Pageant of Angus History

Other names

  • Panmure House Pageant

Pageant type


The pageant was organised by Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes (a division of the Scottish Women's Rural Institutes). The county had 46 branches, though not all are listed as having charge of an episode. Those branches listed in the programme as being involved in the production are as follows: Airlie, Auchterhouse, Careston, Carmyllie, Carroch, Craig, Farnell, Friockheim, Glamis, Inverarity, Inverkeilor, Kingsmuir, Kinnettles, Kirriemuir, Letham, Little Brechin, Logie Pert, Lunan, Lunanhead, Maryton, Mattocks, Memus, Menmuir, Monikie, Muirhead, Newtyle, Padanaram, Rescobie, St Vigeans, Tannadice & Oathlaw, and Tealing. It is probable that some were too small to take this initiative on their own, though newspaper reports were at pains to say that all branches were involved in some way.

Jump to Summary


Place: Panmure House (Carnoustie) (Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland)

Year: 1930

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 1


Saturday 21 June 1930, 2pm3
There was a full rehearsal on Saturday 16 June but without costumes.4 The running time of the pageant was around two-and-a-half hours.

Panmure House was a large and very grand country manor situated on an estate four miles north of Carnoustie; at the time of the pageant, the house and lands were in the ownership of the Dalhousie family. Panmure House was demolished in the 1950s; the estate is still in existence, though its ownership has changed.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer-in-Chief [Pageant Master]: Babington, Mrs
  • Assistants: Miss Catherine; Miss Pagan; Mr James Christison; Mr Alan Inglis; Mr E. W. Joss


Members of Forfarshire WRI, including the pageant master, are only ever referred to by name with the prefix Mrs or Miss. First names or even initials were never used. Mrs Babington was the wife of the minister at Glamis church.5 A newspaper report names several individuals as assistants to Mrs Babington. They include Miss Pagan (formerly a teacher of dramatic art), James Christison (the librarian at Montrose who provided advice), Alan Inglis (the art master at Arbroath High School) and E. W. Joss (a schoolmaster in Inverkeilor).6

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • President: Mrs Babington, Glamis
  • Vice-President: Miss Erskine-Jackson, Inverarity
  • Secretary: Miss Waddell, Kirriemuir
  • Treasurer: Miss Rough, Kirriemuir
  • Other members: Mrs Cummine, Friockheim; Mrs Morgan, St Vigeans; Mrs Robb, Carmyllie; Mrs Soutar, Letham; Miss Valentine, Auchterhouse; Mrs Walker, Padanaram; Mrs Wright, Tannadice-Oathlaw

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


Although this pageant probably depended on tableau to a great extent, it is clear from news reporting that it did contain both dialogue and monologue in some scenes. However, there are no credited authors.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


The pageant souvenir book states that 'almost 800' performers took part. This is corroborated in numerous newspaper reports. Most of the performers were adult women; in some episodes men and children also had roles; an unspecified number of horses were used.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

No financial information has been retrieved; however, any surplus most likely aided the work of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes in Forfarshire.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 9000


The souvenir brochure was produced retrospectively and records that 9000 spectators attended the pageant.9 Some seats were provided (probably for dignitaries), but most of the audience watched from a 'grassy bank'.10

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Admission to the grounds was at a flat rate of 1s., and tea could be purchased at the cost of an additional 1s.; special rates were charged on local trains on the day, and special buses ran from the rail stations at Carnoustie and Monikie to the grounds at Panmure.11 There was a charge for car parking and 500 parking permission tickets were issued, although the cost of a parking ticket has not been recovered.12

Associated events

The pageant commenced at 2pm and following this, at 5pm, there was a country dancing competition.

Pageant outline

Episode I: Battle of Dunnichen, 685

This episode was played by members of Letham WRI and featured Breidi, King of the Picts, with 13 of his followers, and Eigrfidd, the Saxon king of Bernicia', with 17 of his followers. Women played all parts in the episode which depicts the Battle of Dunnichen. The souvenir book of the pageant details that this battle, in which Eigfridd was killed and his forces were defeated by the Picts, 'must rank as only second to Bannockburn in the struggle for independence'.15

Episode 2: Meeting of King Nechtan with Saint Boniface at Restennet, 710

To produce this spectacle, members of Lunahead, Padanaram and Rescobie branches of the Angus WRI worked together. In all, there were 59 women performers taking part. The episode records the visit of St Boniface to Angus when he reputedly established three churches in the area. The episode tells the story of the saint's meeting with the Pictish king, Nechtan, and the establishment of the church at Restennet (near the town of Forfar). In addition to the two principal characters, roles played included bishops, presbyters, choristers, soldiers and four women playing 'virgins'.

Episode 3: Saint Fergus Comes to Glamis at the Festival of Beltane, 750

In this, 22 members of the Glamis branch of the WRI performed a scene depicting the arrival of Saint Fergus, accompanied by monks, at Glamis during the festival of Beltane. Villagers have gathered to place offerings before a sacred stone; the saint effects the removal of some pagan symbols from this standing stone and substitutes these with a Celtic cross.16

Episode 4: Queen Margaret of Scotland and King Malcolm Canmore at Queen Margaret's Inch, Forfar Loch, 1088

Three branches of the WRI (Inverarity, Kingsmuir and Kinnettles) organised and took part in this episode which had two scenes. In the first, the queen is shown giving needlework instruction to court ladies and a group of Forfarshire countrywomen. In the second, the king presents an ornamented book of devotion to the queen. In addition to the principal characters and their children, the episode had a cast made up of court ladies, knights, standard bearers, train bearers, country women and girls, a monk, as well as a choir made up of 22 female singers. All together 33 performers were involved; this number included six boys in the roles of the royal children. Women and girls played all the other parts, including that of Malcolm Canmore.

Episode 5: Arrival of Royal Cadger with Fish from Usan, 1088

Queen Margaret again features in this episode. In the pageant programme she is described as a woman 'who looked well to the ways of her household'. The episode was organised and performed by members of Craig WRI and, because of this, a different performer from this group took the role of Queen Margaret. Around 70 players were involved made up of women, men and children. The 'royal cadger' is a court official and is responsible for bringing fresh fish brought in at Usan for inspection by the queen when the court is at Forfar. When she approves the catch, it is removed to the royal kitchens. The drama portrayed this domestic ritual. In addition to the main players of queen, cadger and 'Mrs Lichtoun of Usan', the cast was made up of various servants in the royal household (a cook, a housekeeper, 'kitchen wenches', scullions and the court jester); also featuring was the cadger's entourage (a herald, grooms and guards), four fishermen, a beggar women and a large group of townspeople.

Episode 6: The Tragedy of Nine Maidens

This episode was organised and performed by Tealing WRI and dramatised a local legend. In this, a farmer sends one of his nine daughters to the well for water. When she fails to return, another is sent; one by one, as the daughters do not return with water, another goes along until, finally, all nine are missing. When the farmer goes to find them, he discovers a huge dragon has killed them all. Martin, the lover of one of the nine, is encouraged by the farmer to kill the dragon. In the legend, the farmer calls out 'Strik, Martin, Strik'. The young man succeeds in killing the dragon. The pageant programme explains that various place names in this part of Forfarshire 'bear testimony to the legend': 'Martin's Stone' at Balkello, 'Nine Maidens Well' at Pitempton and the parish name of Strickmartine. The episode had 14 players; in addition to the farmer, his daughters and Martin, three women 'manipulated the dragon'. All the performers were female.

Episode 7: John Balliol Resigns his Authority to the Bishop of Durham in the Churchyard of Stracathro, 1296

Menmuir WRI organised and performed in this tragic scene, which enacts the surrender of the Seal of Scotland by John Balliol to Edward I's representative, the Bishop of Durham, thus placing Scotland at the mercy of the English king. Balliol's entourage contained 10 players in the roles of attendants, lords and churchmen; while the bishop's was made up of an equal number in the roles of Lord Comyn, John Comyn of Badenoch, the Earl of Hereford and some soldiers and attendants.

Episode 8: Sir William Wallace Comes to Auchterhouse, 1303

The return of Wallace from France in 1303 is recalled in this episode. The drama enacts the arrival of Wallace at Montrose and his meeting with Sir John Ramsay of Auchterhouse. In the brief description of the episode in the pageant book, the following rhyme is included:

Good Sir John Ramsay and the Ruthvens true,
Barclay and Bissett, with men not a few
Do Wallace meet—all canty, keen and crouse,
And with three hundred march to Auchterhouse.17

The episode was organised and performed by Auchterhouse WRI and had 35 players, 21 of whom were men. Male performers played both Sir John and Wallace. Alongside Sir John was his wife, Lady Ramsay, and various guards, knights, ladies and pages.

Episode 9: King Robert the Bruce and his Nobles Sign Scottish Declaration of Independence at Arbroath Abbey, 1320

A larger cast of around 80 players took part in this episode which was organised by St Vigeans WRI.18 The scene enacted is the famous parliament reputedly held at Arbroath Abbey at which the declaration of independence was signed in 1320. King Robert the Bruce and eight barons were played by men; however, Abbot Bernard of Arbroath (the alleged author of the declaration), three bishops and an assortment of clergymen were all played by women. Male, female and child performers played monks, men at arms, heralds and members of the king's court.

Episode 10: Sir James Douglas Bearing the Heart of Bruce Arrives at Montrose on his Way to the Holy Land, 1330

Members of Craig WRI organised and performed this episode; the performers were arranged in four groups as follows:

Group I: Governor's Party (made up of 9 female and 2 male performers in the roles of the Governor, his wife, nobles, ladies-in-waiting and servants)

Group II: Monastery Party (6 women and 5 men in the roles of an Abbot, an Abbess, nuns and monks)

Group III: Retinue (19 men in the roles of Sir James Douglas, Sir William Sinclair, Sir Robert Logan, crusaders, grooms, guards, the captain of the boat and boatmen; 3 women played standard bearers)

Group IV: Crowd (31 women plus an unspecified number of children)

No details of the drama have been recovered, but from the cast list it is assumed that this episode depicts the embarkation from Montrose of a party on their way to the Crusades, carrying the heart of the late king so that it can be interred in the Holy Land in accordance with his wishes. This was the second episode performed by the Craig branch.

Episode 11: The Earl of Crawfurd (‘Beardie’) and Jock Barefit, 1445

A local legend is enacted in this episode, which was organised and performed by members of Careston WRI. In this, Alexander, Fourth Earl of Crawford who was known for his wild beard and ferocious temper condemns a young boy, Jock Barefit, to be hanged for cutting a walking stick from a chestnut tree in the grounds of the earl's home, Findhaven Castle (sometimes called Finhaven). Jock had been on his way from Careston to deliver a message to the earl. He is ordered to be hanged from a branch of the tree.19 Alongside the two main characters are the earl's family and members of his household. 18 players took part: 12 women and 6 men.

Episode 12: The Earl of Crawfurd Makes his Submission to James the Second, 1453

James II makes an appearance in this episode which depicts his arrival at the Earl of Crawfurd's castle in order to seek revenge. Abandoned by fellow rebels, the earl, who had earlier fought against James but was defeated at the battle of Brechin, begs forgiveness of the king, and this pardon is granted. Seventeen players (all women) took part, and the episode was organised by members of both Tannadice & Oathlaw and Memus WRIs.

Episode 13: Cardinal Beaton Accuses Walter Myln, Parish Priest of Lunan, of Heresy, 1542

This scene depicted an infamous accusation of heresy in Angus; in addition to the main characters, other parts included clergymen, monks (including the Abbot of Arbroath), soldiers and a number of villagers and country people. It was organised by three WRI branches: Chapelton, Inverkeilor and Lunan. Fifty-nine performers took part; although almost all the roles portrayed males, only three men performed, taking the roles of a carpenter, a smith and a beggar man. The episode contained a monologue delivered by the actor playing Cardinal Beaton.20

Episode 14: Erskine, Superintendent of Religion in Angus and Mearns, Consults with John Knox, at Dun, 1555

The visit and stay of the reformer John Knox in the house of the superintendent at Dun, John Erskine, was depicted in this episode. It was organised and performed by members of Logie Pert WRI. The scene had a small cast of eight women. In addition to the two main protagonists, the following characters were included:

Lord Erskine of Dun
Lord Durham of Grange
Andrew Melville
Richard Melville
Sir John Bishop
Sir Gilbert Ramsay

No further details of the drama have been recovered.

Episode 15: Mary Queen of Scots Visits Edzell Castle, 1562

This episode was organised and played by members of Carmylie WRI and Friockham WRI; it had a small cast of ten performers which included two male actors in the roles of Lord James Stewart and a groom who met the queen’s party. Other characters depicted included Lady Stewart, the Countess of Crawford and her son David Lindsay, and the queen’s attendants: the four Marys. No details of the drama have been recovered, but it is likely to have depicted the arrival of Mary at Edzell Castle when she was journeying to Aberdeen.

Episode 16: The Regality Court at Kirriemuir, 1587

Organised by members of Kirriemuir and Lintrathen WRIs, this scene has a larger cast of 80 players: all were female with the exception of a young boy who played the part of a villager. The pageant souvenir describes the context for this scene as follows: ‘From time immemorial Kirriemuir was a temporal regality of the Earls of Angus, and here the Baron Baillie, representative of the earl of Angus, had the power of “pit and gallows, life or death.”’21 No details of the tableau have been recovered, but it is assumed that it depicted a trial (or trials) in this court. A great many villagers were onlookers to the drama; named characters included the Baron Baillie, the Earl of Angus, a number of attendant lords and their retainers, a ‘culprit’ and his family, and some court officials.

Episode 17: Andrew Melville Defies King James the Sixth, 1600

Five members of Maryton WRI organised and performed in this scene which is described as taking place when the general Assembly of the Kirk was held in Montrose in 1600. Melville is accused of attending ‘assemblies’ in defiance of the king’s orders; when brought to task about this by James VI, he refuses to desist. Alongside the king and Melville were three courtiers. All parts were played by women.

Episode 18: The Marquis of Montrose Bids Farewell to his Children at Kinnnaird Castle, 1650

This tableau depicted Montrose following his capture by covenanters who took him prisoner. On his way to Edinburgh and his execution there, he is purported to have visited Kinnaird (the hereditary seat of the earls of Southesk and home of Montrose’s father-in-law) in order to say a last farewell to his family. The scene was organised by members of Farnell WRI; in addition to the main characters of Montrose and the Earl of Southesk (both played by male actors), women took the roles of soldiers and various members of Montrose’s family.

Episode 19: The Covenanters at Northwater Bridge, 1685

Muirhead WRI was responsible for this episode in which 28 adult women and 4 children played covenanters and soldiers. The only named character was the minister of Logie Pert. The scene depicted a religious service held during a tempestuous time in the covenanting struggle when imprisoned covenanters were compelled to be removed to Dunottar Castle. On the journey they stopped at Northwater Bridge (near Montrose). This episode included singing.

Episode 20: Colonel John Graham of Claverhouse (Afterwards Viscount Dundee) Brings his Bride to Glen of Ogilvy, 1684

This tableau continued the focus on the covenanting theme but from a less mournful perspective; it was organised by Eassie WRI and included around 40 male, female and child performers. The scene depicted Claverhouse and his new bride (Hon. Jean Cochrane) at a celebration of their recent marriage. The drama was purported to be set at Claverhouse’s ‘boyhood home’ in the Glen of Ogilvy. It probably included live music: there was a piper and a bugler among the cast.

Episode 21: Shooting at the Bow Butts at Newtyle, 17th Century

This episode depicted an archery competition. The only named character is Lady Oliphant of Hatton who was accompanied by six ladies-in-waiting and six pages. There were 12 archers and a herald. It is assumed that the scene depicted some aspect of the tournament that was conducted by Lady Oliphant. Newtyle WRI was responsible for its organisation.

Episode 22: James, Earl of Panmure, Sets Out with his King for Sheriffmuir, 1716

The ‘old pretender’, James Edward Stuart, is seen in this episode in the company of his supporter, the Earl of Panmure. The scene depicted the earl saying farewell to his wife before leaving to meet the Earl of Mar in battle. The tableau had a small cast of six women and two girls. Little Brechin WRI organised and performed in this episode.

Episode 23: James Edgar of Keithock Hands Walpole's Bribe to his Master, 1740

This episode depicts a piece of espionage which was supposed to have backfired on Robert Walpole when he gave a bribe to James Edgar—described as private secretary to the Chevalier (presumably the Jacobite officer, James Johnstone, often called the Chevalier de Johnstone)— hoping to gain information about Jacobite activities. Edgar told the Chevalier about the plot and then accepted the bribe, presenting it to his master at court. The scene depicts the handing over of the £10000 bribe which was supposed then to have been used to further the Jacobite cause. The episode was organised by members of Airlie and Carroch WRI and involved 14 players. Among these there was only one man who played a clergyman in the court scene. Bonnie Prince Charlie was portrayed by a woman as were the Jacobite supporters: Chevalier de Johnstone, James Edgar, Lord Elcho, Lord Dunbar, Murray of Broughton and Sir Thomas Sheridan. Other parts were for ladies of the court and pages.

Episode 24: A Scottish Fair, 18th Century

This final episode was organised by Mattocks WRI. No details about it have been recovered. The souvenir programme gives only the names of 21 women taking part and has them arranged in three rows, suggesting that a tableau of different characters or perhaps a dance of some kind was performed rather than a full dramatic re-enactment of a fair. All of the pageant performers returned to the arena following this final scene.22

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Brude mac Bile [Bridei son of Beli] (d. 693) king of Picts [king of Picts]
  • Ecgfrith (645/6–685) king of Northumbria
  • Nechtan mac Derile (d. 732) king of Picts
  • Boniface [St Boniface] (672x5?–754) archbishop of Mainz, missionary, and martyr
  • Margaret [St Margaret] (d. 1093) queen of Scots, consort of Malcolm III
  • Malcolm III [Mael Coluim Ceann Mór, Malcolm Canmore] (d. 1093) king of Scots
  • John [John de Balliol] (c.1248x50–1314) king of Scots
  • Bek, Antony (I) (c.1245–1311) bishop of Durham
  • Comyn, Sir John, lord of Badenoch (d. 1306) magnate
  • Comyn, Sir John [called Sir John Comyn the Competitor, Red Comyn], lord of Badenoch (d. c.1302) magnate and claimant to the Scottish throne
  • Bohun, Humphrey (VI) de, third earl of Hereford and eighth earl of Essex (c.1249–1298) magnate
  • Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305) patriot and guardian of Scotland
  • Robert I [Robert Bruce] (1274–1329) king of Scots
  • Douglas, Sir James [called the Black Douglas] (d. 1330) soldier
  • Sir William Sinclair (d. 1330)
  • Lindsay, Alexander, fourth earl of Crawford (d. 1453)
  • James II (1430–1460) king of Scots
  • Mylne, Walter (c.1476–1558) protestant martyr
  • Beaton [Betoun], David (1494?–1546) cardinal and archbishop of St Andrews
  • Knox, John (c.1514–1572) religious reformer
  • Erskine, John, of Dun (1509–1590) landowner and religious activist
  • Erskine, John, seventeenth or first earl of Mar (d. 1572) magnate and regent of Scotland
  • Mary [Mary Stewart] (1542–1587) queen of Scots
  • Stewart, James, first earl of Moray (1531/2–1570) regent of Scotland
  • Campbell, Katherine, countess of Crawford (d. 1578) noblewoman
  • Lindsay, David, Lord Edzell (1551?–1610) judge
  • Mary Fleming (1542–c.1600)
  • Mary Seton (b. c.1541, d. after 1615)
  • Mary Beaton (c.1543–1597)
  • Mary Livingston (d. 1585)
  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
  • Melville, Andrew (1545–1622) university principal and theologian
  • Graham, James, first marquess of Montrose (1612–1650) royalist army officer
  • Carnegie, David, first earl of Southesk (1574/5–1658) nobleman
  • Graham, John, first viscount of Dundee [known as Bonnie Dundee] (1648?–1689) Jacobite army officer
  • James Francis Edward [James Francis Edward Stuart; styled James VIII and III; known as Chevalier de St George, Pretender, Old Pretender] (1688–1766) Jacobite claimant to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Maule, James, fourth earl of Panmure (1658/9–1723) Jacobite sympathizer
  • Charles Edward [Charles Edward Stuart; styled Charles III; known as the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie] (1720–1788) Jacobite claimant to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones
  • Johnstone, James [known as Chevalier de Johnstone] (1719–c.1800) Jacobite sympathizer and army officer in the French service
  • Edgar, James (1688–1764), secretary to James Francis Edward Stuart
  • Wemyss, David, styled sixth earl of Wemyss [known as Lord Elcho] (1721–1787) Jacobite army officer
  • Murray, James, Jacobite first earl of Dunbar (1690–1770) politician and governor of the exiled Stuart princes
  • Murray, Sir John, of Broughton, baronet [called Secretary Murray, Mr Evidence Murray] (1714/15?–1777) Jacobite agent and alleged traitor
  • Sheridan, Thomas [Jacobite Sir Thomas Sheridan, baronet] (1684–1746) Jacobite official

Musical production

There was live choral singing and music but few details have been recovered. In the episode entitled ‘The Covenanters at Northwater Bridge’, a psalm was sung to the tune of ‘Martyrs’. The episode depicting John Graham of Claverhouse included a piper and bugler, suggesting live music was played on these instruments. The court scene at Kirriemuir included ‘trumpeters’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Arbroath Herald
Carnoustie Gazette
Dundee Courier
Dundee Evening Telegraph
People’s Journal

Book of words


There was no book of words.

Other primary published materials

  • Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930. Forfar, 1930.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Dundee University Library, Archives and Special Collections: one copy of the souvenir book. Kloc 791.624 F 719.
  • Carnoustie Public Library, local history section: one photocopied facsimile of the souvenir book. 791.624.

Sources used in preparation of pageant


No specific texts or sources are named; however, research assistance was given by a local librarian at Montrose, James Christison. His assistance was acknowledged afterwards with the presentation by of a specially bound copy of the pageant souvenir book.27


Pageants, though they outwardly celebrated the importance of the past, nevertheless did sometimes take place because of an underlying worry that memories and knowledge of history and traditions were disappearing. This pageant is a case in point. Organised in 1930 in Forfarshire by the local division of the Scottish Women's Rural Institute (SWRI), it proclaimed itself to be the first of its kind in Scotland. This particular branch of a popular women's organisation rose to the challenge of a large historical pageant, perhaps because in this locality there was diffuse anxiety on this subject. Without doubt, increasing rural depopulation was a problem; and though this was not confined to the northeast, such issues tended to be magnified when looked at through a local lens. The pageant that resulted was certainly one that stayed true to the idea that local history mattered. The commentary in the Dundee Courier described the importance of the pageant in this very rural part of Scotland in a way that suggested concern about a loss of historical awareness while simultaneously refuting that there was any real cause for alarm:

In these modern days it is sometimes lamented that our people are so busy with sports that they have little time for other things of educative value. In other words, they are devoting more time to brawny things to the neglect of the brainy. In the face of such a pageant as staged by the Angus W.R.I. members it is unwise to dogmatise on these lines. Angus county has a wonderful history and the fact that thousands attended to witness its unfolding is ample proof that the holding power of history remains.28

Certainly, this part of Scotland was famed for its sporting activities, not least golfing, though it is unlikely that the majority of the women who took part in the pageant were keen golfers! They proved themselves keen on history, however, and as this news commentary shows, they managed to entice a large audience to take an interest in their project.

Aside from being a reaction to any local agenda, the Forfarshire WRI had its own reasons for pursuing pageantry. The pageant was first thought of as a means to ‘bring together socially' the disparate members of the organisation.29 In this part of the world, women in many small and remote communities could easily become isolated. Here was a social activity requiring many hours of rehearsing and collective costume making in order to bring the whole thing to fruition. By all accounts, the women in Forfarshire's numerous branches of the WRI entered into the pageant with enormous enthusiasm. They might sometimes have been damned with faint praise for their efforts, but overall they proved to themselves, as well as others, what they could achieve. These were 'homely housewives', declared the Dundee Evening Telegraph, into whose lives of humdrum domestic duty 'the inspirational charm of historic romance' had arrived.30 Yet, while using this condescending tone, the paper also pointed out that though the women were amateur historians, they had performed a valuable public duty in spreading the word about local history. It was even suggested that the WRI could do more in this way in order to add to the work of more professional researchers. This was a view that was probably grist to the mill of the SWRI.

As well as providing sociability, one of the SWRI's broad aims was to educate the minds of women in Scotland who might otherwise find it difficult to engage in either formal or informal education. To this end, the organisation provided classes in drama, choral singing and dance, all of which could be both a platform for enjoyable social activity and a means to introduce cultural pastimes that were not simply an elaboration of domestic skills (though these too featured in the educational programmes). Moreover, even before the advent of the women's institute movement, there was quite a long history in the north east of Scotland of this type of educational initiative aimed at women. Notably, between the late nineteenth century and the outbreak of World War I, the 'Onward and Upward Association'—the brainchild of Lady Aberdeen, no less—had flourished. This women's organisation began in Aberdeenshire but quickly spread to other rural districts in Scotland, and from there to several parts of the empire.31 There can be no doubt that the SWRI was a descendant of Lady Aberdeen's earlier efforts to educate rural women. Indeed, as an early exponent of this kind of initiative, the Onward and Upward Association's influence on women's institutes across the world has probably been underestimated. Clearly, there was a demand among women in rural parts to look beyond the horizons of the farmhouse and village, and the organisations they joined tried to meet this. The production of a pageant provided a perfect challenge for the women of Forfarshire, and it probably should come as no surprise that their branches were the first WRIs to attempt a pageant in Scotland, though they would not be the last.

Months before the event, all the episodes had been selected; and in each case, these were produced and acted by the 'branch nearest to the territory on which the original scene took place'.32 The full involvement of the membership is easily seen by the fact that the pageant took in 24 episodes in which the vast majority of the players were adult women. Moreover, they were not afraid to take on the big male roles of the Scottish past; a woman even played John Knox! However, somewhat disappointingly, the parts of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce went to men. There was no attempt to subsume local history within a stereotypical pageant format; prehistory was avoided and the first episode was set in the seventh century. The episodes then appeared chronologically but without any apparent attempt to shoehorn in examples to cover the centuries evenly. Instead, the choice of episodes—whether these were from verifiable history or based on well-known legend—reflected what was important in many small localities. While the big hitters of Scottish national history had their place (e.g., Wallace, the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and Graham of Claverhouse), many lesser known figures also made an appearance. These included a great number of persons from Scottish ecclesiastical history. The women even rose to the challenge of a battle scene, and one episode, based on a local myth, introduced a fierce dragon! The timeframe concluded in the eighteenth century with the Jacobites, and the pageant ended on a less contentious note—the dramatisation of a traditional rural fair.

As is well known, the WRI tried to be socially inclusive, but it is evident that among the membership were some with social clout, for the very grand environment of the grounds of Panmure House was sought and obtained as the venue for staging the event. Many members of the owners' family—the Dalhousies—as well as their aristocratic friends agreed to attend. The pageant took place as both summer and the golfing season got into full swing in mid-June, ensuring that visitors would also have the opportunity to come along. It also provided the opportunity for the WRI to show off further talents: a tea, doubtless prepared by the members, could be purchased for one shilling, and the whole day was rounded off with a display of competitive country dancing among the various branches. The latter was so successful that a regular music festival in Arbroath introduced a new dance class specifically for WRI members.33 Presumably, this was to enable the members to compete more widely with other organisations.

The pageant master for this triumph was only ever referred to as 'Mrs Babington'. She was married to the minister at Glamis and probably had a leading role in Forfarshire's WRI.34 Mrs Babington, and all of the pageant's organisers and players, must have been delighted when the sun shone on the day and 9000 spectators made the journey to witness this performance. Although no financial records have been recovered, the work done for this pageant was completely voluntary and funds were not squandered on the likes of a grandstand. The cost of tickets was at a flat rate, and it is highly likely, therefore, that a healthy profit was made. The occasion certainly boosted impressions of the institute and its formidable organisational abilities; and the pageant was definitely a critical success. Following the event, the Dundee Courier reiterated the belief than local knowledge was being lost because of the increased movement of the population. However, the WRI had shown by the success of their pageant that they could lead the way in stirring up interest in the past and recording the 'customs and traditions of to-day that will be the history and tradition of to-morrow'.35 This article noted that:

The importance of a connected, as well as authoritative, local history is now recognised. Its bearing on national history is obvious, the latter being only another interpretation of it written large. Local colouring is a constituent element in the history of a nation. We look to the W.R.I. for valuable assistance in collecting information about the past, which can be gathered from printed and written sources and oral tradition...such facts and features of rural life as are commonly taken for granted, and, therefore, not thought worth anyone's while to set down on paper...This is the task which Sir Walter Scott performed...36

Across the local press, the WRI were roundly congratulated for a memorable afternoon. It is therefore somewhat regrettable, given that pageantry did take off in a big way in Angus in the post-war period, that this pageant and the sterling achievements of the WRI were not recalled and better exploited in the later rush of pageants that took place in Arbroath from 1947 onwards. For these, this women's organisation was confined to making tea and sewing costumes, though the Arbroath pageants consistently struggled to find enough performers and to make a profit. Perhaps the WRI only flourished when they ran their own show, or maybe the gender politics of post-war Scotland served to exclude them. It is now difficult to know for sure, but it is a great pity nonetheless.


  1. ^ The SWRI operated separately from its counterpart, the Women' Institute (WI) in England, and was generally known as the WRI.
  2. ^ Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930), 5.
  3. ^ 'Today's Pageant of Angus', Dundee Courier, 21 June 1930, 10.
  4. ^ 'W.R.I. Pageant of Angus', Dundee Courier, 16 June 1930, 10.
  5. ^ 'Today's Pageant of Angus', Dundee Courier, 21 June 1930, 10.
  6. ^ 'Today's Pageant of Angus', Dundee Courier, 21 June 1930, 10.
  7. ^ Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930), 5.
  8. ^ Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930), 6.
  9. ^ Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930), 6.
  10. ^ 'Angus W.R.I.'s Successful Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 27 June 1930, 10.
  11. ^ 'Public Notice', Dundee Courier, 21 June 1930, 1.
  12. ^ 'A Triumph in Motor Bus Service', Arbroath Herald, 27 June 1930, 4.
  13. ^ 'Public Notice', Dundee Courier, 21 June 1930, 1.
  14. ^ In the original pageant programme episodes are unnumbered, they are presented here in the order they appear in the programme with episode numbers added.
  15. ^ Unless otherwise stated, all quotations in the synopses of episodes are taken from Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930).
  16. ^ This stone was excavated in the nineteenth century and has Pictish symbols on one side and a Celtic cross on the other; see: 'Hunters Hill, Thornton Standing Stone’, accessed 14 April 2016,
  17. ^ This verse is an extract from William Hamilton, The History of the Life and Adventures, and Heroic Actions, of the Renowned Sir William Wallace, General and Governor of Scotland (first published in Glasgow, 1722, with numerous subsequent imprints).
  18. ^ St Vigeans was then a village and parish near to the town of Arbroath; it is now more or less considered a suburb of Arbroath, although notably it still has its own branch of the SWRI.
  19. ^ This legend is mentioned in F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882–1884) in the entry for Finhaven, replicated at A Vision of Britain Through Time, accessed 15 April 2016,
  20. ^ 'Impressions of the Great Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 27 June 1930, 10.
  21. ^ The quotation included in the souvenir’s description derives from a translation from Latin of medieval Scots Law. This allowed capital jurisdiction attached to a barony to put to death criminals found within barony lands. The word ‘pit’ probably refers to the water-filled trench in which females were executed by drowning. Male malefactors were hanged. See Dictionary of the Scots Language, electronic edition, accessed 5 May 2016,
  22. ^ 'Impressions of the Great Pageant', Arbroath Herald, 27 June 1930, 10.
  23. ^ 'Historic Episodes to be Staged at Carnoustie', Dundee Courier, 25 April 1930, 4.
  24. ^ Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930), 45.
  25. ^ Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930), 47.
  26. ^ Forfarshire Women's Rural Institutes: Pictorial Souvenir, Pageant of Angus History at Panmure House, Carnoustie on Saturday 21st June 1930 (Forfar, 1930), 36.
  27. ^ ‘Mementoes of Angus W.R.I. Pageant’, Dundee Courier, 12 October 1930, 3.
  28. ^ ‘The Angus Pageant’, Dundee Courier, 23 June 1930, 6.
  29. ^ ‘The Glorious Pageant of Angus’, Carnoustie Gazette, 27 June 1930, 2.
  30. ^ 'Work for the W.R.I.', Dundee Evening Telegraph, 18 August 1930, 3.
  31. ^ For discussion of the aims of the SWRI, see Valerie Wright, Women’s Organisations and Feminism in Interwar Scotland (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2008). There is a brief mention of the Onward and Upward Association and its aims in Linda Fleming, 'Hearth and Home', in Scottish Women: A Documentary History of Scottish, c1780–1914, ed. Esther Breitenbach et al. (Edinburgh, 2013), 85–86. For an elaboration of the career of Lady Aberdeen, see Marjory Harper, 'Aberdeen and Temair, Ishbel Maria Gordon, Marchioness of (Lady Aberdeen)', in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 3–4.
  32. ^ 'A Day of Pageantry for Angus', Arbroath Herald, 25 April 1930, 5.
  33. ^ 'Musical Festival Adjudicators', Arbroath Herald, 26 September 1930, 4.
  34. ^ Unfortunately, no further information about this woman has been recovered despite searches.
  35. ^ See article by 'M.C.', 'A Word to the W.R.I.: Become Your Own Historian!' Dundee Courier, 3 July 1930, 6.
  36. ^ 'M.C.', 'A Word to the W.R.I.'

How to cite this entry

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