Pageant of Hampshire History

Other names

  • The Merdon Pageant

Pageant type


Hampshire Women’s Institutes

Jump to Summary


Place: Merdon Castle, Hursley Part (Hursley) (Hursley, Hampshire, England)

Year: 1930

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


9 June 1930, 2.30pm and 5.30pm

[One dress rehearsal on the morning of 9 June.]

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Weir, Mrs Robert
  • Music Director: Mr Guy Warrack and Mrs Arthur Hoare
  • Wardrobe Mistresses: Mrs De la Lee Gill and Miss Doris Pool
  • Programme and Posters: Miss Grimaldi
  • Herald: Captain Montgomerie

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Chairman: Mrs W. Frank Perkins
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs Hodgson
  • Vice-Chairman Miss W. Beddington
  • Miss Hilda Chamberlain
  • Hon. Mrs George Cooper
  • Miss Crossley
  • Mrs De la Lee Gill
  • Mrs A. Hoare
  • Mrs Judd
  • Mrs Madocks
  • Mrs Donald Nicoll
  • Miss Doris Pool
  • Miss M. Poore
  • Lady Rosemary Portal
  • Mrs Rickards
  • Mrs Stubbington
  • Mrs Robert Weir
  • Lady Wells


All from various branches of the Hampshire WI.

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

  • Stevens, F.E.

Names of composers

  • Warrack, Guy
  • Schubert, Franz
  • Bach, Johann Sebastian
  • Purcell, Henry
  • Handel, George Frideric
  • Morley, Thomas

Numbers of performers


Performers were drawn from 143 Womens’ Institutes out of 174 in the county.

Financial information


Advanced by Hampshire Federation: £100
Messr Salter: £10
Advertisements in Programme: £18
Car Parking Tickets: £186. 15s. 8d.
Programmes: £54. 15s. 6d.
Tickets Beforehand: £522. 14s. 4d.
Sold at Gate: £264. 11s. 6d.
Late payments: £16. 6s. 6d. (total tickets: £803. 12s. 4d.)
Bank Interest: £1. 18s. 6d.

Total: £1175. 2s. 0d.


Repaid to Hants Federation: £100
Marquees, equipment: £50. 2s. 6d.
Hire of Chairs, Benches and Labour: £136. 13s. 0d.
Music: £45. 14s. 0d.
Printing: £66. 7s. 1d.
Advertising: £10. 5s. 0d.
Ambulances: £10. 16s. 0d.
Producer’s Expenses: £12. 0s. 0d.
Hire of Horses, Trumpeters, Fox, etc.: £20. 15s. 3d.
Sub-Producers expenses: £40. 5s. 0d.
Ground Expenses: £9. 16s. 10d.
Hillier, Bouquet: £1. 3s. 0d.
Police: £5. 4s. 11d.
AA: £3
Secretary and Treasurer’s Expenses: £4. 11s. 6d.
Make Up: £4. 8s. 6d.
Postages and Stationery: £12. 5s. 8d.
Refund of Tickets: £10

Total: £533. 8s. 3d.

Balance: £641. 3s. 9d.

Object of any funds raised

‘In order to raise funds to enable the National and County Organisations to carry on their work of helping the Institute without unduly burdening the villages.’1

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


Seating for 5000 people provided by Messrs Chas. Salter and Son of Winchester.

‘With the best view of the pageant spectacles for yet another 6000 or 7000 people’ from the Norman ramparts.3

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


[Admission: Morning: Deep Yellow 5s.; Deep Blue 2s. 6d.; Red 1s.
Evening: Pale Yellow 3s.; Pale Blue 1s. 6d.; Pink 6d. Presumably, the colours denoted seating areas]

Associated events


Pageant outline


Spoken by Herald, the ‘Spirit of Hampshire’

Episode I. Queen Elfrida at Andover, 965

Marriage of the Earl of Hampshire to Elfrida. Earl Ethelwold was meant to be the proxy on King Edgar’s behalf, finding him a bride, ‘but Ethelwold wooed and won the lady for himself’.4 Ethelwold reports to the King that she is plain and ordinary. King Edgar decides to see the lady himself. Despite Ethelwold’s warnings, Elfrida attracts the King who falls in love with her. The King and the Earl go hunting in the new forest where Ethelwold is slain by his King ‘who thereupon married the not unconsolable widow.’

Episode II. Queen Matilda at Romsey, 1100

Queen Margaret of Scotland sends her daughters, Matilda and Mary, to Romsey to hide in an abbey. The lecherous King William II (Rufus), hearing of the beauty of the former, demands to see them. The Abbess only lets him see the nuns when they wear veils, and the King departs. His son, Henry, now King Henry I, also tries to woo her, overcoming the Abbess’ scruples: ‘That the Princess had none may be inferred from the fact that she left the convent school, was married to King Henry and became good Queen Maud of history.’

Episode III. Richard I at Waltham Abbey, 1194

On returning home from his imprisonment by Emperor Barbarossa during the Crusades, Richard I ‘to wash out the stain of his imprisonment…was crowned for the second time at Winchester in the year 1194, and thence he went to his Palace at Bishops Waltham, where he was welcomed with the greatest enthusiasm, the populace acclaiming him and the Queen, and the various Guilds of Winchester offering him gifts.’ The King approaches and dismounts, and the Bishop blesses the King. Knights hold a tournament between Knights of the King and Knights of the shire. At the end of the tournament the King escorts the Queen to her horse, and the party enters the Castle.

Episode IV. Queen Elizabeth at Elvetham, 1591

Elizabeth’s ceremonial visit to the Earl of Hertford. The Earl most unhappily had incurred the displeasure of the Queen by his marriage with the sister of Lady Jane Grey. He was fined £15000 and his wife imprisoned till her death. To expiate his offence and to earn Her Majesty’s forgiveness, the Earl organised a most brilliant Pageant in the Park, entering and kissing the Queen’s hand. Together they plant a tree. ‘Now Queen Elizabeth loved Pageants, and loved them best when she was the central figure in them.’ The entertainment was on the most lavish scale and extended over four days.’ A masque is performed with the Fairy Queen and fairies:

I that abide in places underground,
Aureola, the Queen of Fairy land,
That every night in rings of painted flowers
Turn round and carol out Eliza’s name;
Hearing that Nereus and the sylvan god
Have lately welcomed your Imperial grace,
Opened the earth with this enchanting wand,
To do my duty to your majesty,
And humbly to salute you with this chaplet,
Given to me by Oberon King.

Episode V. Dame Alice Lisle, 1685

After the defeat of Monmouth’s army at Sedgemoor, three fugitives—John Hicks, Richard Netelthorpe, and a messenger named Dunne—shelter with Dame Alice. Village gossip discloses their arrival to Colonel Penruddocke, who arrives and arrests Alice and her guests. She is taken to Winchester and sentenced to execution by Judge Jeffreys. The clemency of James II mitigates this from being burned alive to beheading.

Episode VI. A Hampshire Maying, 1804

A Maying pageant was held every Whit Monday and Tuesday under the patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham at Avington Park. On this occasion George IV and Mrs Fitzherbert attended and oversaw the dance ‘The Triumph’, one of George’s favourites. Maypole dancing, with the King and Queen of the Maying.


Spoken by the Herald. Final Procession of Episodes. The epilogue is followed by a rendition of God Save the King

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Ælfthryth (d. 999x1001) queen of England, consort of King Edgar [also known as Elfrida]
  • Edgar [called Edgar Pacificus] (943/4–975) king of England
  • Matilda [Edith, Mold, Matilda of Scotland] (1080–1118) queen of England, first consort of Henry I (1068/9–1135), king of England and lord of Normandy
  • William II [known as William Rufus] (c.1060–1100) king of EnglandHenry I
  • 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
  • Berengaria [Berengaria of Navarre] (c.1165–1230) queen of England, consort of Richard I
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Seymour, Edward, first earl of Hertford (1539?–1621) courtier
  • Lisle, Lady Alice [née Alice Beconsawe] (c.1614–1685) supposed traitor
  • Jeffreys, George, first Baron Jeffreys (1645–1689) judge
  • Fitzherbert [née Smythe; other married name Weld] Maria Anne (1756–1837), unlawful wife of George IV by a marriage invalid under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772
  • George IV (1762–1830) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover

Musical production

Music director: Mr Guy Warrack and Mrs Arthur Hoare.
Pageant Choir of 250 voices.
Orchestra of Winchester Music Club and other neighbouring orchestral societies.
Two Trumpeters of the Royal Scots Greys.

Guy Warrack. Chant and Dirge.
Schubert. Coronach.
Hymn 212 from English Hymnal (‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’).
J.S. Bach. ‘O’er the Smooth Enamelled Green’.
Purcell. ‘In These Delightful Groves’.
‘Come Let Us All a Maying.’ Traditional.
‘Blow Away the Morning Dew.’ Traditional.
Handel. ‘Come See Where Golden Hearted Spring’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Hampshire Advertiser and Southampton Times
Home and Country
Daily Sketch
Hampshire Observer
Bournemouth Echo
The Times
Andover Advertiser
Bournemouth Directory
Hampshire and Berkshire Gazette
Poole Herald
Hampshire Herald
Western Gazette
Salisbury Journal

Salisbury Times

Book of words

1930 Pageant of Hampshire History. Np. 1930.

Price: 6d.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Hampshire Record Office, Winchester:
  • Connected WI ephemera and photographs.19M98/32.
  • Copy of Book of Words, correspondence, accounts, newspaper cuttings. 15M99/2.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Amherst, Alicia. A History of Gardening in England. London: 1896.


Women’s Institute Pageants were highly popular during the 1920s and early 1930s, and county pageants were also greatly successful (see entries for the pageants of Staffordshire 1928 and Northamptonshire 1930). The WI already possessed many of the organisational skills which made for successful Pageantry, in addition to skills in costume-making and catering (there were a number of Women’s Institute tents serving sandwiches, tea, and cakes). The pageant benefited from extensive connections with the great and the good, with patrons including H.M. Lieutenant of the County, the Chairman of the County Council, the Countess of Malmesbury, Sir George Cooper, Bart, Lady Cooper, and the Lord Mayors and Mayoresses of Portsmouth, Andover, Aldershot, Basingstoke, Bournemouth, Gosport, Lymington, Romsey, Southampton and Winchester. The pageant reminded many commentators of the great Edwardian era of pageants in Hampshire, at Sherborne, Romsey and Winchester. The Hampshire Observer suggested that the pageant made history ‘in a double sense. Because not only were the spectacles a worthy contribution to pageantry on its most ambitious scale, but the great co-operative effort was unique, and added to the prestige and influence of the Women’s Institute movement in the history of modern social life.’5

A one-day pageant held on the Whit Monday bank holiday and attended by up to thirty thousand spectators was a huge logistical operation, with the police and Automobile Association on hand to guide traffic. Even so, roads between Southampton and Winchester were highly congested, and the reporter for the Hampshire Observer ‘noted that there was a continuous stream of arrivals even up to the third episode.’6

Nonetheless, the pageant was a model of organization, with barely an hour between the two performances, and with the first full rehearsal held on the morning of the pageant. The Hampshire Observer write-up deemed it ‘a triumph of co-operative effort’, declaring that ‘The Pageant...had gone with almost professional precision, and with all the enthusiasm and animation of amateur keenness, without the slightest hitch and with complete harmony.’7 The Western Gazette, which possessed less regional loyalty than the Hampshire papers, considered it ‘the greatest pageant of its kind ever attempted, and the like of which will not probably be seen for many years.’8 The event was covered in many national papers, though the Times was somewhat condescending in its verdict, labelling the pageant as ‘essentially a county fair’ and noting that ‘the players had evidently taken their rehearsals seriously.’9

As with other WI Pageants, the episodes (all mimed and spoken by the Herald who personified the Spirit of Hampshire) stressed women’s parts in history and particularly the role of Queens. Significantly, the women in this pageant are given agency, as to who they marry or elope with, and the pageant presents a less moralistic view of their actions than one might expect—notwithstanding the presence of Mrs Fitzherbert, long-time mistress to the Prince Regent, in a scene featuring a traditional Whit Monday ‘Hampshire Maying’. Elfrida, for example, is first wooed by Ethelwold and then blatantly confronts the King with her beauty, inciting him to murder her husband in the New Forest. She then marries the King without a shade of remorse. In an uncanny parallel, King Rufus attempts unsuccessfully to woo Queen Matilda of Scotland, only to be rebuffed; she then marries his probable killer (Rufus was shot whilst hunting in the New Forest). As with Elfrida, Matilda is shown to be canny and to resist or subvert notions of Queenly behaviour and romantic love. This is different from other Hampshire Pageants, where Matilda tended to be portrayed as the later Queen, willing to drive England into Civil War and besieging Winchester. The Hampshire Observer, which particularly admired the ‘many processions in this episode’, somewhat misread the scene by contrasting the ‘demeanours of the rough Kings and the gentle habitants of the nunnery.’10

The scene portraying Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Elvetham in 1591 is somewhat more traditional, with a traditional pageant-within-pageant put on to entertain the Queen. Rather in contrast with many other pageants, here Elizabeth I is shown as highly capricious, having victimised the earl of Hertford and his young wife on account of the latter being the sister of Lady Jane Grey. While the pageant shows how Queen Elizabeth is ultimately mollified, it makes clear that this only came many years after the death of the Earl’s wife. The scene with Alice Lisle sheltering men from the Earl of Monmouth’s defeated army is also worthy of note. This presents Alice’s horrific death, after being condemned by Judge Jeffreys, famous for his ruthless punishment and execution of the rebels during the ‘bloody assizes’, as a fate which she bears stoically, indeed heroically, the pageant making much of her decency in sheltering fugitives. The WI magazine Home and Country remarked that ‘The interest of this scene was increased by the fact that the guests of Dame Alice Lisle were represented by descendants of those who, in all probability, would have been present in the year of the Monmouth Rebellion.’11

Overall, the pageant was a resounding success, making a profit of £645 and winning universal praise. Home and Country echoed Mrs W. Frank Perkins, its ‘moving spirit’, in describing it as the ‘Happy Pageant…it receded into the past in a halo of success and happiness leaving a sound financial memento.’12 As for the effusive Hampshire Observer, it went as far as to include a poem about the Pageant, written by ‘C.M.R.’:

The Merdon Pageant

A holiday in June—a day of joy indeed—
When nature crowns the year with foliage and flower
Sunshine the livelong day gives warmth to all,
And colony to the scene. Here miracles are wrought—
For in the precincts, where the earthwork stands,
Undying witness to centuries past,
There sounds sweet music; and before the wondering eyes
Of the assembled crowd, passes a great procession,
Kings and their Consorts, Princes, Nobles, Dames
Crusaders, flags held high, Bishops and retinues
Pages and Varlets, Roundheads, Cavaliers,
In perfect harmony, the pictures form—and melt—
Each in their turn, a pageant from the past.
From Saxon times remote, to nearer Georgian days,
The Herald, scarlet clad, his trumpeters at call,
Ushers each Episode, with clarion voice and speech.
Now cloistered nuns appear, working amid their flowers,
Roses and lilies tall, and raise bewildered eyes
To the gay worldings, visiting their fane.
The great Elizabeth, deigns to attend the fete,
Surrounded by her Court; while lovely maids
Dance for her pleasure, in diaphanous robes,
And then before our eyes we see Dame Alice Lisle
Pass to her fate, undaunted to the end.
So comedy and tragedy go by, near as they often are,
Laughter and tears, twin sisters in their moor.
The wedding march peals out, close followed by the dirge,
But now the Pageant ends, fitly in May Day mirth,
With merry song and dance—and so the play is o’er.
Once more the Herald speaks, the trumpets sound their call.
‘Guests: for your pleasure we fair pictures have revealed,
‘Historic figures shown, recalled their doughty deeds,
‘May you fresh courage gain, seize every hope or chance,
‘Your country calls you now, Advance! Advance! Advance!13


  1. ^ 1930 Pageant of Hampshire History (Np., 1930), p. 3.
  2. ^ ‘A Pageant of Hampshire’, Hampshire Chronicle, 14 June 1930, 8 and 11; ‘Pageant of Hampshire: Women’s Institutes’ “Great Achievement”’, Hampshire Observer, 14 June 1930, 2.
  3. ^ Hampshire Observer, June 14, 1930, p. 2
  4. ^ All quotations come from 1930 Pageant of Hampshire History (Np., 1930) unless otherwise stated.
  5. ^ ‘Pageant of Hampshire: Women’s Institutes “Great Achievement”’, Hampshire Observer, 14 June 1930, 2.
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ ‘Hampshire Pageant’, Western Gazette, 13 June 1930, 13.
  9. ^ ‘Hampshire Pageant’, The Times, 10 June 1930, p. 14.
  10. ^ Hampshire Observer, June 14, 1930, 2
  11. ^ Home and Country, August 1930, 347.
  12. ^ Ibid.
  13. ^ Hampshire Chronicle, 14 June 1930, 11.

How to cite this entry

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