The Kenilworth Castle Pageant

Pageant type



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Place: Kenilworth Castle (Kenilworth) (Kenilworth, Warwickshire, England)

Year: 1939

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 9


8–15 July 1939

8pm each night (excluding Sunday) and 3pm on Saturday 8 and 15 July.

3 hours long.

Thursday evening before the start of the pageant: full-dress rehearsal for schoolchildren and disabled soldiers at 6d.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Parker, Anthony
  • Composer of Music: Dr A.K. Blackall
  • Author and Librettist: Miss L.E. Thomas
  • Master of Music: S.J. Wisdom
  • Wardrobe Mistress: Margaret Sharp
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs P.W.F. Labrum
  • Assistant Wardrobe Mistress: Mary Parsons
  • Costume Secretaries: Miss Winifred Walker, OBE; Miss Virginia Glover; Mrs D.L. Wray; Mrs H.H. Wardle; Princess de Mahe; Miss L.E. Thomas; Miss Joyce Butler
  • Mistresses of Dance: Miss Olive Hammond; Miss Parsons; Miss Yvette Petit; Miss Joan Shannon; Miss Catherine Huskisson
  • Dress Designers: Dawn Timings; M. MacManus
  • Master of Horse: Frank J. Hartley
  • Master of Heraldry: D.E. Macintyre
  • Master of the Arena: G.E. Tisdale
  • Property Master: Douglas Ford
  • Episode Property Masters: Rev E.M. Thomas; John Boughton; Anthony Farmer; Mrs Sockett; Major M.V. Jones
  • Producer’s Secretary: M. Pamela Colebourn
  • Marshal: F.W. Esbester
  • Chief Steward: R.B. Scott
  • Deputy Chief Steward: W.E. Billingham
  • Ticket Sales Organiser: R.H. Wilkinson
  • Box Office Manageress: Mrs Dyer
  • Programme Sales Organiser: Miss G. Bull
  • Photographs Sales Organiser: Miss E.H. Roberts
  • Book of Words Sales Organiser: Mrs J.E. Dodd
  • Hon Treasurer: A.E. Needham
  • Joint Programme Editors: H.T. Kirby; B.H. Bennett
  • Joint Honorary Secretaries: Edward Hicks; P.W.F. Labrum

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Royal Patron: HRH the Duke of Kent
  • Patron-in-Chief: The Lord Lieutenant
  • President: The Marquess of Northampton
  • Chairman of General Committee: Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon C.D. Siddeley
  • Vice-Lieutenant of Warwickshire: Lord Willoughby de Broke
  • Chairman of Kenilworth UDC: Major H.R. Watling
  • Honorary Adviser: Louis N. Parker
  • Vice Presidents: Colonel the Hon Cyril D. Siddeley; Mrs Siddeley; G. Baron Ash, Esq.; The Misses Wheatley; The Hon Mrs Ainscow; Captain J.P. Black; Mrs Black; H.R. Watling, Esq.; The Hon Ernest Siddeley; Mrs Siddeley; Sir Robert Bird; Lady Bird; Lady Helen Seymour; Lord Ilkeston; Lady Ilkeston; C. Davis, Esq.; Lord Willoughby de Broke; Lady Willoughby de Broke; Dr Katherine Scott; Mr G.T. Mills; Mrs Mills; Colonel Sir Henry R. Fairfax-Lucy, BT, CB; Colonel Sir William Wyley; Sir William Dugdale; Lady Dugdale; Lord Leigh; Lady Leigh; The Ven R.T. Howard; Lord Bishop of Coventry; Mr W.S. Howard; Mrs Howard; Lord Iliffe; Lady Iliffe; H.G. Lakin, Esq.; Captain W.F. Strickland; Mrs Strickland; Mr Percy Martin; Mrs Martin; Sir Hanson Rowbothan; Lady Rowbotham; the Hon Mrs Basil Hanbury

General Committee:

  • Chairman: Colonel the Hon Cyril D. Siddeley
  • Vice-Chairman: George Mills, Esq.
  • 125 men and 70 women

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: G. Glover, Esq.
  • Vice-Chairman: The Rev M. Park, MA
  • The Lady Ilkeston
  • Lady Bird
  • Lady Beecham
  • W.N. Lindley Richardson Esq.
  • The Hon Mrs Fitzherbert Wright
  • Mrs G. Beibitz
  • Miss W. Walker, OBE
  • J.C. Staite, Esq., CC
  • Miss D.A. Sweet
  • Percy Martin, Esq.
  • E. Carey Hill, Esq., FSA
  • Colonel J.L. Mellor
  • D.E. Macintyre, Esq.
  • Miss Whitworth Wallis
  • A.H.B. Bishop, Esq.
  • Miss C. Huskisson
  • W.E. Richards, Esq.
  • L.D. Overell, Esq.
  • Mrs G. Glover
  • Percy Coy, Esq.
  • S.J. Wisdom, Esq.
  • Mrs Milward Reynolds
  • Mrs Douglas Thompson
  • Brig-Gen E.A. Wiggin
  • P.B. Chatwin, Esq., FSA
  • Miss P.D. Hicks
  • F.W. Esbester, Esq.
  • Alderman M.S. Moore
  • S.C. Kaines Smith, Esq.

Pageant Publicity Committee:

  • Chairman: E. Hicks
  • Hon Secretary: D.L. Wray
  • 14 men, 4 women

Catering Committee:

  • Chairman: George Tisdale, Esq.
  • Hon Secretary: A.J. Gibbs, Esq., and Martin S. Moor, Esq.

Production Committee:

  • Chairman: The Lady Ilkeston
  • Vice-Chairmen: Dr A.K. Blackall (Composer of Music) and Miss Winifred Walker, OBE
  • Hon Secretary: Miss P.D. Hicks
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs P.W.F. Labrum
  • Master of Heraldry: Mr D.E. Macintyre, DA
  • Master of Properties: Mr R.D. Ford
  • Master of Music: Mr S.T. Wisdom
  • Master of Horse: Mr F.J. Hartley
  • Master of the Arena: Mr G.E. Tisdale
  • Dancing: Miss Catherine Huskisson; Miss Yvette Petit; Miss Olive Hammond; Miss Joan Shannon; Miss Parsons
  • Episode Secretaries: The Princess de Mahe; Mrs W. Godfrey-Payton; Mrs H.T. Chapman; Major M.V. Jones; Mrs A.F. Floyd; Mr A. Tenneson Lees
  • Members: Lady Bird; Mrs Victor Humphries; Mr F. Owen Chambers; Miss Powell; Mr P.B. Chatwin, FSA; Miss M. Struan Robertson; Miss Gladys Davidson, FZS; Rev D.I.E. Saberton; Mrs J.E. Dodd; Miss L.E. Thomas; Mr F.W. Esbester; Mr F.P. Wallsgrove; Mrs M.M.M. Fowler, OBE; Mr Launcelot Wheatley; Mr Alex Greenway; Mr A.E. Whitley; Mrs H.W. Huggins; Mr D.L. Wray

Works Committee:

  • Chairman: F.W.H. Lee, Esq.
  • Joint Hon Secretaries: G.A.J. Edmundson and H.J. Satchwell
  • 7 men, 1 woman

Finance Committee:

  • Chairman: Major P.H. Carter
  • Vice-Chairman: G. Purcell, Esq.
  • Hon Secretary: A.E. Needham, Esq.
  • 19 men, 4 women

Ticket Committee:

  • Chairman: George Purcell, Esq.
  • Hon Secretary: L. Parker, Esq.
  • 4 men, 1 woman

Auxiliary Efforts Committee:

  • Chairman: Mrs E.F. Reynolds
  • Vice-Chairman: Mrs Douglas Thompson
  • Secretary: Miss P.M. Ratliff
  • 3 men, 18 women

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

  • Thomas, Miss L.E.
  • Parker, Louis Napoleon
  • Marlowe, Christopher
  • Shakespeare, William


  • Miss L.E. Thomas was a teacher at Leamington High School
  • Louis Napoleon Parker was credited for the script of Episode IX. He was also responsible for that of Episode IV, arranged from Marlowe’s play Edward II, and also Episode V, which was based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II and Henry V.

Names of composers

  • Blackall, Allen K.

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Income and Expenditure Account


To Works and Properties, £1840. 10s. 3d. (less sales £13. 5s. 6d.), £1827. 4s. 9d.; Advertising, £481. 19s. 7d.; Printing and Stationery, £121. 2s. 11d.; Costumes £390. 7s. 2d. (less sales £304. 16s. 11d.), £85. 10s. 3d.; Hire of Wigs and Costumes, £39. 11s.; Salaries, Wardrobe Mistresses, £100. 6s. 10d.; Rent, Rates, and Expenses, £102; The Parade, £37. 11s. 3d.; Producer’s Fee and Expenses, £360. 14s. 1d.; Production, £132. 18s. 11d.; Music, £362. 7s. 7d.; Horses, £48. 13s. 4d.; Insurance, £50. 12s. 3d.; Secretarial, £79. 4s. 3d.; Postages, £88. 7s. 11d.; Cheque Books, £2. 5s.; Sundry expenses, £12. 19s. 10d.; Box Office Expenses, £35. 1s. 5d.


By Auxiliary efforts, £343. 9s. 4d.; Donations: General Appeal, £386. 15s. 9d., Marquis of Northampton’s Appeal £210. 4s., Lord Willoughby de Broke’s Appeal £579. 0s. 4d. (making a total of £1176. 0s. 1d.); Box Office, £2553. 18s.; Sale of Tickets, £1319. 17s. 3d.; Souvenir programmes: Sales £318. 19s. 6d., Advertisements £111. 7s. 10d. (less cost of production £252. 18s.), £177. 9s. 4d., Book of Words £176. 2s. 4d. (less cost of production £99. 19s. 8d.), £76. 2s. 8d.; Car Park, 90% of proceeds, £70. 15s. 11d.; Refreshment Contracts, £44. 2s.; BBC, £10. 10s.; Sale of photographs £7. 7s. 9d. (less cost of production £2. 19s. 9d.), £4. 8s.; Club membership subscriptions £9 (less expenses £5. 17s. 3d.).

The Pageant made a total profit of £1850.1

Object of any funds raised

£187. 10s. given to the Leamington High School Endowment Fund.

£1108. 6s. 8d. given to the Warneford General Hospital.

£554. 3s. 4d. given to the Waifs and Strays Society.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 20183


17120 reserved seats were booked; 3063 unreserved seats were sold. Total: 20183.

5000 for opening performance.2

2500 for closing performance.3

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

21s.–1s. 3d.

Reserved and unreserved seats: 21s.–1s. 3d.

Associated events

A united service for all denominations was held on the Pageant arena (on the afternoon of Sunday 9 July). Bishop Heywood, DD, Assistant Bishop of Coventry, gave an address, and there was also an orchestra and choirs from neighbouring churches.

Pageant outline

Episode I. The Founding of the Castle of Kenilworth [1120s]

A crowd of country people assemble to wait for the wedding party from Warwick. This is led by Geoffrey de Clinton, Lord Treasurer, who orders the building of the Castle to celebrate his son’s marriage to the Earl of Warwick’s daughter. Two robbers, who have stolen a gift of gloves for the bride, are caught. One is set free because he can read a verse of the Bible, called a ‘neck-verse’ because it saved one’s neck. The builders set to work on the Castle that is to be; the country folk declare their allegiance to Geoffrey de Clinton, and the whole party moves off to the wedding banquet.

Episode II. Simon de Montfort [1265]

The Ride to Evesham

Simon de Montfort rides in haste with a small troop of men-at-arms to Evesham to subdue Prince Edward, the King’s son, who has escaped from Simon’s protective custody. The Castle is left in the care of the Lady Eleanor de Montfort, Simon’s wife, his son, the young Simon, and several knights. Some of these are to follow to Evesham on the next day.

The Raid

In order to be resplendent for the fray, young Simon and the knights and men-at-arms go down to the village to wash. They leave the Castle undefended, and Prince Edward appears unexpectedly. The treacherous maiden Margoth tells him what is happening, and in a quick raid on the bathers he takes some prisoners, scatters others, captures a banner or two, and rides off with Margoth on his saddle-bow. Young Simon and a few men escape into the Castle. Simon de Montfort is defeated and slain at Evesham, and the Castle is besieged by the King’s men for six months.

The Surrenders

The Papal Legate, the Cardinal Ottoboni, bringing terms of surrender, is treated with contempt by the besieged party, and excommunicates all who live in the Castle and the country round about it. This causes so much consternation among the country folk that led by one William Slipper they assault the Castle walls with cries of ‘Surrender’, declaring that old Simon cared more for the Folk than for Castles. They persuade the besieged to accept the terms, and the King’s men march in.

Episode III. The Round Table [1270s]

Edmund of Lancaster holds tourney and revelry at Kenilworth to celebrate the retirement of Roger Mortimer from the art and practice of chivalry, and also to observe the ceremony of the Round Table, performed in memory of King Arthur’s Knights. The Queen of Beauty gives the award to the most valiant Knight, whom all declare to be Roger Mortimer. They drink at the Round Table, listen to a minstrel’s ballad on the indiscretions of the countryside, and finally dance off to a measure taught them by the minstrel, as being the latest from the King’s Court.

Episode IV. Edward II [1320s]

[Arranged by Louis N. Parker from Marlowe’s Edward II. Narrative Chorus by L. Edith Thomas.] Edward II, deposed and a prisoner in a dungeon in Kenilworth Castle, is ignobly treated by his jailers. He is shaved in puddle water and roughly handled. His tragically dignified protests are ignored. He is forced by bishops and nobles to give up his crown and borne off to his death.

Episode V. Henry V and Falstaff at Kenilworth [early 13th century]

[Arranged by Louis N. Parker from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II and Henry V.] Falstaff collects his ‘ragged army’ with the help of Justice Shallow. He hopes for recognition and reward from his one-time friend, Prince Hal, and eagerly awaits the coronation procession; but he is bitterly disillusioned. He is repudiated by the King and his spirit is broken. Henry V asks Katharine, the French Princess, for her hand in marriage and is graciously accepted, and French and English retire in triumphant amity.

Episode VI. The Trial of Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Glo[uce]ster [1440s]

Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Glo[uce]ster, and wife of the Lord Protector of the Realm, had been ambitious for herself and her husband. She wished that her husband were King and herself Queen, and in order to achieve this she had enlisted the help of a witch and a sorcerer, who with the dark mysteries of their magic were to kill the king. They are discovered in the midst of smoke and incantation, are captured, and brought to trial. The witch is condemned to be burnt, the sorcerer to be hanged and drawn, and Eleanor, who conducts her own defence, is banished for life to the Isle of Man, after doing penance for her sin.

Episode VII. Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth Castle [1575]

A crowd of court and country folk are awaiting the Queen’s return from Stoneleigh. There is a Masque to greet her. It symbolises the English sovereignty of the seas, and Gloriana’s ability to sink the Spanish Armada at sight, as Mermaids play upon recorders. The crowd then present the Queen with gifts, and Sir Walter Raleigh, after some disturbance, persuades her to eat a potato for the first time. She enjoys it so much that the people of Kenilworth promise to grow them for her, on the ground called, thereafter, Little Virginia.

Episode VIII. The Slighting of the Castle [1649]

When a castle is ‘slighted’ it is made useless as a fortress. The Roundheads decided that Kenilworth was too expensive and too dangerous to maintain. So one day Cromwell’s soldiers arrive with barrels of gunpowder, drive out the hysterical inhabitants, march off the garrison, and blow up the north wall of the keep. When the smoke clouds drift away, the Castle is a ruin.

Episode IX. The Golden Wedding

[By Louis N. Parker.] The grandchildren and neighbours of an old couple are celebrating their grandparents’ Golden Wedding. Darby and Joan, the old couple, on their way to the festivities, pass a fresh spring and drink its sparkling water. This miraculously restores their youth and they attribute this wonder to the healing properties of ‘Leamington’s clear well’—which is the spring from which they have drunk.

Episode X. The Ribbon Ballet

[Arranged by Miss Hammond.] A little band of Ribbon-weavers from Coventry is seen wending its weary way across the Kenilworth meadows. As they draw near, we see that they are laden with bundles, bobbins and all their worldly treasures, and are seeking some refuge in which to continue their craft. Exhausted, they sink to the ground after the long walk on the dusty roads, and the leader of the band encourages them to light a fire and prepare an evening meal. This they do and cheered by the glowing embers and the food and drink, they sing. Comforted, they sleep, and, sleeping, dream. Out of the Castle Gate come creeping shadows, ghostly, wraith-like; they are the dreams bringing hope and joy in a vision of prosperity. Now the dream takes form and shape. Can these living ribbons we see pouring from the Castle Gate, gleaming and shining in ever increasing blending of colours, till all is one blaze of radiance? The dream fades and the weavers wake full of joy and courage to continue their work.

Finale. Triumph Song by Louis N. Parker

All the performers assemble on the Arena, Episode by Episode, and the massed Choirs sing the Triumph Song. From the King’s Gateway appears the Spirit of Kenilworth, a superb figure, attended by six ladies, and a page bearing a banner. Together the whole assembly sings the National Anthem, in which the audience is asked to join. Then the orchestra breaks into the March Past, and the performers pass in procession in front of the stands and retire into the Castle. The lights on the arena fade, and on the topmost tower appears a Trumpeter: he sounds a triumphant fanfare and the Pageant is over.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Clinton, Geoffrey of (d. c.1133) administrator
  • Roger, second earl of Warwick (d. 1153) magnate
  • Montfort, Simon de, eighth earl of Leicester (c.1208–1265) magnate and political reformer
  • Eleanor, countess of Pembroke and Leicester (1215?–1275) princess
  • Montfort, Sir Simon de, the younger (1240–1271) soldier
  • Hastings, Sir Henry (1235?–1269) nobleman and baronial leader
  • John de Beauchamp (b. after 1241, d. 1265)
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Ottobuono [Ottobuono or Ottobono Fieschi; later Adrian V] (c.1205–1276) papal official and pope
  • Clare, Gilbert de [called Gilbert the Red], seventh earl of Gloucester and sixth earl of Hertford (1243–1295) magnate
  • Vescy, John de (1244–1289) baron
  • Edmund [called Edmund Crouchback], first earl of Lancaster and first earl of Leicester (1245–1296) prince
  • Mortimer, Roger (III) de, lord of Wigmore (1231–1282) magnate
  • Thomas of Lancaster, second earl of Lancaster, second earl of Leicester, and earl of Lincoln (c.1278–1322) magnate
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Asserio, Rigaud de (c.1290–1323) bishop of Winchester
  • Mortimer, Roger (IV), first Lord Mortimer of Chirk (c.1256–1326) baron
  • Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
  • Maltravers [Mautravers], John, first Lord Maltravers (c.1290–1364) baron
  • Edmund [Edmund of Woodstock], first earl of Kent (1301–1330) magnate
  • Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince] prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376)
  • Henry IV [known as Henry Bolingbroke] (1367–1413) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Henry V (1386–1422) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Catherine [Catherine of Valois] (1401–1437) queen of England, consort of Henry V
  • Edward [Edward of Langley, Edward of York], second duke of York (c.1373–1415) magnate
  • Stafford, Humphrey, first duke of Buckingham (1402–1460) soldier and magnate
  • Pole, William de la, first duke of Suffolk (1396–1450) administrator and magnate
  • Montagu, Thomas [Thomas de Montacute], fourth earl of Salisbury (1388–1428) soldier
  • Holland [Holand], John, first duke of Exeter [Earl of Huntingdon] (1395–1447) soldier and magnate
  • Stanley, Sir John (c.1350–1414) soldier and administrator
  • Eleanor [née Eleanor Cobham] duchess of Gloucester (c.1400–1452) alleged sorcerer
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author,
  • Sidney, Sir Philip (1554–1586) author and courtier
  • Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate
  • Cecil, Thomas, first earl of Exeter (1542–1623) courtier and soldier
  • Brooke [Cobham], Sir Henry (1537–1592) diplomat
  • Tresham, Sir Thomas (1543–1605) gentleman and recusant
  • John Shakespeare (b. in or before 1530, d. 1601)
  • Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet (aged 11)
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Shuckburgh, Sir Richard (1596–1656) royalist army officer and antiquary

Musical production

A Pageant Orchestra was formed consisting of the following:

First violins: 7
Second violins: 4
Violas: 3
Violincellos: 3
Double basses: 2
Oboe: 1
Flutes: 2
Clarinets: 2
Bassoons: 2
Horns: 2
Trumpets: 3
Trombones: 3
Timpani and Drums: 2
Arena Trumpeters: 2
  • There was a Narrative chorus and Dramatic Chorus: The Armstrong Siddeley Male Voice Choir
  • The music was specially composed by Dr Allen K. Blackall, FRCO, and directed by S.J. Wisdom, Esq, with the exception ‘Triumph Song’ by Louis N. Parker (Finale). 

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Leamington Spa Courier
Coventry Herald
The Times
Manchester Guardian
New York Sunday Times

Book of words

Thomas, Lilian Edith. The Book of the Words of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant. Leamington Spa, 1939.

Other primary published materials

  • The Souvenir Programme of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant. Leamington Spa, 1939.

References in secondary literature

  • Wallis, Mick. ‘Delving the Levels of Memory and Dressing up in the Past’. In British Theatre between the Wars, 1918–1939, edited by Clive Barker and Maggie Barbara Gale, 190–214. Cambridge, 2000.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland: Advertising leaflets for Kenilworth Castle pageant. 6D72/419/1–2.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Marlowe. Edward II.
  • Shakespeare. Henry IV, Part II.
  • ___. Henry V.


The Kenilworth Castle Pageant was another landmark pageantry event in Warwickshire, following the Warwick pageants of 1906 and 1930. Despite being billed as a ‘Kenilworth’ pageant, it depended on volunteers and performers from many different towns and cities across the county, such as Coventry and Leamington Spa, who were given the responsibility for different episodes. It was produced by Anthony Parker, with support from his grandfather Louis Napoleon Parker, who had staged the first Warwick spectacular 33 years previously. Bearing the imprint of the original pageant-master, yet also acknowledging at least some of the technical and stylistic developments the format had undergone since the Edwardian years, the Kenilworth Pageant was an important milestone event in the development of the movement. At the same time, it was a financial and public success. Yet, taking place in mid-summer of 1939, it could not help but be partly overshadowed by rising tensions in Europe and the steady march to war.

It was staged, ostensibly, for three reasons: the ruins of Kenilworth Castle had recently been sold to the motor manufacturer Sir John Siddeley (who swiftly became Baron Siddeley of Kenilworth). Siddeley then gave the Ministry of Works a large sum of money to fund repairs and open it to visitors; the people, so said the Leamington Spa Courier, needed to now ‘take seizing of it’ by learning ‘the great part which it has played in the nation’s history.’4 In common with other pageants in the period, and indeed before, there was also a commercial element; the pageant would be ‘a very good thing for the town’ and would ‘help local trade’—at least according to local notables.5 Primarily, however, its purpose was to raise money for charity, and the Warneford Hospital in particular, which had found its services expanding—at a time when its subscriptions had not.6 The Hospital had asked the Leamington and Warwick Rotary Club to organise an event of some kind. Edward Hicks, editor of the Leamington Courier and President of the Club, suggested a pageant because he fondly remembered seeing the first pageant in 1906.7 Louis Napoleon Parker was accordingly approached to take the role of producer, but, by this point in his late eighties, he considered himself too old. He seemingly suggested instead his grandson Anthony Parker, who had just produced his first play and was a former member of the Perth Theatre Repertory Company.8 Despite his rejection of the official pageant-master title, Parker senior was forthright in telling the organisers that he didn’t ‘like’ the charity objective, since he had always maintained that pageants should be their own justification.9 This quibble, however, did not stop him from writing a wholly new episode, ‘The Golden Wedding’, and also arranging Episode IV and Episode V from Marlowe and Shakespeare respectively. In addition, he wrote the final traditional ‘Triumph Song’. The elder Parker was also happy to write a foreword to the Souvenir Programme, describing his pride in his grandson and reasserting the importance of pageants as ‘genuine and necessary expressions of national life and national feeling’.10 He even managed to make his presence felt at public meetings through pre-recorded messages, imploring pageanteers to ‘wake and think, sleep and dream, walk and talk, and eat and drink Pageant!’11 As well as exciting those in Warwickshire who still remembered 1906, he also clearly influenced his grandson. Indeed, Anthony even read out loud from his father’s autobiography when speaking at public meetings, reminding the audience that pageants had been ‘abused’ with events purporting to be ‘pageants of flowers’ or ‘pageants of industry’, which were really just ‘processions or exhibitions.’12 Instead, and still quoting from his grandfather’s autobiography, a pageant was ‘a Festival of Thanksgiving’; ‘undenominational and non-political’; ‘the right kind of patriotism’; and, above all, ‘the living history of a place’.13 He also insisted on old Edwardian staples, such as local voluntary performers and the local production of props and costumes.

Working alongside the two Parkers was Miss L. Edith Thomas, a local schoolteacher who was given a period of leave of absence from work to write the script.14 In previous years she had dramatized Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and had also written for the High School Jubilee Pageant in 1934.15 Being a pageant of Kenilworth Castle, the narrative, of course, concentrated on the life of the castle and its connection to important local and national figures and local and national events, heavily influenced by Walter Scott's novel bearing its name. The first episode showed its founding and building; the second showed the famous character Simon de Montfort, including his death in battle at Evesham, and the besieging of the castle; the third concentrated on entertainment, featuring drinking, dancing, and a chivalry tournament; and the seventh was classic pageantry fare, with the Merry England of Queen Elizabeth at the castle, including an allegorical masque detailing the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Episodes IV and V featured Edward II, Henry IV, and Henry V, and were arranged by Louis Napoleon Parker. Following the Edwardian style he originated, these episodes relied on lengthy dialogue from Shakespeare and Marlowe. Perhaps the most spectacular episode was the eighth, in which the castle was blown up by Cromwell’s soldiers—re-enacted with the assistance of pyrotechnics! The ninth returned to more sedate fare, with a romantic and mythical Golden Wedding, again written by Louis Napoleon Parker. The finale could have been straight out of the Edwardian era, featuring as it did Louis Napoleon Parker’s ‘Triumph Song’, which celebrated the Englishness and peace-loving people of Kenilworth.

In many ways, then, Anthony Parker’s pageant was a faithful reconstruction of his grandfather’s defining vision of pageantry. But there were also signs that he had taken on new production methods and styles and that he had brought his grandfather’s creation more in line with the creations of his inter-war contemporaries, such as Christopher Ede and Walter Creighton. This was most evident in the inclusion of an allegorical, or at least dream-like, ballet scene—a common ploy of other pageant-masters in the 1930s. Parker junior was also keen to use extensive floodlighting and amplified sound, with many microphones hidden in prop bushes.16 Indeed, Louis Napoleon Parker himself described how ‘In practical electricity, which is now so great a factor in stage management and all theatre-craft, he [Anthony Parker] is an expert.’17 Thomas, too, was also keen to modernise, rejecting medieval English, ‘which would be unintelligible to many’, as well as ‘that pseudo-historical diction so precious to the Victorians.’18 Yet, as a promotional leaflet made clear, having Louis Napoleon Parker’s grandson as producer meant that the Kenilworth Castle Pageant was still ‘carrying on the tradition’ of 1906.19 Links with the Warwick pageants were evident in other respects as well; Dr Allen K. Blackall, for example, composed the music in 1906 and 1930 and again took the role in 1939.

As Anthony Parker admitted in his foreword to the Souvenir Programme, the pageant had encountered (and, in his opinion, overcome) ‘difficulties the like of which no Pageant has ever had to face before—International Crises, ARP, [and] National Service’.20 The impending conflict hung over the preparations for the pageant in several ways. After the event had taken place, the Leamington Spa Courier recalled that some had originally said ‘we should be at war by July, so why worry about a pageant anyway?’21 Even when preparations were very advanced there were still rumours that the pageant was going to be abandoned, due to many of the officials and volunteers also undergoing training for Air Raid Precautions [ARP] and National Service.22 For these reasons the pageant struggled to attract young men to performing roles, and the original cast estimate of 1500–2000 was lowered to 1200.23 The Coventry Herald went as far to say that the pageant was now a ‘women’s show’.24 But if the growing tensions in Europe were putting a dampener on the pageant, Anthony Parker thought it actually had a more proactive role to play. Addressing a public meeting, he called upon the people to use the pageant as a way to ‘keep calm and sane and put aside, for a time at least, our worries and troubles.’25 The Leamington Spa Courier agreed, arguing that

Nothing is more necessary at the present time than the preservation of national health and sanity... Taking part in the Pageant unites us in good-fellowship, interest in the history of our county and the satisfaction of service to charity. By sitting at home and listening to the news on the wireless we do good to nobody. By helping with the Pageant we are given something stimulating to think about and our mind is kept clear and active.26

In the end, the pageant seemed to be a fair success. The Leamington Spa Courier, which had been very supportive of the pageant (most likely due to the editorship of Hicks), predictably declared it a great success—among its chief attractions, it thought, were the costumes, music, dialogue, and action.27 Unfortunately the first performance was a complete washout, after torrential rain led to abandonment during the fourth episode.28 Despite witnessing this disappointment, the Times gave a positive account.29 Audiences ranged from 5000 for the opening to 2500 for the closing performance—which was celebrated enthusiastically.30 Anthony Parker, in much the same way his father had been treated in 1906, was carried aloft on the shoulders of performers as they sang ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’31 In the end the pageant made a tidy profit of £1850—though it should be acknowledged that a large proportion of this sum, at least £1400, came from donations and fundraising rather than ticket sales alone.32 About 20000 people saw the pageant; respectable, but nowhere near the more than 44000 people who saw the Warwick Pageant in 1906.33 The pageant was, at least, far more successful than Anthony Parker's subsequent Warwickshire Coronation Pageant (1953).

Mick Wallis has argued that the Kenilworth Castle Pageant typified the inter-war historical pageant in many ways.34 A more comprehensive survey of the pageant movement, however, demonstrates that this is not strictly true. The attributes that Wallis picked out in the Kenilworth pageant certainly resembled the Edwardian movement: strictly episodic; predominantly amateur; memorialising community around local history; connecting the local with the national; avoiding recent conflicts; thousands of performers; mixing historically recorded fact with romantic fantasy. But most historical pageants in the inter-war period did not so readily hark back to the Edwardian form. Pageants by Frank Lascelles and others had become increasingly fantastical and technically sophisticated; many pageants featured narration or no dialogue at all; it was now common for history to be portrayed right up to the present day, including the horrors of the First World War; and semi-professional actors were even beginning to be employed. In that sense, the Kenilworth Castle Pageant was a revival of a former period of pageantry—arguably due to the input of Louis Napoleon Parker. In the end, it is perhaps a tragic coincidence that the Second World War interrupted this revival of the Edwardian form, much in the same way that, as Parker senior put it, ‘the tragedy of 1914–18’ had as well.35 As the Leamington Spa Courier sadly reflected, ‘A bare six weeks elapsed between the Pageant’s joyful finale and the opening of the grim drama at which we are now unwilling spectators.’36


  1. ^ Financial information from ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier (15th December 1939), 9.
  2. ^ ‘Pageant Incident’, Western Morning News, 10 July 1939, 7.
  3. ^ ‘Enthusiastic Scenes at Close of Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 21 July 1939, 4.
  4. ^ ‘A Splendid Undertaking’, Leamington Spa Courier, 24 June 1938, 6.
  5. ^ ‘Machinery for the Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 1 July 1938, 10; ‘A Pageant Party at Kenilworth’, Leamington Spa Courier, 23 September 1938, 7. See Tom Hulme, ‘“A Nation of Town Criers”: Civic Publicity and Historical Pageantry in Interwar Britain’, Urban History (forthcoming).
  6. ^ P.H. Carter, ‘The Claims of the Warneford Hospital’, in The Souvenir Programme of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant (Leamington Spa, 1939), 54. The Waifs and Strays Society also received a substantial proportion of the profit, in light of them cancelling their own Stuart Masque and Fayre in order to not clash with the Castle Pageant. ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 3 June 1938, 6.
  7. ^ L. Edith Thomas, ‘Preface’, in The Souvenir Programme of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant (Leamington Spa, 1939), 19; ‘A Parker Pageant At Kenilworth Castle’, Leamington Spa Courier, 27 May 1938, 7.
  8. ^ ‘A Parker Pageant At Kenilworth Castle’, Leamington Spa Courier, 27 May 1938, 7; ‘The Pageant Meeting’, Leamington Spa Courier, 10 June 1938, 7.
  9. ^ ‘A Week to be Proud of’, Leamington Spa Courier, 14 July 1939, 6.
  10. ^ Louis N. Parker, ‘Foreword’, in The Souvenir Programme of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant (Leamington Spa, 1939), 17.
  11. ^ ‘Great Enthusiasm for Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 24 June 1938, 5.
  12. ^ Ibid., 5.
  13. ^ Ibid., 5. For original quotes, see Louis Napoleon Parker, Several of my Lives (London, 1928).
  14. ^ ‘Great Enthusiasm for Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 24 June 1938, 5.
  15. ^ ‘The Story Behind the Kenilworth Pageant’, Coventry Herald, 8 July 1939, 1.
  16. ^ ‘Inroads of ARP and National Service’, Leamington Spa Courier, 30 June 1939, 8.
  17. ^ ‘Great Enthusiasm for Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 24 June 1938, 5.
  18. ^ Thomas, ‘Preface’, 19.
  19. ^ Kenilworth Castle Pageant [leaflet]. Leicestershire Archives, 6D72/419/1-2.
  20. ^ Anthony Parker, ‘Foreword’, in The Souvenir Programme of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant (Leamington Spa, 1939), 21. ARP was the acronym for ‘Air Raid Precautions’.
  21. ^ ‘Final Touches to the Grandeur of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 7 July 1939, 7.
  22. ^ ‘Kenilworth Pageant Will Proceed to Plan’, Coventry Herald, 15 April 1939, 1.
  23. ^ ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 19 May 1939, 7; ‘Inroads of ARP and National Service’, Leamington Spa Courier, 30 June 1939, 8.
  24. ^ ‘Women’s Part in Kenilworth Pageantry’, The Coventry Herald, 15 July 1939, 2.
  25. ^ ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 21 April 1939, 7.
  26. ^ ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 28 April 1939, 7.
  27. ^ ‘Final Touches to the Grandeur of the Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 7 July 1939, 7.
  28. ^ ‘Kenilworth Pageant’, Gloucestershire Echo, 10 July 1939, 4.
  29. ^ ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, The Times, 10 July 1939, 10.
  30. ^ ‘Enthusiastic Scenes at Close of Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 21 July 1939, 4.
  31. ^ Ibid., 4.
  32. ^ ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 15 December 1939, 9.
  33. ^ See entry for Warwick Pageant (1906).
  34. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Delving the Levels of Memory and Dressing up in the Past’, in British Theatre between the Wars, 1918–1939, ed. Clive Barker and Maggie Barbara Gale (Cambridge, 2000), 193.
  35. ^ Parker, ‘Foreword’, 17.
  36. ^ ‘Kenilworth Castle Pageant’, Leamington Spa Courier, 15 December 1939, 9.

How to cite this entry

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