Hitchin Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Priory Grounds (Hitchin) (Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England)

Year: 1951

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 7


28 May­–2 June 1951

[28 May–1 June at 7pm; 2 June at 3.30pm and 7pm]

Name of pageant master and other named staff

Pageant Master: Swinson, Cyril

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Pageant Executive Committee

  • Chairman: J.W. Platt
  • Organising Secretary: A. Kevan
  • Cyril Swinson
  • Hon. Mrs. David Bowes-Lyon
  • Miss M.A. Badland, BA
  • Miss M. Ibberson, MBE
  • Miss E.A. Latchmore
  • W.C. Ainsley
  • F.C. Baldry
  • R. Cannon
  • R. Delme-Radcliffe
  • J.T. Eales
  • L. Franklin
  • Cllr. S.A. Garnham, JP
  • Cllr. W.E. Hawkes
  • E. Hodson
  • T.E. Jones
  • Canon E.C. Kempe
  • Hartford M. King
  • E.S. Lloyd
  • Major W.O. Times
  • P.G. Wells
  • W.J. Willmott
  • W. Wingfield

Business Management Committee

  • Chairman: E. Morgan, MBE

Sports Committee

  • Chairman: W.A. Hill

Publicity Committee

  • Chairman: W.A. Hawkes

Reception Committee

  • Chairman: Councillor F.O. Foster

Costumes Committee

  • Chairman: Major K. Strugnell

Properties Committee

  • Chairman: E. Lloyd

Dance Committee

  • Chairman: Miss D. Gunn

Box Office Committee

  • Chairman: W.C. Ainsley

Transport Committee

  • Chairman: Hartford M. King

Music Committee

  • Chairman: P.G. Wells

Grounds Committee

  • Chairman: Cllr. W.E. Harkness

Catering Committee

  • Chairman: J.T. Eales

Horse Committee

  • Chairman: D. Clough Park

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

Swinson, Cyril

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

The Pageant lost over £500

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

1951 Festival of Britain

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


Thousands attended the opening performance

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

15s 6d–2s 6d.

Associated events

  • 3 June. Band Concert
  • 4–5 June. Inter-town Table Tennis Tournament
  • 6 June. Children’s Musical Festival
  • 9 June. Carnival and Sports Fete
  • 16 June. Herts Rural Music School Founders’ Day Concert
  • 21 June. Swimming Gala
  • 23 June. Hitchin Show
  • 28 May to 9 June Exhibition of Rare Books
  • 11–15 June. Exhibition of Water Colours.

Pageant outline

Episode I. King Offa founds a Monastery at Hitchin 792

Episode II. Devorgoil de Balliol, Lady of the Manor, 1278

Episode III. Edward III Comes to Hitchin, 1328

Episode IV. Henry VIII Goes Hawking, 1525

Episode V. The Surrender of the Priory, 1539

Episode VI. The Plague at Hitchin, 1665

Episode VII. Quakers and Highwaymen, c. 1725

Episode VIII. The Age of Progress: The Railway Comes to Hitchin, 1850

Episode IX. A Panorama of Hitchin, 1850-1950.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Offa (d. 796) king of the Mercians
  • Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

Biggleswade Chronicle
The Times
Bedfordshire Times and Independent
The Sketch
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer

Book of words

None known

Other primary published materials

  • Hodson, E.W., ed. Hitchin Pageant: Depicting the History of the Town from the Time of King Offa. Np, 1951.

References in secondary literature

  • Madgin, Hugh. Hitchin Town Through Time. Stroud, 2014.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of Programme in Hertfordshire Local History Library

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Hine, Reginald. History of Hitchin and Hitchin Worthies. Np. (1929 and 1932).


The 1951 Festival of Britain saw something of a revival of historical pageantry in a world in which it appeared increasingly outmoded when competing with cinema, theatre and—most of all—television. Though based on the Southbank of London, home of the famous ‘Skylon’, the Festival also supported many local exhibitions, concerts and events, which were staged across the regions.1 The Festival, which embraced technological modernity, also harked back to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and sought to foster a spirit of communalism created by the shared experience of war and Britain’s welfare state; as such, it was ideally represented by historical pageants. These Festival pageants ranged from relatively large affairs such as those held at Rochester and Dartford, to relatively small village pageants (e.g. Headley, Arundel, East Grinstead). Whilst most of the 1951 pageants focused on the common people, influenced by G.M. Trevelyan’s hugely successful English Social History (1942-44), the Hitchin Pageant resolutely stuck to the classic format, foregrounding the monarchy’s place within the town’s illustrious history. This was probably just as well, given that Queen Mary visited the Pageant on its opening day, being greeted with all due ceremony by Viscount Hampden, the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire. The Times noted that the Queen had briefly attended school in Hitchin (‘while her tutor was ill’), and was given a suitably ‘enthusiastic welcome’ by large crowds on her return.2

The Pageant was written and produced by Cyril Swinson, whose first pageant had been at nearby St Albans in 1948. Swinson went on to hold further pageants at Wisbech (1949),  Rochester (1951), Brighton (1951), St Albans (1953), King’s Lynn (1954), and Dunstable (1963). One of the highlights of the Hitchin Pageant was the train in the final episode. The Hitchin model engineering club produced an exact replica of the first train to arrive at the station, some sixty feet in length.3 More than eighty local organisations took part in the pageant, augmented with members of the RAF based locally.4 The Bedfordshire Times and Independent was effusive in its praise of the Pageant and the town’s Festivities, declaring that: ‘Enterprise and initiative are qualities of which we see all too little to-day. At Hitchin however, the local authorities seem to have cornered them successfully, to the shame of their more lethargic neighbours.’ The paper went on to predict that ‘it should be looked back on with a proper civic pride for many years to come.’5

This prediction proved correct, since the Hitchin Pageant has on the whole been fondly remembered, with a film of the Pageant being produced.6 Nonetheless, the pageant, like many during the Festival year, made a significant loss of over £500, which the Biggleswade Chronicle noted was ‘about the product of a penny rate’ (i.e. equivalent to an increase of 1p on a ratepayer’s yearly bill), noting that other Festival events had also lost money.7


1. ^ Becky Conekin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’: The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester, 2003), 88–104. See also Mark Freeman, ‘‘Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle’: Historical Pageants in Twentieth-Century Britain’, Social History 38 (2013): 423–55.
2. ^ The Times, 29 May 1951; Biggleswade Chronicle, 1 June 1951, 10.
3. ^ Biggleswade Chronicle, 18 May 1951, 11.
4. ^ Ibid.
5. ^ Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 25 May 1951, 8.
6. ^ Tom Hulme, ‘Watching Pageant Films’, Historical Pageants, accessed 16 December 2016, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/watching-pageant-films/; ‘When a Nazi Salute Shocked Hitchin’, The Comet, 22 October 2011, accessed 16 December 2016, http://www.thecomet.net/news/when_a_nazi_salute_shocked_hitchin_students_1_1105897
7. ^ Biggleswade Chronicle, 27 July 1951, 7.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Hitchin Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1369/