Defendamus: A Pageant of Taunton

Other names

  • The Taunton Pageant

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Crescent Field (Shire Hall Grounds) (Taunton) (Taunton, Somerset, England)

Year: 1928

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 5


26–30 June 1928, 6.30pm

  • 5 proper performances.
  • At least 1 public dress rehearsal.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Trevilian, Major M.F. Cely
  • Master of the Robes: R.D. Burt
  • Master of the Properties: H.S.W. Stone
  • Master of the Music: H. Knott
  • Master of the Ordnance: B.S. Hinton
  • Master of the Horse: C.G. Dorse

Names of executive committee or equivalent

General Purposes Committee:

  • His Worship the Mayor (Councillor Howard Westlake)
  • Major M.F.C. Cely Trevilian
  • A.F. Davey (Hon. Gen. Secretary)
  • G.F. Ireland (Hon. Treasurer)
  • W.H. Bailey (Town Clerk)
  • A.G. Barrett
  • G.U. Farrant
  • H.M. Lewis
  • F.W. Pritchett-Brown
  • F. Goldby
  • A.W. Parker
  • F.S. Dodson
  • H. Knott
  • W.G. Potter
  • E. Edgecombe
  • J.C. Lane
  • S.L. Ward
  • 17 men, 0 women = 17 total
  • Ex-Officio members of all committees:
  • His Worship the Mayor (Councillor Howard Westlake)
  • Major M.F.C. Cely Trevilian
  • A.F. Davey (Hon. Gen. Secretary)
  • G.F. Ireland (Hon. Treasurer)

Executive Committee:

  • Taunton Town Council
  • His Worship the Mayor (Councillor Howard Westlake)
  • Alderman F.S. Dodson
  • Alderman J.E. Kingsbury
  • Alderman F.W. Penny
  • Alderman W.G. Potter
  • Alderman A.J. Spiller
  • Alderman A.J. West
  • Councillor L.C. Barker
  • Councillor S.J. Barnicott
  • Councillor F.W.P. Brown
  • Councillor F.W. Clode
  • Councillor C.H. Goodland
  • Councillor H. Govier
  • Councillor A.E. Joscelyne
  • Councillor J.C. Lane
  • A.W. Loveys
  • E.A. Marshalsea
  • Councillor W.E. Maynard
  • Councillor E.J.S. Price
  • Councillor J.S. Scudamore
  • Councillor F.C. Spear
  • Councillor R.G. Spiller
  • Councillor H. Stainer
  • Councillor W.J. Thorn
  • 25 men, 0 women = 25 total

Sites and Scenery:

  • Chairman: W.G. Potter
  • Hon. Secretary: H.M. Lewis
  • 11 men, 0 women = 11 total


  • Chairman: F.H.F. Calway
  • Hon. Secretary: G.O. Boundy
  • 11 men, 0 women = 11 total

Dresses and Properties:

  • Chairman: F.W.P. Brown
  • Hon. Secretary: Arthur W. Parker
  • 10 men, 3 women = 13 total


  • Chairman: F.S. Dodson
  • Hon. Secretary: S.L. Ward
  • 13 men, 0 women = 13 total

Music and Singing:

  • Chairman: H. Knott
  • Hon. Secretary: E. Edgecombe
  • 8 men, 5 women = 13 total


  • Chairman: A.G. Barrett
  • Hon. Secretary: F. Goldby
  • 9 men, 3 women = 12 total


The patron list for the pageant was extensive and impressive. Lead patron was H.R.H. The Duke of York, KG, KT, Erc. (Colonel-in-Chief Somerset LI), with a variety of vice-patrons: The Most Hon., The Marquess of Bath, KG (Lord Lieutenant of the County of Somerset); The Right Rev. The Lord Bishop of Winchester; The Right Rev the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells; The Right Hon. The Lord St Audries; The Right Rev. The Lord Bishop of Taunton; The Very Rev. The Dean of Wells; The High Sheriff of the County of Somerset (Col. W.H. Speke, DL, JP); The MP for the Taunton Division (Lt.-Col. A. Hamilton Gault, DSO, MP); The Chairman of the Somerset County Council (F.H. Berryman, Esq.); Admiral Sir William Nicholson, KCB; The Colonel of the Somerset Light Infantry (Lt.-Genl. Sir T. D’Oyly. Snow, KCB, KCMG); The Officer Command of the 1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry; Mayors of Taunton and surrounding towns like Bath and Chard. See Defendamus: A Pageant of Taunton, 1928 (Taunton, 1928), 3 for full list.

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

  • Trevilian, Major M.F. Cely
  • Aldford, Rev. D.P.


  • Trevilian stated: ‘In 1910 the late Rev. D.P. Aldford wrote a sketch for a Taunton Pageant, into which he put all the resources of his great antiquarian knowledge. This sketch provided for a very large number of scenes, and included certain verses. Mr Alford’s sketch was never developed; but by the kindess of his family… I have been allowed to make use of two sets of his verse:
  • “Alfred! England’s Shepherd”, in the first scene of Episode II.
  • Lines spoken by Herald in second scene of Episode II’.1

Names of composers

  • Tanner, Laurence E.
  • Luther, Martin
  • Parry, Hubert

Numbers of performers


The Somerset branch of the English Folk-Dance Society provided over 200 trained performers, and practically filled the cast for the 14th century episode. The Taunton branch of the National Union of Teachers provided the bulk of the performers for the Monmouth rebellion episode. The Madrigal Society, the Choral Society, the Operatic Society, and the church choirs sang in several scenes. All ranks of the military detachments stationed in the town, the Naval Fellowship, the trades unions, and the religious organizations took part.

Financial information

Total receipts: £3121. 15s. 5d., including £1112. 3s. 11d. in donations and £1878. 10s. 8d. in advance booking and entrance receipts.

Expenditure: £2781. 6s. 8d., incurred mainly by the Sites and Scenery Committee £930. 10s. 5d. and the Dresses and Properties Committee £788. 5s. 10d.3

Profit: £340.

Object of any funds raised

While there was no stated objective, the profit was distributed in the following manner, as reported in the Western Daily Press:

‘£200 to the Taunton and Somerset Hospital Building Fund; £40 to the Soldiers’ Home, and £10 to the Depot Somerset LI Athletic Fund… £50 to the Taunton District Nursing Association; £10 to the Red Cross Ambulance; and £10 to the Taunton Mental Defectives’ Fund; the remaining balance (about £10) to go to the Hospital.’4

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 3500
  • Total audience: n/a


First night: over 3000 spectators. ‘The attendance would have been even larger but for the very unfavourable weather.’5

Dress rehearsal: ‘4500 school children from the town and neighbourhood’.6

‘The publicity department are aiming at attracting at least 50000 people to the town to see the pageant.’ It seems unlikely that this target was reached.7

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


20s., 10s., 5s., 4s., 3s., 2s., 1s. All covered and reserved.

Associated events

‘Prayers of intercession for the success of the pageant were offered in local churches and chapels. There was a special service at St Mary’s, attended by the Mayor and Corporation, and members of other public bodies, borough magistrates, the Court Leet, and pageant performers.’

Pageant outline

Prologue. Midsummer Night

A crowd of dispirited Britons assemble. They remember the rumour that, on Midsummer Night, King Arthur (who had died) would be seen riding with his Knights to Camelot. Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, appears, frightening the Britons. She asks for calm, and for what they desire. They ask for King Arthur; she bids the King to appear. A barge enters, with King Arthur, three Queens, and Sir Pelleas – solemnly and not in triumph. Arthur tells Nimue that his people are unworthy of the Round Table and the chivalry it symbolises, and that before he can return they must unite and arm. The people cry that they will, but ask who shall lead them. Arthur replies that they must find their own leader, and that they should arm for defence instead of attack. After appointing the defence of country, custom, law, and freedom to each one of his companions, and commanding Nimue to take the general guardianship of the land, Arthur hands Nimue his sword, Excalibur, and tells her that his soul will rest in Avalon until his people are ready for his return. The people reply, in song, ‘Defendamus’. The barge leaves, as do the local people. Nimue calls for the Queen of the Waste Lands to teach the people the defence of country, before leaving.

Part I. Defence of Country

Episode I. King Ina, 710

A Saxon Thane, with his family and others, enters, with cattle and building materials, and marks out the boundaries of waste lands given by the King. They are attacked by Geraint and his ‘Welsh.’ The Thane offers to draw a line between their respective claims, and to live peaceably as neighbours, but Geraint refuses. The Thane pleads, but, being mocked, he would rather die in defence of his home and country than relent. King Ina arrives with soldiers and disperses the Welsh. Ina founds a Castle on the Tone; confirms the Thane’s lands; and puts the protection of the valley in the hands of the Bishop of Winchester and his successors. King Ina and his followers depart, pursuing the Welsh, while the Thane and his party go off to find timber for the building of the castle.

Episode II. King Alfred and the Danes, 873

Scene I. Athelney

A peasant woman and her husband enter and talk of the desperate state of the Saxon army. The man complains that the folk of Tone Town [Taunton] do not help; the wife guesses that they are happy to just defend their own castle. The man leaves for the army, while the woman carries on cooking. King Alfred enters, unrecognised by the woman. He asks if he may wait for some friends. The woman says ‘yes’, if he will watch cakes she is cooking, while she is away on an errand. She leaves. Ethelnoth, Ealderman of Somerset, enters, and listens to Alfred describing his visit to the Danish camp, and his complaints of insufficient soldiers. The woman reenters, finds the cakes burnt, and boxes the King’s ears. The Portreeve of Tone Town enters with his men, and tells the King that they will fight for their country and King as well as their town. All leave for battle, singing Mr Alford’s Song of the Taunton Men.

Scene II. Aller

Local people assemble to see the consummation of Alfred’s victory at Edington. Saxon and Danish soldiers enter from different sides. The Bishop of Sherborne and other ecclesiastical figures procession through. Alfred and Guthrum enter together, followed by their respective nobles. Alfred instructs a herald to read his proclamation, setting forth the terms of the Treaty of Wedmore. Guthrum and his nobles are baptized, with Alfred and his Thanes as standing sponsors. This concluded the lesson of the Defence of Country. Nimue enters, and installs the Queen of North Gallis in place of the Queen of the Waste Lands.

Part II. Defence of Custom

Episode III. The Manor of Taunton Deane, 1384

Folk dance and songs take place. All classes assemble to honour the Lord of the Manor of Taunton Deane. A large crowd of townsfolk witness the Court Baron. The Portreeve and Bailiff appear, and the crowd grows. A morality play begins to take place, as fiddler plays, and the people dance and sing, but the Priory bells are heard ringing, and the procession of the Lord of the Manor approaches. The Bishop of Winchester is accompanied by his host, the Prior of SS Peter and Paul, the Canons of that foundation, the Vicar of St Mary’s, the Incumbent of St James’s Chapelry, and the Prior of the Carmelites. The Bishop takes his seat and greets the visitors and tenants. During the proceedings a messenger brings news that the Archbishop of Canterbury is approaching for a visitation of the Archdeaconry. The Archbishop appears and is angry that those he wanted to see had not assembled to greet him, and that no bells have been rung in his honour. He is finally appeased by the Bishop of Wincehster, and the custom of the country is upheld.

Episode IV. Perkin Warbeck, 1497

Perkin Warbeck has just been captured, and brought to Taunton as a prisoner of Henry VII. The King is greeted by notables of the town, who use the opportunity of his good humour (because of the suppression of the revolt) to persuade him to build a tower for St Mary’s Church as a thanks offering. This ends the Lesson of Defence and Custom. Nimue enters, and installs Queen Morgan le Fay in the place of the Queen of North Gallis.

Part III. Defence of Law

Episode V. The Siege of Taunton, 1645

The town is besieged by the King’s forces, under Lord Goring, and defended by Colonel Robert Blake. The defence is set-up. Blake sends out scouts, as the Mayor and Welman encourage the local people. A scout returns with a messenger from Weldon, and informs Blake that Fairfax had been coming to the relief of Taunton, but, by order of the parliament, was sent back from Blandford to Oxford. Only a weakened force, therefore, under Weldon, was available. This message causes great discouragement - increased when other scouts return and report that Goring’s troops are engaged with forces coming from Chard, appearing to drive the latter back. Captain Bawdon and others want Blake make an attack to support those whom they suppose to be Weldon’s men, but Blake refuses, smelling a ruse of Goring’s. A sentry cries that the Cavaliers are coming, and a tremendous attack is launched against Taunton. The Roundhead soliders man the defences, as civilians draw to the back; a hymn is sung while the battle rages. The attackers draw off, but Goring urges them to a final effort, because Fairfax would soon be there – and too strong for their forces. A final desperate and unsuccessful attack is made by the Cavaliers. Blake congratulates his men, and bids the people to rest. Everyone leaves except Blake, Bawdon and the Sergeant of the Guard on the stage. It transpires that the only food left is one hog. Blake tells the Sergeant to have the hog driven round squealing, to convince the people that supplies have arrived. Welman calls the people together and begins to preach, but is interrupted by a man who cries ‘Deliverance!’ Most of the congregation break away, to Welman’s annoyance. A rattle of gunfire comes from the direction of Goring’s camp, and a troop of Dragoons gallops in, closely followed by waggons of provision. Great rejoicings follow. This ended the Lesson of the Defence of Law. Nimue enters and installs Sir Pelleas in the place of Queen Morgan le Fay.

Part IV. The Defence of Freedom

Episode VI. The Western Rebellion

Scene I. The Blow, June 1685

A crowd of townsfolk gathers, talking of the rumour of Monmouth’s approach. Opinions are much divided, with some sceptical of his success, and a few country gentlemen dead against him. But the majority, including practically all the lower classes and many nonconformist Ministers, are enthusiastic. Captain William Speke enters with the Mayor and is booed by the rebellious majority of the crowd. Members of the ‘Yellow Regiment’ of the Somerset Militia also have divided loyalties between Monmouth and the Duke of Albemarle. Monmouth enters with his party, carrying a blue flag, to a mixed reception – though more positive than negative. Captain Hucker receives the Duke on behalf of the people of Taunton. Hewling appeals for recruits; many come forward. While they are being enrolled an argument breaks out as to whether Monmouth should be proclaimed King. Finally he is proclaimed, and a proclamation is read. Miss Blake appears with her Fair Maids; immediately after the presentation of the Bible, Flag, and Sword, Monmouth and his party leave for Bridgwater. The people accompany them off the stage.

Scene II. The Recoil. September, 1685

It is the third day of the Assize. Small groups of townsfolk enter, while prisoners erect the Court under the direction of soldiers of ‘Kirke’s Lambs’. A group of gentlemen enter, including Bishop Ken, Lord Stawell, and Sir Francis Warre. Captain Killigrew approaches Warre and asks if he will act for the Queen’s Maids of Honour in extorting the £7000 bribe for the lives of the Fair Maids. Warre refuses. Kirke enters; it transpires that he is prepared to connive at the escape of any who can pay a bribe of £20. He explains that Jeffreys charges a great deal more, and the King most of all. Ken suggests to his friends that they raise a sum between them to buy off as many as possible. Jeffreys is seen approaching with the High Sheriff, Sir William Portman. Miss Hewling pleads for her brother’s life, and Jeffreys orders his Coachman to whip her from his carriage door. Jeffreys takes his seat, and the assizes recommence. Several prisoners are brought up for judgement and are executed on the spot. One is ordered to be hanged at the gates of Lord Stawell, who had pleaded for him. The verdict on Hewling and Holmes comes last, the latter on the scaffold prophesying that England will eventually be delivered from tyranny. The crowd, incensed by Jeffrey’s order to the band to play during Holmes’ execution—‘I will give him music for his dancing’—, breaks into a defiant song, and tries to rush the Court.

Epilogue. Midsummer Night

Nimue, entering with the three Queens, announces that the lessons which King Arthur ordained have now been well and truly learnt; it is time, she says, for Arthur to come again and claim Excalibur. Trumpets sound and the King appears in glory, riding with his Knights. To commends his faithful friends, and takes back his great sword. Then a group, including Ina, Alfred, Charles I, Charles II, and Victoria, appears; Arthur enquires who they are. Nimue explains that they are the great people of the world who have conferred special benefits on Taunton. Arthur welcomes them, and they take their places beside him. Heralds then summon the people at Arthur’s command, and from all sides pour in the characters of all the episodes; they group round the King, and sing ‘Defendamus.’ Riding towards the stands, Arthur addresses the audience, telling them that the fight can never cease, and that it is for them to carry on the defence against wrong, upon which they have seen their ancestors engaged. He calls for volunteers, and from the stands come 40 or 50 spectators, who, joining hands both with the players and the people in the stands, make one great circle round the King. Arthur then says that, from then on, he will dwell among his people, not as a King, but as a spirit in their hearts strengthening them for the everlasting defence of Right against the powers of Darkness. He also assures them of the help of all the Hosts whom Nimue and his companions represent. He then calls the Bishop of Winchester, and hands him Excalibur. ‘Take my sword,’ he says, ‘and carry on the age-long fight; and hold it aloft, that my people may see their weapon.’ The Bishop holds up the great sword by the blade, and all the people sink on one knee in homage to the Cross. After joining with the audience in signing a hymn, the players disperse.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Arthur (supp. fl. in or before 6th cent.) legendary warrior and supposed king of Britain
  • Ine [Ini] (d. in or after 726) king of the West Saxons
  • Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons
  • Guthrum (d. 890) king of the East Angles
  • Wykeham, William (c.1324–1404) bishop of Winchester, administrator, and founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford
  • Courtenay, William (1341/2–1396) archbishop of Canterbury
  • George [St George] (d. c.303?) patron saint of England
  • Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies [The Devil]
  • Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Bray, Sir Reynold [Reginald] (c.1440–1503) administrator
  • Warbeck, Perkin [Pierrechon de Werbecque; alias Richard Plantagenet, duke of York] (c.1474–1499) impostor and claimant to the English throne
  • Blake, Robert (bap. 1598, d. 1657) naval and army officer
  • Goring, George, Baron Goring (1608–1657) royalist army officer
  • Stawell, Sir John (1599/1600–1662) royalist army officer
  • Scott [formerly Crofts], James, duke of Monmouth and first duke of Buccleuch (1649–1685) politician
  • Ken, Thomas (1637–1711) bishop of Bath and Wells and nonjuror
  • Portman, Sir William, sixth baronet (1643–1690) politician
  • Jeffreys, George, first Baron Jeffreys (1645–1689) judge
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India

Musical production

Orchestra and Choir
Conductor: H. Knott

Music by Laurence E. Tanner:
  • Overture—the Orchestra.
  • Duet. ‘Gods of the Hills and the Forest’—Druid and Priestess.
  • Entrance of Nimue, Lady of the Lake—the Orchestra.
  • Chorus. ‘Arthur of the Flashing Brand’—Britons.
  • Chorus. ‘Defendamus’—Britons.
Episode II:
  • Chorus. ‘Alfred, England’s Shepherd’—Saxon Host.
Episode III:
  • Solo and Chorus. ‘Avoyd Sers’—Chief Mummer and Crowd.
  • Solo and Chorus. ‘Tithing Song’—Thorulf and Crowd.
Episode VI:
  • March Chorus. ‘A Defiant Song’—the Orchestra, Prisoners and Crowd.
  • Entrance of King Arthur—the Orchestra.
Other Music:
  • ‘Green Garters’ (Episode III).
  • Unnamed song. Words and melody by Martin Luther. Translated by T. Carlyle (Episode V).
  • Song of Charles I’s Irish Recruits (Episode V).
  • ‘Jerusalem’. From William Blake’s ‘Prophetic Books’, music by Sir Hubert Parry (Epilogue).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser
The Times
Western Morning News
Western Daily Press
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
North Devon Journal

Book of words

Defendamus: A Pageant of Taunton, 1928. Taunton, 1928.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature

  • Simpson Roger. ‘Arthurian Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’. Arthuriana 18, no. 1 (2008), 63-87.
  • ___. Radio Camelot: Arthurian Legends on the BBC, 1922-2005. Woodbridge, 2008.
  • Michael Woods, ‘Performing Power: Local Politics and the Taunton Pageant of 1928’. Journal of Historical Geography 25, no. 1 (1999), 57-74.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Somerset Heritage Centre:
  • Taunton Historical Pageant 1928. Collection. A\BDK.
  • Records Relating to the Taunton Pageant 1928. A\CLC.
  • Lists of participants in Taunton’s Historical Pageant with addresses and script. 1928. D\B\ta/42/12.
  • Posters relating to Taunton. Late 19th century.-early 20th century. DD\SAS/C2550/40.
  • Tickets for Historical Pageant. 1928. DD\X\BRO/2/32.
  • Pageant poster. 1928. DD\X\BRO/2/33.
  • Photographs. 1920s. DD\X\BUSH/5.
  • Printed brochure of Taunton Historical Pageant. 1928. DD\X\DS/1.
  • Photograph of set erected in front of Shire Hall for Historical Pageant. 1928. DD\X\DS/2.
  • Colour poster advertising the Taunton Pageant, 26–30 June 1928. June 1928. DD\X\SOM/59/7/5.
  • Colour poster advertising the Taunton Pageant, 26-30 June 1928. June 1928. DD\X\SOM/59/7/6.
  • Agreement for Erection of Grandstands in the Cresent Field (1928). A/BCJ/ 2.
  • ‘Taunton Historical Pageant', Somerset County Gazette [Pull-out souvenir]. 30 June 1928. A\CAS 1.
  • Matterson family photographs. ‘W.A.K. Matterson as Chief Mummer in Taunton Pageant June 1928 on site of the present offices.’ A\BWL/1.
  • Filmed Footage. British Pathe. Film ID: 2426.12.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Coventry Pageant XIII Cotton MS.
  • Minehead Christmas Mummer Play.
  • The author stated that he depended on the work of D.P. Alford, H.P. Palmer, and H. Byard Sheppard.9


The Taunton Pageant was a medium-sized event, much in the mould of the Parkerian style of pageant, performed times in one week in the summer of 1928. Its other title was ‘Defendamus’—the town’s (at this point unofficial) motto, meaning ‘Let us defend’ first recorded in 1685 and referring to the town’s refusal to surrender to Royalist forces during the Civil War. It had been desired to hold the pageant in 1927, to celebrate the 50th, 250th and 300th anniversary of the borough’s three charters. The event took longer than expected to organise, however, and nearby Bridgwater pipped Taunton to the post for that year; it was decided to not risk a clash.10 In a sense, this was actually the second time the town had to put off a pageant. In 1910 the late Rev. D.P. Aldford had written a script, using ‘all the resources of his great antiquarian knowledge’, but it was never fully developed; some of his verse, however, was incorporated in the 1928 event.11 The author and pageant master was Major M.S. Cely Trevilian, a local landowner, who produced the Bridgwater Pageant (1927), as well as the Muchelney pageant (1924) and the Combe Pageant (1931).

Taunton at this time had a population of around 25000, and served as a ‘service and administrative centre for the surrounding rural area of western Somerset.’12 There were some small industries, based mostly on agriculture, and a significant proportion of employment was provided by a depot of the Great Western Railway. According to Michael Woods, the pageant was a part of a wider development in semi-rural society, where social and economic change—such as rural depopulation, agricultural mechanization, the financial strain felt by landowners in economic changes, and political change—was ‘managed’ through the development of a preservationist ideology combining ‘a curious mix of rustic romanticism and a faith in technology and order’.13 In the actual pageant episodic narrative this was emphasised by investing the countryside with the virtues of tradition, community, and social order, and by so doing promoting the idea that the people of the past had created the ‘settled present’.14 As Woods has pointed out, however, Taunton was actually growing and modernising rapidly: the service and manufacturing sectors were became more important, with people migrating into the town and transport and chain stores changing the face of the town’s economy and built environment.15 The pageant was, then, a reaction to these changes; accepting them, for sure, but also trying to manage their consequences.

The whole organization of the pageant was structured and stratified by class. The patrons represented the county elite, and the organizational committees the municipal and business elite (which overlapped significantly). Voluntary work was carried out by others from across the social spectrum.16 This elite, and thus the committees that organised the pageant, were dominated by men; there were, moreover, no heroic female parts, and women were restricted to the roles of wives, mythical characters, and figures providing comic relief.17 The power structure was visibly reified on the opening night, when, in a civic ritual reminiscent of the nineteenth century, the ‘picturesquely’ robed civic elite, led by the civic marshal and mace bearer, and consisting of the Mayor, Bishop, Deputy Mayor, and town clerk of the town, as well as the mayors of nearby towns such as Chard and Yeovil, marched to the pageant ground from the Municipal Hall.18 As Simon Gunn has argued, choreographed spectacles like processions allowed for the symbolic display of leadership and authority and for claims of authority to be made over the urban community.19

A number of the leading figures in the pageant’s creation were members of the Conservative party, and in the minds of many the memories of the General Strike two years earlier were still strong. Fears of ‘socialism’ ran high in Taunton. Such concerns led the organisers, according to Woods, to re-affirm ‘working-class identification with localist discourses of an ordered, organic, community’.20 Above all, then, as the foreword stated, ‘the lesson’ that the pageant strove to teach was ‘that of continuity’:

Our forefathers struggled each in their day to defend the right as it was given them to see it; often mistaken, often failing, often disappointed, but still through the centuries building up the heritage which is ours to-day. It is for us to pass that heritage on to our children not only undiminished but enhanced.21

As was common in civic pageants such as these, it was the past that provided the lessons for the future. Perhaps the most novel aspect of the pageant, then, was its dependence on the Arthurian legend. While there had been some references to the King and his mythology in the Edwardian pageants at Dover and Warwick, the Taunton Pageant was ‘noteworthy for presenting this within a structure that revolves entirely around Arthur’.22 As Roger Simpson has highlighted, such an approach was rare due to ‘the awkward fact that a conviction of Arthur’s historical existence is not a truth universally acknowledged… [a] historical pageant was intended to be historical, and Arthur was not a very safe choice.’23 In a sense, Taunton’s pageant took an abstractly thematic approach. It began on an undisclosed date on a Midsummer Night, as the dying King Arthur instructed the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, to instruct his followers in the nature of ‘defence’—the central concept of the pageant. Nimue in turn delegated this responsibility to a different mythological Queen for each part of the pageant. In Part I the Defence of Country was represented through a Saxon Thane’s refusal to yield to the Welsh, and thus ‘rather die in defence of his home and country’ (Episode I), and the successful defence from the Danish by King Alfred (Episode II). In Part II the narrative moved to the Defence of Custom, represented by a variety of medieval English ‘traditions’, such as folk dancing, songs, morality plays, and fiddlers (Episode III), and, following the capture of Perkin Warbeck in 1497, King Henry VII’s granting of a tower to St Mary’s Church as a token of thanks (Episode IV). In the third part, the Defence of Law, the longest episode of the pageant, was represented through the Siege of Taunton during the English Civil War, in which the town refused to surrender (Episode V). The final part concerned the Defence of Freedom, in which the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 and its aftermath of executions (Episode VI) are portrayed as part of a tyranny from which England will eventually be delivered. In the Epilogue, Nimue returned and announced the lessons that had been learned, which led to the reappearance of Arthur in full glory, now directly addressing the audience in a call for volunteers. In a rare (if not unique) example of audience participation, forty or fifty volunteers then leave the grandstand to join hands with the performers in making a circle around the King, as he proclaims that he will forever live as a spirit in their hearts, strengthening them in the fight against darkness. Nimue then ends the pageant by declaring:

So as ye pass from here towards the homes
Which prove a thousand years of work and love,
Make high resolve that you will show yourselves
Worthy of those who passed this way before,
Firm in the Faith, strong to defend the Right.
The past is past; the future dawns. Good-night.24

The whole structure of the performance was ‘designed to emphasize Taunton’s importance and inspire pride in the town’s history’ for the purpose of both bracketing class tensions and demonstrating Taunton’s legitimate claim to being designated the County Town. 25

It was, then, intended to serve as an educational tool, as with most civic pageants of this time, though, in Woods’ view, one that was associated particularly with top-down control. Certainly, when the pageant was in the planning stages and under discussion at a public meeting, the Alderman F.W. Penny declared that the pageant would be a ‘great help… from an educational point of view’, and he thus ‘hoped it would be possible for every child in Taunton to see the pageant.’ Mr H. Nicholson agreed, affirming that ‘nothing could do more to increase their civic pride’, and so he ‘hoped the schools would give it all the support possible.’26 This was further highlighted in the foreword to the Book of Words, in which the organisers hoped that the pageant would show ‘part of our country from an angle which some history books, particularly those most used in schools, are a little apt to miss’; instead of ‘kings and battles, statesmen and treaties’, the pageant would thus show ‘the feelings, aspirations, hopes and fears of the ordinary people.’27

If there was an educational angle to the pageant, it was still, however, a commercial enterprise. In 1927 the press reported how it was one part of the town council Publicity Committee’s plans to create ‘many schemes… which should bring Taunton prominently before the citizens, not only of the United Kingdom, but of lands over seas.’28 The pageant was thus advertised in Bristol, Exeter and Weston-Super-Mare and at every railway station in a 60 mile radius, while the Mayor spoke about the event on BBC radio, and adverts were printed on dining car menus on all Great Western Railway trains.29 In this sense it fits the image of the inter-war progressive town council, keen to investigate different methods of advertising its services to both citizens and those further afield.30 Recruited in fulfilling this goal were the people of Taunton. As the Mayor declared in the pre-pageant publicity, ‘he did not want a pageant got up in the ordinary way, but one of the finest, best and beautiful’.31

While it was common in Edwardian and to a lesser extent interwar pageants for characters to be played by their historical descendants, Trevilian was particularly vocal in his preference for this. As he told a public meeting in the town in 1927:

The desire of the Pageant Master is to get people to represent the characters they are most suited to represent—because they are descendants or occupy the same houses, or follow the same occupation, or are in some other way in spiritual touch with the characters for which they are cast. For instance, soldiers and ex-service men are obviously the most suitable portrayers of military character; no-one can as well represent a monk or a friar as a clergyman. The nonconformist preachers of the past ought to be played by their present-day representatives, and the individual guilds represented by modern trade unions. In the same way it is… hoped that the present owners of certain county houses will be willing to represent their predecessors, whom it is proposed to introduce into certain episodes, and that Taunton tradesmen who appear in various scenes will be represented either by lineal descendants or by those conducting similar business at the present day.32

Such an approach obviously had the effect of reifying class boundaries, rather than dissolving them (however temporarily) in a carnivalesque fashion.33 Pageant Master Trevilian was cut from the same cloth as Parker; he also declared that the performers and helpers would ‘have to put up with autocracy and discipline if they were going to have a pageant, for they must obey the Pageant Master.’34

Still, Woods’ general argument, which sees social control as dominant, can be overstated. While civic power was doubtless exerted, much willing voluntarism was also on show; and while the organisers wished for civic pride, they perhaps merely tapped into an existing resource of civic culture. The Somerset branch of the English Folk-Dance Society provided over 200 trained performers, while the Taunton branch of the National Union of Teachers provided the bulk of the performers for the Monmouth rebellion episode. All ranks of the military detachments stationed in the town, the Naval Fellowship, the trades unions, and the religious organizations also gave assistance.35 In view of the upcoming pageant, the local Workers’ Educational Association implemented a course entitled ‘The Story of Somerset’, which drew on the history of the county from prehistoric to modern times.36 Following the pageant this spirit continued when, during the Taunton Carnival in September 1929, a ‘Potted Pageant’ was performed by men, women and children who had taken part in the historical pageant two months previously.37 The following year the Hon. Secretary for the Taunton Swimming Club explained that the previous year’s season had been ‘poor’ due to the feeling that ‘we should be citizens first and Club members afterwards, and we found it impossible to do other business during the period of rehearsals.’38 Perhaps, then, the pageant was an example of ‘social steering’: a relationship more of bargaining than control, which drew on both a shared pride and understanding of the past, as well as a desire to contribute in the present.39 Certainly, historian Roger Simpson has been less suspicious of the motives of the pageant’s organisers—or, at least, those of Trevilian, whose message, he argues, was ‘genuinely inclusive, aiming for harmony among all’.40 Or perhaps, as Woods has argued, such voluntary participation could merely confirm the success of elites in enrolling local people not as ‘passive recipients of [the] political message conveyed by the pageant, but… engaged in actively reproducing that message—as a ‘community’—through their own actions.41 While Woods admits that a significant number of people reacted positively, he has argued that the lack of visible opposition to the pageant was due to ‘accounts of the pageant’ being ‘presented through media favourable to the elite’s narratives’, such as the local press or local histories.42 This is certainly possible, but it should be noted that local bias did not stop the reporting of protest and opposition in other pageants across the twentieth century.43

Whatever we make of the agenda of its organizers, however, the pageant was a minor success. A profit of £340 was made and distributed amongst a variety of local causes: the Hospital Building Fund, the Solders’ Home, the Depot Somerset LI Athletic Fund, the Taunton District Nursing Association, the Red Cross Ambulance, and the Taunton Mental Defectives’ Fund.44 If the purpose of the pageant was ‘social control’, the money was still ploughed back into the voluntary associations that provided a corollary to the power of elites. That this was the choice taken, rather than spending the money on the creation of a public space or Pageant Gardens to memorialise the event, as suggested by one councillor, is perhaps telling.45 In terms of attendance, a lack of concrete figures makes it harder to judge. Certainly, it did not reach capacity. The disappointing crowd of 3000 for the opening performance—only double the number of performers—was blamed on the ‘driving showers of rain’ and the ‘strong wind, which whistled through the trees… and rattled the awnings over the free [standing] grandstand.’46 On the other hand, the Western Daily Press reported that ‘each evening since the opening performance… [the] pageant has been presented before a crowded audience.’47 At the least, it seems unlikely that the pageant hit the audience target of 50000 for which the Publicity Committee hoped.48 All 7500 copies of the pageant book, however, were sold by the time the run of performances began.49 Local press opinion, too, was favourable. The Western Daily Press described it as ‘rich in spectacular beauty and thrilling in its realistic reproduction of stirring episodes in English history associated with the county town’, and the Taunton Courier was, of course, positive.50 Memory of the pageant also seemed strong; the pageant title song, also ‘Defendamus’, was adopted as an unofficial civic anthem and was performed regularly in public.51 The town council also clearly appreciated Trevilian’s efforts, making him an honorary freeman of the borough ‘for his services as master of the recent Taunton Pageant’, just months after the final performance.52


  1. ^ Defendamus: A Pageant of Taunton, 1928 (Taunton, 1928), 6.
  2. ^ ‘Pageant Week at Taunton’, Western Morning News, 26 June 1928, 5.
  3. ^ ‘Pageant Profit’, Western Daily Press, 16 August 1928, 5.
  4. ^ ‘Pageant Profit’, Western Daily Press, 16 August 1928, 5.
  5. ^ ‘Taunton Pageant’, Western Daily Press, 27 June 1928, 9.
  6. ^ ‘Twelve Centuries of History’, Western Daily Press, 25 June 1928, 11.
  7. ^ ‘Pageants in the West’, Western Morning News, 14 May 1928, 4.
  8. ^ ‘Twelve Centuries of History’, Western Daily Press, 25 June 1928, 11.
  9. ^ Defendamus: A Pageant of Taunton, 1928. Taunton, 1928, no page number.
  10. ^ ‘Taunton Pageant’, Western Daily Press, 27 June 1928, 9.
  11. ^ Defendamus: A Pageant of Taunton, 1928 (Taunton, 1928), 6.
  12. ^ Michael Woods, ‘Performing Power: Local politics and the Taunton Pageant of 1928’, Journal of Historical Geography 25, no. 1 (1999): 64.
  13. ^ Ibid., 64-65.
  14. ^ Ibid., 65.
  15. ^ Ibid., 65.
  16. ^ Ibid., 62.
  17. ^ Ibid., 68.
  18. ^ ‘Taunton Pageant’, Western Morning News, 27 June 1928, 5.
  19. ^ See Gunn, The Public Culture of the Victorian Middle Class: Ritual and Authority in the English Industrial City, 1840–1914 (Manchester, 2000), 163.
  20. ^ Woods, ‘Performing Power’, 66.
  21. ^ Defendamus, 8.
  22. ^ Roger Simpson, ‘Arthurian Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Arthuriana 18, no. 1 (2008): 74.
  23. ^ Ibid., 83.
  24. ^ Defendamus, 92.
  25. ^ Woods, ‘Performing Power’, 67.
  26. ^ ‘Taunton’s Pageant’, Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, 19 January 1927, 2.
  27. ^ Defendamus, 7.
  28. ^ ‘Taunton’s Pageant’, Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, 26 October 1927, 6.
  29. ^ Woods, ‘Performing Power’, 60.
  30. ^ Tom Hulme, ‘Putting the City back into Citizenship: Civics Education and Local Government in Britain, 1918–1945’, Twentieth Century British History, 26, 1 (2015), 26-51.
  31. ^ ‘Taunton’s Pageant’, Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, 19 January 1927, 2.
  32. ^ ‘Taunton Pageant’, Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, 26 October 1927, 4.
  33. ^ Michael Woods, on the contrary, seems to have missed this dictat from Trevelian, and has actually argued that the Taunton pageant did allow a carnivalesque transgression of class roles (despite the potential that this might indeed weaken his argument). Woods, ‘Performing Power’, 69.
  34. ^ ‘Taunton’s Pageant’, Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, 19 January 1927, 2.
  35. ^ ‘Pageant Week at Taunton’, Western Morning News, 26 June 1928, 5.
  36. ^ ‘W.E.A. and the Taunton Pageant’, Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, 28 September 1927, 6.
  37. ^ ‘Carnival for Charities’, Western Morning News, 3 September 1928, 4.
  38. ^ ‘Taunton Swimming Club’, Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, 27 March 1929, 7.
  39. ^ R.J. Morris ‘Governance: Two Centuries of Urban Growth’, in Urban Governance: Britain and Beyond since 1750, ed. R.J. Morris and R.H. Trainor (Basingstoke, 2000), 10.
  40. ^ Simpson, ‘Arthurian Pageants’, 75.
  41. ^ Woods, ‘Performing Power’, 72.
  42. ^ Ibid., 70.
  43. ^ See, for example, opposition to the English Church Pageant, ‘The English Church Pageant’, Aberdeen Journal, 11 June 1909, 5 and to the Edmund of Anglia pageant in Bury St Edmunds, ‘The Future is More Important’, Bury Free Press, 3 July 1970, 10.
  44. ^ ‘Pageant Profit’, Western Daily Press, 16 August 1928, 5.
  45. ^ Ibid., 5.
  46. ^ ‘Taunton Pageant’, Western Morning News, 27 June 1928, 5; ‘Taunton Pageant’, Western Daily Press, 27 June 1928, 9.
  47. ^ ‘Taunton’, Western Daily Press, 30 June 1928, 13.
  48. ^ ‘Pageants in the West’, Western Morning News, 14 May 1928, 4.
  49. ^ Woods, ‘Performing Power', 62.
  50. ^ ‘Taunton Pageant’, Western Daily Press, 27 June 1928, 9.
  51. ^ Woods, ‘Performing Power’, 71.
  52. ^ [Untitled], Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 13 September 1928, 3.

How to cite this entry

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