Pageant Play at Portchester Castle
Held by the Portsmouth Diocesan Council
Place: Portchester Castle (Portsmouth) (Portsmouth, Hampshire, England)
Number of performances: 6
4–8 June 1932
4 June, 3.30pm and 7.30pm; 6 June, 7.30pm; 7 June, 7.30pm; 8 June, 3.30pm and 7.30pm.
Guests of Honour:
- 4 June matinee: Lord Bishop of Portsmouth, Admiral Sir Arthur K. Waistell, KCB
- 4 June evening: Brigadier L.I.G. Morgan-Own
- 6 June: Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Inskip, CBE, KC
- 8 June matinee: Air Vice-Marshal Clark Hall, CMG, DSO
- 8 June evening: The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Maybury, Beatrice
- Conductor of the Orchestra: G.J. Steele
- Chorus Master: E.C. Birch
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- President: The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth, Neville Lovett
- Chairman: Canon G.C. Lunt
- Secretary to Diocesan Missionary Council: Rev. A. Cory
- Secretary to Pageant Committee: Dr E. Croft Watts
- Treasurer: Lt.-Col A.J. Darlington
- Stage Manager: Vice-Admiral W.R. Napier
- Chief Episode Marshall: Comdr. J.F. Hutchings
- Chief Property: Comdr. R.B. Lane
- Chairman of Publicity: Dr Bosworth Wright
- Transport and Car Parks: Lt-Comdr T.A.C. Pakenham and Comdr E.F. Loftus-Jones
- Tickets: Capt. G.E. Couzens
As well as a number of high-ranking clergy, there were a number of naval officers on the executive committee.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Morony, Myra
Morony was the daughter of the Bishop of Portsmouth, Neville Lovett. She also played the ghost Deirdra.
Names of composers
- Dussek, Ronald
- Purcell, Henry
- Bach, Johann Sebastian
- Fletcher, Percy
- Alderson, Percy
- Lully, Jean-Baptiste
- German, Edward
- Brewer, Herbert
- Williams, Ralph Vaughan
Numbers of performers500
The Portsmouth Diocesan Board of Finance advanced £200 for expenses. ‘Admiral Napier, speaking of the financial side, said they had at first feared a loss, but now they expected a credit balance of £100 to £130.’1
Object of any funds raised
Funds in aid of the Portsmouth Diocesan Missionary Council
‘We are giving a percentage of our profits (if any) to the Bishop of Portsmouth’s Church Extension fund and the balance will be given to the Missionary Societies for Church Work Overseas.’2
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 1000
- Total audience: n/a
The grandstand was erected in the Norman Courtyard by Ashton’s tower.3
‘[The Final performance] proved as successful as the previous presentations. Though hundreds were turned away, standing room was found for a good number in the Norman Courtyard.’4
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
1s.; Reserved, 2s. 6d.; Numbered and Reserved, 5s.5
St George addresses with words by George Crecy:
Here was the British port of mighty Rome,
And to this beach her storm-tossed galleys came.
This very ground where now the Castle stands
At one time quivered ‘neath the legions’ tread.
Rome tottered, fell, but Portchester remained…
So here, to-day, this pageant shall evoke;
And you shall see how, from the dawn of faith,
God’s message to mankind stands clear revealed.
Episode I. The Message, c. AD 64
Produced by Vice-Admiral W.R. Napier. Performed by Portchester Churches.
The crowd demands a sacrifice to Neptune from Lywant’s daughter, Deidra. When she refuses they threaten to kill her, and the crowd is fearful of the sea-god. Someone says that she wishes to worship the forgotten gods of Britain ‘at Stonehenge near to Sarum’, and reminds the rest who are shamed. The crowd calls on her to sacrifice to the gods of Britain. Again she refuses, saying ‘I serve Christ.’ Deridra decries the old gods of Britain and they decide to sacrifice her again.
A Roman centurion and Aulus approach, lamenting the violence of Britons. Ekkis, Deirdra’s lover, demands Roman justice. Aulus is waiting for his friends Pudens and Claudia who are bringing with them a Jewish Preacher, Paulus [St Paul]. Claudia laments Deirda’s death. The dying Deirdra lambasts the British, and they perform a ceremony over her. She dies saying ‘Victory’, and recites a prayer (featuring in other scenes):
They shall not lack who give,
They who will die shall live,
They shall not hunger more
Who give for God their store.
Aulus leaves to talk with Paulus; the legionaries depart singing.
Episode II. Wilfred’s Feast, c. AD 682
Produced Miss E. Chowne. Performed by Fareham Churches.
Serfs are complaining about their lot, (St) Wilfrid enters, forgives them and gives them fish. Saxons toast Wilfrid and they drink much mead. A messenger arrives bringing news of the Danes whose ship has run aground at Hayling. Cedric and others call for vengeance ‘for burnt homesteads and ravaged fields!’ Wilfred refuses: ‘a Christian chief kills not save in just battle!’
A spirit appears, whom Wilfred interprets as warning them not to kill the Danes but to feed them, which will spare them from raids. All rejoice at God and Wilfred’s virtue.
Episode III. The Bishop’s Storm, c. AD 1150
Produced by Mrs A.D. Wyllie. Performed by Portsmouth Churches.
Townsman brings tiding of a ship coming ashore with de Blois, who praised ‘the God’s port’. The Chaplain tells the crowd about the terrible storm and other perils they encountered, which failed to challenge his faith. De Blois agrees to stay in Portsmouth with the chaplain. Crowd sings the ‘Goat Girl’s Song’. There is confusion as to whether de Blois is a saint and he tries to teach the crowd. Crusaders on their way to the holy land appear and greet de Blois.
Episode IV. The Building of the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Now Portsmouth Cathedral, AD 1190
Produced by Miss W. Stubington. Performed by Havant Churches.
Townspeople grumble amongst themselves and discuss the murder of Thomas a Beckett. John and Alice de Gisors arrive with the Prior. The Prior, crowd and pilgrims thank the Gisors for providing Portsmouth with a shrine on the way to Canterbury in memory of Beckett. John de Gisors laments the transience of gold and pledges to build a church. An old pilgrim suggests that neither gold nor churches can satisfy men. When John asks him what, he suggests he will find it at Beckett’s shrine as ‘men be not martyred whose souls are empty and hungry!’
The spectre of the Martyred Deirdra appears to the pilgrim who passes out and eventually dies of shock. Townspeople see him as a holy man and resolve to build the cathedral.
Episode V. The Ending of Southwick Priory, AD 1538
Produced by Mr W.P.D. McMahon and Mr N.E. Lee. Performed by Portsmouth Grammar School.
The Mayor, Thomas Carpenter, arrives with Richard Layton and John White. They mock the Monks and propose to do away with them. The Prior accuses Layton of coveting the monasteries’ wealth. The Prior cannot bring himself to sign over the monastery. The townspeople side with the Prior and sailors who ‘sail the King’s ships’ seize Carpenter, Layton and White. Deridra appears to the Prior but the crowd ignores both him and the ghost. The Prior takes her message as a prayer for peace and signs over the Priory: ‘I have learned the will of God. I do not understand. But as I pray each day, and shall until I die, so would I strive to do.’ White and Prior return to Winchester, the latter bemused.
Episode VI. The Volatile King and His Bride, AD 1662, 21 May
Produced by Mrs F.A. Buckley and Mrs A.J. Darlington. Performed by Southwick Churches.
Charles and Katherine enter, the latter promising to always obey him. Charles cannot understand Katherine’s duenna, who refuses to leave the married couple. Katherine is unsure about married life but Charles managed to charm her. He kisses her but is repulsed: ‘A lady ees not kissed!’ Katherine thanks Charles for allowing her to keep her priest, to which Charles replies: ‘I should be kind in matters of religion. My father died because neither he nor his enemies could leave other men’s faiths to take care of themselves.’ They discuss their respective faiths. Charles isn’t particularly bothered about which faith he is. He asks Catherine to ‘teach me to believe in God, in goodness, in the things that are above the churches; yes, and in you, Kate, in you and love and Christian marriage.’ Charles, the ‘merry monarch’, suggests his mirth is a way of deflecting and disarming people. Charles then makes a pass at Katherine and is again repulsed. Charles hears Deirdra and recites her prayer. Katherine thinks she has married a madman, but Charles promises to be faithful to her and they reconcile. Charles calls in a gentleman to play a Gavotte on a fiddle and they dance.
Episode VII. The Message is Plain, AD 1842
Produced by Mrs H.J.D. Birkett and Wing-Comdr. T.V. Lister. Performed by Lee-on-Solent and Gosport.
Wilberforce, John Wilson Croker and the Marchioness of Bath enter and reflect on Wilberforce’s posterity, and that of the Victorians: ‘We shall all be in the Victorian frame and our descendants/Will call us dishonest fakes/And marvel that we were content so to be.’ Wilberforce discusses his hunger for God, and their feeling of distance from the Christian church. Deridra, ‘the ghost of Portchester’, appears to him. There is music, and Deirdra invokes prophetic visions of Victorian Christian martyrs: the death and funeral of Bishop Patteson in Melanesia; the death of Dr Alice Marval; and the Death of Brooks in the Boxer rising. Wilberforce interprets this vision: ‘Our hunger should be for righteousness, not for ourselves or our own people alone, but for the righteousness of the world.’ They express their willingness to die for the cause and depart.
The Church Triumphant! General Assembly. The ghostly wanderings of Deirdra completed. All join in singing ‘For All the Saints’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Saint Paul the Apostle (c.5-c.67)
- Wilfrid [St Wilfrid] (c.634–709/10) bishop of Hexham
- Blois, Henry de (c.1096–1171) bishop of Winchester
- Gisors, Jean de (1133–1220) magnate
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Catherine [Catherine of Braganza, Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança] (1638–1705) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles II
- Wilberforce, Samuel (1805–1873) bishop of Oxford and of Winchester
- Croker, John Wilson (1780–1857) politician and writer
- Baring, (William) Bingham, second Baron Ashburton (1799–1864)
Musical productionConductor of the Orchestra: G.J. Steele
Chorus Master: E.C. Birch
Finale dance music on 8 June, with music by the Portchester Castle Band, under Mr C. Smith.
- Ronald Dussek. Chorale, ‘The Spacious Firmament on High’. Words from Addison.
- Dussek. Roman’s Song, ‘Trumpets Blow at the Dawning’.
- Purcell, Movement from Suit for Stings.
- Dussek. Goat Girl’s Song, ‘The Cuckoo Singeth’.
- Dussek. Minstrel’s Song (12th century words).
- Bach. Gavotte in G.
- Percy Fletcher. Folk Tune and Fiddle Dance.
- Percy Alderson. March.
- Lully. Gavotte en Rondeau.
- Edward German. Imperial March.
- Herbert Brewer. Chorale, ‘Let the People Praise Thee’.
- Vaughan Williams. Hymn, ‘For the Saints’.
Newspaper coverage of pageantPortsmouth Evening News
Hampshire Telegraph and Post
Book of words
- Morony, Myra. ‘Hunger’: A Pageant Play at Porchester Castle. Portsmouth, 1932.
Other primary published materials
- Souvenir Programme (np.)
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of the Book of words held at the Hampshire Record Office. 9A06/C1.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The foreword to the Book of Words, written by Neville Lovett, Bishop of Portsmouth, about a pageant play written by his daughter, neatly conveys the spirit in which the pageant was both written and should be taken. It was ‘‘written in Switzerland, without books of reference and at short notice, is intended by the Author to remind us of passages in English history, as exemplified by local incidents which may, or may not, have taken place at, or near, Portchester Castle.’8 Though the pageant did feature real historical persons and was based on real historical scenes from the history of Portsmouth, each was modified to better convey the broader Christian message: that the history of ‘the Holy Church throughout the world’ is continuous and expansive, that the present is the heritage of the past, and that they of the future will reap widely, in proportion as we of the present sow widely. Narrowness of outlook is the besetting fault of religion. From it arose many of the sorrows of our island story.’9 Myra Morony (nee Lovett) had previously written the 1920 Mayflower Tercentenary Pageant (her father had directed) and a number of other pageant plays.10 Morony had also previously played a ‘spirit of history’ in the 1914 Southampton Tudor Pageant, written by her father who was also the Pageant Master.
The sorrows are conveyed early on in the person of Deidra (played by the Bishop of Portsmouth’s other daughter, Alice Lovett), sacrificed by pagan Britons who were infuriated at both her refusal to worship the old Roman gods and her denigration of the pagan Briton gods, who she characterizes as products of superstition, violence, and backwardness, far worse than the more civilised Roman gods. The appearance of St Paul in the Roman fort of Portchester is a possible reference to Richard William Morgan’s Saint Paul in Britain (1861), though this pseudo-historical book was widely disparaged at the time.11 Though Morgan claimed that the Celtic Church in Britain owed no allegiance whatsoever to Rome, Morony’s premise, sustained across each episode, is more ecumenical, suggesting that the basic Christian message conveyed in Deridra’s prayer is one of a shared background of all Christian Churches, stressing sacrifice, meekness, charity, and spreading the gospel:
They shall not lack who give,
They who will die shall live,
They shall not hunger more
Who give for God their store.
In each episode, the principal character (generally a historical figure) experiences a moment of crisis or personal test and sees the ghost of the martyred Deirdra, who recites her prayer. Each character interprets the vision as a warning or council. Overall, the message of each scene is to suggest that conflict over doctrinal issues takes away from the message of Christianity. Often, as in Episode II and Episode V, this message encourages good Christians to give in to tyranny: helping the stranded Vikings; or the Prior agreeing to the dissolution of Southwick Priory rather than resisting. The scene featuring John and Alice de Gisors, in which they are confronted by a world-weary pilgrim who dies, adds further undocumented mythology to the building of Portsmouth Cathedral, which was built to commemorate the Martyrdom of Thomas Beckett, murdered by Henry II in 1170. The theme of pilgrimage as a means of finding God is emphasised throughout the scene.
The scene with Charles II and his bride Katherine is an interesting change of pace, a spot of comic relief in an otherwise heavy pageant. The scene shows a romantic, even sexually, scene in which Charles and his bride comes to terms with one another’s foibles and become man and wife (despite the resistance of Katherine’s Duenna, protecting her virtue even after marriage). The scene, in which Katherine is allowed to keep her faith and indeed teach it in part to her doting husband, is surprising: Charles II converted to Catholicism on his deathbed and the accession of his Catholic brother, James II, provoked a revolution. Charles, who professes he has little faith, shows how he plans to heal a sectarian divided England through conciliation and merriment.
In the final scene, William Wilberforce (the famous slave abolitionist), John Wilson Croker (the Irish politician) and the Marchioness of Bath (all of whom had at best highly tangential connections to Portsmouth) experience Deirdra’s prayer and foresee the deaths of three Christian martyrs: Bishop Patterson (killed by natives of the Solomon Islands in 1871 in revenge for attacks by European traders); Dr Alice Marval (who died caring for plague victims in India); and the Rev. S.M. Brooks, killed during the Boxer Rebellion in 1899.12 The scene also shows their awareness of how the twentieth century will portray their strict morality. This scene, if it wasn’t already obvious, makes inescapably clear that the duty of the true Christian is to sacrifice oneself, preferably overseas.
The pageant, which featured a significant proportion of Portmouth’s ruling elite, was praised in the local newspapers and evidently enjoyed a modicum of success. The setting in the ancient fortress of Portchester, which had Roman, Saxon, Norman and Henrician parts to it, was especially popular with commentators: ‘Portchester Castle is the history of England in stone. There could be no more fitting setting and background for an historical pageant.’13 The all boys’ Portsmouth Grammar School was apparently so effective in portraying female characters in Episode V that more than one audience member asked: ‘How long has the Grammar School been a mixed school?’14 The newspaper went as far as to print a picture of these youths.
On a more serious note, the paper went to suggest that ‘Now that the Portchester Pageant for foreign missions is over and has proved such a success, the question is being put whether something of the kind could not be done in relief of distress at home.’15 Portsmouth, depending heavily both on its docks and on the naval and military presence (which employed 23000 in 1918), was doubly hit by the global recession of the 1930s and by reductions in military expenditure, as well as the Washington Naval Treaty (1923) which limited the number of ships the American, British, and Japanese navies could have.16
The £100 to £130 profit made by the pageant was welcome, though hardly enough to greatly impact the fate of the Diocesan Missionary work. A further pageant in Portchester was proposed by the church in 1938 but abandoned at an early stage as ‘It was generally considered that the lack of interest shown did not encourage the promoters to carry on and risk a financial loss.’17 Morony continued to write mystery and nativity plays, as well as First Things: A Book for Mothers and Babies (1934).
- Portsmouth Evening News, 25 June 1932, 7.
- ‘Hunger’: A Pageant Play at Porchester Castle. Portsmouth, 1932, p. 2.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 1 June 1932, 11.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 9 June 1932, 2.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 3 June 1932, 8.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 25 June 1932, 7.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 4 June 1932, 6.
- Neville Lovett, ‘Foreword’, ‘Hunger’: A Pageant Play at Porchester Castle. Portsmouth, 1932, 3.
- Ibid., 3.
- ‘Sailing of the Mayflower’, Gloucester Echo, 17 June 1920, 3; ‘Missionary Pageant Consecrated Service by Forton Players’, Portsmouth Evening News, 7 November 1931, 1.
- Richard Williams Morgan, St Paul in Britain (Oxford, 1861).
- Larry Clinton Thompson, William Scott Ament and the Boxer Rebellion (Jefferson, North Carolina, 2009), 3; ‘Stained Glass Window of Alice Marval in The Lady Chapel Of Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral’, Alamy, accessed 19 October 2015, http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-stained-glass-window-of-alice-marval-in-the-lady-chapel-of-liverpools-55628002.html.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 6 June 1932, 2; ‘Portchester Castle’, English Heritage, accessed 19 October 2015, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/portchester-castle/.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 6 June 1932, 6.
- ‘By the Way’, Portsmouth Evening News, 10 June 1932, 8.
- Hansard (11 March 1930), accessed 19 October 2015, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1930/mar/11/portsmouth.
- Portsmouth Evening News, ‘Portsmouth Pageant Idea Rejected’, 2 December 1938, 8.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Pageant Play at Portchester Castle’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1168/