Pageant of Runnymede

Pageant type


The pageant, whilst making no claims to be a National Pageant, in many ways fitted this type. The organizing committee was all based around Staines and Windsor and featured many aristocrats and was patronised by Royalty. Episodes were arranged by Windsor, Staines, Chetsey, Egham, Virginia Water, Camberley, and Ascot Districts.

Jump to Summary


Place: Runnymede Meadow (Egham) (Egham, Surrey, England)

Year: 1934

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 14


The pageant was held on Runnymede Meadow, near the site of the signing of Magna Carta.

9–16 June 1934, 2.30 and 7pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Lally, Gwen
  • Chairman and Hon. Organiser: Lady de Chair
  • Vice Chairman: Major N.N.E. Bray
  • Mistress of the Robes: Lady Carden
  • Mistress of the Dance: Miss Flora Fairbairn (Ballet Mistress, Royal Academy of Music)
  • Master of Heraldry: The Rev E.E. Dorling
  • Musical Adviser: Hermann Darewski
  • Musical Director: Lieut S.S. Smith (the Life Guards)
  • Arts and Horse Trappings: Mrs Baly Hayes; Mrs G. Morris
  • Transport Officer: Commander H. Daniel, MC
  • Traffic Officer: Colonel Bevis
  • Ticket Officer: L. Hayes, Esq.
  • Master of the Arena: G. Keates, Esq.
  • Secretary: Miss Prioleau
  • Assistant Secretary: Miss Sedgwick
  • Chairman’s Secretary: Miss E. Adie
  • Gwen Lally's Assistant: Miss Stella Batten

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: Lady de Chair
  • Vice-chairman: Major N. Bray, MC
  • Members: Lady Carden; Air-Commodore Lyster Blandy, CB, DSO; Colonel Bevis; Major Coates; G. Keates, Esq.; Lady King; Mrs Vesey Fitzgerald; Mrs R.H. Macdonald (wife of Ramsay Macdonald); The Rev. A Tranter; Colonel the Hon. Sir Eustace Fiennes, Bart; C. Heathcote Smith, Esq.; Commander H. Daniel; The Hon. Mrs F. Lascelles

Finance Committee:

  • Chairman: Air-Commodore Lyster Blandy

Historical Advisory Section:

  • Chairman: S. Versey Fitzgerald, Esq.
  • Members: Professor Hilda Johnstone (Professor of History at Royal Holloway College, London); The Rev. E.E. Dorling; The Rev. Canon Flecker, DCL; Major Gordon Home; F.C. Hodder, Esq.; The Vice-Provost of Eton; O.F. Morshead, Esq. (Librarian of Windsor Castle); Paymaster Rear-Admiral Horniman, CB; The Rev H.W.R. Lillie; SJ; Fulke R. Radice, Esq.

Royal Box Sub-Committee:

  • Chairman: Mrs Best

Catering Sub-Committee:

  • Chairman: Major N.N.E. Bray, MC

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

  • Drinkwater, John
  • Lally, Gwen
  • Home, Gordon
  • Radice, Fulke


John Drinkwater was responsible for the text of the prologue, while Major Gordon Home and Fulke Radice contributed to scenes I and VII respectively

Names of composers

  • Darewski, Hermann

Numbers of performers


According to the Bury Free Press 5000 people were involved as performers.

Financial information

£15410, of which £12365 were from Box Office ticket sales.

Pageant Master’s Fee: £700
Grandstand: £1763
Arena: £1870
Transport of Performers: £1123
Horses: £1340
Publicity: £1974
Wardrobe: £1819
Plus £2062 in entertainment tax
Overall Expenditure: £15884

The Pageant made a loss of £474 which was temporarily advanced by guarantors, Admiral Sir Dudley and Lady de Chair.2

Object of any funds raised

In aid of local hospitals and charities.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 7500
  • Total audience: 90000


Figures for audience given in Observer, 3 April 1938, 10 and Yorkshire Post, 22 May 1934, 8.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

21s.–1s. 6d.

Of the 7500 seats, 2250 were uncovered and unreserved for 1s. 6d., and the remaining 5250 were priced at between 2s. 6d. and 10s. 6d., though a number of seats directly adjoining the Royal Box went for 21s.3

Associated events

  • 23 May 1930: A Film Ball, under the patronage of the Queen of Norway, was held at Claridge’s Hotel  to augment funds.
  • 9 June 1934: Civic Day with Mayors of Oxford, Reading, Bury St Edmunds, Canterbury, Guildford and St Albans in the Royal Box.
  • 10 June 1934: Thames Night with a river flotilla.
  • 11 June 1934: Diplomatic Day with ambassadors and representatives.
  • 12 June 1934: Parliamentary Day.
  • 14 June 1934: Dominions Day with high commissioners and representatives.
  • 15 June 1934: Ladies Day.

Pageant outline


Spoken by the Spirit of the Thames.

Scene I. The Roman Conquest of Britain, AD 44

The opening scene carries us back to the dawn of English history, when the conquest of Britain is being seriously undertaken by a Roman army of four Legions, with many auxiliary troops. Women are busy weaving and cooking. A raiding party of a couple of chariots returns with Roman prisoners. A Roman officer is interrogated and brought before the chief. His younger daughter begs his life be spared. A number of wounded Britons arrive with news that the Romans have crossed the Thames and are nearly on the camp. The Roman army appears and battle ensues. Vespasian and officers are almost surrounded, but then a young centurion rescues him and kills the chief. The Britons are about to be killed when the officer whose life was spared explains the chieftain’s daughter’s kindness and the women are spared. The legionaries march off towards Calleva (now Silchester).

Scene II. Chertsey Abbey is Attacked by Danes and its Monks Martyred, AD 884

Monks are going peacefully about their tasks, exemplifying St Benedict’s motto laborare est orare [work is a form of prayer]. The Abbot, Sacrist, and Cellarer are receiving tithes and settle disputes. The bell rings for vespers and the monks file inside to sing psalms. Two peasants come to warn of the coming of the Danes but fall wounded before reaching the Abbey. Danes encircle the Abbey, and as the monks leave they realise they are surrounded. The Abbot stays the Danes briefly, though after a short parley he is killed by the Danish chief. Saxons battle with the Danes and the monks escape into the Abbey, but then the Danes set fire to it. As the roof burns away, we see two beams in the shape of a cross, which awes the Danes ‘with a vague presentiment of the wrath of God to come’. They flee in panic.

Scene III. King John Grants the Great Charter, June 15 AD 1215

Workmen from the Baronial camp are preparing for the King’s arrival, erecting a throne and table for the Chancery clerks. Burgesses of Windsor and their wives are gathering around and it takes a posse of soldiers to clear the throne. The Chancellor arrives with the Great Seal and various clerks. Barons begin to arrive in groups attended by squires, a number on horseback. Some are guarded by the citizens of London. Boatmen arrive with oars, and soldiers follow heralding the King. Seven bishops then approach, followed by the Archbishops of Dublin and Canterbury. The Earls and Barons loyal to the King enter next, with the Provincial Grand Master of the Temple of England. Finally, in comes the King. He attempts to put off assenting to the charter, but eventually gives way. Robert Fitzwalter, leader of the Barons, is summoned. There is celebration and shouts of ‘God Save the King’. The assembly breaks up after John returns to Windsor.

Scene IV. Tournament on St George’s Day, AD 1358

‘Our fourth scene represents the culminating glory of the Middle Ages before the bitterness and jealousies of Edward the Third’s last years sowed the seeds of over a hundred years’ domestic quarrels, known as the Wars of the Roses.’ The scene begins (like the last one) with the erection of the grandstand and the barrier and the rest of the tilt-yard. Lord, Ladies, Knights, Dames, Esquires and a large number of lesser folk assemble. King Edward and Queen Philippa and the Queen of the Scots enter and take their place. The Black Prince enters with a squire bearing a banner proclaiming ‘for peace’. He chooses the Fair Maid of Kent as Queen of Beauty. Various knights perform in the tournament as follows:

1. Lord Stafford v. Earl of Suffolk
2. Earl of March v. Earl of Salisbury
3. King of France v. King of Scots
4. Early of Warwick v. Earl of Suffolk
5. Earl of March v. Earl of Warwick
6. Earl of Warwick v. King of France

The Black Prince judges the King of France to be the victor and leads him to the royal pavilion. The King falls on one knee before the Queen of Beauty who kisses him and gives him jewels. All depart.

Scene V. Henry VIII Entertains Charles V, AD 1522

‘At this date Henry VIII (aged 31) is not the gross tyrant of his later years, but “Bluff King Hal”, the affable idol of his subjects; handsome, versatile, accomplished both in mind and body.’ The scene presents great entertainments. Wolsey enters, and afterwards the King, Catherine of Aragon, and Princess Mary, plus the King’s sisters and others. They take their seats and the Emperor arrives. They embrace, and Charles kneels to receive the blessing of his aunt, the Queen. Food is served. ‘The Masque of the Proud Horse’ is performed with a horse representing an allegory of France tamed by allegorical figures of Amity, Prudence, Policy, Force and Puissance. A musical interlude follows, followed by the Dance of the Two Twelves [devised by Lady Cholmondeley], in which a beggar’s maid protests her loyalty for the King.

Scene VI. Charles II Hunting in the Royal Forest, AD 1670

Country folk arrive to greet the King and servants lay out a meal. The riders arrive, greet the country folk, and then sit down to breakfast. The King arrives with his entourage, then Nell Gwynn climbs out of a couch and slaps her rival, Louise de Kerouaille. The King attempts to make peace between the two. The hunt resumes, as the King and courtiers mount horse and ride away. The court is left behind and begins to dissipate. Ladies board a coach but are soon robbed by a highwayman who robs them and drags them from their coach. The sound of the hunt returning with a buck scares the highwaymen away and Charles commiserates with the ladies. The countrymen cheer Charles as he passes.

Scene VII. Queen Anne Opens the Ascot Races, AD 1711

Spectators begin to arrive and picnic. Gipsies provide a dance for a few pennies. Some gentry appear on horse or by carriage, including some competitors. A great beauty, Miss Molly Mogg, arrives, followed by John Gay. The Duke of Somerset arrives, and cheers announce the Queen with the Duchess of Somerset, and her court in tow plus Tory Ministers. Whigs are farther apart. A trumpet call is sounded and competitors line up. The signal is given and the race begins. The winner (who is decided on the day) receives money from the King. A dusty horseman arrives from Windsor with news of the war in which the Duke of Marlborough has defeated the French. The Whigs are elated, the Tories dismayed. The Queen drives off followed by court and spectators.

Scene VIII. Rural England after Waterloo, AD 1817

‘The fictitious prosperity, which the unusual demands of war-time had conferred upon certain sections of the population, was at an end; nor did even a tightening of the Corn Laws suffice to revive it for the agricultural classes. England, after a brief rejoicing that the war was over, woke up (as in similar circumstances to 1919) to the fact that the war was not over—it had still to be paid for. There followed a long period of difficulty and distress, similar to that through which we have recently been passing. Crushing taxation, financial uncertainties with all their evil effects upon trade, unemployment and starvation wages were as familiar to the England which faced the peace following on the Napoleonic Wars as they have been to the England which faced the peace following the Great War.’ The scene represents a jolly fair, despite the downturn, full of clowns, maypole dancers, gipsies, Punch and Judy, strolling players, a quack dentist, tumblers and pedlars. Peasants, children, soldiers, sailors and pickpockets mingle. It is suddenly realised that the ‘Iron Duke’ will visit the Fair, riding from London. His arrival is rapturously greeted. Several notables plus an aged war veteran are presented. The Duke resumes his journey. Evening falls and the crowd departs.


The Spirit of the Pageant recites an epilogue.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Vespasian [Titus Flavius Vespasianus] (AD 9–79) Emperor of Rome
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Marshal, William (I) [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c.1146–1219) soldier and administrator [also known as Marshall, William]
  • Burgh, Hubert de, earl of Kent (c.1170–1243) justiciar
  • Longespée [Lungespée], William (I), third earl of Salisbury (b. in or before 1167, d. 1226) magnate [also known as Longsword, William]
  • Langton, Stephen (c.1150–1228) archbishop of Canterbury
  • London, Henry of [Henry de Loundres] (d. 1228) archbishop of Dublin and justiciar of Ireland
  • Roches, Peter des [Peter de Rupibus] (d. 1238) administrator and bishop of Winchester
  • Wells, Hugh of (d. 1235) bishop of Lincoln
  • Gray, Walter de (d. 1255) archbishop of York
  • Warenne, William (IV) de, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240) magnate
  • Aubigny, William d' [William de Albini], third earl of Arundel (c.1174–1221) magnate
  • Clare, Richard de, sixth earl of Gloucester and fifth earl of Hertford (1222–1262) magnate
  • Forz [Fortibus], William de, count of Aumale (1191x6–1241) magnate
  • Bohun, Henry de, first earl of Hereford (c.1175–1220) magnate
  • Vere, Robert de, third earl of Oxford (d. 1221) magnate
  • Marshal, William (II), fifth earl of Pembroke (c.1190–1231) magnate
  • Fitzwalter, Robert (d. 1235) magnate and rebel
  • Mowbray, William de (c.1173–c.1224) baron
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
  • Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince] prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376), heir to the English throne and military commander [also known as Edward the Black Prince]
  • Stafford, Ralph, first earl of Stafford (1301–1372) soldier and magnate
  • Pole, Michael de la, first earl of Suffolk (c.1330–1389) administrator
  • Mortimer, Roger (VI), second earl of March (1328–1360) magnate
  • Montagu, William [William de Montacute], second earl of Salisbury (1328–1397) lord of Man and the Isle of Wight
  • John II (1319-1364) King of France
  • David II (1324–1371) king of Scots
  • Joan [Joan of the Tower] (1321–1362) queen of Scots, consort of David II
  • Beauchamp, Thomas, eleventh earl of Warwick (1313/14–1369) soldier and magnate
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII
  • Mary I (1516–1558) queen of England and Ireland
  • Charles V (1500-1558) Holy Roman Emperor
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Gwyn, Eleanor [Nell] (1651?–1687) actress and royal mistress
  • Kéroualle, Louise Renée de Penancoët de, suo jure duchess of Portsmouth and suo jure duchess of Aubigny in the French nobility (1649–1734) royal mistress
  • Mogg, Mary [Molly] (1698/9–1766) celebrated beauty
  • Gay, John (1685–1732) poet and playwright
  • Seymour, Charles, sixth duke of Somerset (1662–1748) politician and courtier
  • Seymour [née Percy], Elizabeth, duchess of Somerset (1667–1722) courtier and politician
  • Anne (1665–1714) queen of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Churchill [née Jenyns], Sarah, duchess of Marlborough (1660–1744) politician and courtier
  • Godolphin, Sidney, first earl of Godolphin (1645–1712) politician
  • Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852) army officer and prime minister

Musical production

  • Musical Adviser: Hermann Darewski.
  • Musical Director: Lieut S.S. Smith (the Life Guards).
  • Music performed by the Life Guard’s Band under direction of Lieutenant S.S. Smith.
  • Scene V: The Dance of the Two Twelves devised and rehearsed by Lady George Chomondley.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Bury Free Press

Sunderland Daily Echo

Tamworth Herald

Manchester Guardian

Portsmouth Evening News

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Yorkshire Post

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser

The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton, Australia


Evening Standard



Bucks Herald

Nottingham Evening Post

Daily Mail

Daily Express

The Era

Book of words

Vesey-Fitz Gerald, Seymour, ed. Pageant of Runnymede. London, 1934.

Foreword by Enid de Chair. Introduction by Gwen Lally. Essay on ‘The Importance of Magna Carta’ by Hilda Johnstone, MA.

The copy in the British Library is the second edition, suggesting the book of words sold well.

Other primary published materials

  • Advertising brochure for the pageant, accessed 9 November 2015,

References in secondary literature

  • Linebaugh, Peter. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All. London, 2008. At 202.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • A film of the pageant was made by British Pathé, accessed 9 November 2015, available at
  • Details of the pageant and British Library Exhibition, accessed 9 November 2015,

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • London Gazette, 12 July 1711. This provides the details of the Ascot Races on which Scene VII is based.


In 1921 there had been outcry when the government attempted to sell Runnymeade Meadow for development, the proposal only being averted when the civil engineer Urban Broughton bought the land. His widow donated the land, and in 1929 Runnymede Meadow came into the National Trust’s possession.5 The First World War had prevented the celebration of the sept-centenary of Magna Carta in 1915. Thus, although the Pageant of Runnymede did not coincide with an anniversary, it was obvious that at some point a pageant would be held in the historic meadows.

Despite the connotations between Magna Carta and modern democratic society, if anything the pageant organizing committee and the long list of patrons seemed to be a throwback to the great Edwardian pageants—certainly in contrast to the contemporary Pageant of Parliament and the Pageant of Labour, both also held in 1934. The patronage of the Prince of Wales and Duke and Duchess of York certainly suggested that the monarchy no longer held any grudges against the aristocracy, which – so conventional readings of history had it – had begun in 1215 the long process of curtailing monarchical power.

However, the persistent presence of the privileged classes was perhaps more in keeping with the actual spirit of Magna Carta itself rather than some Whiggish notion about the history of the evolution of democratic rights granted to an increasing proportion of men (and belatedly women). The fifty Vice Presidents included Leo Amery, Lady Edward Spencer Churchill, the Earl of Buchan, the Duchess of Grafton, and Admiral Jellicoe, as well as a number of other prominent members of the Conservative Party and military establishment. The Vice Chairman, Major N. Bray, had been an intelligence officer after the First World War, and was responsible for suppressing populist revolts in India and Iraq (believing them to be part of a wider Bolshevik conspiracy).6 The omnipresence of the monarchy throughout the pageant was a careful and deferential reminder that Magna Carta had not opened and would never open the door to an English Republic. The pageant is perhaps an example of the Anderson-Nairn account of British history, which saw post-1660 history as a story of accommodation between the monarchy, aristocracy and haute-bourgeoisie.7 In fact, the Pageant Master Gwen Lally wished to strengthen the sense of continuity by having members of the aristocracy play their ancestors, such as Nora Lascelles who played Mary Tudor. Lascelles, the Yorkshire Post reported, ‘when dressed for her part, bears a most striking resemblance to the portrait of Mary which hangs in Harewood House…It says much for the interest [Lally] has aroused that she has been able to achieve this so largely.’8

Despite this, the pageant – held as it was in the 1930s – was acutely attuned to the wider national and global unease of the time. In her foreword to the Book of Words, pageant chairman Lady Enid de Chair wrote of how ‘we are all actuated by…the knowledge that we are helping to heal hopelessly wrong conditions in a sick world, and giving happiness and interest to the united community of our very democratic nation.’9 Quite whether the pageant achieved these lofty ideals is open to debate. The pageant was strangely and perhaps ominously juxtaposed with another event: Oswald Mosley’s Olympia Rally on 7 June 1934, at which he addressed 12000 spectators, including those sympathetic to the cause of British fascism, those along for the spectacle, and those intent on breaking the meeting up. The great theatricality of the occasion, memorably described in the Guardian, suggests the heightened significance of open-air gatherings at the time:

Exactly thirty-five minutes after the meeting was due to begin Sir Oswald made his appearance. The lights of the hall flickered, the band dropped into a Low German march of the seventies or thereabouts, the arc-lamps swung round from the platform down the Blackshirted aisle, and there in the foggy distance Sir Oswald appeared—announced by a fanfare and preceded by six men carrying Union jacks and the British Blackshirt flag. And so the march proceeded to the platform while some people—they did not seem to be many—raised their arms in a Fascist salute and others, with less commitment, cheered.10

The papers for the next few days were filled with discussions about whether it was justified for a group of Communists, Labour Party Members, pacifists and others to have disrupted the meeting, so preventing Mosley from continuing to speak. It is surprising that only the wonderful New Zealand cartoonist for the Evening Standard, David Low, noticed the strange juxtaposition of events. His cartoon, published before both the pageant and the Olympia Rally, depicted a long line of figures from the Barons and King John through to Tudors, Roundheads, the martyrs of Tolpuddle, Disraeli and Gladstone holding a copy of the great reform bill of 1867, and finally contemporary voters, looking at Mosley recruiting to the British Fascist Party with looks of menacing disdain.11

The pageant itself was hardly the resounding endorsement of democracy against totalitarianism some had hoped for. Instead it appeared to be more of a display of the phlegmatic nature of the English, whose strength lay in an accommodation between the people, the monarchy and the aristocracy. The final episode seemed to confirm this impression, acknowledging the devastation and unemployment suffered in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars (which, the guide noted, closely resembled the circumstances of 1919). Yet, despite this common suffering (no mention is given of the landowners who profited massively from the Corn Laws which kept food prices artificially high), the English people were able to come together to celebrate a fayre, visited by the saviour of Britain, the Duke of Wellington. The Iron Duke was here presented as embodying a spirit of Englishness which combined martial valour with a down-to-earth awareness of the plight of the common people and the soldiers upon whom his victories depended. This scene was the very epitome of the idea of a ‘One Nation Conservatism’, then espoused by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

The pageant, held at a distance from urban areas, was a major logistical exercise to organize and, although it was Lally’s tenth pageant, it stretched the limits of organisation to their fullest. A gossip columnist for the Portsmouth Evening News noted that, following Lally’s demand that women performers held babies (to represent the fecund state of the nation), there was a shortage of babies: ‘If sufficient offers of human loans are not forthcoming the organizers propose to collect a large supply of cushions, swathe them round boards to make them look as much like babies as possible.’12 Further to this, ‘something like half a ton of perfectly innocent string’ was knitted together for chainmail ‘And some ingenious person hit upon the idea of painting horse chestnuts and sea-shells to serve as the Court Ladies’ jewels and the papal ornaments.’ Despite her aristocratic cast, Lally demanded a ‘quick change’ of costume ‘for even the most elaborate of the ladies’ gowns has no more than four hooks and eyes by way of fastening.’13

Outside London, whose reaction to the pageant was surprisingly cool, one local newspaper after another lined up to heap praise on the pageant, often before it had started. The Tamworth Herald declared that ‘English interest in Magna Carta will, it may be supposed, never die; but it is well to be reminded of it, as the country was last Saturday’.14 A week later, the paper was even more emphatic: ‘’One has seen many pageants in the past, but they have been pageants of various districts and towns. The Runnymede pageant could rightly be described as embodying the whole of the British Empire, the biggest source of inspiration in the whole world.’15 As the reporter had attended on the same day the Royal Box was filled with representatives from the British Dominions, the article noted that they ‘must have felt that this truly was the land of their birth.’16 Bury St Edmunds, where the Barons had gathered in 1214 to swear a Convocation Oath to ‘compel the tyrannous King John to obey the laws of English liberty’, was honoured that their Mayor was to be among those specially invited and had been ardently covering the development of the pageant since January.17

The national newspapers were marginally less ecstatic and had clearly begun to show some weariness with the phenomenon of pageantry. As the Manchester Guardian wrote:

Pageants may not be to everyone’s taste any more than circuses or elaborate musical plays with revolving stages, but in such surroundings as Runnymede and in such weather as yesterday’s even an elaborate pageant with thousands of players in the arena at one time seemed exactly in the nature of things, fitting the mood of the day, and ensnaring the attention of an enormous audience.18

As the Guardian reported, the audience was exuberant and ‘at frequent intervals showed itself delighted by rising to its feet and cheering.’ However, this cheering, the avowedly left-liberal paper noted, was hardly for the spirit of freedom. The audience cheered at the ‘pompous entry of King John’ and at Henry VIII ‘as if his private life had never been disclosed’, and it was seen as a worrying tendency to acclaim any figure of power. More oddly, they also cheered when ‘the hordes of horned Vikings burnt down and pillaged Chertsey Abbey’!19

The Times was in equal parts appreciative and condescending, noting that ‘The pageant is most excellently rehearsed and controlled. Through all the episodes on Saturday there was never a pause and never a hitch. Every one of the thousands of amateur performers knew his (or more generally her) place, when to go there and where to go next.’20 However, in anticipation of a growing weariness at the levels of ostentation that mass pageants went to during the 1930s, it also suggested that ‘’On the other hand there was a difficulty in seeing the wood for the trees. The grass was nearly all the time sprinkled with gaily coloured figure, which hardly ever opened up vistas or resolved themselves into masses or groups.’21 By contrast, the Daily Telegraph warmed to the ‘cavalcade of chivalry’ in the fourth episode in which ‘Men and women, of high rank and low, …showed a native pride in the great story they had to tell. In the simplest way they achieved some wonderful results.’22 The newspaper compared the moment of chivalry, where the Black Prince appointed a Queen of Beauty, to ‘our beauty competitions to-day, but how cheap they all appear to be in comparison with this.’23 Both the Times and Manchester Guardian featured an article sponsored by Selfridges department store, written by one ‘Callisthenes’, and entitled ‘If Magna Carta Were to be Sealed To-day’. The article maintained that ‘It is certain that business would be with the barons and the bishops and the barristers’ and went on to ask: ‘Is it not likely, then, that any pageant 700 years hence of the powers which maintain and control the State in 1934 would have, if it were to represent reality, to give an important part to business?’24 That such an article could have plausibly been written suggests how little the pageant had to do with the democratic Rights of Man espoused by the Left.

Unfortunately, businessmen were very much lacking among the Barons at Runnymede in 1934. Despite a massive attendance of 90000 people (out of a potential audience capacity of 105000), the pageant still made a loss of nearly £500. This was largely due to the £2064 charged in entertainment tax paid on receipts, which many other large pageants of the era (such as the Pageant of Birmingham in 1938) were exempt from. Runnymede was not judged to be sufficiently educational to warrant the exemption many pageants were awarded.25 Set against the Olympia Rallies and the increasing use of pageants by the left as a form of participatory politics by groups such as the Communist Party, the Pageant of Runnymede seemed outdated and as powerless against the oncoming onslaught of fascism as the prevaricating King John had been against the Barons when he signed the Magna Carta.


  1. ^ Bury Free Press, 16 June 1934, 8
  2. ^ The Times, 19 February 1935, 16 and 23 March 1935, 10.
  3. ^ The Times, 7 June 1934, 12.
  4. ^ ‘The Season’, The Times, 30 April 1934, 8.
  5. ^ ‘Runnymede, Magna Carta and the Anglesey Abbey Connection’, palimpsest, accessed 9 November 2015,
  6. ^ A.L. MacFie, ‘British Intelligence and the Causes of Unrest in Mesopotamia, 1919–21’, Middle Eastern Studies 35 (1999): 165.
  7. ^ See Perry Anderson, ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’, New Left Review 23, (Jan–Feb 1964), 26-53 and Tom Nairn, ‘The English Working Class’, New Left Review 24 (March–April 1964), 43-57.
  8. ^ Yorkshire Post, 9 June 1934, 10.
  9. ^ Enid de Chair, ‘Foreword’, in Vesey-Fitz Gerald, Seymour, ed. Pageant of Runnymede. (London, 1934), np.
  10. ^ ‘Oswald Mosely’s Circus’, Manchester Guardian, 8 June 1934, accessed 9 November 2015,
  11. ^ Evening Standard, 11 May 1934, 10, accessed 9 November 2015,
  12. ^ Portsmouth Evening News, 7 June 1934, 7.
  13. ^ Ibid.
  14. ^ Tamworth Herald, 16 June 1934, 8.
  15. ^ ‘Letter from London’, Tamworth Herald, 23 June 1934, 7.
  16. ^ Ibid.
  17. ^ Bury Free Press, 16 June 1934, 8.
  18. ^ Manchester Guardian, 11 June 1934, 8.
  19. ^ Ibid.
  20. ^ The Times, 11 June 1934, 10.
  21. ^ Ibid.
  22. ^ Telegraph, 11 June 1934, 10.
  23. ^ Ibid.
  24. ^ Manchester Guardian, 5 July 1934, 8; The Times, 5 July 1934, 10.
  25. ^ The Times, 19 February 1935, 16.

How to cite this entry

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