8 August 2015,
  10. ^ The Scotsman, 9 July 1934, 7
  11. ^ The Scotsman, 9 July 1934, 7
  12. ^ Southern Reporter, 12 July 1934, 3.
  13. ^ See 'Successful Border Function: Legend and History', The Scotsman, 9 July 1934, 7.
  14. ^ The Lady of the Lake has been adapted for the stage many times. Sanderson was the conductor of London's Surrey Theatre orchestra. He set 'Hail to the Chief' to the words of Stanza XIX of the Second Canto of Scott's poem, a section referred to by the poet as 'The Boat Song'. See ‘Hail to the Chief’, Library of Congress, accessed 11 August 2015,
  15. ^ See The Aberdeen Journal, 10 August 1937, 5 and 9.
  16. ^ The Scotsman, 9 July 1934, 7.
  17. ^ The Scotsman, 9 July 1934, 7.

How to cite this entry

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