Northampton's Historical Pageant
Place: Abington Park (Abington Park, Northampton) (Abington Park, Northampton, Northamptonshire, England)
Number of performances: 5
25–27 June 1925
[Performances at 3pm and 6pm]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Savage, J.T.
- Producer, Episode I: P.K. Baskcomb
- Producer, Episode II: Miss Wallace
- Producer, Episode III: Rev. J.F. Winter
- Producer, Episode IV: Rev. J.B. Dollar
- Producer, Episode V. Miss Taylor
- Producer, Episode VI: J.T. Savage
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Alderman S.S. Campion
- Major C.A. Markham
- Councillor Harry Reeves
- Mrs Harvey Reeves
- Miss Taylor
- Miss Wallace
- Mrs Jennings
- Mr A. Adcock
- Mr A.C. Boyde
- Mr G.H. Nelson
- Mr Frank Esmond
- Mr W. Freir
- Mr E.F. Leach
- Mr S.H. Barber
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Holloway, W.H.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers1600
- Proceeds £7168
- Total Profits of the Carnival and
- Pageant Profit: £1029 5s 11d
Object of any funds raised
To build the James Manfield Children’s Hospital
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Several thousand attended the opening performance.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
A carnival was held in the park at the same time
Episode I. The Discovery of Northampton (“Hamtune) by the Saxons
The episode represents the arrival of Princes Ethelfleda and the naming of the town by the Princess with Saxon ceremonial.
[Enacted by Northampton Town and County School]
Episode II. The Marriage of Simon de Senlis (First Earl of Northampton) to Countess Maud, Great Niece of William the Conqueror, at Northampton, 1087.
[Territorial Officers and Members of the Northampton Motor Cycle Club]
Episode III. Foundation of Church of Holy Sepulchre by Simon de Senlis, Earl of Northampton, 1100
The episode depicts the stone laying ceremony.
[Parishioners of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre]
Episode IV. The Trial of St. Thomas a Becket at Northampton Castle, 1164
[Parishioners of St. James’ Church]
Episode V. Tournament before King Henry III.
The episode shows merely the preliminaries of the Tournament
[Members of the Saints’ F.C. and members of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry]
Episode VI. The Passing of Queen Eleanor, 1291.
Edward I passes through Northampton with the body of Queen Eleanor and erects a wayside cross.
Episode VII. Queen Elizabeth Visits Northampton
[Northampton Amateur Operatic Society]
Episode VIII. Visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1844
Key historical figures mentioned
[Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
Simon (I) de [Simon de St Liz], earl of Northampton and earl of Huntingdon (d.
(c.1010–1089) archbishop of Canterbury
- Baldwin [Baldwin of Forde] (c.1125–1190)
archbishop of Canterbury
Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop
- Henry II
(1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of
- Morville, Hugh de (d. 1173/4) one of
the murderers of Thomas Becket
- Marshal, John (d. 1165) marshal
- Henry III (1207–1272) king of England
and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
William (I) [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c.1146–1219)
soldier and administrator [also known as Marshall, William]
Hubert de, earl of Kent (c.1170–1243) justiciar
Peter des [Peter de Rupibus] (d. 1238) administrator and bishop of
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England
and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of
England and Ireland
[Raleigh], Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author [also known
as Raleigh, Sir Walter]
- Cecil, William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598) royal minister [Baron Burleigh]
- 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
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Yorkshire post and Leeds Intelligencer
Book of words
- None known.
Other primary published materials
- Northampton Pageant 1925 [Programme]. Northampton, 1925.
References in secondary literature
- Northamptonshire Past and Present, Volume 8, Issue 5 (1994). At 411.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Programme in Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/82, 504X7
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Northampton Pageant was the first significant pageant in the county (there had been a previous pageant of Northamptonshire Nonconformity in 1910). The Pageant was a classic example of what Tom Hulme has described as inter-war Civic Boosterism, where large towns and cities performed historical pageants, often combined with industrial and trades exhibitions, with the aim of boosting their profile and revenue.1 Northampton’s pageant was devoted to a resolutely good cause, raising funds to construct a children’s hospital. Grounds and a site had already been provided by the wealthy industrialist, James Manfield.2 As the regular children’s columnist for the Northampton Mercury ‘Auntie Dick’ wrote, ‘I’m sure we are all very glad about this for the cause is a very good one and the hospital will be a means of relieving the suffering of many of the little cripples we know.’3 The Pageant, like many others, was at pains to stress its historical authenticity in that several of its performers were direct descendants from notable historical personages. A Mr G.V.B Charlton could trace his ancestry back to Queen Eleanor, whose funeral procession featured in the sixth episode, whilst Miss Lilian Gunning was a descendant of the Gunning Sisters described by the Times as ‘the celebrated 18th century “beauties”.’4
The Pageant and associated carnival were evidently highly popular with the townspeople, with the Yorkshire Post noting that ‘there was a rush to reserve seats on the three commodious grand stands when the booking office opened.’5 The local freemasons had bought every seat at one performance for old residents of the town, which helped ensure that the Pageant would play to packed audiences.6 The Yorkshire Post emphasized the wide level of participation from all sections of society: ‘The performers are drawn from the local clergy and Nonconformist ministers, school children and masters, church congregations, Territorials, members of the local amateur operatic society, rugby football club, motor cycle club, friendly societies, and other organisations’, whilst stressing that the performers themselves had provided costumes and even horses and carriages!7
The story told focused mainly on medieval events, stressing the rich history of the town and its connections to national figures, visits from Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria being two highlights. Indeed, the appearance of the latter in any context whatsoever had been a point of contention with the Lord Chamberlain, whose office licenced pageants and plays. At least in theory, the figure of Queen Victoria was not permitted to appear on theatre stage or pageant arena, and indeed some pageants—such as that at Ramsgate in 1934—did fall foul of this bizarre rule.8 However, it seems that the ban was only applied occasionally, since Victoria certainly appeared in a number of pageants (for example, Torquay (1924)) without any problem, and in the event there were no complaints about Northampton’s respectful portrayal either
Despite the fact that Northampton apparently struggled to record any major notable events (brief royal visits aside) after the Middle Ages, the Times declared the Pageant to be
admirably presented, the pageant gives a very good idea of some stirring events in the record of Northampton. It is probably that such pageants, the number of which seems to increase year by year, do more to promote a feeling of civic pride than anything else, for they present a picturesque and comprehensive form incidents which otherwise would have to be imagined from histories or guidebooks.9
The Times also remarked on a large audience at the premiere, opened by numerous prominent townspeople ‘thoroughly enjoying the authentic history that was being put before them’.10 Sir Thomas Hesketh, a Justice of the Peace for Northamptonshire, remarked that ‘The Carnival and Pageant gave him a great sense of how great must be the corporate feeling of Northampton and how Northampton could rally to any great work it took in hand.’11
Hesketh’s prediction proved accurate and the Pageant was declared a great success. Even by the standards of successful Pageants, Northampton’s was highly lucrative, taking £7168 overall (for both the Carnival and Pageant), and making a profit of £4340, of which the Pageant made £1029.12 A further large-scale pageant was held in 1930 which repeated episodes III-VI, along with a number of newer ones which brought the narrative into the present era. The Manfield Orthopaedic Hospital was built with funds from the pageant, and ran until the 1980s when the building was converted into private residences.13
Tom Hulme, ‘“A nation of town criers”: Civic Publicity and Historical Pageantry in Inter-War Britain’, Urban History (forthcoming).
‘Eastfield Park’, Northampton Council, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.northampton.gov.uk/info/200244/parks-and-open-spaces/316/eastfield-park
Northampton Mercury, 3 July 1925, 6.
The Times, 22 June 1925, 7.
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 26 June 1925, 10.
Tom Hulme, ‘A Queen who can't be seen: pageants and censorship in the 1930s’, Historical Pageants Blog, accessed 2 August 2016, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/queen-who-cant-be-seen-pageants-and-censorship/
The Times, 26 June 1925, 12.
Northampton Mercury, 26 June 1925, 8.
Northampton Mercury, 18 September 1925, 1.
‘Eastfield Park’, Northampton Council, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.northampton.gov.uk/info/200244/parks-and-open-spaces/316/eastfield-park; ‘Our History’, Northampton General Hospital, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.northamptongeneral.nhs.uk/AboutUs/Ourhistory/History.aspx
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Northampton's Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1404/