The Pevensey Pageant

Other names

  • The Pevensey Historical Pageant
  • The Sussex Pageant

Pageant type


Performers drawn from across the surrounding towns

Jump to Summary


Place: Pevensey Castle (ruins) (Pevensey) (Pevensey, Sussex, England)

Year: 1908

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 6


20-25 July 1908, 2.45pm

6 normal performances plus 1 public dress rehearsal

20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 July 1908


Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Strahan, Geoffrey
  • Master of the Music: Mr J.R. Dear, Mus. Bac., Oxon, FRCO
  • Stage Manager: John Douglass
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs C.H. Ashdown
  • Master of the Robes: E.L. Pattison
  • Master of the Horse: Major F.J. Maitland, J.P.
  • Hon. Mistress of the Robes: Miss M. Edgar Clark
  • Hon. Secretary: Charles J. Knight
  • Hon. Secretary: H. West Forvargue
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mayor H.P. Molineux, J.P.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • President: The Venerable Archdeacon Sutton

General Committee:

  • Chairman of the General Committee: His Worship the Mayor of Eastbourne, Alderman H.W. Keay, J.P.
  • Vice-chairman: Lieutenant-Colonel Owen, C.M.G., C.I.E., O.H.
  • 50 men

Finance and Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor C.F. Simmons
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor Major S.F. Cooke
  • 15 men

Advertising and Press Committee:

  • Chairman: Alderman J. Farncombe
  • Vice-Chairman: Alderman T.B. Rowe
  • 14 men

Ladies’ Committee:

  • President: The Mayoress
  • Vice-President: Hon. Mrs Rupert Gwynne
  • Vice-President: Mrs Astley Roberts
  • Vice-President: Miss L. Burton
  • Hon. Secs.: Miss Simmons and Miss Rowe
  • 52 women

Consultative Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor S.N. Fox
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor C.W. Bolton
  • 20 men

Music Committee:

  • Chairman: J.R. Dear, Mus. Bac., Oxon, FRCO
  • 10 men

Ground and Stand Committee:

  • Chairman: F.J. Dann
  • 9 men

Horse Committee:

  • Chairman: Major F. Maitland, JP
  • 12 men

Performers’ Committee:

  • Chairman: R.T. Thornton
  • Vice-Chairman: Councillor D. Herridge
  • 12 men

London Advisory Committee:

  • S.B. De La Bere, RI
  • Ladbroke Black
  • Frank Brangwyn, ARA
  • Dion Clayton Calthrop
  • George Eve
  • John Hassall, RI
  • Rev A.E. Johnson
  • J.I. Kay
  • Edgar L. Pattison
  • Mark Perugini
  • Courtenay Pollock, RBA
  • Montague Smyth
  • Lawson Wood


The London Advisory Committee was mostly made up of artists, the extent to which the pageant-master said, positively, that they could ‘justify us in calling this an artists’ pageant (‘Pevensey Pageant: A foreword by the Master’, Hastings and St Leonard Observer, 14 March 1908, 9).

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

  • Wood, Walter
  • Black, Ladbroke
  • Allnutt, Sidney
  • Strahan, Geoffrey
  • Clarke, E.E.
  • Lissant, S.P.
  • Straus, Ralph
  • MacDonald, Ronald
  • Kipling, Rudyard


  • Walter Wood: Prologue, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V
  • Ladbroke Black and Sidney Allnutt: Episode I
  • Geoffrey Strahan: Episode II
  • Rev. E.E. Clarke: Episode VI
  • S.P. Lissant: Episode VII
  • Ralph Straus: Episode VIII
  • Ronald MacDonald: Episode IX
  • Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Smugglers’ Son’ from his Puck of Pook’s Hill featured in Episode IX, while Kipling’s ‘Sussex’ from his The Five Nations formed part of the Finale.

Names of composers

  • Dear, J.R.
  • Sparrow, F.W.
  • Bairstow, E.C.
  • Alcock, G.A.
  • Campbell, H.A.
  • Palmer, G. Molyneux
  • Borland, J.E.
  • Conway, M.P.

Numbers of performers


Financial information

The Auditor declared in a statement that ‘I have now completed my examination of your accounts, and herewith submit a summarised revenue account and balance sheet, which I regret to say shows a loss of £957. 15s. 11d., after deducing a balance of £83. 5s. 8d. lying at the bank on the old spring fetes account, and now to be transferred to your credit. The above loss will have to met by a call of 75 per cent of the total sum promises by the guarantors, amounting to £1278. 8s. Of this £317 has been paid up, therefore a further payment of £640. 15s. 11d. has to be made by them, together making £957. 15s. 11d.


G. Strahan, Master of the Pageant—£150
J. Douglas, Stage Manager—£170
Assistant Stage Manager—£61
Advertising and bill posting—£1052

Printing, stationer, etc

Writing book of words—£100
Printing book of words—£146. 17s. 4d.
Posters, printing, stationery, etc—£322. 15s. 7d.

Bands, music etc

Master of music, for composers—£100
Services of musicians etc—£270. 2s 4d.
Printing and copying music—£87. 4s. 8d.

Horse Hire—£147. 16s. 4d.


E.L. Pattison, Master of Robes—£50
E.L Pattison, costume designs—£100
Mrs Ashdown, Mistress of Robes—£60
Wages, materials, etc—£420. 1s.

Properties—£209. 0s. 9d.

Grand Stand and ground

Contract for grand stand and drawbridge—£1621
Architect and Quantity Surveyor’s Fees—£74. 12s. 7d.
Chairs—£764. 7s. 4d.
Police—£41. 11s. 10d.
Preparing ground, hire of tents, etc.—£385. 16s. 2d.

General expense

Wages of clerks—£108. 18s. 5d.
Postage and telegrams—£74. 16s. 1d.
Travelling expenses—£19. 2s. 3d.
Out of pocket expenses of Hon. Sec.—£15. 19s. 11d.

Misc. including insurance, carriage of goods, hire, etc of typewriter—£49 12 1

Total Expenditure: £6603. 0s. 8d.

Provision for accounts to come in—£35. 0s. 0d.


Seats, July 20 to July 25—£4105. 19d. 7d.
Seats, rehearsals—£441
Sale of books of words, music etc—£285. 15s. 2d.
Letting of photographic rights—£60
Letting of catering rights—£44. 3s. 3d.
Motor garage receipts—£6. 4s. 3d.
Cloak room and lecture receipts—£7. 0s. 4d.
Sale of costumes and equipment—£73. 17s. 3d.
Sale of chairs—£270. 1s. 5d.
Misc—£7. 17s. 10d.

Income to come in:
Sale of chairs, estimated at £200
Sale of costumes, estimated at £80
Sale of books, estimated at £10
Transfer of balance at bank on spring fetes account £83. 5s. 8d.
Deficiency to be borne by guarantors—£957. 15s. 11d.

Note—the guarantors originally paid up £317 thereby leaving £640. 16s. 11d.

Total—£6638. 0s. 8d.

It will be observed that the assets include a sum of £83. 5s. 8d. a balance from the spring fetes account of many years ago. This sum it is proposed to appropriate; but in calculating the financial result of the pageant it cannot, of course, be included. Therefore the actual deficit on the Pageant is £1041. 1s. 7d. If, however, the spring fetes balance be available and the intention to use it be persisted in, there is a sum left to be borne by the guarantors of £957. 15s. 11d.

Guarantors of £1. 1s. and under are to be asked to pay in full, while guarantors of £2. 2s. and upwards will be requested to pay 75 per cent. The total sum guaranteed, as stated in the above report, was £1278. 8s.

The above is taken verbatim from ‘The Eastbourne Pageant’, Dover Express, 30 October 1908, 3.

Object of any funds raised

‘Receipts were less than had been expected’.1

Linked occasion

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 4500
  • Total audience: 21000


The Sussex Daily News reported ‘many vacant seats’ at the opening performance, though there were 3500 spectators on the second day and over 4000 on the third day, with what seemed to be good attendances on subsequent days also.2 Assuming an average attendance of 3500, the total audience figure was likely in the region of 21000 over the 6 performances.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

21s.–3s. 6d.

21s., 10s. 6d., 5s. 6d., 3s. 6d.

1s. for dress rehearsal

Associated events

  • Inaugural service held in the parish Church of St. Nicholas, Pevensey (20 July) at 1.45 pm, with sermon by Bishop of Chichester (text: St. John 4.37: ‘Jesus said, and herein is that saying true, one soweth and another reapeth’). The Bishop said that the pageant ‘ought to be an instruction’, and: ‘people spoke of the degenerate age in which they lived, but none of them should be pessimists. Progress was not a generation or a century’ (Sussex Daily News, 21 July 1908, 5).
  • Exhibition of costumes at the Eastbourne Town Hall.
  • Mrs Charles H. Ashdown, chief mistress of the robes gave a lecture on medieval costumes and head-dresses at Eastbourne.
  • Mr R.T. Thornton, Chairman of the Performers’ Committee, gave a short address on the Pageant to be followed by a Lecture on the Medieval Costumes and Head-dresses by Mrs Charles H Ashdown, chief mistress of the robes at the Town hall Lewes, at 3pm.
  • Mr C.H. Ashdown, composer of the book of words of the St Albans Pageant and founder of that Pageant, gave a lecture on Pageantry at the Central Hall in Hastings on Wednesday evening, giving a brief history of pageants. (Repeated at the Royal Concert Hall on Thursday afternoon).
  • Mr C.H. Ashdown gave the same lecture (Friday 8 May) at Lewes Town Hall.

Pageant outline

The Prologue

A Sussex Shepherd, returning from his work on the downs, falls asleep within the castle walls and, as he lies dreaming, the Spirit of Pevensey emerges from the old ruins, and comes to him to show him the pictures of the past. Children come forward and dance around the sleeping figure, singing of Sussex. The Herdsman awakes and kneels before the Spirit in disbelief, who gives him robes and a pipe before disappearing back inside the castle. Ancient Britons enter, and start to build a fire. As he approaches them asking them what they are doing, they view him with suspicion, before drawing their knives and menacingly moving towards him. He steps back and draws the reed pipe to his mouth, making a noise that startles the natives who then rush off. The Spirit then appears and beckons him into the castle; he follows, and disappears from sight, signalling the beginning of the Pageant.

Episode I. A Tale of the Coming of the Romans, c. 54 BC

A chorus of British women natives recite the past glories of their tribe. Dumnovia enters, clearly in grief, cursing the Gods because her husband’s brother, Conubelin, had given her eldest son to the Priests as a sacrifice. Druids enter, chanting of the glory of the Gods. Caswallon and Conubelin (brothers) approach. When Dumnovia tells Caswallon of Conubelin’s treachery, Conubelin slinks away, fearful of his brother's wrath. As Caswallon, furious, tries to grab Conubelin he is shielded by the chorus. The procession of priests enter with the child to be sacrificed—Cawallon escapes from the clutches of the crowd and runs to seek the help of a Roman cohort nearby. Dumnovia is put with the other victims to be sacrificed, as the Druids chant their sacrificial hymn. Meanwhile, the sacrificial pyre is built. Just as it is about to be lit, a party of Roman Soldiers rushes in led by Caswallon, who rescues Dumnovia and his child. Conueblin is killed in the ensuing fight.

Episode II. The Sack of Anderida by Aella, the Saxon, c. 490 AD

A representation of the Sack of Anderida, a Roman fortress that was in Pevensey, following the withdrawal of the Roman Legions from Britain in 411. The scene begins with fugitives entering the town in wagons, looking for protection from the Saxon marauders. Allac, the leader of the scouts, rushes in, covered in blood, babbling about the impending doom the Saxons are about to bring. The Commander pushes through; Allac tells him of the slaying of his troop. Allac, half mad, is detained by the women. Caerlon proclaims that doom is at hand for Anderida. The men panic, due to their depleted defences, as the Saxons swarm into the town. Allac goes out to meet them swinging an axe and is quickly slain. Eventually only one brave boy and the commander’s wife, Claudia, remains; she commits suicide by knife while the boy jumps into the crowd of Saxons and quickly disappears from sight. The battle over, the Saxons celebrate with a drink and a feast. Aella enters and joints the feast. A woman rises from among the wounded and dead and curses Aella and his men. Aella replies ‘Peace, false hag. Am I that have not feared to seek the dragon in its den to listen to the railing of a woman’s tongue’ before striking her down with his sword to laughter among the Saxons. The Saxons eventually march out to find any remaining Britons in the surrounding woods.

Episode III. The Coming of Christianity to Sussex, AD 686

The scene is a settlement on the Pevensey shore. On the left is a pagan altar, strewn with bones and decaying carcasses of sacrificial victims. A group of hunters enter with a small catch, and children and women gather to divide the result. A priest enters, and declares that the small spoil is due to the Gods being angry; he then declares that the spoil should be given as a sacrifice on the altar. This then proceeds, despite groups of men clearly expressing their doubt in the process. A woman mocks the idea that the Gods will help them now, before declaring that the Gods are dead and men must now fend for themselves with weapons. The priest exits with his servitors, and the other men and women follow. A monk enters the now empty scene and approaches the altar. Children enter and stare at the ‘quaint garb’ of the stranger. He smiles in encouragement and they join around him, gradually followed by more men and women. He tells of Christ and how King Ethelwalch had learnt of the truth of Christianity. The Priest re-enters and approaches the Monk, angrily demanding to know what he is doing. The Monk defies the Priest and takes up a spear, before throwing and embedding it into the altar. A procession of monks and acolytes headed by Eappa approach, chanting. The Priest’s daughter offers herself as sacrifice for the vengeance of the Christian gods. She is stopped by Eappa, who declares Christ only seeks love. The monks gently take the Priest away. As Eappa extols the virtues of Christianity, the monks kneel, gradually followed by the Saxons. At the end of his speech, all chant Amen. As all leave, a few remaining Saxons destroy their pagan altar.

Episode IV. The Landing of William the Conqueror, AD 1066

The scene is the Pevensey shore—the ruins of Roman Anderida still visible. A group of Saxons sit drinking, speculating on the fortunes of King Harold in the North. A minstrel approaches; the soldiers beg for a song, which he then sings. As he finishes the Saxons spot the Norman ships on the horizon; they rush off to tell others. Saxon women, children and men sweep screaming across the stage flying for refuge to the Churches. The Normans appear on the scene. Duke William is about to mount his horse when he slips; at first upset by this ill-omen, William then rises and mounts, displaying a handful of grass he has plucked. He states: ‘Behold, by the splendour of God, I have taken seizing of Kingdom; already the earth of England is in my hands.’ A great cheer goes up at this retort. A trumpet is blown as the army assembles and marches off.

Episode V. Bishop Ode Besieged in Pevensey Castle, AD 1088

How England was saved from the second Norman invasion and how Bishop Odo met the King at Pevensey in the Year 1088. Within the castle the rebel Odo holds out, awaiting the arrival of promised forces from Duke Robert in Normandy. In the camp outside the castle the King enters with Earl Hugh of Chester, Sir Robert Fitz Hamon and ladies of the court. He addresses the assembly and knights, and mocks the absence of the enemy, surmising that their rebel cause is lost. He gives a parchment, bearing his terms, to a herald to take to the castle. Gilbert De Aquila and his men approach to fanfare. De Aquila kneels at the King’s feet. After rising, he details the beating back of the men who had landed by ship the previous night. The King’s herald returns, proclaiming that the Garrison had laid down their arms in surrender. The crowd cheers. Bishop Odo, escorted by royal troops and accompanied by the Earl (Robert) of Mortain, now approaches to groans and hisses and cries of ‘death to the traitor.’ Odo shows no remorse to the King, who reacts furiously and instructs his men to place a rope around Odo’s neck. He tells Odo that he must go, a prisoner, to Rochester and Count Eustace and Earl Robert of Belleme to bid them to surrender; if they do not, Odo will forfeit his life. The King bids farewell to Pevensey, stating that the Kingdom grows closer and closer knit as ‘To-day shall see English and Normans as one.’ The King rides off followed by the Earl of Chester and Robert Fitz Hamon. Mortain is escorted back to the castle as a prisoner. Bishop Odo is led away to Rochester.

Interlude. The Lords of Pevensey

No details available; seems to be a procession of the lords from 1068 to 1399

Episode VI. The defence of Pevensey Castle by Lady Joan Pelham AD 1399

The captain of the Garrison enters with a squad of men. They receive four scouts, who relay excitedly that the Yorkist troops have abandoned their camp in the night. The Captain and his men celebrate the siege’s end. Lady Joan and her maid enter, reacting with joy at the noise. Lady Joan insists that the enemy wounded must be brought into the castle for care. Lady Joan’s children appear with their carer. The wounded are brought in. One of the wounded men asks to speak to Lady Joan alone, which she grants. When she comes over he uncovers his tunic, revealing the livery of one of Sir John Pelham’s body servants. She recognises, with shock, that it is his servant Thomas Funnell. He passes a notice which Lady Joan’s servant reads out: it proclaims that Sir John is a few hours away, and also that the Duke of Lancaster marches to London with King Richard as his prisoner. Lady Joan instructs the people to prepare the castle for celebration. Sir John arrives to much fanfare. He climbs down and thanks his wife for her valiant defence of the castle. He asks after his friend John Halnaker. At that moment a procession of nuns and monks come through bearing the body of Halnaker to the burial ground. The Abbess confirms to Sir John that it is his friend. He instructs the Abbess to take Halnaker to the Chapel and lay his ‘honoured bones’ within its vault as a ‘Fit resting place for one who nobly gave his life for Pevensey.’ All exit.

Episode VII. Merry Andrew Borde at Pevensey, c. AD 1533

Features Dr Andrew Borde, physician, monk and supposed wit who settled for some time in Pevensey. The scene starts with a table set for the meeting of the Councillors. The village idiot, Tom Sodden, is cavorting in the foreground. A group of performers consisting of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and Morris Dancers enter, and tease a travelling gentleman who is seeking Andrew Borde [Boorde]. An old woman enters, tormented by children who proclaim her a witch, before pelting her with the contents of her basket. A procession of Jurats enter, headed by the Bailiff, followed by the crowds. The Councillors seat themselves at the table, treated with respect by the crowds. As a man doffs his hat, the Bailiff replies (with considerable condescension): ‘May, put on your hat. For though I be the Mayor of Pevensey, I still am but a man.’ The Jurats and Bailiff begin to discuss the traffic problem in the town [the comments in the book of words describe this as being a humorous and pompous affair]. Andrew Borde enters with some companions and mocks the Jurats and the Bailiff, though unbeknownst to them. After the Jurats leave revellers enter and take control of the court, Andrew Borde sitting in chief position. Wine is brought and music and drinking take place. A duet is sung by two revellers dressed as friars. After telling a story, Borde is carried off upon the shoulders of the crowd.

Episode VIII. Pevensey Prepares to Resist the Landing of the Spanish Armada, AD 1588

A small local fete is set up in Pevensey to celebrate the birthday of Lady Catharine Harringden. There is a travelling circus, an astrologer, acrobats, minstrels, and a maypole. Master Baskervyle warns, to much mockery, that danger and strife is nearby—referring to the Spanish ships. The fete continues, with dancing and fun. All of a sudden a horseman is seen riding in from a distance—he enters and proclaims the arrival of the Queen’s Sheriff with news of danger on the coast. The Sheriff arrives and tells the crowd of the Spanish ships on the coast, who are almost ready to land and ‘ruin’ the homes of the town. Lady Catharine incites the townsfolk to their responsibility to England. They respond earnestly, and begin arming themselves, before the Sheriff and Lady Catharine exit to cheers.

Episode IX. A Tale of the Smuggling Days, AD 1746

The scene starts with James Treadcroft and his lover, Miss Lilliwhite, discussing the possibility of French landings as guns boom in the distance, and whether or not the smugglers would be with or against the French. They ride off as the Customs officers enter. They hide in anticipation of the smugglers’ arrival. The song of the smugglers (written by Rudyard Kipling) is heard in the distance, gradually growing louder. The smugglers enter, their saddles bound with cords, bales and kegs. They propose to leave their loot in the old cellar of the Keep. The Customs men are spotted and a melee ensues, while the boom of guns in the background grows louder. Crowds of Pevensey folk watch from a safe distance. Miss Lilliwhite re-enters, and proclaims that the French are coming—silencing the Smugglers and Customs men. Treadcroft arrives and confirms what she says. The Customs men slash the saddles of smuggled goods from the horses, mount, and ride towards the shore at a gallop with Lilliwhite and Treadcroft. The women, children and crowd begin to sing the smugglers’ chorus. The parson, doctor and lawyer stand apart grinning, and taking snuff, before the wives of the smugglers disappear with the left over smuggled goods.


All the performers are on the stage and the Spirit of the Pageant appears as the central figure. The Dream is all but over, the Spectator from the Prologue watches the performers as they pass away singing the great Pageant chorus, ‘Sussex’ by Rudyard Kipling. The Spirit of the Pageant is the last to leave. As the Spirit fades from sight waving farewell, the Spectator awakes and the Dream is over.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Ælle [Ælla] (fl. late 5th cent.) king of the South Saxons
  • William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
  • Odo, earl of Kent (d. 1097) bishop of Bayeux and magnate
  • William fitz Osbern, earl (d. 1071) magnate
  • Bigod, Roger (I) (d. 1107) administrator
  • Eustace (II) [Eustace aux Gernons], count of Boulogne (d. c.1087) magnate
  • Montgomery, Roger de, first earl of Shrewsbury (d. 1094) soldier and magnate
  • Remigius (d. 1092) bishop of Lincoln
  • William II [known as William Rufus] (c.1060–1100) king of England
  • Warenne, William (I) de, first earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1088) magnate
  • Robert fitz Haimon [Robert FitzHaimon, Robert fitz Hamo] (d. 1107) magnate and soldier
  • Gilbert the Englishman [Gilbertus Anglicus, Gilbertus de Aquila, Gilbert de l' Egle] (d. c.1250) priest and medical writer
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Henry III (1207–1272) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Savoy, Peter of, count of Savoy and de facto earl of Richmond (1203?–1268) magnate
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Provence] (c.1223–1291) queen of England, consort of Henry III
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
  • Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England
  • Henry IV [known as Henry Bolingbroke] (1367–1413) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Pelham, Sir John (d. 1429) landowner and administrator
  • Boorde, Andrew (c.1490–1549) physician and author

Musical production

65 performers from the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra and Mr J.M. Glover’s Bexhill band. Composers or writers for particular episodes were as follows:
  • J.R. Dear (The Prologue, Episode I, Episode VIII, Episode IX).
  • F.W. Sparrow (Episode II). 
  • E.C. Bairstow (Episode III). 
  • G.A. Alcock (Episode IV).
  • H.A. Campbell (Episode V).
  • G. Molyneux Palmer (Episode VI).
  • J.E. Borland (Episode VII). 
  • M.P. Conway (Episode IX). 
  • Rudyard Kipling (Episode IX). 
  • Rudyard Kipling (Finale).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times
The Observer
The Manchester Guardian
Dover Express
Hastings and St Leonards Observer
The Sussex Agricultural Express
Cheltenham Chronicle
Western Times
Sussex Daily News
Daily Graphic

Book of words

Pevensey Historical Pageant. Pevensey, 1908.

Copies in British Library and elsewhere.

Other primary published materials

  • Pevensey Historical Pageant: Official Souvenir. Tunbridge Wells, 1908. Price in paper cover 1s. Deluxe Edition in Leather 3s.
  • The Book of the Music of the Pevensey Pageant (London, 1908). Price 1s. 6.

References in secondary literature

  • Dobson, M. Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History (Cambridge, 2011).
  • Readman, Paul. ‘The Place of the Past in English Culture c.1890-1914’. Past and Present, no. 186 (2005), 147-199.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • East Sussex Record Office

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Taking place in 1908 in the ruins of the Castle, the Pevensey Historical Pageant was also a pageant of Sussex. While the episodes focused on Pevensey, it was only a small village of around four hundred people, so the 2000 performers were drawn mostly from other towns such as Hastings, Bexhill, Hailsham and Westham. It was also primarily organised by a range of representatives from the Eastbourne Town Council, though local figures of Pevensey such as the vicar were also prominently involved. Ambiguity about the focus of the pageant was evident in the Pevensey Historical Pageant Official Souvenir booklet, where the pageant master, Geoffrey Strahan, stated, somewhat confusingly, that ‘A Sussex Pageant has been our aim, a Pageant that will do honour not only to Pevensey and Eastbourne, but to that County which has taken so large a part in the making of England.’3 This was also reflected in the associated events—lectures, parades of costumed performers, and exhibitions of costumes—taking place in the surrounding towns rather than Pevensey in particular. Most interestingly, however, in what seems a rare arrangement, the pageant was given creative direction from an advisory committee made up of London artists, such as Frank Brangwyn and S.B. De La Bere.4 As the Observer noted, many of these men were ‘well known in the world of art.’5 This led Strahan to describe it as a ‘new departure’ and an ‘artists’ pageant’.6 Perhaps the interest in this respect was due to the pageant-fever sweeping Britain, and the fact that nowhere in Sussex had yet staged its own pageant, though this is not clear.

As was common with other pageants in this period, the Pageant’s Book of Words and episodes connected the history of the locality with the concurrent history of the nation and its growth in power; this was particularly clear in the introductory poem by F. Orde Ward.7 The Bishop of Chichester, in the inaugural sermon of the pageant, predictably drew attention to the strong religious element of the narrative. Indicating that it ‘ought not only’ amuse or interest, but also be ‘instructive to us all’, by showing how ‘God has been working for us as a people all through the generations that are behind us’, he went on to connect the episodes of the Pevensey Pageant to the building up of the Church, and the making of a place for the English nation in the world.8 ‘Seed sown in the past’ produced ‘the fruits of which we are reaping to-day’, thus necessitating the duty being ‘patient enough to obey the law of God’ and do one’s ‘duty as citizens and as Churchpeople.’9 Following his service there was a procession of the clergy and choir to the Castle ground, where the Hundredth Psalm was sang in front of an assembly of dignitaries, before the pageant was declared open.10

While the storyline therefore certainly had its serious moments, and the common purpose of awakening civic or regional patriotism, it also seemed to include elements of humour to a greater extent than many of the pre-1914 pageants. The Sussex Agricultural Express, noting that a pageant could be both ‘grave and gay’, described Pevensey’s as ‘mostly gay, with plenty of music, songs and dances, to say nothing of the glory and glitter of the dresses and accoutrements.’11 Episodes towards the end, like Episode VII, and Episode VIII reflected this, as did the final episode especially—a farcical account of a skirmish between smugglers and the authorities. Indeed, the pageant was not shy about showing the past ruling class of Pevensey as bumbling, such as in Episode VII—a knowing wink, perhaps, considering the pageant was mostly organised by members of the town council of Eastbourne. According to Strahan it was the fun and enjoyment of pageantry that he prioritised; contemplating bright and colourful scenes ‘stirs our blood and makes us feel that if we can only bring to these prosaic times a little of the romance and chivalry of the good old days, we shall not have worked in vain.’12 The pageant also mixed fact and fiction; episodes II, IV, V, and VI were representations of historical events of importance that took place at Pevensey, while the rest were ‘imaginary scenes, founded on historical fact.’13

While the narrative did include dialogue, this was not, according to Strahan, the main element of the display. As he stated, the ‘spoken word’ was of ‘little importance… effects must be obtained without the use of artificial lights, painted scenery, and the many accessories which are needed in the theatre.’ The Pevensey Pageant, instead, appealed to ‘the eye and consequently to the imagination.’14 This seemed to be successful; the Times, for example, noted that ‘Music and colour, indeed, are the most distinguished attributes of the Pageant.’15 This visual memory was an important part of the pageant. The Official Souvenir, according to Strahan, provided ‘a permanent record of our Pageant, a record which will keep before us in years to come, the spectacle which took place in Pevensey in 1908.’16 While including description of the episodes, most of the book consisted of photographs taken by the official photographer Percy Lankester. It was available in paper for one shilling, or in a ‘De Luxe’ edition, bound in leather for three shillings.17

The Sussex Agricultural Express was gushing in its admiration, proclaiming that ‘The whole performance has been beautifully stage managed and too much praise cannot be given to the orchestra’,18 and declaring that ‘All Sussex must see the Pevensey Pageant.’19 The Observer too gave the event high praise, stating that ‘the beauty, the suggestiveness and the romance’ of the pageant meant it had ‘no need to fear comparison with any of its predecessors in various parts of the country’, further describing it as ‘an absorbing, thrilling spectacle.’20 The Manchester Guardian was less positive; while complimenting the Norman invasion scene, the ladies’ fourteenth century costumes, and the horsemen, it also noted that

…other episodes were not so good. There were Druids and Romans, pagans and Early Christians, and later on monks and nuns and maypole dancers and Elizabethan mummers. But their talk was often inaudible, and their costumes lacked reality, both on the side of flimsiness of material and a sense of the art school in design.21

Regardless of the artistic merits of the pageant, financially it was a complete disaster. Originally it was to be a small event—Pevensey, after all, was a very small town. At this point the cost was envisaged as being between £500 and £600. When the Eastbourne Corporation took over the staging however it rocketed, eventually costing ten times as much.22 When the auditor submitted his final report in October 1908 he declared a loss of £1041. 1s. 7d. The sum of £83. 5s. 8d. was recouped from the profit of a spring fete held many years previous, while the rest born by the guarantors.23 Yet the pageant was exceedingly well patronised by nobility, politicians, and religious dignitaries—and Rudyard Kipling, who contributed some of the music to the pageant, was also in attendance.24 While ‘receipts were less than had been expected’ it is unclear why or how the pageant fared so poorly.25

The scandal surrounding the failure of the pageant came out in full view when Alderman H.W. Keay, the former Mayor of Eastbourne and chairman of the Pageant General Committee, was sued by the designer Mr Edgar Pattison for £20 of outstanding fees in relation to his work designing the pageant. Keay, for his part, had stumped up £750 of the deficit—though he did not want to give up the £20 so easily, blaming the plaintiff and the pageant master for ‘conducting affairs without any authority’ instead of ‘doing the work for the love of the thing’.26 The Judge came down on the side of the plaintiff but, due to the pageant turning out ‘so disastrously’, expressed his desire that Pattison would agree to a smaller settlement of £10. Even though Pattison accepted this, Keay expressed his intention of appealing—leading the Judge, presumably irritated, to make judgement for the full amount and costs.27 Another minor scandal was the theft of 84 souvenirs by the Eastbourne man Josiah Foreman, aged 60—sentenced to a month’s hard labour for his crime.28

Thus the Pevensey Pageant had mixed results: both praised and criticised, it was, at the least, undoubtedly a financial mess. It was interesting for the particularly artistic bent it took; for the ways in which regionalism and localism could cohabit with national patriotism; and the contrast between the graphic and macabre imagery of the first half and the jovial and humorous second. More generally it reflected many of the themes of pre-1914 pageantry, offering a clear example of how a range of interested groups could come together to create a multi-faceted story.

A number of further major Pageants were held in the county, at Arundel (1923), Ashdown Forest (1929), and Battle (1932)


  1. ^ ‘The Pevensey Pageant’, Dover Express, 23 October 1908, 8.
  2. ^ Sussex Daily News, 21 July 1908, 5; 22 July, 5; 24 July, 5.
  3. ^ Pevensey Historical Pageant Official Souvenir (Tunbridge Wells, 1908), foreword.
  4. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant: A Foreword by the Master’, Hastings and St Leonard Observer, 14 March 1908, 9.
  5. ^ ‘Pevensey’s Memories’, The Observer, 5 July 1908, 5.
  6. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant: A Foreword by the Master’, 9.
  7. ^ Pevensey Historical Pageant (Pevensey, 1908), 11-12.
  8. ^ ‘The Pageant’, The Sussex Agricultural Express, 25 July 1908, 9.
  9. ^ Ibid., 9.
  10. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant’, The Times, 21 July 1908, 15.
  11. ^ ‘The Pevensey Pageant’, The Sussex Agricultural Express, 20 June 1908, 4.
  12. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant: A Foreword by the Master’, 9.
  13. ^ Pevensey Historical Pageant, preface.
  14. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant: A Foreword by the Master’, 9.
  15. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant’, The Times, 21 July 1908, 15.
  16. ^ Pevensey Historical Pageant Official Souvenir, foreword.
  17. ^ Ibid., foreword.
  18. ^ ‘The Pageant’, The Sussex Agricultural Express, 25 July 1908, 9.
  19. ^ ‘The Pevensey Pageant’, The Sussex Agricultural Express, 20 June 1908, 4; ‘The Sussex Pageant’, The Sussex Agricultural Express, 18 July 1908, 4.
  20. ^ ‘Pevensey’s Memories’, 5.
  21. ^ ‘Our London Correspondence’, The Manchester Guardian, 20 July 1908, 6.
  22. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant: Ex-Mayor of Eastbourne Sued for £20’, Cheltenham Chronicle, 19 December 1908, 4.
  23. ^ ‘The Eastbourne Pageant’, Dover Express, 30 October 1908, 3.
  24. ^ ‘Pevensey’s Memories’, 5.
  25. ^ ‘The Pevensey Pageant’, Dover Express, 23 October 1908, 8.
  26. ^ ‘Pevensey Pageant: Ex-Mayor of Eastbourne Sued for £20’, 4.
  27. ^ Ibid., 4.
  28. ^ ‘News Condensed for the Busy Reader’, Western Times, 5 September 1908, 4.

How to cite this entry

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