Berkshire Historical Pageant
- Historical Pageant of Some of the Chief Events of the History of England Taking Place on Berkshire Soil
Organized by the Berkshire Federation of Women’s Institutes
Place: Windsor Home Park (Windsor) (Windsor, Berkshire, England)
Number of performances: 2
28 June 1928, at 2.15pm and 5.45pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Squire, Mrs. George
- Musical Conductor: Miss Nettleship
- Mistress of Robes: Mrs Dryland Haslam
Miss Nettleship was apparently ‘dressed as a forester’.1
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Hon. Mrs Glyn
- Hon. Sec: Mrs John Smallbone
- Hon. Treasurer: Mrs Norman May
- Assistant: Miss Baker
- Miss Toynbee and the Officers of the Berkshire Federation
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Squire, George
- Bunyan, John
- Chesterton, G.K.
- Newbolt, Henry
Names of composers
- Parry, Hubert
- Holst, Gustav
- Byrd, William
- Jackson, William
- Warlock, Peter
Numbers of performers1200
Object of any funds raised
No information, though the pageant is likely to have raised funds for the work of the County Women’s Institute
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 4000
‘Both the afternoon and evening performances were attended by thousands of people.’2
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Spoken by the Spirit of Pageantry
Episode One. Revels and Sacrifice of Early Britons in the Vicinity of the White Horse.
There is dancing and a procession of soothsayers arrive. They select a victim, though her mother pleads with them. She is about to be killed, when strangers chase everyone away, leaving the girl and her brother to escape.
Episode Two. Saint Berin Preaches Christianity to the Men of Berkshire near Blewbury, Cynegils of Wessex being Present.
Birinus explains Christianity at the court of Wessex. He is about to speak to the king, but a prominent Saxon protests. The Saint prevails and is allowed to speak, the King listening with interest.
Episode Three. Alfred Accepting the Homage of the Danes, after the Battle of Aeschendu,
A procession enters and there is a short service, at which Alfred gives glory to God for his victory. Local people come to see the king, followed by the contrite Danes, who prepare to bury their dead. The Danish chief and attendants pay homage to Alfred, who accepts it. The Danes are baptised.
Episode Four. Mathilda Seeks the Aid of the Abbot of Abingdon in her flight from Oxford to Wallingford.
The Abbey bells sound for a service and there is an ecclesiastical procession headed by the Abbot. Mathilda and her attendants arrive, with some apprehension, to say farewell to the Abbot whose protection they have enjoyed. They begin the journey to Wallingford.
Episode Five. Henry II Receives the Patriarch of Jerusalem at Reading Abbey
Citizens arrive to witness the meeting of Henry II and the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Henry greets the Patriarch Heraclius who complains of being weary. They proceed into the abbey where refreshments are being served.
Episode Six. Phillippa of Hainault introduces the Flemish weavers to the villages of the Downs.
Villagers crowd around the Queen and protest against the arrival of the foreigner. A Flemish leader offers beautiful cloth to the Queen, who uses the gift to persuade her English subjects to welcome them.
Episode Seven. The Marriage of John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster at Reading.
The bridal party emerges from the church to greet the King. The King’s party includes various worthies, such as the Black Prince, Henry Duke of Lancaster, and Geoffrey Chaucer.
Episode Eight. Prince Arthur sets out to Meet Katherine of Aragon on the Ridges above Crowthorne.
The King is riding with his son, whilst the court and villagers stand respectfully at a distance. The Prince halts to greet his bride and the King welcomes the Spanish ambassador.
Episode 9. Charles I Bids Farewell to his Children at Maidenhead before Proceeding to his trial and Death
Cavaliers, under guard, pass the time by playing bowls. Charles walks slowly to a seat provided for him and his children are brought to him. He walks sorrowfully away after his children have withdrawn.
Episode 10.William of Orange at Hungerford, meets commissioners sent by James II.
The vicar, a noted Jacobite, switches allegiance to William.
Episode 11. Agriculture receives encouragement from George III, England’s Royal Farmer.
George III is with his family and is suddenly seized by a desire to visit a nearby farm. The farmer and labourers are brought before the King and they explain the processes of agriculture.
Episode 12. The Princess Victoria Visits Her Uncle William IV.
William sallies forth from the castle with his wife and the court when Princess Victoria is expected. Although he is very rude to the Duchess of Kent, the Queen’s mother, he shows affection to the young princess. Queen Adelaide tries to disguise the King’s dislike. Gipsies draw near and try to tell Victoria’s fortune. The future Queen bows and puts herself out of their reach.
Procession and God Save the Queen.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Birinus [St Birinus] (d. c.650) bishop of Dorchester
- Cynegils (d. 642) king of the Gewisse
- Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons [also known as Aelfred, the Great]
- Matilda [Matilda of England] (1102–1167) empress, consort of Heinrich V
- Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Baldwin [Baldwin of Forde] (c.1125–1190) archbishop of Canterbury
- Gloucester, Robert of (fl. c.1260–c.1300) chronicler
- Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
- John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England
- 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]
- Henry of Lancaster [Henry of Grosmont], first duke of Lancaster (c.1310–1361) soldier and diplomat
- Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340–1400) poet and administrator
- Arthur, prince of Wales (1486–1502)
- Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
- Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII
- William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
- William Savile, second marquess of Halifax (1664/5–1700) landowner and politician
- Finch, Daniel, second earl of Nottingham and seventh earl of Winchilsea (1647–1730) politician
- Godolphin, Sidney, first earl of Godolphin (1645–1712) politician
- George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
- Charlotte [Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz] (1744–1818) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and queen of Hanover, consort of George III
- William IV (1765–1837) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
- Adelaide [Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen] (1792–1849) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, consort of William IV
- Victoria, Princess [Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld], duchess of Kent (1786–1861) mother of Queen Victoria
- Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
- Parry, Jerusalem
- Holst, O England, My Country
- Byrd, Sacerdotes Domini
- Bunyan and William Jackson, Pilgrim’s Song
- Sumer is Icumen in
- Peter Warlock, An Would you see My Mistress’ Face
Several hundred singers took part.
Newspaper coverage of pageantSlough, Eton and Windsor Observer
Home and Country
Book of words
- Historical Pageant of Some of the Chief Events of the History of England Taking Place on Berkshire Soil, Book of Words, description and Names of Actors in Each Scene. Windsor, 1928
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Book of Words in Records of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, LSE Women’s Library, Reference 5FWI/H/13.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Chesterton, G.K. Ballad of the White Horse.
- Newbolt, Henry. Yattendon.
Women’s Institute (WI) Pageants were highly popular during the 1920s and early 1930s, and county pageants were especially successful. Other County WI pageants were held at the following:
- Norfolk (1926)
- Oxfordshire (1926)
- Staffordshire (1928)
- Dorstet (1928)
- Warwickshire (1930)
- Northamptonshire (1930)
- Hampshire (1930)
- Northamptonshire (1948)
- Oxfordshire (1951)
- Monmouthshire (1951)
Institutes already possessed many of the organisational skills which made for successful pageantry, in addition to skills in costume-making and catering. Costumes were borrowed from the Hertfordshire WI, which had put on pageants at Welwyn and at Hatfield Peverel the previous year.3 The props department did much to stress the link with the past, boasting of: ‘A Sedan of the time of George III, which originally stood in the cab rank at Windsor, and lent by Messrs. Barker and Sons, Windsor’; a ‘linen table cloth actually used in the Civil Wars’; and a ‘Forester’s horn of the date of George III.’4
Mary Kelly, who had organised a number of small-scale pageants across the south of England, wrote in the WI magazine, Home and Country, in the summer of 1928:
If you feel that a pageant can be a beautiful and an absorbingly interesting thing, that it can make your home mean far more to you than it does already and if you dare to attempt its organisation now is the time to begin to consider it. If you are wise, you will act it, not in 1929, but in 1930, and give it two years of incubation. So many pageants are mooted in March or April and acted in July. The intervening months are a scurry of organisation worries, of costume worries, of weather worries and a hundred and one other worries and the real soaking history that will make your pageant alive for players and for audience never comes off for there is no time.5Fortunately, it seems that Berkshire’s pageant was skilfully managed under Mrs George Squire. Branches from Faringdon, Wallingford, Wantage, Abingdon, Reading, Yattendon, Theale, Finchampstead, Newbury, Lambourn, Twyford, and Binford took part. The Pageant was held in Windsor Park ‘By permission of the King’,6 though this stopped short of the Royal Patronage which a number of other, somewhat larger pageants, boasted. Home and Country praised the ‘twelve episodes of striking beauty’, and noted that ‘Both the afternoon and evening performances were attended by thousands of people.’7
The episodes told a story of Berkshire’s prominent role in English history, due to its important strategic location (which had witnessed the checking of the Danes at the Battle of Aeschendu, the flight of Mathilda, the sad departure of the captured Charles I, and the invasion of William III), as well as the county having been the main seat of the monarchy since the Norman Conquest. For this reason, it featured many courtly scenes. The fifth episode, in which Henry II receives the patriarch of Jerusalem at Reading Abbey, had featured in a key scene in the Reading Pageant (1920). Like many other WI pageants, Berkshire chose not to foreground women’s history particularly prominently in the pageant, with the exception of the sixth episode in which Phillippa of Hainault introduces Flemish weavers to local villages. As the WI was especially interested in craft production, this scene would have been significant, and it is likely that it would have included demonstrations of medieval weaving.
Overall the Pageant was evidently a success. Indeed it seems that mid-twentieth-century Berkshire was reasonably fertile ground for historical pageantry, with later pageants being held at Basing (1931), Selborne (1938), and Wallingford (1955).There does not, however, seem to have been many more WI pageants in the county. Yet these type f pageants were significant nationally. As Helen McCarthy has argued, associational groups such as the WI, the British Legion and the League of Nations Union did much to integrate women into political culture in the interwar period by espousing the view that such volunteer efforts improved society overall.8 This is especially important in light of the fact that it was only in 1928 that women in Britain were granted voting rights on the same terms as men. Events such as the Berkshire Historical Pageant presented an opportunity for women to enter into public life, and indeed a national narrative, from which they had largely been excluded.
- Home and Country, August 1928, 371.
- Times, 29 June 1928, 18
- Home and Country, August 1927, 342.
- Historical Pageant of Some of the Chief Events of the History of England Taking Place on Berkshire Soil, Book of Words, description and Names of Actors in Each Scene (Windsor, 1928), unpaginated.
- Home and Country, August 1928, 374.
- The Times, 29 June 1928, 18.
- Home and Country, August 1928, 371.
- Helen McCarthy, ‘Parties, Voluntary Associations and Democratic Politics in Inter-War Britain’, Historical Journal, 50 (2007), 891-912.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Berkshire Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1262/