Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Ashton Hall (Lancaster) (Lancaster, Lancashire, England)

Year: 1953

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 3


28, 29 and 30 May 1953, 7.15pm

Ashton Hall is a largely rebuilt 14th-century manor house which has had a variety of owners. The last aristocratic owner was the Duke of Hamilton who sold it in 1853 to a private citizen. It has been Lancaster Golf Club's clubhouse since the early 1930s when the course was established there.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Stage Direction [Pageant Master]: Atkinson, J.
  • Lighting: Mr T. Bell
  • Decor: Mr Barry Vaughan
  • Narrators: James D. Drummond; Geoffrey Halsall; Dorothy Hardy


The pageant master for this event was named as 'a member of the Lancaster Footlights Club'.

Names of executive committee or equivalent


The pageant was initiated (and presumably funded) by Lancaster Corporation.1 However, a number of amateur theatrical groups, musical societies and other institutions in the city carried out the actual organisation. It is assumed that the committee was made up of representatives from these and the Corporation; however, individuals are not named in the programme. The principal organisations taking part were as follows:

  • The Lancaster Red Rose Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society
  • The Lancaster Footlights Club
  • The Society of Friends
  • The Lancaster Caledonian Club
  • The Lancaster Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society
  • The Staff and Pupils of the Lancaster Grammar School
  • The Lancaster and District Musical Society.2

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

  • Alderson, T.

Names of composers

  • Ansell, John
  • Morley, Thomas
  • Burleigh, H.T.
  • Handel, George Frideric
  • German, Edward

Numbers of performers


The 400 performers probably included many from civic organisations in walk-on roles within the last episode. Many from amateur theatre who were a part of the large cast for the final episode also had parts in the previous episodes. The exact number of musicians and singers involved is unknown, but this was probably around 200.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

The pageant was one of Lancaster's events celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Audience information

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


The size of the auditorium is not known; however, the pageant played to capacity audiences at each performance.4

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

3s. 6d.–1s.

This pageant seems to have been more aimed at an adult audience; there were no child reductions on tickets.5

Associated events

There was a plethora of other events in Lancaster to celebrate the coronation; the streets were decorated, and many organisations held events, including the Lancaster Music and Arts Club which organised a concert by the Hallé Orchestra. There was also a ball held in the Drill Hall, Morecombe.

Pageant outline


The pageant began with the orchestra playing 'Plymouth Hoe' composed by John Ansell.

Episode I. The Golden Years, 1588

This first episode was organised and played by members of the Lancaster Red Rose Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and produced by H. Cyril Nash and Bertha Garnett. The action is set on the 'Green Area' of the city. It included dialogue, music and maypole dancing; Mollie Cowan arranged the dancing. Details of the dramatic content have not been recovered, but it is assumed that this was a classic enactment of a town's fair, which took place just as news arrived of the approach of the Spanish Armada. The episode had around 40 players, including 15 female maypole dancers. Principal roles were those of the mayor, his daughter, a schoolmaster, a jester and a messenger. Strolling players, pedlars and townspeople also made up the scene and included men, women and children.

Episode II. Cavalier and Roundhead, 1643

Members of Lancaster Footlights Club produced and acted in this episode; Eveline Crossley was the producer. The scene is set at 'The White Cross' and includes the following characters: The Mayor of Lancaster—William Shaw, The Earl of Derby, Colonel Shuttleworth—a Parliamentarian officer, Sir John Girlington—a Royalist officer, James Hardman—an innkeeper, a sentry of the Parliamentarian army, and three 'country girls'. Other members of the cast played soldiers and townspeople; altogether, there were around 45 players made up of men, women and children. Few details of the drama have been recovered, but it recalls Lancaster's surrender to Royalist forces. Dialogue was the main component; there is no note of any music or singing being included.

Episode III. The Children of Light, 1688

This scene is set on the green before Lancaster Castle. It was organised and performed by members of the Society of Friends and was produced by John J. Anderson. The wardrobe mistress was Ruth Dobson. Around 30 players made up of men, women and children took part. The main characters, in order of their appearance, were as follows:

Lord Merrivale (a young gallant).
George Fell (described as Margaret Fell's only son).
Hannah Fell (George's wife).
John Lawson (a Quaker).
Margaret Fell.
Margaret Fell jnr., Isobel Fell, Sarah Fell, Susannah Fell and Rachael Fell (described as Margaret Fell's daughters).
The Constable of Lancaster Castle.

Other players took the roles of townspeople and 'Quakers'. The drama most likely consisted of dialogue between members of the Fell family and other named characters and featured the release from imprisonment in Lancaster Castle of the Quaker, Margaret Fell.

Episode IV. The March of the Forty-Five, 1745

Members of the Lancaster Caledonian Society were responsible for this episode; the producer was Robert Weir. Around 36 players were involved: this number includes six pipers and three drummers who were part of the Blackpool Gentlemen's Prize Highland Band. Principal roles included Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite officers Lord George Murray, Lord Elcho, the Duke of Perth, the Earl of Kilmarnock, the Marquis of Tulliebardine, Lord Ogilvie and Lord Pitsligo. No details of the drama have been recovered, but it is likely to have been a spectacle accompanied by music centred on the incursion of the Jacobite army on its march south in 1745.


There was a 10-minute interval according to the programme.

Episode V. The Port of Lancaster, 1775

This scene is situated at Lancaster docks; it was organised and performed by members of the Lancaster Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society and produced by Robert W. Benson. Around 30 actors took part. Those with named parts included:

Miriam Howard (described as a gypsy woman).
Captain William Treasure (Master of the 'Abram').
John Jackson (the First Officer).
Merchants: Abraham Rawlinson, William Butterfield and John Bowes.
Robert Burrow (a surgeon), Anne Burrow (his wife) and Benjamin Burrow (their son).
Other parts include seamen, dockhands, messengers and townspeople.

Details of the drama have not been recovered but it included music as well as dialogue. The musical piece was an arrangement of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' suggesting that the episode's drama may have related in some way to the story of slavery.

Episode VI. Mayor's Day, 1835

Staff and pupils of the Lancaster Royal Grammar school and pupils from Lancaster's Girls' Grammar organised and performed in this scene; the producer was J. Tudor Davies. The cast had 57 players, 10 of whom were girls. Named characters included:

John Higgin, Mayor of Lancaster.
The Common Clerk.
The Beadle.
The Town Crier.
Dr Beetham, headmaster of the Grammar School.
The Rev. Rowley (described as a former headmaster).
The Head Boy of the school.
A Police Officer.

Other parts are for 'Boys and Girls of the town'.

The drama is situated outside 'St John's Church' and includes a rendition of 'Rule Britannia' by the Lancaster and District Musical Society. No further details have been recovered, but it is assumed that some sort of civic occasion was enacted.

Episode VII. The Hastening Years, 1885–1953

This episode had a large cast and included music and dancing. It was organised and performed by members of three of the city's amateur dramatic associations: the Lancaster Red Rose Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, the Lancaster Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society and the Lancaster Footlights Club. There were four producers: H. Cyril Nash, Bertha Garnett, Robert W. Benson and Eveline Crossley. Also performing were two representatives from the branches of each of the following organisations: the Sea Cadets, Sea Scouts, St John's Ambulance Brigade, Special Constables, Civil Defence Corps, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Nursing Services (two student nurses took part), British Legion, Royal Observer Corps, Women's Voluntary Service and Fire Service. Nineteen children played 'Children of the Empire', and there were 35 players in a variety of named roles. These included: an 'agitator', a policeman, an 'intoxicated gentlemen', two 'mashers' and their 'ladies', an American soldier, an air-raid warden, an 'ATS girl' and a member of the WAAF. Details of the drama have not been recovered, but it is assumed that it covered some aspects of life during both World Wars and may have had comic elements. Several dances featured, and these are named in the programme as:

'Tell Me Pretty Maiden' (5 men and 5 women).
'Soldiers of the Queen' (1 man and 9 women).
'The Merry Widow' (1 man and 1 woman)
'Pasadena' (2 men).
'Broadway Melody' (1 man and 6 women).

Mollie Cowan (of the Red Rose company) and Edith Rigby (of the Lancaster Amateur Dramatic Society) choreographed the dances. The episode appears to have ended with a rendition of 'Long Live Elizabeth', which was sung by the Lancaster and District Musical Society.

'The Queen'

In this, a recorded broadcast of the queen's Christmas day speech (presumably from December 1952) was played while a tableau grouping stood before an illuminated portrait of the queen.6

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Stanley, James, seventh earl of Derby (1607–1651) royalist army officer
  • Fell [née Askew], Margaret (1614–1702) Quaker leader
  • Sarah Fell (1642–1714) Quaker preacher
  • 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
  • Murray, William, styled second duke of Atholl and marquess of Tullibardine (1689–1746) Jacobite leader and army officer
  • Wemyss, David, styled sixth earl of Wemyss [known as Lord Elcho] (1721–1787) Jacobite army officer
  • Murray, Lord George (1694–1760) Jacobite army officer
  • Drummond, James, styled sixth earl of Perth and Jacobite third duke of Perth (1713–1746) Jacobite army officer
  • Boyd, William, fourth earl of Kilmarnock (1705–1746) Jacobite army officer
  • Ogilvy, David, styled sixth earl of Airlie (1725–1803) Jacobite army officer [also known as Ogilvie, David]
  • Forbes, Alexander, fourth Lord Forbes of Pitsligo (1678–1762) philosopher and Jacobite army officer

Musical production

Music was live. Mr J. Sackville Wiggins conducted the orchestra. Dr J.H. Reginald Dixon, FRCO, played the organ. Where detailed in the programme, singing was provided by the Lancaster and District Musical Society. This choir had 141 singers (101 female, 40 male) and was conducted by Mr Herbert Horrocks. The contributions of the choir were as follows:
  • A 'double quartet of the Lancaster and District Musical Society' performed Thomas Morley's 'Now Is the Month of May' (Episode I).
  • An arrangement by 'Burleigh' of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' (Episode V) and a special arrangement by 'Mr Herbert Horrocks' of 'Rule Britannia' (Episode VI). This musical group also performed 'The Hallelujah Chorus' from Handel's Messiah, a 'Recessional Hymn' (not specified) and 'Long Live Elizabeth' from Edward German’s opera Merrie England (Episode VII) as well as providing musical accompaniment to several dances (see synopsis of Episode VII for details).
  • The Blackpool Gentlemen's Prize Highland Band provided bagpipe music (Episode IV). The particular pieces used are not detailed in the pageant programme, but it is assumed that these were classic Jacobite tunes.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Lancaster Guardian

Book of words


A book of words was not produced.

Other primary published materials

  • City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence. Lancaster, 1953.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Lancaster Central Library: one copy of the programme. Y53LAN.

Sources used in preparation of pageant


Sources are not noted; however, the programme states that Mr G.M. Bland, who was City Librarian and Curator, and his staff provided advice and books, so these were clearly consulted. Also named as providing details of 'local information' is the mayor's secretary, Miss Margaret Jackson.11


This pageant was one of a great many held across the UK to mark the occasion of the queen's coronation in 1953. Owing to saturation coverage of the coronation and the royal family, as well as the attention given to other larger events held in cities to celebrate this occasion, this small, ephemeral and intensely local theatrical event attracted very little news coverage. However, it provides an excellent example of the nature of many historical pageants in the post-war years and the means by which this tradition survived and thrived. Notably, the pageant was held indoors, and it was organised almost entirely by local dramatic and musical societies. The vibrancy of this type of cultural life in a relatively small city like Lancaster was typical of this period, as was the widespread involvement of a host of civic organisations, many of which were aimed at the youth of the area or had military associations. This pageant was the city of Lancaster's third pageant (others had been held in 1913 and 1930), and there was a consciousness of this tradition. Indeed, the pageant's scriptwriter had originally written it as an outdoor event like the other two; when the decision was taken to hold it indoors and on a smaller scale, he had to adapt his original draft.12

Painted backdrops were used to situate the drama in different parts of the historic city, and these depictions were contained in seven episodes, ranging from the Elizabethan period to contemporary times. In defiance of the more usual pageant time spans, the pageant began with the reign of Elizabeth I, undoubtedly in deference to its status as a coronation celebration and as a means of marking the beginning of a new Elizabethan age. Few details of the pageant's content have emerged, but Episode I appears to have been an enactment of a fair, complete with traditional maypole dancing. The musical accompaniment was similarly traditional, and Lancaster's mayor made an appearance. From there, the drama moved to civil war times and showed what is described in the programme as a 'swashbuckling mood' when Lancaster's citizens and the Parliamentarian forces stationed in the town were forced to surrender to the Royalists led by the Earl of Derby.13 Staying with regional history, the local branch of the Society of Friends enacted a foundational part of their religion's story by dramatising the release from imprisonment at Lancaster Castle of the famous early Quaker, Margaret Fell. The Fells were local gentry whose home was at nearby Swarthmoor Hall. Many of the Fell family also featured in the episode, including one of Margaret's daughters, Sarah Fell, who often accompanied her mother on missionary travels.

As was usual in pageants in the north west of the country, the arrival of the Jacobite army during the 1745 uprising featured prominently. Episode IV was organised by a local 'Caledonian' society indicating the historically important place held by Lancaster as a trading post and stop-off point on the journey from north to south and vice versa. The fact that a society celebrating its Scottish heritage evidently flourished in Lancaster is notable, though a pipe band had to be drafted in from the nearby town of Blackpool to provide musical accompaniment to the spectacle in which the Jacobite army, led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, made its mark on the town. Several of the prince's most famous generals were also depicted, including Lord George Murray. The nature of Lancaster as a centre of commerce was the subject of Episode V, which recalled the Atlantic trade of the late eighteenth century and the fact that Lancaster had then been considered a flourishing port. The drama in this episode was accompanied by music associated with slavery; although no details have been recovered, it seems that some aspect of Lancaster's involvement with slavery was shown or, at the very least, implied. Episode VI was in the charge of local grammar schools and mainly acted by youths from these; it showed a typical civic celebration set in the nineteenth century and probably highlighted the historic nature of the schools.

The final episode brought the city's history up to the present day. Few details of its content are known; however, the local press stated that it brought back 'nostalgic memories of the two world wars' and of 'the roaring twenties'.14 The list of characters named in the programme certainly suggests this as it includes a 1914 'territorial' as well as an army recruiting sergeant. The length of women's hair also indicated the march of time with the cast list including 'two flappers with long hair', 'two flappers with bobbed hair' and, to finish, 'two flappers with Eton crops'!15 There was also a good deal of dance involved in the episode, and this too may have been used to reflect changing fashions. The fact that the local press mentioned nostalgia underpins how the coronation of Elizabeth II was popularly seen as a new beginning after the years of war. However, it also demonstrates that while people in mid-twentieth century Britain may have looked forward, they also looked back with fondness—even to aspects of the quite recent past. The final scene in the pageant was a nod to modernity mixed with old-fashioned deference to royalty. The coronation boosted the sales of televisions, and for many people the prospect of seeing this ceremony on a small screen was an exciting one. The pageant was, of course, unable to compete with the pomp and ceremony at Westminster, but it did successfully incorporate the new and popular queen into a respectful tableau that used an actual recorded address by the monarch.

Figures for the pageant's financial success have not been recovered, but it seems quite likely that it did not make money. The pageant of 1930 had been enthusiastically backed by both the corporation and the community and was critically acclaimed, but it lost money hand over fist and the amounts were never specified in newspaper articles. Similarly, the 1953 event successfully captured the patriotic mood of the moment. It played to sold-out houses and was judged in the local press to have given a huge amount 'of pleasure to those privileged to see and enjoy it'.16 Perhaps the pageant organisers should have been braver: bigger audiences could have seen this had they stuck to tradition and held the pageant in the great British outdoors. Perhaps it would have then attracted more attention at the time and become a better remembered event.


  1. ^ 'History Re-Lived in Pageantry', Lancaster Guardian, 5 June 1953, 8.
  2. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence (Lancaster, 1953), np.
  3. ^ 'History Re-Lived in Pageantry', Lancaster Guardian, 5 June 1953, 8.
  4. ^ 'History Re-Lived in Pageantry', Lancaster Guardian, 5 June 1953, 8.
  5. ^ Advertisement, Lancaster Guardian, 22 May 1953, 2.
  6. ^ 'History Re-Lived in Pageantry', Lancaster Guardian, 5 June 1953, 8.
  7. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence (Lancaster, 1953), np.
  8. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence (Lancaster, 1953), np.
  9. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence (Lancaster, 1953), np.
  10. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence (Lancaster, 1953), np.
  11. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence (Lancaster, 1953), np.
  12. ^ 'History Re-Lived in Pageantry', Lancaster Guardian, 5 June 1953, 8.
  13. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant by T. Alderson, Programme—Threepence (Lancaster, 1953), np.
  14. ^ 'History Re-Lived in Pageantry', Lancaster Guardian, 5 June 1953, 8.
  15. ^ City of Lancaster Coronation Celebrations, np.
  16. ^ 'History Re-Lived in Pageantry', 8.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Beneath Hadrian's Tower: A Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,