Rookery Garden Pageant

Pageant type


The organisation behind this pageant was Nantwich Girls' Club; the town of Nantwich lies roughly three miles from the village of Worleston where the pageant took place.

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Place: Rookery Gardens (Worleston) (Worleston, Cheshire, England)

Year: 1908

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


17 July 1908

There were two performances of the pageant held on the same day: the first at 3.30–5pm and the second at 7–8.30pm.

The pageant took place in the grounds of Rookery Hall, which in 1908 was a stately home in the ownership of Sir John Henry William Schröder, an industrialist and well-known philanthropist.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Bevan, Arthur O.
  • Mistress of the Characters: Mrs J.F. Dixon
  • Master of the Music: Mr F. Battams
  • Mistress of Dancing: Mrs Lapage
  • Art Director: Mr E.E. Edleston
  • Property Managers: Mr J.F. Dixon and Mr R.B. Harvey
  • Musical Conductor: Mr Wm Davidson
  • Secretary: Miss M. Rose Wood
  • Musical Advisors: Mrs Mathews and Mr J.F. Battams.


The pageant master, Arthur O. Bevan, was a local solicitor. He lived in Townsend House, a now demolished grand Elizabethan Manor in Nantwich which then had a celebrated walled garden.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Committee:

  • Chairman: E.R. Bellyse, Esq., JP
  • Secretaries: Mr W. Harlock and Mr J. F. Dixon
  • Treasurer: Mr S.R. Wood

Dancing Committee:

  • Mrs Lapage
  • Miss Parsonage
  • Miss K.M. Leighton
  • Mr E.E. Edleston.

Stage Properties Committee:

  • Mr Geo. H. Foden
  • Mr R.B. Harvey
  • Mr T. Parsonage
  • Mr E.E. Edleston


Given that proceeds of the pageant were destined to benefit the local Girls' Club and the running of the pageant presumably involved their membership, there are a surprising number of men named as organisers of this pageant.

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

  • Wood, F. H.
  • Bevan, Arthur O.
  • Lapage, Dr
  • Harvey, R.B.
  • Bevan, Arthur O.
  • Dixon, Mrs J.F.
  • Leigh, Egerton


Details of each scriptwriter’s responsibilities were as follows:

  • F.H. Wood: Episode I
  • Arthur O. Bevan: Episodes II and V
  • Dr Lapage, R.B. Harvey, and Arthur O Bevan: Episode III
  • Mrs J.F. Dixon: Episode IV
  • Egerton Leigh: Episode VI
The pageant master Arthur O. Bevan also wrote other parts of the script.

Names of composers

  • Engelhardt, Cecil
  • Jones, H.L.

Numbers of performers

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

Nantwich Girls' Club


Details of takings from this event have not been recovered.

Linked occasion


Audience information

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


It is unlikely that a grandstand was provided.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Admission Ticket: 1s.

There was in addition a 'Tea Ticket', which also cost 1s.; however, the two could be purchased as a 'Combined Ticket' at the discount of 1s. 9d., provided the purchase was made before 13 July.2

Associated events

The pageant was part of a garden fete day. This was a fundraising day of entertainments which included an official opening by 'Lady Broughton' at 2.30pm; after which attendees were free to browse a 'Girls' Club Sale of Work Stalls' until the first performance of the pageant, which began at 3.30pm. Tea was served in a tent from 4.00 pm until 6.30pm. When the first performance of the pageant finished at 5pm, there were other displays of dancing, the stalls were opened again and 'competitions' were advertised. The second performance of the pageant commenced at 7 pm and, at its close at 8.30pm, 'dancing on the lawn' resumed.

Pageant outline


It is assumed that a Herald delivered the words of the prologue, which consisted of a verse:

List, gentles all. On this arena green
We venture to bring forth some scenes of old
Connected with the story of our town:
but 'tis your thoughts and your imaginings
Which must deck out our effort. When we speak
Of ancient deeds and persons, kindly think
You see them. Let imagination work;
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts,
Carry them here and there, thro' Time
Turning the accomplishments of many years
Into an hour-glass. If the tale we tell
Of our old Town do any way content ye
We have our end—who now your patience pray
Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.5

Episode I. The Druids, 100 BC

This episode contained a sung narrative described as 'the Chorus of Druids'. The drama opens with a 'company of Druids' assembled for 'the noontide mysteries'; the setting is specified as taking place in 100 BC. The text reproduced in the programme consists of high-flown verse detailing the Druids’ worship of the sun. The verse was set to music. A number of classical texts are cited in the programme underneath the text of the Chorus which was penned by F.H. Wood.

Episode II. The Founding of Combermere Abbey, AD 1133

Set in 1133, this episode included an actor in the role of the Founder of the Abbey, Hugh Malbank, the Second Baron of Wich Malbank. The description given in the pageant programme suggests that it was presented in three sections, and it likely contained dialogue as well as singing. In the first section, Malbank and his household of tenants, servants and retainers enter. The second section details a manorial court scene in which an accusation against a character called John Morgan by another character called Roger Hales is heard. Morgan's defence follows, after which he is sentenced to 'trial by ordeal'. The third and final part of the drama consists of a procession by monks led by their Abbot and the presentation to them by Malbank of a charter granting 'the site called Combermere' for an Abbey. Either during or after this, the monks sing a chorus in Latin: Rituale Romanum De Processionibus. It is not known if traditional liturgy was used or if this was adapted by the episode's author.

Episode III. Queen Elizabeth's Gift, 1583

In this episode, the fire which destroyed the town of Nantwich in 1583 was commemorated and the gift of money to rebuild the town by Elizabeth I was depicted. The scene opens with a familiar set piece of 'Elizabeth in her garden' where she receives 'a deputation of Namptwyche townspeople headed by John Maisterson' following the fire that affected their town. A gift of £2000 was bestowed by the monarch together with the allocation of timber from the royal forest of Delamere, both of which allowed the town to be rebuilt. Quotations from various local records are included with the synopsis of the episode reproduced in the pageant programme. The text of this episode had three authors but there is no clear indication of dialogue.

Episode IV. King James's Visit, 1617

This episode depicted the visit of James I to Nantwich in 1617, his inspection of the local brine pits and his encounter with workers. James was reputed to have stayed at Townsend House, the home of Thomas Wilbraham, who was a prominent citizen of Nantwich. The drama presents James in the company of Wilbraham, rewarding the workers at the salt works and declaring a general holiday. It is assumed that some dialogue was involved.

Episode V. Marjorie Davenport, 1643

Set in 1643 during the Civil War when Royalist forces are besieging Nantwich, this episode features a romantic storyline in which a character called Marjorie Davenport takes leave of her lover as he sets out to help defend the town. Following this scene, a stray shot threatens to set fire to the town and, led by Marjorie, the women fetch water to fight the fire. They succeed in dousing the flames but during the melee Marjorie is fatally wounded.

Episode VI. Blessing the Brine,18th Century

This episode features a display of song and dance purporting to take place on Ascension Day. It shows workers from the salt industry enjoying the holiday and celebrating their industry by decorating the salt pit with flowers and branches. The lyrics of the song suggest that the dancers moved in a ring.

isode VII. The Old Fair, c. Early 19th Century

This scene depicts the attractions of a pre-industrial market fair with dancers, jugglers, musicians, glee-singers, fortune-tellers, etc. It is assumed that live music and singing was heard.

Final Tableau

In this, country dancers take up position and perform in the centre of the arena, and all the other performers enter from various sides and march through the centre of the stage. The tableau concludes with the singing of the hymn ‘All People That on Earth do Dwell’, named in the programme as 'the Old Hundredth'.

National Anthem

The pageant concludes with performers and audience joining in to sing the national anthem.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland

Musical production

It is most likely that live music was provided; however, a record of this has not been recovered.
  • Cecil Engelhardt. (Episode VI).
  • H.L. Jones. Chorus of Druids (Episode I).
  • Chorus of Monks, Rituale Romanum De Processionibus (Episode II).
  • Traditional hymn, ‘All People That On Earth Do Dwell’ (Finale).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Not known6

Book of words


No book of words was produced.

Other primary published materials


Rookery Garden Pageant Programme. Publication details unknown.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Chester Archives and Local Records Office: One copy of the programme is held. Shelfmark: 221809.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Caesar. De Bello Gallico, Book IV (Episode I).
  • Tacitus. Annals, Book IV (Episode I).
  • Strabo. Book IV (Episode I).
  • Reynand. L'Esprit de la Gaule (Episode I).7
  • Camden. Britannia (Episode II).
  • King. Vale Royal (Episode II).
  • Pollok & Maitland. History of English Law, Vol. I (Episode II).8
  • Wright, Allen. [?Nantwich] 'Parish Register' (Episode III).
  • Stowe. Annals (Episode III).
  • Partridge. History of Nantwich (Episode III).9
  • King. Vale Royal (Episode IV).
  • 'Thos. Malbon M.S.' (Episode V).10
  • Platt. History and Antiquities of Nantwich (Episodes VI and VII).11
  • Partridge. History of Nantwich (Episode VI).
  • Pennant. Journey from Chester to London (Episode VI).
  • Hall. History of Nantwich (Episode VII).12

Numerous local records and texts on the locality of Nantwich, as well as better-known works, are explicitly cited in the pageant programme and are reproduced as they appear in the original pageant document where publication details are not given. Where these can be easily identified, details are provided in footnotes. However many works included have had numerous imprints.


This event represents the most ephemeral of pageants; although it took place at the height of pageant fever, it has left little trace and demonstrates that, as well as large-scale performances, there were many, small and local historical pageants held up and down the country. In this case, a fete, whose main feature was the performance of a pageant, was held as a fundraiser for the local Girls' Club. In 1908, this movement had not yet coalesced into a UK wide body with a central organisational structure, but it was popular nonetheless and growing; many such clubs could be found across the length and breadth of the British Isles. Girls' Clubs were perhaps better known for their activities in industrial areas where they attempted to direct the leisure activities of young factory workers and provided a focus for the education of young women who were beyond the age of formal schooling. However, they also had a remit in more rural places where their activities were aimed at domestic servants and female farm labourers. At any rate, the clubs did obtain the reputation of being a middle-class initiative aimed at the young female population of the working classes, and they likely sprang from general anxieties about domestic ideals and the female role in promoting these, as well as a will to police the behaviour of unmarried women.

Contained within the first page of this pageant programme, directly beneath the text of the Prologue, is a note stating that the 'audience is respectfully reminded that this Pageant is intended to be a Show or Spectacle and not a Dramatic Recital', suggesting that very little dialogue was included and that the dramatic performance depended more on tableaux. There was music and song, however, to accompany the action. As a spectacle, it is clear that it aimed to be 'high-brow' rather than populist. It conformed to the then-established pageant format by including an introductory prologue that invited the audience to step back in time, followed by seven episodes and a finale. The works of E.F. Benson perhaps spring to mind in attempting to assess the qualities of this particular pageant whose organisation appears to have been the charge of the middle classes of the district. Certainly, the members of the Nantwich Girls' Club, if they did take part in the pageant, may have found the drama more than a little challenging. This was not history in a popular cast; citations to the texts used in preparation of the episodes by their various authors were no doubt included to confer an air of authenticity to the history enacted, but they may also have been a public demonstration of the authors' erudition.

The first episode recalled pre-Christian times with an enactment of Druidical ceremony. There was, however, neither the usual human sacrifice nor any incursion by Roman conquerors in this scene. This is perhaps surprising given the proximity of the county city of Chester, which was proud of its Roman heritage. It is difficult not to suppose that the audience may have been a little bemused by the drama that was presented, which seems to have been centred on Druidical sun-worshipping rites and was accompanied by somewhat grandiose and affected verse. This type of writing did rather set the general tenor for this performance. Episode II also conformed to normal pageant formulae by introducing the establishment locally of a Cistercian abbey. Some deferment to populism occurred via the inclusion of a scene where one character was condemned to 'trial by ordeal'; however, the real ordeal for the audience may have been the Latin chants of the monks who were the main players in the episode.

Episode III moved into further traditional pageant territory with a dramatic depiction of Queen Elizabeth I's rescue of the town of Nantwich following a disastrous fire. Nantwich was an important township and had been so for many centuries because of its role as a salt manufactory. Elizabeth bailed the town out after its fire because of its important national role in producing this essential commodity. However, authenticity appears to have been of paramount importance to the organisers and there was no attempt made to show Elizabeth making a visit to the town; instead, she was depicted 'in her garden'.13 The pageant moved on from this to present the town's only documented visit by a monarch—James I—in Episode IV. Episode V then recounted an incident during the Civil War when the town of Nantwich was laid siege by Royalists. The drama shown in this episode recounted how women had helped stave off the threat of fire and how the daughter of one citizen from a well-known local family—the Davenports—had lost her life during the assault. The remaining two episodes exceeded the traditional pageant timeframe by depicting local festivities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and depended on music, dance and spectacle to conjure up events during local holidays. These last two episodes possibly rescued this drama from being overwhelmingly serious, if not pompous.

The success of the fete and its pageant is unknown, as this event has proved to be more than usually elusive in terms of press reports. Held in a village and aimed at helping out a local initiative, this is perhaps not so surprising. In addition, and somewhat uncommonly for a single day event, it took place on a midweek afternoon and evening, which possibly meant it escaped the notice of many weekly publications. It is only possible to speculate on the reasons for this scheduling: Wednesday may have been half-closing day in this part of the country which would have meant that spectators were free to come along and participants could take part without arranging leave from work. More likely, the majority of participants and attendees simply had leisure time to accommodate this sort of schedule. It was opened by the local lady of the manor—Lady Broughton—and so must have aimed to have a fairly high social and cultural profile. It is also notable that it was held in the spacious grounds of the home of a then nationally well-known figure, which meant there would have been accommodation for a reasonably large turnout. Whatever its aims, it is a forgotten event now, and more modern day celebrity has since eclipsed the history of Rookery Hall and its erstwhile owner. Now a country house hotel, its claim to fame is as the place where Victoria Adams and David Beckham became engaged to be married!14


  1. ^ See entry in Dictionary of National Biography for Schröder: Richard Roberts, ‘Schröder, Sir John Henry William, First Baronet, and Baron Schröder in the Prussian nobility (1825–1910)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), accessed30 April 2016,; see also entry for Rookery Hall at website of Historic England, accessed 30 April 2016,
  2. ^ Rookery Garden Pageant Programme (publication details unknown), np.
  3. ^ Rookery Garden Pageant Programme (publication details unknown), np.
  4. ^ Rookery Garden Pageant Programme (publication details unknown), np.
  5. ^ Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations in synopses are taken from Rookery Garden Pageant Programme (publication details unknown), np.
  6. ^ It is assumed that planning for and the presentation of this event would have been covered in the local press (e.g., the Nantwich Guardian). However, available copies of this have not yet been recovered. Searches of other newspapers have not revealed any further evidence.
  7. ^ These citations are reproduced verbatim from the pageant programme; the list is placed following the synopsis of the episode and the words of the Chorus of the Druids. The text of the episode was the work of Mr F. Hatton Wood, and it is assumed these classic works listed provided him with inspiration and were included for the interest of spectators. See Rookery Garden Pageant Programme (publication details unknown), np.
  8. ^ Some quotations from each of these texts are also included with the citations; the quotations are listed following the synopsis of Episode II. See Rookery Garden Pageant Programme (publication details unknown), np.
  9. ^ This likely refers to Joseph Partridge, An Historical Account of the Town and Parish of Nantwich, with a Particular Relation of the Remarkable Siege it Sustained in the Grand Rebellion of 1643 (Shrewsbury, 1774).
  10. ^ This likely refers to the account of the Civil War written By Thomas Malbon of Nantwich (1578–1658) which was eventually printed and published in the nineteenth century as Memorials of the Civil War in Cheshire and the Adjacent Counties by Thomas Malbon, of Nantwich, Eng., Gent., and Providence Improved, by Edward Burghall, Vicar of Acton, Near Nantwich, ed. James Hall (London, 1889). The citation in the pageant programme suggests, however, that the original manuscript may have been consulted.
  11. ^ See John Weld Platt, History and Antiquities of Nantwich (London, 1818).
  12. ^ This likely refers to James Hall, History of the Town and Parish of Nantwich in the County Palatine of Chester History of Nantwich (Nantwich, 1883).
  13. ^ Rookery Garden Pageant Programme (publication details unknown), np.
  14. ^ See ‘Rookery Hall’, accessed 27 November 2015,

How to cite this entry

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