Northumbrian Pageant

Other names

  • Alnwick Castle: An Old English Fair

Pageant type


The pageant was organised by the Alnwick division of the Girl Guides' Association.

Jump to Summary


Place: Alnwick Castle (Alnwick) (Alnwick, Northumberland, England)

Year: 1925

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


26 August 1925 at 2.45 and 5.15pm.

The pageant took place at 2.45 pm and 5.15pm. It was staged in the inner bailey of the castle; but provisional arrangements were made in case of wet weather to hold the pageant indoors in the 'guest hall', had this occurred it was intended to stage a performance three times at 2.30 3.30 and 4.30pm. This indicates that it was quite a short performance.1

Alnwick Castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Northumberland (the Percy family).

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Todd, A.J.K.
  • Assistant producer: Mrs Bosanquet


The pageant master was Captain A.J.K. Todd who went on to produce pageants at Alnwick in 1927 and 1928, although the latter two were held under the auspices of the Berwick-Upon-Tweed division of the Conservative and Unionist Association rather than the Girl Guides. Todd was the local agent for the Conservatives. His assistant in 1925 is named as Mrs Bosanquet.2 It is presumed she was involved with the Girl Guides.

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


A large number of horses were used in the pageant.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

The funds of the Alnwick division of the Girl Guides.3

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 2000


The audience figure is an estimate. Around 4000 people attended the fete; however, it is probable that not all witnessed the pageant. Around 1000 spectators saw the first performance.4

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Admission to the fete cost 1s.5 Seats at the first performance of the pageant cost: 5s., 2s.6d., and 1s. Standing only cost 6d. At the second performance seats were cheaper and cost 3s., 2s. and 1s with standing only again costing 6d. Entrance to the castle gardens was 3d.

Associated events

The pageant was part of a fete at which there was a riding display, a tea tent, fancy goods stalls, fortunetellers, hoop-la, Aunt Sally and the like. There was a pipe competition in the 'Guest Hall at 3 pm and there was no extra charge to attend this; also a country-dance display by the Guides in the outer bailey at 3 pm and singing games performed by the Brownies.6 A dance was held in the evening at the castle.7

Pageant outline

Episode I: Outside the Walls of Bamburgh Castle, 1095

The programme provides the following description:

Men at arms are seen on the battlements of Bamburgh castle now besieged by the forces of King William II. A herald arrives demanding surrender. Mathilda, Countess of Northumberland, who with her kinsman, Morel, is bravely holding the castle in the absence of her husband, refuses to yield. A captain of the King's army then brings before the walls her husband, Earl Robert, who has been captured unknown to her, and threatens to put out his eyes. Mathilda in horror flings down the keys and the King's men enter in triumph.8

The episode was produced by Mrs Walter Runciman. The scene had around 20 players (no indication of sex as initials and surnames only but probably mostly male).

Episode II: Outside the Walls of Wark. About 1300.

The programme provides the following description:

Bertram, of Bothal, in seeking to gain honour for his Lady, Isobel Widdrington, has been slightly wounded in a foray. Isobel sets out to find and nurse him, but is herself captured, and taken prisoner at Wark. Bertram rides to the rescue, and arrives under the walls of Wark, at that moment when his brother disguised as a Highlander, has already recued the Lady, and is descending from the walls with her. Bertram, not recognising his brother, is convinced of treachery. He draws his sword, and rushes forward, but Isobel throws herself between and receives her death blow.

The episode was produced by Mrs Baker and had a small cast.

Episode III: the Courtyard of Warkworth Castle, July, 1403

The programme provides the following description:

Sir Henry Hotspur is plotting with his father, the first Earl of Northumberland, and many others, to dethrone the King, Henry IV. He receives intelligence that the moment is ripe for rebellion, and he rides off to join Mortimer, Douglas and Glendower, with the army before Shrewsbury. The scene shows Lady Percy and her children and attendants, the squire bringing the letter, and Hotspur riding away.

Quotation from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Act 2, scene 3 describing Hotspur taking leave of his wife is also included in the summary. The episode was produced by Mrs Lancelot Fenwick and probably had over 40 players, 24 of whom were named. Of the latter 15 were women. The cast also included a piper and a trumpeter.

Episode IV: The Inner Bailey, Alnwick Castle July 26, 1503

The programme provides the following description:

In 1503, Princess Margaret of England, the only daughter of Henry VII, was betrothed to James IV of Scotland. She was met at York by Henry Algernon 5th Earl of Northumberland, who escorted her to the Border, with great pomp, and a gallant train of gentlemen of the north. The Princess stayed at Morpeth for the night of July 25th... This scene shows the final preparations being made for the entertainment of the Princess and her escort. Burgesses and townsfolk come in to see the show. The Countess of Northumberland with her ladies and children, come out from the Castle to meet the Princess; with them is the poet, William Dunbar, waiting to read ‘The Thrissel and the Rois’ to his future queen.

This episode had a large cast of around 130 players: over half this number were women playing housekeepers, cooks, maids, townspeople, pages. The crowd included children. There were also a great number carrying banners, or, figuratively representing emblems (the programme is unclear on this point). The 'gentlemen of the north' mentioned include:

Lord Conyers; Edward Craster; George Creswell; Sir John Hotham; Thomas Haggerston; Sir John Middleton; Thomas Riddell; John Swinburne and Ralph Widdrington. 'The Lady Mary Grey' played the part of Princess Margaret. It had a number of female producers: Mrs Hale and Miss Walker with Mrs Craster, Miss Brundell, Miss Dee and Miss Dickinson.

The National Anthem

The national anthem was sung at the close of the pageant.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Mowbray, Robert de, earl of Northumbria (d. 1115/1125) magnate
  • Percy, Sir Henry [called Henry Hotspur] (1364–1403) soldier
  • Percy, Henry, first earl of Northumberland (1341–1408) magnate and rebel
  • Mortimer, Sir Edmund (IV) (1376–1408/9) landowner and rebel
  • Douglas, Archibald, fourth earl of Douglas, and duke of Touraine in the French nobility (c.1369–1424) magnate and soldier
  • Glyn Dŵr [Glyndŵr], Owain [Owain ap Gruffudd Fychan, Owen Glendower] (c.1359–c.1416) rebel leader in Wales
  • Margaret [Margaret Tudor] (1489–1541) queen of Scots, consort of James IV
  • Percy, Henry Algernon, fifth earl of Northumberland (1478–1527) magnate
  • Dunbar, William (1460?–1513x30) poet and courtier

Musical production

Music was live; there was a male voice choir conducted by Mr E.C. Gray, FRCO. North Seaton Colliery Band provided music.9 Ballads were sung by the choir in between episodes, these include:

  • 'The Flowers of the Forrest' (start of the pageant)
  • 'The Laidly Worm' (between episodes I and II)
  • 'Water of Tyne' (between episodes II and III).
  • 'Chevy Chase' (between episodes III and IV)
  • 'The King of England's Daughter' (during or following episode IV)
  • The song 'Bobby Shaftoe' was also sung but it is unclear where.10

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Alnwick Guardian

Berwick Advertiser

Newcastle Journal

Yorkshire Post

Book of words


It is unlikely that a book of words was produced.

Other primary published materials

  • Northumbrian Pageant. Newcastle, 1925.
  • Alnwick Castle: An Old English Fair. Alnwick, 1925.

References in secondary literature


None noted.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • The Northumberland Archives in Ashington holds a copy of the programme for the fete and a copy of the pageant programme; these are contained in a news cuttings book, ref: MOR/MU/232/98

Sources used in preparation of pageant


Shakespeare's Henry IV may have informed the drama in episode III.

Episode II is based on a ballad called 'The Hermit of Warkworth', written by Thomas Percy and first published in 1771.


Alnwick Castle saw its fair share of pageants during the 1920s, beginning in 1925 and again in 1927 and 1928, with a fundraiser for the local division of the Girl Guides. Given that one of their county commissioners was the Duchess of Northumberland, the way was doubtless made clear for the pageant to be held in the historic castle, long the home of the Percy family. The castle was described in the Yorkshire Post as 'one of those glorious old piles of masonry which immediately inspires all who see it'.11 To make the setting extra-inspirational, all was bedecked with heraldry for the pageant and richly robed players entered through doorways or strode along the 'lofty fortifications' of the inner bailey of the castle, where the pageant was held.12 To add to the grandeur, many of the players involved were performing as their ancestors, providing what one press report called 'a mirror of history'.13

Like many Girl Guide pageants, this was held as part of an elaborate fete, with all participants dressed in period costume: a strategy designed to encourage crowds and open their wallets. All that was required was good weather and this pageant was also blessed with this.14 It was a fairly short affair, performed twice during the course of the day, and it had only four episodes: all centred on the history that only castles can tell. For this reason, the stories told featured well-known figures from the past, all of whom had passed through such keeps during the medieval period—when castles had more than a ceremonial function. In Episode I, Mathilde de Mowbray surrendered the keys to Bamburgh Castle in heart-stopping fashion. And in the second episode, Isobel Witherington was 'slain by her lover, the legendary Hermit of Warkworth'.15 The pageant favourite Harry Hotspur featured in Episode III; and in the final episode, the setting was Alnwick Castle itself—the action dramatizing the journey of Princess Margaret en route from London to Scotland to meet with her new Scottish husband. This match, often considered in pageants in the north of England as the first step on the road to Anglo-Scottish union was of course highly resonant in a district where many of the old feuds between the Scots and the English had been played out.

Unfortunately, we do not know what profit was made from the event, but it is highly likely that a substantial sum was realised. Four thousand people turned out for the fete and for the chance to see more of this ancient and romantic seat of the aristocracy. They were treated to some extra pageantry at the opening ceremony when the Duchess of Northumberland formally opened the event and gave a speech in which she stated:

past, present and future were all knit very closely together in the annals of our country. The same spirit was living to-day which made Shakespeare put into the speech of John of Gaunt—‘Grant Lord, that England and her sister nations, together bound the triumphant sea, may stand renowned, through all recording ages for Christian service and pure chivalry’.

This was an example of historical pageantry set in a place highly resonant with the ghosts of the past, and abounding in the motifs of highly romanticised medieval drama.


  1. ^ Alnwick Castle: Old English Fair (Alnwick, 1925).
  2. ^ 'Old World Fair: Girl Guides Fete at Alnwick Castle', Berwick Advertiser, 27 August 1925, 6.
  3. ^ 'A Northumberland Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 21 August 1925, 10.
  4. ^ 'Old World Fair: Girl Guides Fete at Alnwick Castle', Berwick Advertiser, 27 August 1925, 6.
  5. ^ Newspaper advertisement from unknown source held at Northumberland Archives, ref: MOR/MU/232/98.
  6. ^ Alnwick Castle: An Old English Fair, 3.
  7. ^ 'County Families in Alnwick Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 27 August 1925, 6.
  8. ^ Unless otherwise stated, all quotations in synopses text are taken from Northumbrian Pageant (Newcastle, 1925).
  9. ^ Northumbrian Pageant, 3 and 'Fete at Alnwick Castle', Alnwick Guardian, 29 August 1925, np (news-clipping held at Northumberland Archives, ref: MOR/MU/232/98).
  10. ^ The lyrics of these ballads are included in the programme: see Northumbrian Pageant, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, 15.
  11. ^ 'County Families in Alnwick Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 27 August 1925, 6.
  12. ^ 'Fete at Alnwick Castle', Alnwick Guardian, 29 August 1925, np (news-clipping held at Northumberland Archives, ref: MOR/MU/232/98).
  13. ^ 'A Northumberland Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 21 August 1925, 10.
  14. ^ 'Pageant of History', Newcastle Journal 27 August 1925, np (news clipping held at Northumberland Archives, ref: MOR/MU/232/98).
  15. ^ 'County Families in Alnwick Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 27 August 1925, 6.

How to cite this entry

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