Farnham Pageant 1988

Pageant type


This entry was researched and written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow.

Jump to Summary


Place: Farnham Castle (Farnham) (Farnham, Surrey, England)

Year: 1988

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 10


9–16 July 1988 at 8pm

Additional matinees held on Saturday 9 and Saturday 16 July at 3pm. Matinee performance only on Sunday 10 July at 3pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Clarke, David
  • Assistant to David Clarke: Linda Taylor
  • Mistress of the Robes: Elaine Holbrook
  • Mistress of the Ballet: Sue Dickens
  • Choreographers: Judith Atkinson, Mary Ireson, Huw Prall
  • Choral Arranger: Elizabeth Cooper
  • Director of Lighting: Peter Higson
  • Director of Sound: Peter Wisbey
  • Special effects: Brian Miller
  • Site Services manager: Chris Currey

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Chairman: Carol Sacha
  • Hon. Secretary & Treasurer: Carol Hawkins
  • Hon. Business Manager: Doug ole
  • Hon. Accountant: Stephen Mather
  • Hon. Auditor: Sheen Stickland
  • Hon. Solicitor: Roger Godfrey
  • Bankers: Barclays Bank, Farnham

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

  • Clarke, David

Names of composers


Numbers of performers

Financial information


  • Pageant Master’s fees: £10,000
  • Print/post/stationary/publicity: £6,354
  • Costumes: £6,550
  • Special effects including fireworks: £3,037
  • Staging and properties: £2,435
  • Grandstand hire: £11,854
  • Tents and chairs hire: £1,193
  • Toilets hire: £1,536
  • Light and sound: £2,795
  • Castle/site/security/insurances: £4,567
  • Administration/accountancy/audit: £1,997
  • Income tax: £1,199

Total Expenditure: £53,517


  • Donations/grants/sponsorship: £18,781
  • Bank interest: £789
  • Ticket sales: £35,313
  • Programme sales & advertisements profit: £2,033

Total Income: £56,916

Pageant Profit Donated to Charities: £3399

Object of any funds raised

Profits donated to Charity

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 8000


Estimate of 6,000–10,000 total audience, based on ticket sales.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

  • Matinees: Children, OAPs and Students £3.50, Adults £5
  • Monday-Thursday evenings: all £6
  • Friday and Saturday evenings: all £7

Associated events

Farnham Carnival on 25 June 1988. Pageant had its own stand and some players walked with the Carnival, handing out leaflets.

Pageant Service given by the Bishop of Guildford on Sunday 10 July 1988 at 10.30am at St Andrews Parish Church. Those who wish to attend dress up in their favourite Pageant costume and process from the castle leaving at 10am to gather attention as they walk through the town.

Pageant outline

Episode 1: Cussa, the Druidic Priest, welcomes the Atrebatic King, Commius, to the sacred shine at Willey, 30BC.

A dramatic, barbaric opening scene. The setting and the main characters did exist—the sacred shrine at Willey (on the Alton by-pass) is recorded in the Saxon Caedwalla’s Charter (the 2nd episode). Cussa, the Druidic priest, welcomes Commius, King of the Atrebatic tribe who are known to have lived in the area in early BC. The scene takes place before the Belgic horse-goddess, Epona and there is a sudden arrival of Cussa, his Queen and attendants. A robber is accused of sheep stealing and is sentenced to hanging; there is a terrific crack of thunder; the arena is in turmoil but from it emerges peace and hope for the future.1

Episode 2: King Caedwalla presents a Charter to Farnham and is entertained with song and dance. A.D. 688.

One of the reasons for staging the Pageant. King Caedwalla did present the Saxon town ‘Fearnhamme’ with a Charter—and it does exist. Unfortunately the town had to surrender its Charter Rights to the Bishop of Winchester in 1789 when local government had dwindled to a sole Bailiff who could not afford to carry out his obligations. Sadly Caedwalla did foretell his death—he died on his way to Rome.

Episode 3: The Lady Aethelflaed helps the women of Farnham to defend the town against the Danes. A.D. 893.

This is the only scene in the Pageant which we admit could be a myth. There is, however, a legend that the women of Farnham did defend their church against the Danes. From that premise we ask you to enjoy the Pageant Master’s licence! Certainly the town was the battlefield of bloody fighting with the Danes. Who can say that the townswomen did not defend their homes in the absence of their men fighting elsewhere and lay the foundations of independence for which certain Farnham ladies, through the Ages, have been renowned?

Episode 4: Bishop Henry of Blois and the building of the Keep 1138.

This the second reason for holding the Pageant – the start of the building of the Keep – the mass of masonry facing you—850 years ago. Bishop Henry of Blois was grandson of William the Conqueror and Bishop of Winchester and Farnham was a convenient place to build a castle as a refuge on his frequent journeying from his cathedral town to London. The Castle remained the residence of the Bishops of Winchester until 1927 (when the Diocese was divided and the Guildford Diocese formed). Bishops of Guildford lived at the castle until 1955. The residential buildings are occupied by the Centre for International Briefing. The Keep has been in the care of English Heritage since 1984.

Episode 5: William Marshall (Earl of Pembroke) retakes the Castle from the French 1217.

The scene represented probably took place very close to where it is re-enacted. For a year; early in the 13th century, the castle was in the occupation of the French. In May, 1216 Louis Dauphin of France, landed in England and took Guildford, Farnham and Winchester in a few days. The castle remained in French hands until March the following year, and on the 12th—the scene of the episode—the French garrison were allowed safe conduct home—without, apparently, any blood being shed. The departure was witnessed by the young King Henry the Third, his younger sister; the Bishop of Winchester; and members of the Court.

Episode 6: Prince Edward defeats Adam de Gurdon in single combat 1266.

This encounter did happen and is part of the history of neighbouring Alton. Sir Adam de Gurdon, who lived at Selborne, was a follower of Simon de Montford [Montfort], claimant to the Crown of England who was defeated in the Battle of Evesham. Many followers, including Adam de Gurdon, were proclaimed outlaws. The fight with Prince Edward, son of Henry the Third, took place in the Alton valley between Farnham and Alton. Prince Edward had been leading armed forays into the countryside around Guildford Castle. Prince Edward was as good as his word; de Gurdon was pardoned.

Episode 7: The Black Death in Farnham 1349.

Farnham, as elsewhere in the country, was decimated by the great pestilence, the Black Death, which lasted from 1348 to 1351. In this dance drama will be seen the black rat, conveyor of the disease, and the Yersinia pestis, the bacterial strain that lived in the digestive tract of the flea that inhabited the hairs of the rat from which the plague developed. In the first scene the monks of nearby Waverly Abbey with townspeople will be seen going about their daily life when suddenly struck down by the disease. The second scene shows the Flagellants trying to drive out the horror by flogging. Finally Death appears and everyone joins in a Dance of Death and the names of some of the Farnham townspeople who died will be read.

Episode 8: The Great Farnham Fayre Circa, 1450.

A century after the Black Death: an episode bursting with life after the tragedy of the last scene. All Saints Day in medieval England: the Town Crier reads the Proclamation, dated 1233, declaring that the Fayre can be held. All is activity round the stalls, a thief is in the stocks, there is dancing, merry-making and travelling players arrive to present a scene from a ‘Mystery’ play.

Episode 9: Gloriana knights two Hampshire gentlemen and is entertained at the castle, 1601.

Queen Elizabeth the First visits the castle, as she is known to have done, and is welcomed by Dr Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester: It is 12 years since the defeat of the Armada and the Queen is in her 68th year and nearing the end of her illustrious reign. She knights two Hampshire gentlemen for devoted and loyal service and is the entertained by Mummers and children.

Episode 10: Sir William Waller Captures the Castle, 1642.

The Castle was important stronghold during the Civil War. Held by Parliament at the beginning of the war with the poet, George Wither, as military commander, it was evacuated after a month and fell into Royalist hands. In this scene, less than two months later, the castle is recaptured for the Parliamentarians by Sir William Waller who did, indeed, blow in the gate with a petard. The Castle remained in Parliament’s hands to the end of the war.

Episode 11: King Charles the First, takes his leave of the blind Henry Vernon, 1648.

The most poignant episode in Farnham’s long history. On his way from Carisbrooke Castle to London for his trial and eventual execution, King Charles the First lodged for the night of December 20–21, 1648, in the house of respected Farnham townsman, Henry Vernon and his wife, at Culver Hall, West Street (now the Farnham library). After his night’s rest, the King, wishing to make a gift to an old friend—Mr Vernon was blinded fighting for Charles at the Battle of Edgehill—presented him with an embroidered night cap which is still in existence.

Episode 12: William Cobbett as a boy at Farnham Castle, 1777.

William Cobbett, farmer, soldier, journalist, editor of the Political Register (which become the Parliamentary Hansard), author of Rural Rides—Farnham’s most famous son—was born at the William Cobbett public house in Bridge Square in 1763 and died in 1835. He is buried in Farnham churchyard. When working in the gardens at the Castle one of the gardeners told him about the King’s Gardens at Kew, and being fond of beautiful gardens he decided he must go there—and he did, and his life of incredible achievement began.

Episode 13: The Misses Willmer and their Seminary for Young Ladies, 1820.

The Misses Nancy and Frances Willmer did have a school for young ladies in the Georgian House that now houses the Farnham Museum. Opposite (now appropriately named College Gardens) was a house occupied by officers from the Royal Military College. In this dance drama the ladies meet the English officers, but French officers—prisoners of war—are introduced to the circle much to the annoyance of the English officers. However, all ends well.

Episode 14: Bishop Sumner and his daughter Emily, welcome Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to the Castle, 1856.

The location represented could have been the very spot on the arena where the original event took place. Charles Richard Sumner, Bishop of Winchester, was held in high regard in Farnham and he took a more than passing interest in the town and its religious welfare. It is 19 years since Queen Victoria came to the Throne and she is enjoying her early married years with her beloved Prince Albert.

Episode 15: The End of an Era, 1896-1918.

Climax of the Pageant when characters who lived in or near Farnham and events during these changing times are glimpsed rapidly one after the other. John Henry Knight and the car he designed in 1896; Relief of Mafeking; James Barrie, author of Peter Pan; pioneer aviator, Col. Cody; Lord Baden-Powell, founder of Scouting; First World War Prime Minister, Lloyd George; Suffragettes; First World War; Mrs Rupert Anderson and Gwen Ware nursing the wounded at Waverly House; founder of Toc H, Rev. Talbot.

‘Peace’ is declared; the Two Minutes silence (which originated in Farnham) will be observed (briefly) and the scene fades in to the GRAND FINALE of Past, Present and Future and Farnham Pageant ’88 is over.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Commius (fl. 57–50 BC) king of the Atrebates
  • Cædwalla [Ceadwalla] (c.659–689) king of the Gewisse
  • Blois, Henry de (c.1096–1171) bishop of Winchester
  • Marshal, William (I) [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c.1146–1219) soldier and administrator [also known as Marshall, William]
  • Henry III (1207–1272) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Roches, Peter des [Peter de Rupibus] (d. 1238) administrator and bishop of Winchester
  • Eleanor, countess of Pembroke and Leicester (1215?–1275) princess
  • Gurdun [Gurdon], Sir Adam (c.1220–1305) soldier and rebel
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Bilson, Thomas (1546/7–1616) bishop of Winchester
  • Waller, Sir William (bap. 1598?, d. 1668) parliamentarian army officer
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Cobbett, William (1763–1835) political writer and farmer
  • Sumner, Charles Richard (1790–1874) bishop of Winchester
  • Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
  • Albert [Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha] (1819–1861) prince consort, consort of Queen Victoria
  • Barrie, Sir James Matthew, baronet (1860–1937) playwright and novelist
  • Cody [formerly Cowdery], Samuel Franklin (1861–1913) showman and aeronautical designer
  • Powell, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-, first Baron Baden-Powell (1857–1941) army officer and founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides
  • George, David Lloyd, first Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor (1863–1945) prime minister

Musical production

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • Farnham Pageant 1988, Farnham, 1988.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Souvenir programme

    Museum of Farnham

  • Correspondence between Pageant Master and Chairman - 196/-/1

    Museum of Farnham

  • Financial Statement - 196/-/1

    Museum of Farnham

  • Photographs - 196/-/1

    Museum of Farnham

  • Video recording

    Museum of Farnham

  • Newspaper cuttings - 196/-/13

    Museum of Farnham

Sources used in preparation of pageant



After the first Farnham Pageant (1910), Dr Ealand (who had played Henry de Blois) suggested that ‘in the year 2010, when Farnham had the pluck to again put Historical Episodes before the people—and they mustn’t expect to do it before that, because they could not expect to find a Rector of Farnham equal to theirs within 100 years’.2 Farnham did not have to wait nearly so long, hosting further pageants in 1930 and 1950. One of the performers in the latter was David Clarke, who was Pageant Master for the Farnham Pageant of 1988, a major example of late twentieth century pageantry on a grand scale.3

The build up to the Farnham Pageant of 1988 garnered just as much press coverage, if not more, than the Pageant itself. The press coverage, mostly from Farnham Herald revelled in the proposed event and the characters who were involved, updating its readers regularly on the organisation. The committee and players took to the streets to publicise the Pageant, arranging costumed processions to the Pageant Church service, and marching with the Farnham Carnival. They set up a Pageant Shop selling merchandise which included car stickers and sweatshirts, which remained open until the end of the Pageant, when it bore a sign saying ‘reopening in 2026’.4

Pageant Master David Clarke came to be recognised as one of the country’s leading Pageant Masters. He trained at Guildford School of Art and eventually became Head of an Art Department at a Surrey co-educational Grammar School and subsequently a lecturer in theatre, film and art at a College of Education in Hampshire. It was on the recommendation of Sir Michael Balcon that he was invited to mount the Carlisle Pageant in 1977, and in that year the Queen awarded him the Silver Jubilee Medal for his work. Throughout the 1980s he staged numerous pageants across Britain, all of which were great successes.5 Thus, understandably, much of the furore about the Pageant lay with the appointment of David Clarke as its master in 1986.

Clarke was keen communicate the story of pageantry, giving a presentation at the Castle Club at Redgrave in February 1988, where he illustrated his talk with slides. The Farnham Herald notes that in doing so, Clarke showed ‘something of the organisation and preparation necessary for a large-scale presentation of history as portrayed by word, song, dance, costume and lighting’.6 Clarke took it upon himself to revive the historical pageant in the midst of renewed public interest in traditions and ceremonies, harking back to the pageant tradition and consolidating his place in the Pageant Master hall of fame.7 However, he admitted in an interview with Avril Groom that he could not imitate the achievements of renowned Pageant Master Frank Lascelles, who in 1924 got 15,000 Londoners to perform a Pageant of Empire in Wembley every night for sixth months, witnessed by nearly a million people.

Clarke expressed a commitment to traditions of pageantry, retaining titles such as Mistress of the Robes and the Master of the Horses. However, he also embraced technology; all the music was pre-recorded and the words amplified from ten principal speakers in a studio. Lighting provided another dimension to the scenic effect, as it was switched on for the last three-quarters of the performance. The press coverage heatedly anticipated the pageant due to the involvement of Carol Sacha as the pageant’s chairman. She had been actively involved in Farnham’s cultural and artistic endeavours, and Clarke and Sacha had worked together on the Pageant of Monarchy, sponsored by Grants of St James’s, which told the vivid 2000-year story of the Kings and Queens of Britain, in July 1987 in Shalford Park, Guildford. Soon after, she became curator of the Museum of Farnham.

The preliminary preparation for the Pageant began four years in advance and such foresight certainly paid off. Press comment on the Pageant noted the professionalism and ability of the players. Commentators also praised the choreography and musical arrangements, as well as the ‘well researched’ visual effects and costumes. However, the press coverage did make note of the small things which went awry—such as Adam’s fig leaf being blown away in the ‘unremitting wind’ and an Elizabethan dancer who keeps tripping over her gown. But the Farnham Herald noted, ‘the special appeal of a pageant does not depend on polished performances and professionalism, although experts know-how makes the whole thing “jell”. It lies in the pride and enthusiasm people feel for the place where they live, their pleasure in telling its story and that of an involved audience in hearing it, and the alfresco sense of spontaneity and fun.’ The alfresco sense of spontaneity was joined with the theatrical, as the ‘sheer beauty’ of the floodlights illuminating the living tableaux against the ‘romantic back-drop of the castle keep’ held the audience in awe.8 Credit was also given to the backstage crew who managed to move around the sets ‘quickly and unobtrusively’, as well as the costume and make-up people, and the lighting and sound experts.

Farnham Herald told of children coming from Liverpool to see the epic, along with a bishop from West Africa (who was in England for the Lambeth Conference). Despite this national, and international, audience, the pageant was essentially the story of Farnham— centred around the castle—re-enacted by local people for local people.9

The Farnham Pageant was a significant risk, costing £53,000 to stage, but it made a modest profit of £3399. Whilst the tradition of pageantry had declined from its heights during the pre-war era, Clarke was able to stage a magnificent and highly-accomplished event. The Farnham Pageant was to be Clarke’s crowning achievement. Farnham awaits its next pageant.

Entry written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s undergraduate Research Fellow


  1. ^ Synopses text taken verbatim from programme: Farnham Pageant 1988 (Farnham, 1988).
  2. ^ Neville Lovett, Souvenir Book of Words (2nd ed., Farnham, 1911), 71.
  3. ^ David Clarke, ‘Historical Pageantry for 100 years’, Get Surrey, 24 June 2005, accessed 8 June 2016, http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/local-news/historical-pageantry-for-100-years-4845540
  4. ^ Museum of Farnham Archive – photographs.
  5. ^ Museum of Farnham Archive 196/-/1/4.
  6. ^ Farnham Herald, 26 February 1988.
  7. ^ http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/local-news/historical-pageantry-for-100-years-4845540, accessed 23 August 2016.
  8. ^ Farnham Herald, 15 July 1988, 10.
  9. ^ Farnham Herald, 15 July 1988, 1.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Farnham Pageant 1988’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1280/