The Warwick Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Warwick Castle grounds (Warwick) (Warwick, Warwickshire, England)

Year: 1906

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 6


2–7 July 1906, 3pm

There was a number of rehearsals (first rehearsal was 24 May; dress rehearsal on 21 June with paid admission, to which press and photographers were invited). In the week before 2 July ‘preliminary performances’ were given ‘for the poor, the schoolchildren, etc.’)

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Parker, Louis Napoleon
  • Property Master: Mr J.N. Bolton
  • Poster Designer: Mr J.L. Walker
  • Leader of the Orchestra: Peter Warren

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Provisional Committee:

  • Chair: Alderman T. Kemp, FRHistS

General Committee:

  • Chair: Alderman T. Kemp, FRHistS

Ladies Committee:

  • Chair: Miss Lea, Headmistress of Warwick High School
  • Hon. Sec.: Mrs Roger Bullock

Executive Committee:

  • Chair: Alderman T. Kemp
  • Secretary: O.A. Anderson
  • Hon. Secs: Henry J. Brown & Edward Hicks
  • Hon. Treasurer: Mr S.C. Smith

Finance Committee:

  • Chair: Alderman A.H. Lakin

Stand Committee:

  • Chair: Mr Robert Dudley


Ladies Committee responsible for 300 ladies, divided into 14 sewing parties, who made 1400 costumes to designs by local artists.

The Stand Committee may also have been known as the Housing Committee.

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

  • Parker, Louis Napoleon
  • Rhoades, James
  • Hicks, Edward
  • Marlowe, Christopher
  • Shakespeare, William


Parker seems to have been responsible for the script as a whole. James Rhoades provided the narrative choruses and Edward Hicks wrote Episode I. The writings of Marlow (Edward II) and Shakespeare (Henry VI) were used in episodes VI and VII, respectively

Names of composers

  • Blackall, Allen K.
  • Haworth, Mr J.
  • Keeling, Rev. W.T.
  • Ahrons, Miss
  • Benet, John
  • Parker, Louis Napoleon
  • Rhoades, James
  • Arne, Thomas

Allen K. Blackall, FRCO, was the organist of St. Mary’s Church, Warwick, and was responsible for the vast majority of the music used in the pageant

The National Anthem: first three verses, including the pre-1919 version of the second verse, beginning ‘Scatter his enemies, / And make them fall’

Numbers of performers


Horses were used.

Financial information


Major items of expenditure included:

£1500: grandstand
£1160: commission to L.N. Parker on ticket sales
£1004: cost of labour and materials in preparing and restoring arena area at Warwick Castle


Total ticket sales: £11605. 14s.

Total receipts: £12472. 15s. 3d.

Total profit: £2615

Object of any funds raised

Pageant House and Gardens, Warwick


No object was stated at the outset, and the debate on what to do with the monies was quite heated, with various suggestions being discussed (pamphlets were even published detailing various competing schemes). In the end the money was used to buy what became known as ‘Pageant House’, together with its Garden, in Warwick town centre. The House had been the headquarters of the pageant organisation during the pageant; the garden remains a public open space.

Linked occasion

1000th anniversary of the conquest of Mercia by Queen Ethelfleda

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 5000
  • Total audience: 44000


Largest audience 7649; smallest 3636

Total numbers of attendees: 39912 (paying) and about 44000 ‘including the school children, the Workhouse inmates, and others who did not pass through the turnstiles’. 8000 children attended one rehearsal (Tamworth Herald, 30 June 1906).

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

£2. 2s.–3s. 6d.

Most expensive seats: £2. 2s.
Cheapest seats: £3. 6s.
2 guineas (42s.) for seats in first two rows; 21s. for next 5 rows; £10. 6s. for next 14 rows; 5s. for next 12 rows; 3s. 6d. for back row (34 rows in total).

Special seats at 6d. were offered for some of the rehearsal performances in the week before 2 July, aimed at poor people and schoolchildren

Associated events

  • Celebratory civic luncheon held by the Mayor and Mayoress of Warwick (2 July).
  • Pageant sermon at St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, Warwick (Sunday 1 July), preached by the Bishop of Bristol.
  • Pageant ‘Festival Services’ in all Warwick churches (1 July). 
  • Private House Party held at Castle by Earl and Countess of Warwick, during pageant week [many visiting dignitaries attended this].
  • Exhibition of water-colours of ‘Old Warwick’ and ‘Shakespeare’s Country’ by A.C. Wyatt, held at Warwick Castle.
  • Exhibition of Photographs in the Court House, Warwick (6 December 1906). [Prizes offered for photographs of the pageant, by the pageant committee: first prize £5.]
  • Blacklow Hill, in Leek Wootton, scene of the execution of Piers Gaveston, open to public for duration of pageant week.
  • Gardens and grounds of Stoneleigh Abbey also open to the public (entrance 1s. to go to the benefit of the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society at Warwick Prison).
  • ‘Exceptionally Large Pieces of Coal’ exhibited by Charles Baker at Emscote Old Wharf during pageant week—inhabitants of Warwick and Leamington [not visitors from elsewhere!] were invited to guess their weight for a cash prize.

Pageant outline

Preliminary scene

Four heralds with trumpets enter the arena, in the middle of which is a Druidical alter. The heralds blow a flourish on their trumpets while the ‘hidden orchestra’ begins a ‘solemn march’. A narrative chorus dressed as druids enter, in two sections, each led by an arch-druid. The opening chorus is sung while arch-druids light a fire on the altar.

Episode I. Dawn, AD 40 (based on Edward Hicks, Caradoc, a Tale of Ancient Warwick)

Caradoc [Caractacus] is crowned by his dying father Kymbeline as ‘Britain’s Battle-ruler and War-lord’. Another of Kymbeline’s sons, Adminius, then claims he is the rightful king, but this is rejected by Caradoc. A young child is brought in and walled inside the altar as a sacrifice, so Warwick will be strong against the Romans, but Caradoc, horrified, has the child released—despite the protest of the arch-druids. The Romans demand tribute from Caradoc; this is refused and the Romans attack. Adminius is killed and Caradoc is taken prisoner. Twelve years pass, and Caradoc returns carrying a wooden cross, having ‘yielded my crown as ransom for my liberty’. He tells the Britons that while in prison in Rome he converted to Christianity and calls on them to ‘worship the true God’.

Episode II. The Bear and Ragged Staff, AD 500

This episode opens with a battle in which Britons led by Gwar [the British prince Gwdyr] defeat the Picts and Scots. Gwar is brought on in triumph. Morvid [Morvidius, legendary earl of Warwick] enters with the ragged staff as gift for Gwar. He tells Gwar he got it from a giant he slew in the forest. Arthal [another legendary earl of Warwick] then enters leading a brown bear as his gift for Gwar, which he says he had captured after wrestling with it in the woods. The bear, tired out, is given the staff to lean on, which prompts Gwar to declare that ‘this Bear and this Ragged Staff shall henceforth be our escutcheon’. A Bishop and some priests then enter, and are invited by Gwar to set up a church in ‘Gwar’s stronghold’.

Episode III. Ethelfleda, AD 906

Ethelfleda enters on horseback with captured Danes, having ‘routed the foe’ in battle. She asks her people what to do with Danes she has captured, and they demand their death. A priest then intervenes and offers to make the Danes ‘followers of our Fair Father, Christ’, a suggestion to which Ethelfleda agrees. She founds Warwick School and orders the released Danes to earn their freedom by ‘raising a mound yonder, above Avon, whereon we may dwell in safety, and not be overwhelmed by their kin who know not Christ. And men shall call it Ethelfleda’s Mound’. Having been given shovels and pickaxes, the Danes then get to work.

Episode IV. Guy of Warwick, AD 920

Peasants complain to Rohant, Earl of Warwick, about the depredations of the Dun Cow, a horrible monster with a penchant for killing sheep and babies. Phyllis (Rohant’s daughter) arrives, sad that her lover Guy has left her. Guy then appears, telling stories of his deeds while away (singing some of The Legend of Sir Guy from Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry). He asks Phyllis to marry him, but she says he must first kill the Dun Cow. Guy says he has already done so, and his men carry on its head—still breathing fire and smoke and blinking horribly. Phyllis and Guy marry. The action then resumes with Phyllis, now an old lady, lamenting Guy’s absence in Palestine. Guy then enters as a very old man, disguised as a Palmer back from the Holy Land; he is asked by Phyllis (who does not recognise him) if he had seen Guy on his travels. Guy says no, withdraws, but then collapses when he hears Phyllis singing of her love for him. He sends her his wedding ring. Phyllis rushes to Guy, they recognise each other, and then both die.

Episode V. Roger de Newburgh, AD 1123

The episode begins with Roger de Newburgh’s [Roger de Beaumont’s] wife Gundrada looking forward to his return from the Holy Land. He then arrives, accompanied by Templar Knights. Roger de Newburgh gives the Templars a house to serve as ‘the Manor of the Templars’, and promises to build them a hospital as an offering to St. Michael. The Lord Bishop of Worcester then enters, and Roger joins six churches to the Church of our Lady. A Te Deum is sung in Latin and Roger and his wife are blessed by the bishop.

Episode VI. Piers Gaveston, AD 1312 (‘based on scenes from Marlow’s Edward II’)

Piers Gaveston, returning from exile, encounters a poor man who has fought against the Scots. Gaveston curtly refuses the man’s request for help, telling him ‘there are hospitals for such as thee’. King Edward II then enters, accompanied by various noblemen. King and Lords quarrel, and the latter retire. Edward makes Gaveston Lord High Chamberlain and Chief Secretary of state. The Bishop of Coventry then enters, and is shocked to see Gaveston back in the country. Edward confiscates the bishop’s property, giving them and his bishopric to Gaveston, and Gaveston then has the bishop dragged off to prison. Queen Isabella enters, and quarrels with Edward, who accuses Isabella of siding with the disgruntled noblemen. When the earls advance in force, Edward flees, and Gaveston is taken prisoner and tried for treason. He is condemned to death, and taken off to be executed by the old soldier he had scorned at the outset.

Episode VII. The King-Maker (Shakespeare), AD 1464

The text of this episode, performed by the Kineton Amateur Dramatic Company, is drawn from Shakespeare’s Henry VI part III. The French king (‘Lewis XI’) enters with Lady Bona, his sister. They receive a visit from Queen Margaret of England, accompanied by Prince Edward and the Earl of Oxford. The queen complains that her husband, Henry VI, is forced to live in exile in Scotland while ‘proud ambitious Edward, Duke of York, / Usurps the regal title’, and asks the king to help. Warwick then enters, presenting himself as ‘Edward’s greatest friend’, and communicates the proposal that Lady Bona marry Edward. To Margaret’s fury, Lewis agrees. But news then arrives that Edward has married Lady Grey. Lewis is furious, and Warwick renounces his allegiance to Edward and pledges to supplant him with Henry. All leave the arena, and Lewis’s throne is replaced by a silken tent. Edward IV arrives and enters this tent, around which soldiers stand guard. Warwick, together with other nobles and soldiers then appear, overpower the guard and break into the tent, bringing out the king. Warwick removes Edward’s crown and declares that Henry is now the monarch.

Episode VIII. The Charters, AD 1546

The episode opens with happy girls singing. A herald and some townspeople then enter, and the herald announces the king’s incorporation of Warwick as a borough. He also announces the king’s grant of two churches to the town, as well as a free school, to be known as the King’s New School of Warwick. All this news is greeted by lots of cheering and celebration, and a Latin Carmen is sung by the school boys.

Episode IX. The Nine Days’ Queen, AD 1553

Ambrose Dudley and Thomas Fisher enter, deep in conversation. Ambrose brings news from his father, the earl of Northumberland, that Jane (granddaughter of Henry VII), is to be proclaimed queen. Ambrose and Thomas agree to proclaim her in Warwick, and do so, before an unenthusiastic crowd, one member of which cries out: ‘God save Queen Mary!’ Ambrose gives Thomas money to raise an army for Queen Jane, but news quickly arrives that Mary has been proclaimed queen and the earl of Northumberland has been imprisoned. Thomas flees but Ambrose is captured by arriving soldiers who accuse him of high treason. Thomas is brought from his hiding place and admits that Ambrose had given him money to raise an army, but he refuses to lead the soldiers to where he has hidden the money. The soldiers prepare to execute Thomas but his wife bravely throws herself in front of him. The Captain of the soldiers is impressed (‘Are there many in Warwick like you?’), and after Thomas tells him that ‘the men of Warwick are true, and the women are staunch’ he decides to spare him.

Episode X. Elizabeth, AD 1572

This long episode begins with a meeting of Warwick town officials sentencing a man to the stocks for assaulting the town constable. There follows a confused scene where the townspeople accuse burgesses of loading the ‘poor commons’ with burdens. Thomas Oken and his wife then enter, and the hubbub dies down. Oken announces his intention to give ‘the most of my worldly goods for the comfort of the poor’. Robert Dudley, earl of Leycester [Leicester] then arrives in a grand procession, together with various other noblemen and women on horseback. Having ridden down the long avenue to the arena, they dismount, Leicester being disappointed that he was not met ‘in a seemly manner’ at the borough boundary. He moves to leave, but is persuaded to stay by offers of gifts from the town burghers. Leicester declares that he will found a hospital for the poor at Warwick. News then comes that Queen Elizabeth is soon to arrive in the town. This causes great excitement. The guilds of Warwick march on, and a throne is erected; the youths of Warwick perform a song in praise of the town, and a chorale is sung. As the chorale ends, the queen enters in her horse-drawn coach, accompanied by various dignitaries. The Recorder of Warwick begins a formal speech but is cut short by Leicester, who says that the queen will read it later. Another townsmen then begins a Latin poem but is interrupted by the queen, who laughingly stops him. She gets down from coach, Leicester and the earl of Sussex squabbling over who should hand her down (she decides to lean on both). Once seated on her throne, the bailiff of Stratford presents his son, William Shakespeare, whom the queen kisses affectionately. He reciprocates with an enthusiastic hug. Dances are then performed for the queen, and she departs by state barge, via the landing stage on the Avon.

Episode XI. The Fire, AD 1694

Local women are shown distressed by the burning of Warwick. Charles Hicks, Lord Mayor of Warwick enters, followed by King William III and courtiers, including Sir Fulke Greville (of the Greville family who would later become earls of Warwick). The vicar of St Mary’s and the mayor are presented to William. An old woman, who had lost her house in the fire, tells the king her life story, including her recollection of seeing the young Shakespeare kiss Queen Elizabeth. William gives her money.

Final Tableau

A Flourish of trumpets introduces the Final Tableau, illustrative of how Warwick has risen from the ashes. A Chorus of Druids is followed by the Girls of the High School singing ‘The Song of the High School’, by E.J. Ahrons. Then the pageant ‘triumph song’ by James Rhoades is sung while a pedestal is set up in middle of arena. All the characters in the pageant come on in groups and arrange themselves in a semicircle around the pedestal. Then 14 colonial and American Warwicks come on, represented by young girls in ‘appropriate costume’. Finally a female personification of Warwick ascends the pedestal, wearing a ‘masoned crown, typifying the Castle’, and carrying a model of St. Mary’s Church in one hand. The 100th psalm is sung, followed by the National Anthem, and the pageant ends.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Cunobelinus [Cymbeline] (d. c.AD 40) king in southern Britain
  • Caratacus [Caractacus] (fl. AD 40–51) king in Britain
  • Adminius [Amminius] (fl. c.AD 40)
  • Dyfrig [St Dyfrig, Dubricius] (supp. fl. c.475–c.525) holy man and supposed bishop
  • Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
  • Guy of Warwick (supp. fl. c.930) legendary hero
  • Beaumont [Newburgh], Henry de, first earl of Warwick (d. 1119) magnate
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Thomas of Lancaster, second earl of Lancaster, second earl of Leicester, and earl of Lincoln (c.1278–1322) magnate
  • Beauchamp, Guy de, tenth earl of Warwick (c.1272–1315) magnate
  • Mortimer, Roger (IV), first Lord Mortimer of Chirk (c.1256–1326) baron
  • Mortimer, Roger (V), first earl of March (1287–1330) regent, soldier, and magnate
  • Valence, Aymer de, eleventh earl of Pembroke (d. 1324) magnate
  • Clare, Gilbert de, eighth earl of Gloucester and seventh earl of Hertford (1291–1314) magnate
  • Bohun, Humphrey (VII) de, fourth earl of Hereford and ninth earl of Essex (c.1276–1322) magnate and administrator
  • Gaveston, Piers, earl of Cornwall (d. 1312) royal favourite
  • Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
  • Louis XI (1423-83) King of France
  • Neville, Richard, sixteenth earl of Warwick and sixth earl of Salisbury [called the Kingmaker] (1428–1471) magnate
  • Edward IV (1442–1483) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
  • Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate
  • Dudley, Ambrose, earl of Warwick (c.1530–1590) magnate
  • Seymour, Edward, first earl of Hertford (1539?–1621) courtier
  • Cecil, William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598) royal minister
  • Radcliffe, Thomas, third earl of Sussex (1526/7–1583) lord lieutenant of Ireland and courtier
  • Howard, William, first Baron Howard of Effingham (c.1510–1573) naval commander
  • Sidney, Sir Henry (1529–1586) lord deputy of Ireland and courtier
  • Lee, Sir Henry (1533–1611) queen's champion
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
  • Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet

Musical production

Orchestra provided by the 2nd battalion of the Warwickshire Regiment. Mr J. Haworth, FIGCM. Latin Carmen (music). Rev. W.T. Keeling, Headmaster of Warwick School. Latin Carmen (words).

Pieces included:

  • Miss Ahrons, Senior Assistant Mistress at Warwick High School. Song.
  • John Benet. ‘All creatures now are merry-minded’. Madrigal.
  • Louis N. Parker. A dance.
  • Anon. ‘Summer is a-coming in’. Traditional song.
  • James Rhoades. ‘The Triumph Song’.
  • The 100th Psalm (sung).
  • The National Anthem.
All other music in pageant was composed by Allen K. Blackall

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser
Leamington Chronicle
The Times
Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times
Leamington Spa Courier
Tamworth Herald

Book of words

The Warwick Pageant, July 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1906: In Celebration of the Thousandth Anniversary of the Conquest of Mercia by Queen Ethelfleda, invented and arranged by Louis N. Parker. Warwick, 1906.

19000 copies of the book of words had been distributed by November 1906. Price: 6d. Copies in British Library and Warwickshire County Record Office (WCRO), and elsewhere

Other primary published materials

  • Packet of 12 coloured picture Postcards (price 1s.).
  • Pamphlets giving particulars of pageants. Total distributed 39000 (free).
  • Plans of Grand Stand (free).
  • ‘A Master of Pageantry: An interview with Mr L.N. Parker’ (free flier).
  • The Warwick Pageant, July 2-7, 1906: Souvenir Programme. Warwick, 1906. (1s. Illustrated with copies of watercolour drawings by J.N. Bolton; copy in WCRO.)
  • The Warwick Pageant: A Folk Play. Warwick, 1906. (Advance publicity; copy in WCRO.)
  • Selected Songs and Choruses from the Warwick Pageant. London, 1906. (Copy in WCRO.)
  • The Music and Choruses. (1s. 6d.)
  • Hicks, Edward. Caradoc: A tale of Ancient Warwick. (1s.)
  • A History of Guy, Earl of Warwick. (3d.)
  • Kemp, Thomas, ed. The Black Book of Warwick. (10s. 6d.)
  • Kemp, Thomas. A History of Warwick and its People. (10s. 6d.)
  • Kemp, Thomas, ed. The Book of John Fisher. (6s.)
  • Lady Warwick. Warwick Castle and its Earls. (2 vols, 30s.)
  • Ribton-Turner, C.J. Shakespeare’s Land. (3s. 6d.)

The above are the various official publications sold or otherwise distributed by ‘Pageant House’ in conjunction with the pageant on behalf of the organisers:

References in secondary literature

  • Ashley-Smith, Peter. ‘Louis N. Parker and the Warwick pageant’. Warwickshire History, 13 (2006): 113-25. Excellent source for archival references.
  • Hodgetts, Christine. ‘Pageant House Garden: Outline History’. Report for Warwick Rotary Club. Warwick, 1999. 13pp. WCRO.
  • Parker, L.N. Several of my lives. London, 1928.
  • Readman, Paul. ‘The place of the Past in English culture, c.1890-1914’. Past & Present, 186 (2005): 147-99.
  • Withington, R. English Pageantry (2 vols). Cambridge, MA, 1918.
  • Yoshino, Ayako. Pageant Fever: Local History and Consumerism in Edwardian England. Tokyo, 2011.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Warwick Castle Archives; Warwickshire County Record Office; Warwickshire Collection, Nuneaton & Leamington Spa Library; Shakespeare Birthplace trust Record Office [Marie Corelli correspondence on pageant]

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Greville, Frances Evelyn, Countess of Warwick. Warwick Castle and its Earls from Saxon Times to the Present Day. London, 1903.
  • Kemp, Thomas (the Mayor of Warwick). A History of Warwick and its People. Warwick, 1905.
  • Kemp, Thomas, transcribed and edited. The Black Book of Warwick. Warwick, 1898.
  • Pickering, W., ed. Thys rol was laburd & finishid by master John Rows of Warrewyk. London, 1859.
  • The Book of John Fisher, Town Clerk and Deputy Recorder of Warwick, 1580-1588. Warwick, 1900.

Thys rol was laburd & finishid by master John Rows of Warrewyk was a pictorial history of the earls of Warwick, ed. by W. Pickering, with the assistance of L. Larking, publ. by W. Courthope


The success of the Sherborne Pageant attracted a good deal of notice, particularly in places with claims to long or illustrious histories. One of these places was the town of Warwick, site of an important castle since the tenth century and famous for its association with the ancient British king Caradoc, the legendary hero Guy of Warwick, Warwick the Kingmaker, and other notable figures. In June 1905, in the context of Parker’s extraordinary success at Sherborne, Edward Hicks, an enterprising Warwick journalist (and author of a book about Caradoc), pounced on a passing suggestion in the Daily Telegraph that Warwick would be an ideal site for a historical pageant. Writing in the Warwick Advertiser, Hicks challenged the town to demonstrate ‘the importance of its place in the national life of the past’. Roused by this patriotic appeal, local opinion quickly mobilised behind the idea. The Lord Mayor declared his support, as did the heads of the town’s secondary schools, and by the beginning of July a provisional pageant committee had been established. This was soon followed by the establishment of an executive committee based in Jury Street, at the building now known as Pageant House, and the launching of a fund – based on public subscriptions and guarantees – to underwrite the costs of the event. In view of the Sherborne example, the executive committee resolved to acquire Parker’s services as Pageant Master, and by the end of September he had indicated his willingness to act. By mid-October, a town meeting had formally resolved to go ahead.

Thereafter, things moved quickly. Indeed they had to do so after it had been announced in early November that the performances would be held in the week beginning 2 July, leaving just eight months to get things ready (it is hard to imagine such a large-scale event being organized so quickly in the twenty-first century!). The pageanteers, led by the seemingly tireless Parker, spent the winter and spring in a flurry of publicity and organisational activities. Tens of thousands of pamphlets promoting the Pageant were distributed; articles about the event were published in the local and national press; episodes were devised and music was commissioned; books of words and souvenir programmes were printed; and a Ladies Committee marshalled the sewing prowess of three hundred Warwick women, who working in 14 teams produced 1400 costumes. Indeed, following Parker’s usual practice, almost everything used in the pageant was of local manufacture, and it seems that many Warwick men and women spent a great deal of their spare time that winter making weapons, banners and other props.

By late May, the first rehearsals were being performed, cast members being summoned by means of special postcards issued from the meticulously well-organised headquarters office at Pageant House. There were two hundred speaking parts! On 21 June a full dress rehearsal was put on, for which cheap tickets were offered, and to which journalists and photographers were invited. Cheap tickets aimed at the town poor and schoolchildren were also sold for the rehearsals in the week before 2 July. These proved very popular – on one day three times as many people as could fit in the grandstand turned up – and their popularity was doubtless in large part due to the fact that seats for the pageant performances proper were priced at levels well beyond the reach of many poor families (the cheapest seats, of which there were not many, were 3s 6d.; the next cheapest were 5s.)

Pageant week got underway on Sunday 1 July with a special service at St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, preached by the Bishop of Bristol. Special services were also held in other parish churches in the town. This was in line with Parker’s ideas about pageants; he was always very insistent that pageant week celebrations should commence with special church services. And indeed, the religious content of the Warwick Pageant is striking, perhaps affording evidence that claims of the secularisation of early twentieth-century British society have been exaggerated. The antiquity of Christian belief in Warwick is hammered home in the early parts of the pageant. Episode I shows Caractacus saving a child from pagan sacrifice, and then later returning to Britain to preach the word of God; episode II has the legendary British king Gwar [Gwdyr] found a church at Warwick. This is followed by the godly Ethelfleda’s conversion of captured Danes, and two episodes featuring the return of Warwick heroes from the Crusades, one of whom (Roger de Newburgh [Beaumont]) demonstrates his faith by founding a hospital in honour of the Templars, and establishing St. Mary’s as a collegiate church.

Aside from its religious content, another notable feature of the pageant – common to many early pageants – was the avoidance of any coverage of the English Civil War. This reflected the organizers’ sensitivity that doing so would undermine the patriotic and community-buttressing agenda of the event. For a similar reason, perhaps, the Reformation was also ignored. Indeed, with the exception of the long-distant Wars of the Roses (handled via Shakespeare), which unlike the Reformation did not map onto any very serious contemporary divisions, events suggestive of disharmony are not present in the pageant at all.

Local history loomed large in the pageant episodes, town benefactors and notables such as Thomas Oken and John Fisher being celebrated, as well as the earls of Warwick and their families. Present-day notables were honoured too: it is significant that the final episode, set in 1694, features an appearance by a member of the Greville family, who would hold the title to the Earldom of Warwick after its fourth creation in 1759. But throughout the pageant, the original intention that local history be fused to the larger narratives of the English national past is everywhere apparent; through means of its pageant, Warwick, a small provincial town by 1906, sought to assert its importance to the national life of the past (Parker called the place ‘the Clapham Junction of English history’). This is shown not least by the prominence of British kings and queens such as Elizabeth I and William III, and also through the presence of William Shakespeare and Warwick the Kingmaker.

The pageant was accounted a great success, and did much to raise the temperature of the ‘pageant fever’ developing in the wake of the Sherborne performance. With the exception of that on the opening day, all performances seem to have been sold out, with visitors coming long distances (some travelled from the United States) to see the show. Warwick itself was en fete throughout pageant week. Businesses closed early, the pageant properties (including the impressive head of the monstrous Dun Cow) were displayed in the streets of the towns, and the local press carried very extensive coverage of the performances and associated events. These latter were numerous, and ranged from a celebratory civic luncheon held by the mayor, to an exhibition of watercolours of ‘Old Warwick’ and ‘Shakespeare’s Country’ at Warwick Castle, to a competition inviting members of the public to guess the weight of ‘exceptionally large pieces of coal’.

Warwick hosted other pageants after 1906, notably those of 19271930, and 1953; and more recently still one was staged in 1996. But the pageant of 1906 was the largest and most elaborate of all held in the town, and its traces are still very visible in the place today. Pageant House and Gardens remain as physical memorials to the event, the former now housing Warwick Registration Office and the latter being very popular with locals (not least as a venue for wedding day photographs). Furthermore, the pageant continues to function as a focus for civic pride. In the newly-refurbished tourist information centre the visitor can watch film footage from the pageant as part of a display devoted to the event, which is described as a great success not only in meeting the challenge set by the Sherborne example and generating funds for the purchase of Pageant House and Gardens, but as evidence that, even in 1906, Warwick ‘knew how to entertain its guests’.


How to cite this entry

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