Torquay Historical Pageant
Place: Rock End Grounds (Torquay) (Torquay, Devon, England)
Number of performances: 12
23 June–2 July 1924
- 23 & 24 June at 3pm
- 25 June at 3pm and 8pm
- 26 & 27 June at 3pm
- 28 June at 3pm and 8pm
- 30 June & 1 July at 3pm
- 2 July at 3pm and 8pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Applin, Arthur
- Devised, Arranged and Written by: Arthur Applin
- Music Arranged and Composed by: Harold W. Rhodes and Ernest W. Goss
- Film Director: F.H. Bastick
- General Secretary and Publicity Director: J.M. Scott
- Master of Choir: Dr [James] Rhoades
- Master of Music: E.W. Goss
- Hon. Architect and Surveyor: Major Garrett
- Film Director and Producer: F. Harold Bastick
- Assistant Secretary and Manager: William P. Callagham
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Councillor George H. Iredale, Mayor of Torquay
- President: E.M. Rowcroft
- Chairman: T. Byrne
- Chairman: Alfred Constantine
- No information
Episodes 4 and 5
- Chairman: A.E. D’Espiney
Episodes 6 and 7
- Chairman: Major Lambert
- Chairman: G.W. Bradshaw
Episode 9 and 10
- Chairman: H.F. Salter
- Lord Desborough
- Earl of Derby
- Marquess of Crewe
- Lt-Col Amery
- Lord Mayor of London
- Rudyard Kipling
- Louis N. Parker
- John Galsworthy
- J.L. Garvin
- H. Gordon Selfridge
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Kitchin wrote the script under the pseudonym of Bennet Copplestone
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
The Pageant made a loss of £879
Object of any funds raised
In aid of local charities and the Torquay Hospital
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 25000
2000 attended the opening performance and 10000 attended over 27-28 June. The figure of 25000 is a conservative estimate; it was likely somewhat higher.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Episode 1. Palaeolithic Man
The Pageant opens in front of Kent’s Cavern. A tall, lean female figure, the Shadow of Life, appears draped in smoke-grey garments under which are seen draperies of rose merging into flame. She invokes Nature, who, at her command, brings forth man and beast. Palaeolithic man appears, clad in skins, and a crude dance takes place. A herd of reindeer is sighted. At once excitement prevails and all the men join in the hunt. When they appear later with the body of the slain deer the women rush forward, seize it, and prepare to roast it, striking fire from flint. As it cooks there is a slow dance, at the end of which the feast begins. At the end of the feast enemies appear. They rout the dwellers and carry of the women. The shadow appears and prophesies the future greatness of Britain. The pixies, fairies, and gnomes are invited to dance and weave spells to help the good and lead the bad astray. A fairy dance ensures, interrupted by a number of children representing childhood throughout the ages.
Episode 2. The Dammonii of Dartmoor
The Dartmoor, having gathered their harvest from the valleys, come to sacrifice to their gods. A procession enters of bards and priestesses, with druids who make offerings to the gods. Four fires are lit, purifying water over the alter. The Arch-druid demands three maidens to be sacrificed. Three nervously step forward. A great wind signifies their suitability and priestesses perform a dance of death, after which the maidens are bound at the altar. The Arch-druid takes the knife and prays. A flock of birds appears, which is taken as a good omen but as the druid raises the knife, an old druid tells him that the birds are ravens, an ill omen. There is turmoil with some demanding the sacrifice go ahead and others warning that it must not. In the commotion, Roman soldiers advance upon the crowd, releasing the maidens. The captain of the troops then addresses the chief, announcing Constantine the Great’s power over Britain and demanding allegiance and the abandonment of the old religion. Golden birds appear in the sign of the cross, which is taken as a favourable omen. The episode ends in joy and laughter.
Episode 3. Endowment of Torre Abbey by the Abbot of Welbeck, 1196
The episode opens with children playing on the green before the Abbey; they steal from baskets of apples. Village folk await the coming of the Abbot and the bells begin to ring. A procession of monks appears and is greeted by another procession of earls, priests and the Abbot of Welbeck. The choir begins a psalm and move around the grounds as the senior Abbot performs blessings, whilst the villagers remain on their knees. The choir sings the Magnificat and the procession moves off followed by the crowd.
Episode 4. The Marriage of Reginald de Mohun and Alicia de Briwere, 1205.
Villagers assemble to see the marriage of their lord’s daughter. Reginald de Mohun appears with his retinue, followed shortly by the bride; the wedding party enters the church. The villagers are making too much noise in their excitement and are quietened by a Deacon. The wedding ends and the guests leave, followed by the bride and bridegroom amidst great enthusiasm.
Episode 5. The Challenge.
Four deacons enter with a novice carrying a fishing rod. They sing ‘Sumer is icumen in’. Sailors and villagers rush on and announce the challenge that Sir Arthur Champerowne and George Carew, Lord of Totnes are wagering their respective manors on a race into the Torbay on their steeds. The people proceed to bet on this and there is revelry and singing. Eventually the Earl canters up with an exhausted Sir Arthur behind. There are various toasts and the scene ends in merriment.
Scene 6. On Plymouth Hoe, 19 July 1588.
[Adapted from Louis Napoleon Parker’s Play ‘Drake’]
Groups of citizens are arguing together around Plymouth Hoe bowling green. Hawkins, Mayor of Plymouth, is joined by Howard of Effingham, John Hawkins, Martin Frobisher, Sir Walter Ralegh and others; these are later joined by Sir Francis Drake and his wife. A game of bowls begins but is swiftly interrupted by a sailor who warns that the Spanish are coming. Orders are sent to light beacons. Drake announces the navy will leave the harbour on favourable winds in the evening, meanwhile the game must continue. The sound of a drum is heard, growing louder.
Scene 7. The Return of Drake.
Drums roll and dishevelled men rush to light beacons. Sailors are seen sailing to shore. Guns are heard and there is ringing of bells. Trumpets are sounded and there is much confusion. Drake and others are acclaimed. Wounded sailors appear and are embraced by the crowd. The triumphant Drake emerges and there is tremendous enthusiasm.
Scene 8. Princess Victoria visits Torquay, 1 August 1833.
Children and teachers gather. Coastguards arrive and a gun sounds. Presently various dignitaries of the town hastily assemble (the visit of the princess was unexpected). The ladies carry hastily-bought flowers and a band sets up. A boat carrying the Royal party lands and the coastguards present arms as the band plays the national anthem. The princess and Duchess of Kent are received. A bootmaker rushes up to present the queen with some boots. The coastguards mistake him for an assailant and he is wounded in the eye. The Duchess, upset by this, orders the man to be sent to hospital. Victoria is presented with various flowers and a dance is performed by children. The coastguards shoulder arms and march off.
Scene 9. Worthies of Devon.
Episode 10. Triumphal March of Episodes and Epilogue.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Carew, George, earl of Totnes (1555–1629) soldier and administrator
- Hawkins, Sir John (1532–1595) merchant and naval commander
- Frobisher, Sir Martin (1535?–1594) privateer, explorer, and naval commander
- Drake, Sir Francis (1540–1596) pirate, sea captain, and explorer
- Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author
- Victoria (1819–1901) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and empress of India
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Western Morning News
Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Book of words
- Torquay historical pageant, June 23rd to 28th, 1924: Rockend grounds, Torquay. [Torquay], 1924.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Painting of ‘Torquay Historical Pageant, Episode 4: The Wedding of Alicia de Brewer and Reginald de Mohun in 1205’, c.1924. Charles Grey KENNAWAY (1860-1925), Oil on canvas, 75 x 100 cm in Torre Abbey, accessed 12 July 2016, http://www.torbay.gov.uk/torreabbeycatalogue.pdf
- Newspaper Cuttings relating to the Pageant in Devon Heritage Centre, 7916M
- Copy of Book of Words in Bodleian Library, Oxford
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Parker, Louis Napoleon, Drake. London, 1912.
The arrival of the railway at Torquay in 1848 began a process of the town’s rapid shifting from a health to a tourist resort. As Nigel Morgan and Annette Pritchard have demonstrated, the need to attract tourists to a particular seaside town at the expense of others was particularly pronounced in Devon which, unlike resorts such as Blackpool, Skegness or Bridlington had a significant number of competing nearby resorts, drawing tourists who came from a significant distance. This led to something of an arms race between local councils and hotels, restaurants and proprietors in each resort, providing amenities (such as electric trams) and facilities such as swimming and diving pools.1 The Torquay Historical Pageant was one weapon in this arms race, being put on as a means of attracting tourists and increasing the prestige of the town at the expense of nearby Paignton, Teignmouth and Exmouth.
The Pageant sought to make up for Toquay’s own sparse history by transforming the pageant into a Devon-wide celebration, drawing on other towns to provide scenes. Arthur Applin, a Devon writer and decorated Royal Flying Corps pilot who was the first aeronaut to fly night sorties against the zeppelin raids, and who had been responsible for the Reading Pageant (1920), was employed as pageant master.2 In the special Pageant Supplement to the Torbay Herald he declared: ‘At first the intention was to make it a Devon Historical Pageant, but owing to a number of places in the county hesitating to help in making the Pageant the success it will undoubtedly be—provided the weather is suitable—Mr. Scott decided to call it “The Torquay Historical Pageant”.’3 The obvious logic behind this was that the Torquay Pageant would put the city a cut above its rivals. Though the pageant was of a relatively large scale, it was almost entirely ignored by the national press, being overshadowed by the Bristol Pageant (1924) and the huge Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium (complete with its own Pageant of Empire, viewed by almost a million people).
This was supremely unlucky as the Pageant itself was quite interesting, being among the first to include a prehistoric scene of hunters, a testament to the early settlement of humans in Torquay. As the historical adviser Beatrix F. Cresswell argued in the preface to the Book of Words, Torquay’s ‘childhood began in the dim past when primaeval man struggled with primaeval beasts until some disaster overtook them and the slow forming stalagmite sealed up the record of their immeasurable past.’4 Notwithstanding the inclusion of episodes which were by now staples of the pageant form—Romans overturning a druidical sacrifice, the endowment of abbeys, medieval marriages—the later scenes of the pageant were particularly original. The fifth episode involves locals betting over the preposterous wager between Sir Arthur Champerowne and George Carew as to who could swim the furthest into the Torbay river, riding their horses. Adapted from Louis Napoleon Parker’s play, Drake, the sixth and seventh episodes told the story of the Armada, featuring the famous game of bowls. The Torbay Herald, providing a tentative link with the town, claimed that ‘The bowls used by Drake in this episode are said to be the actual woods used on that memorable occasion. They are now in possession of Torquay.’5 Surprisingly, however, the pageant omitted the most significant episode in its history: William of Orange’s landing in November 1688 which began the Glorious Revolution, though this was in Torquay’s rival neighbour of Brixham.
In February 1924 Applin had publicly warned that the local people ‘had the right feeling, but it wanted to be roused.’6 He went on:
It is a representation of your past life and history. It is an effort to revive the dear, dead, beautiful people who lived centuries before us…To have this pageant is a noble, inspiring, and jolly thing to do. It is your pageant. It is up to you to see that every friend has to come into it and rouse the understanding and enthusiasm in each of your fellows to make it a real live pageant.7
Applin also requested that employers give workers some time off: ‘Business men must realize that the pageant was important to the town financially and morally.’8 Whether or not this happened is unclear, but a month before the pageant the Western Morning News was still calling for more men to come forward as performers, including some 250 needed for the Drake episode alone.9 For all the problems of assembling a case, however, Applin and the mayor certainly managed to appeal to the wallets of local businessmen, the pageant having raised a guarantee fund of £1000 by late February.10
The Pageant was opened by Vice-Admiral N.A. McCully of the United States Navy, who was presently based in the town. 2000 people attended the first performance on 24 June.11 The Devon weather, which had been uncertain throughout the early part of the month, was fine throughout the Pageant. The Western Times declared it ‘a veritable triumph for all concerned, and the enthusiasm at the opening ceremony clearly showed that townspeople and visitors appreciate the effort which have been put forward by the promoters.’ Whilst noting that there continued to be a lack of performers for the Drake episode, it stated that ‘The pageant appeals on its merit, it is not a theatrical show, there is in it life-long laughter, colour, tragedy, romance, and amusement, all playing its distinctive parts in the quickly moving scenes as episode follows episode. The Torquay pageant has been well described as the past shaking hands with the present.’12 The Pageant was extended for a further four performances ‘In view of the wonderful success’.13 The Western Morning News wrote that ‘the critics who have foretold its failure have been dumbfounded by its success.’14
As it turned out, however, the Western Morning News was a little hasty in its judgment. Despite large audiences throughout, the costs of staging the pageant had been huge, with the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette declaring that £6000 had been spent on costumes alone (this seems to have been an overestimate, though not much of one).15 J.M. Scott, secretary of the pageant, warned locals celebrating their success that ‘there is an erroneous impression that enormous profits were made during the pageant’. While the pageant ‘was a great spectacular success’, Scott doubted ‘whether the cost will be met fully owing to the extraordinarily heavy expenses.’16 In fact, it transpired that the pageant had made a loss of £879 and Guarantors were called upon to reimburse 17s. 6d. in the pound. A fund was started by Mr. J.P. Moore ‘with the idea of helping the guarantors and encouraging those who did not take a share of responsibility now to come forward, so that perhaps after all the hospital may benefit to some extent.’17
The Torquay Pageant was a classic instance of a town over-reaching itself. Financial cost control was evidently poor. The various departments had run away with lavish costumes and props which meant that not even a large attendance and an extended run could make up the costs. Though there was the obvious argument that the boost in tourist revenue would have made up for this loss within the local economy, this point does not seem to have been made. Applin’s previous pageant at Reading had cost nearly £6200, making a slight loss.18 He seems never to have staged a pageant after Torquay. In 1949, when nearby Paignton was considering staging a pageant for the Festival of Britain in 1951, a local columnist used Torquay’s example a quarter century earlier, which he claimed ‘made a loss of over a thousand pounds’ despite huge attendance.19 The pageant idea was subsequently scrapped. Torquay’s example was that pageants in coastal resorts, though important for local prestige, were not guaranteed to make money.
- Nigel Morgan and Annette Pritchard, Power, Politics and the Seaside: The Development of Devon’s Resorts in the Twentieth Century (Exeter, 1999). The book makes no mention of the pageant, however.
- Times, 13 September 1949, 7.
- Torbay Herald Pageant Supplement [nd, June 1924], 2. Copy in Devon Heritage Centre, 7916M
- Beatrix F. Cresswell, ‘Historical Introduction’, Torquay historical pageant, June 23rd to 28th, 1924: Rockend grounds, Torquay ([Torquay], 1924), 4.
- Torbay Herald Pageant Supplement, 5.
- Western Morning News, 14 February 1924, 3.
- Western Morning News, 20 May 1924, 5.
- Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 20 February 1924, 8.
- Western Morning News, 25 June 1924, 3.
- Western Times, 27 June 1924, 8.
- Western Morning News, 30 June 1924, 5.
- Western Morning News, 1 July 1924, 6.
- Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 25 June 1924, 7.
- Western Morning News, 9 July 1924, 5.
- Reading Mercury, 18 December 1920, 10.
- Peter Pindar, ‘Paignton Talk’, Torbay Express and South Devon Echo, 6 December 1949, 6.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Torquay Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1327/