Rotherhithe Church Pageant
<p><span>This entry was researched and written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s College London Undergraduate Research Fellow.</span></p>
Place: Rotherhithe Town Hall (Rotherhithe) (Rotherhithe, Surrey, England)
Number of performances: 8
31 January–10 February 1911
- Part I: January 31 and 2, 7 and 9 February 1911—at 8pm.
- Part II: 1, 3, 8 and 10 February 1911—at 8pm.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Durell, Rev. J.C.V.
- Master of the Robes: Mrs. Durell
- Musical director: E.T. Cook, Esq.
- Master of Heraldry: Edward de M. Rudolf, Esq.
- Musical secretary: Mr Albert Syms
- Treasurer: Rev. R.G. Finch
- General Secretary: Rev. H.R.P Tringham
Performers made their own costumes under the supervision of Mrs. Durell.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Pageant Finance, Appeal and Organisation Committee
This appears to have been the main organising committee.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers300
Plus 70 chorus. Performers were factory hands and ‘other humble workers’ in the district.
Object of any funds raised
Appeal for £2000 to be spent on the restoration of the Old Parish Church.
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Part I: ‘The Church in the Early Centuries’
Overture by the Orchestra who are soon joined by the chorus.
The Herald enters the stage and delivers a monologue outlining the ecclesiastical message of the pageant, encouraging people to reject sin in favour of the Holy Spirit.
Episode I: The Coming of the Church
Scene I: The Ascension of the Lord.
The Apostles gaze to the heavens, lamenting for the ascension of Jesus, when they are visited by an Angel who reassures them that Jesus remains present. They are encouraged to spread the gospel.
Scene II: The Preparation for Pentecost.
The Virgin Mary speaks to St John about her son, and how she feels he is still with her. The Apostles enter and deliberate over who should replace the fallen Judas. They decide on Matthias.
Scene III: The Day of Pentecost.
This scene was performed to the accompaniment of music. John muses over the world of the Spirit. Chorus sings ‘Veni Creator’.
Scene IV: The Fruit of the Spirit.
Tableau scene in which the Chorus sings Psalm 48. The scene depicts the ecstasy of the Apostles; the mockery of the Jews; speech of St. Peter and the conversion of the people.
Episode II: The Acts of St. Paul
Scene I: The Persecution of Stephen.
St Stephen accuses Jews of resisting the Holy Ghost and the fury in the crowd grows. Stephen is dragged from the Tribune, and Saul of Tarsus comes forward to call for Stephen’s execution.
Scene II: The Death of Stephen.
Saul is seated with a crowd gathered around Stephen’s dead body. Devout persons cover the body in a white robe and remove it for burial.
Scene III: The Persecution in Jerusalem.
Saul and the Jews enter with prisoners. He calls them traitors and a female prisoner speaks out.
Scene IV: The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus.
Saul is discovered alone and blind. He repents the murder and persecution of the followers of Christ, and accepts him. He asks for forgiveness. Ananias of Damascus enters and lays his hands on Saul, who regains his vision. Ananias leads Saul to his baptism.
Scene V: St. Paul among the Apostles.
Tableau representing introduction of Paul by Barnabus to the company of Apostles. Shown during the singing of Psalm 32.
Scene VI: St. Paul at Antioch.
Paul and Barnabus enter a synagogue and they are attacked by Jews. They are protected by Gentiles.
Scene VII: St. Paul at Lystra.
Tableau scene with musical accompaniment. Paul and Barnabus are seen to heal a cripple and are rejected a heathen priest whilst crowds rejoice. Jews enter and turn the crowd on Paul and Barnabus. Paul is dragged away to be stoned.
Herald speaks of ‘needs must’ and sacrificing oneself for the Lord.
Episode III: The Persecutions
Scene I: A Heathen Sacrifice.
Tableau scene depicting heathen sacrifice. Greek rhythmic dancing around altar.
Scene II: The Emperor’s Edict.
A senator declares Roman religion to be the purest. An Old Pagan and Roman Citizen enter and discuss the Christian refusal to submit. The Roman Citizen jokes that if they refuse then they will be thrown to the lions, they then exit. A little girl and her moth enter the scene. The girl asks if they will be given to the lions and her mother says that she must be brave for then she will be with Jesus.
Scene III: Christian Worship.
At a Christian home in Rome, worshippers are kneeling at the end of Eucharist. Bishops urge followers to be brave as those who die for Jesus will be martyrs. A young girl, Agnes, is scared and the Bishop reminds her that she is safe as long as she accepts Jesus’ love.
Scene IV: The Ordeal of the Christians.
At a pagan altar bearing the image of the Emperor, two ruffians discuss the joviality of throwing Christians to the lions. An old Christian man is goaded by a prefect. Agnes is brought forward; she is imprisoned to be given to the lions.
Scene V: The Christians to the Lions.
Agnes and the old man wake in a cell to shouts of ‘The Christians to the lions!’ Old man is taken by a soldier, and other Christians are brought into the cell.
Episode IV: The Mission of St. Augustine
Herald introduces the spread of Christianity to the shores of Britain.
Scene I: The Coming of St. Augustine, A.D. 597.
Bertha and Bishop Liudhard await the arrival of Augustine and his monks. King Ethelbert and his thegns enter. He gives royal permission for Augustine to continue his mission and gives him land to build a church in Canterbury.
Scene II: The Baptism of Ethelbert, A.D. 597.
Villagers celebrate the baptism of the King at St. Martin’s Church, Canterbury.
Episode V: The Church in the Middle Ages
Herald delivers a monologue which summarises the role of the early Church in Britain.
Scene I: The Founding of St. Saviour’s Priory, Bermondsey, A.D. 1082.
Enid of Bermondsey and Torfrida of Greenwich discuss the celebration in Bermondsey for the coming of the Benedictine Monks, as the King granted them a priory in Bermondsey. A priest enters and talks of the work they intend to do for the community. They sing ‘Blessed city, heavenly Salem’.
Scene II: The Assembly of the Barons, A.D. 1215.
Barons ask the Church for support in their struggle with the King. The Church safeguards the nation’s liberty against the tyranny of Kings. The Barons decide to present the King with a charter.
Scene III: The Granting of the Great Charter, A.D. 1215.
King John demands to know where his barons are, and they arrive with the archbishop and clergy members. The King declares the archbishop his foe for encouraging the barons’ revolt. After deliberation, the King approves of the charter.
Scene IV: Institution of John de Tocklive as Rector of Rotherhithe, A.D. 1310.
A party of villagers sing an old English song, and then discuss the new rector, John de Tocklive. A procession enters, headed by the Cross, monks, Prior, Bishop and new Rector. John is instituted as the new Rector of Rotherhithe. Procession sing Psalm. 134.
Scene V: The Ministrations of the Friars.
Tableau scene accompanied by music showing the ministrations of the Friars.
Episode VI: The Reformation and After
Scene I: Dissolution of the Monastery of St. Mary Overie, A.D. 1539.
Two women speak of Henry VIII with contempt for his driving out the canons of St. Mary Overie. The house and lands are being given to Sir Anthony Brown, who enters with soldiers, and intimidates the canons to leave. After delivering a speech, the Senior Canon and his ministry leave singing Psalm 64.
Scene II: The Translation of the Bible, A.D. 1540.
Archbishop Cranmer enters a scene of people talking loudly and laughing. He announces that the King has translated the Bible into English and presents them with copies for the ‘edification of your souls’.
Scene III: Founding of the Amicable Society’s School, A.D. 1613.
Peter Hill and Robert Bell discuss the setting up of a school-house, at the discretion of the parson and churchwardens of St. Mary’s Church.
Scene IV: The Restoration, A.D. 1662.
A herald delivers a monologue overviewing the overthrowing of the Crown by Cromwell and his subsequent attack on the Church. A crowd of people is talking loudly and two women discuss the return of their ‘Bonnie Prince’. Although they look upon him unfavourably, they are glad for the return of their Church services. Bishop Cosin enters and speaks of the revised Book of Prayer.
Epilogue: The Missionary Church
The Chorus sing ‘Bulwark of a mighty nation’ during a Tableau representing the Missionary Work of the Church.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Claudius [Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus] (10 BC–AD 54) Roman emperor
- Augustine [St Augustine] (d. 604) missionary and archbishop of Canterbury
- Bertha (b. c.565, d. in or after 601) queen in Kent, consort of Æthelberht
- Æthelberht I (d. 616?) king of Kent [also known as Ethelbert]
- John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Browne, Sir Anthony (c.1500–1548) courtier [also known as Browne, Sir]
- Cranmer, Thomas (1489–1556) archbishop of Canterbury Click here to see image
- Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
- Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Cosin, John (1595–1672) bishop of Durham
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
- The Book of the Rotherhithe Church Pageant. Rotherhithe, 1910.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Programme in the British Library.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Rotherhithe Church Pageant, held at St. Mary’s, Rotherhithe, was a highly anticipated event, not only in the community—where ‘humble workers’ in the district made their own costumes under the supervision of Mrs Durell, and enthusiastically rehearsed and prepared since September in the previous year—but also further afield. Princess Marie Louise and the Bishops of Southwark and Woolwich, for example, were also keen supporters of the project.3 To celebrate the sexcentenary of St. Mary’s, Rotherhithe, the community had organised a pageant consisting of six meticulously researched historical scenes.
Part One of the Pageant focuses on the early establishment of Christianity, playing upon the notions of overcoming victimhood in the hands of the Romans with the use of sympathetic characters such as a young girl and an elderly man. This mood was quickly overturned when time moved forward to the arrival of St Augustine on British shores, where the pageant players revelled in huge celebrations. As for Part Two, the episodes presented traced the history of the Church from its earliest beginnings, placing Rotherhithe at its centre. It began with the founding of St Saviour’s Priory in Bermondsey in 1032, an event which is depicted as being pivotal in the establishment of Christianity in the area, although it was likely built on the ruins of a monastery which had existed in the 8th century.4 The second episode—which focuses solely on Rotherhithe—depicts the institution of its first known rector, John de Tocklive, in 1310. These scenes are followed by ones which demonstrate the good work done by the Friars in Rotherhithe.
Although the Rotherhithe Church Pageant aimed to represent the important parts that Rotherhithe had played in the history of the Church during the previous six hundred years, an overarching theme emerged: the relationship between Church and State. This message came through especially strongly in Episode V, Scene II, where the Church is shown acting as a safeguard for the barons against the tyranny of the King. Another example is Episode VI, Scene IV, where the villagers—though sceptical of Charles II—welcome his coronation so they can once again have their Church services. This scene speaks volumes for the Church’s own view of its centrality and importance within a London community of the early twentieth century.
Entry written by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow
- Daily News, 31 January 1911, 3.
- http://bermondseysquare.net/history-bermondsey-abbey/, accessed 22 August 2016).
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Rotherhithe Church Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1312/