Rillington Pageant

Pageant type


<p>Members of the Women's Institute of the village of Rillington organised the pageant.</p><p>We are grateful to Keith Johnston for some of the information on this entry.</p>

Jump to Summary


Place: Scampston Park (Rillington) (Rillington, Yorkshire, North Riding, England)

Year: 1927

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 3


27–29 July 1927

[The pageant took place in the afternoons]

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Lally, Gwen

Names of executive committee or equivalent


The only organiser named in news coverage is 'Mrs Adams' who was a Yorkshire county organiser for the Women's Institute ('Village Women's Ambitious Pageant Effort', Yorkshire Post, 5 July 1927, 7).

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

  • Kelly, Mary


Kelly is well known as the founder of the Village Drama Society; she is recorded in the press as the author of this pageant and her status as secretary of the Village Drama Society is mentioned, although her name is sometimes misspelled in such reports as 'Kelley'.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Press coverage states that the pageant had 150 performers (Yorkshire Post, 26 July 1927, 5). Most were women, but some men also took part. Names of some male players are mentioned in the press (see, for example, 'Pageant Scenes at Rillington', Yorkshire Post, 26 July 1927, 13).

Financial information


Object of any funds raised

[No Information]


No financial information has been recovered. It may be assumed that the pageant raised money for the Women's Institute drama section; however, this is not made explicit in reviews of the pageant.

Linked occasion


Audience information

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


A dress rehearsal took place on Monday 25 July 1927; the press were in attendance at this (e.g. Leeds Mercury, 26 July 1927, 5). Audience figures have not been recovered but it was said that a large crowd attended the first performance (Yorkshire Post, 26 July 1927, 13).

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Admission: Wednesday 2s. (children under 16 half-price); Thursday and Friday, 1s.; after 6pm each evening, 6d.

Grandstand: reserved and numbered, 3s. each; other seats 2s. and 1s., with a limited number at 6d. each.

Reserved and numbered tickets for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, including admission, 5s. each.

(Malton Messenger, 23 July 1927, 2)

Associated events


Pageant outline


[No Information]

Episode I: The Harrying of the North (1069)

This episode likely relates to the suppression of resistance to Norman rule in the immediate aftermath of the Conquest.

Episode II: Henry de Meynell takes the Cross (1270)

In this, the drama shows how a local parish priest, 'threatened with excommunication for his vicious ways, repents and joins the Crusades'. ['East Riding Pageantry', Yorkshire Post, 11 July 1927, 7.]

Episode III: The Pilgrimage of Grace (1536)

[No information]

Episode IV: After the Surrender of Scarborough (c1644)

This episode is set during the English Civil War and describes a locally famous incident that took place following the first surrender at Scarborough to the Parliamentarians. It involves Lady Cholmley in a scene where Parliamentary forces beset her coach when she is on her way to Whitby to join her husband. Undaunted, she manages to make an escape. 

['Village Women's Ambitious Pageant Effort', Yorkshire Post, 5 July 1927, 7.]

Episode V: The Rillington Club Feast (1870)

[No information]

Key historical figures mentioned


Musical production

It is likely that there was at least a choir but available reports make no mention of the musical accompaniment. 'O God Our Help in Ages Past' was sung at the conclusion of the pageant (Yorkshire Post, 26 July 1927, 13).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Driffield Times
Hull Daily Mail
Leeds Mercury
The Stage
Yorkshire Post

Book of words

None known

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant



In the 1920s, in the small Yorkshire village of Rillington, the Women's Institute based there had a drama section that punched well above its weight. Rillington WI took many prizes for their performances in regional competitions of amateur theatre.1 This fact may have been what attracted the celebrated theatre producer and actor Gwen Lally to their cause in 1927 when the village decided to stage a pageant, for which Lally would act as pageant master. In addition, none other than Mary Kelly (secretary of the Village drama Association) wrote the script, which was based on incidents from local history. At the time, Kelly was very active in encouraging the dramatic talents of women via the WI and had put on the Selborne Pageant (1926) the previous year.2 Lally's presence can be explained by the fact that she had several times been an adjudicator at amateur drama competitions in Yorkshire during the 1920s.3 Moreover, in summer 1927 she spent a good deal of time in Yorkshire; a month after the pageant at Rillington she directed a summer school for drama enthusiasts at New Escrick, near York.4

The pageant consisted of a prologue and five episodes, which took the history of the district from the eleventh century through to the Victorian era. As a script for the pageant has not been recovered, only scanty details of the narrative content are available; but press coverage in the run up to the performances does not indicate that any nationally well-known figures featured prominently in the drama. This likely reflected Kelly's belief that village pageants should imitate the distinct culture of local places. The Pageant was one of numerous local and county events organized by the Women's Institute, the institution which put on the most pageants during the inter-war period.

The Rillington pageant was scheduled to have three performances over three successive days in late July 1927, and was held in the grounds of Scampston Hall—a grand house and the centrepiece of a large estate near the village. The owners, Mr and Mrs St Quentin, took part in episode V of the pageant; it is presumed that they played the parts of two of their ancestors.5 Local effort was a hallmark of the pageant: for example, a member of the locally prominent Cholmley family loaned the 200-year old coach used in episode IV—and indeed this episode featured 'Lady Cholmley' in the lead role.6 Villagers made most costumes and properties under the supervision of a 'Mr Constable'.7 They also went to the effort of building a 'Danish Homestead' for use in the first episode,8 all of which demonstrated, as one newspaper put it, what 'unpretentious Yorkshire village people' could achieve.9 

On the first day, there was stormy weather; this was said to have 'marred' the proceedings, but the performers 'carried on anyway' and a large audience attended.10 In advance of the pageant it was predicted in the press that the performances would attract sizeable crowds despite the small size of Rillington, for Scampston was situated on the main road to Scarborough.11 Moreover, the parkland could accommodate 'thousands of visitors';12 and cheap fares on the railway were available.13 Indeed, the pageant had quite a bit of advance press publicity, probably because of the celebrity of Lally and Kelly, and also because the various efforts of the Women's Institute enjoyed patronage from upper class women: it was said that Lady Sykes, Lady Middleton and Lady Nunburnholme planned to attend, each with a 'party'.14

Thereafter, this pageant seems to disappear from view in the county press. Though the weather on the first day certainly did not augur well, if the pageant was cancelled or significantly spoiled this would likely have guaranteed at least a short notice in the newspapers. However, a brief mention of the pageant in the Leeds Mercury one year later indicates that the sun must have come out for it is stated that the pageant was a very successful production.15 Possibly, the more powerful reason why the likes of the Yorkshire Post turned its attention away from this pageant after it had opened was the distraction of the forthcoming, larger-scale pageant due to be held at Mount Grace Priory at the start of September 1927, which throughout August of that year was a constant focus of interest. Gwen Lally, who staged numerous subsequent pageants including at Ashdown Forest (1929), and the Spirit of Warwickshire (1930), which was staged for County WIs, one of dozens organized across the country during the period.


1. ^ See for example, 'House and Home'Hull Daily Mail, 29 April 1926, 6.
2. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Kelly, Mary Elfreda (1888–1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online, accessed 10 February 2017 at:
3. ^ See 'Village Drama', The Stage, 11 August 1927, 14; Deborah Sugg Ryan, ‘Lally, Gwen (1882–1963)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online, accessed 10 February 2017 at:
4. ^ 'Village Drama', The Stage, 11 August 1927, 14
5. ^ 'Rillington Pageant', Yorkshire Post, 26 July 1927, 5.
6. ^  'Pageant Scenes at Rillington', Yorkshire Post, 26 July 1927, 13.
7. ^ 'Village Women's Ambitious Pageant Effort', Yorkshire Post, 5 July 1927, 7.
8. ^ 'East Riding Pageantry', Yorkshire Post, 11 July 1927, 6.
9. ^ 'Village Women's Ambitious Pageant Effort', Yorkshire Post, 5 July 1927, 7.
10. ^ 'Pageant Scenes at Rillington', Yorkshire Post, 26 July 1927, 13.
11. ^ 'Village Pageant', Leeds Mercury, 26 July 1927, 5.
12. ^  'Village Women's Ambitious Pageant Effort', Yorkshire Post, 5 July 1927, 7.
13. ^ 'Rillington', Driffield Times, 30 July 1927, 3; in the interwar years the village of Rillington was served by a railway station.
14. ^ 'Village Pageant', Leeds Mercury, 26 July 1927, 5.
15. ^ 'Lady Sykes' Children in a Play', Leeds Mercury, 14 July 1928, 6.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Rillington Pageant’, The Redress of the Past,