The Bradstone Pageant
- The Pageant of Bradstone
- Church Notes:
Place: In front of the small church and the manor house of Bradstone (Bradstone) (Bradstone, Devon, England)
Number of performances: 4
31 July–1 August 1929, 3pm and 7pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Kelly, Mary
- Treasurer: Mr Evans
- Conductor: Miss Radford
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Bradstone Pageant Committee:
- Mr Kittow
- Mr Evans
- Mr Lovell
- Mr Durant
Plus other unknowns.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Kelly, Mary
- Henderson, Charles
- Quiller-Couch, Arthur
Pageant documentation recorded Mary Kelly as scriptwriter, ‘with the assistance of Charles Henderson and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Profit: £68. 5s. 3½d.
Object of any funds raised
The profit was dispersed amongst the Holy Cross Mission, £30; churchwardens of Kelly, £19. 2s. 8d.; churchwardens of Bradstone, £19. 2s. 7½d.1.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Seats in the Grandstand:
Afternoons: 5s. and 2s. 6d.
Evenings: 2s. 6d. and 1s. 5d.
Outside the Stand:
Children half price.
A little boy enters, looking for his grandfather; he instead finds an old man, who claims to be both the boy’s father and his grandfather. He tells the understandably sceptical boy that he is thousands of years old, before inquiring why they call the town Bradstone. The boy explains that it is due to the gurt stone (or Broad Stone) in a nearby field. The old man tells the excited boy that he will ‘lift the veil for you and give To-morrow a glimpse of Yesterday’, before tolling a bell three times and stepping aside.
Episode I. The Manumission or Freeing of Serfs, c. AD 970
Wulfisie, the Mass-Priest of Lamerton, enters and calls for the freemen of Bradstone on behalf of Ordulf, explaining to a serf that Ordulf believes his father, Lord Ordgar, is sick and being punished for an evil deed; freeing serfs would thus lead the All-Father to be merciful and to heal Ordgar. The people of the town gather, before four priests enter followed by the serfs. Wynstan, the Mass-Priest of Exeter, introduces the serfs, before Ordulf explains to them that they will be freed. Ordgar is carried in, tossing and turning in a delirium. His wife, Eadgiva, follows, fussing over him. She expresses despair over his situation, as Ordulf explains his hopes that freeing the serfs will help. Ordulf and the priests leave for the Church to finish the ceremony. A leech, with his servant boy, tries to reach Ordgar, announcing he will heal the ailing man; Eadgiva is taken in by his promises. The leech tells Eadgiva that Ordgar is possessed by the devil, and resolves to brew a potion to drive out the evil. Ordulf returns with the priests and serfs, and announces that they are now free. The serfs thank Ordulf, as Ordgar is carried away with Eadgiva. The freed men are then, to the amusement of some, set back to work by their wives and the priests.
The little boy and old man (from the first chorus) talk about the wonders of freedom and liberty, the latter also connoting service. The bells then ring; the old man explains that their chimes are for a wedding.
Episode II. The Wedding of the Heiresses of Cruwys, c. 1338
Wedding bells ring as the townspeople assemble, and the crowd grows and becomes raucous in anticipation. A procession of brides and bridegrooms enter, as bridegrooms scatter money among the common people. Sir John de Cruwys welcomes all assembled, and toasts the three brides of Bradstone. There is a humorous disagreement, as a lawyer provokes Sir John to slander the Cornish. The lawyer then reads out the terms of the marriages and the exchanges of land and rights. Another toast is had, before music is played and dancing takes place. Joan and Roger, two of the newlyweds, bicker—Roger is consequently teased by the other men after declaring that he hates women and only wants to fight in the French wars. More merriment and dancing as the episode ends.
A horn is heard; the little boy and Old Man anticipate the return of the huntsman.
Episode III. The Hunting Abbot of Tavistock, AD 1348
A procession of monks and ladies on horseback ride down from the Abbot’s Way, the Abbot of Tavistock, John Courtenay, at the head. He admonishes the steward violently for not having prepared the feast outside—the frightened steward claiming that it was too dangerous because of robbers. The food and drink now appears. The Abbot and Prior of Scilly joke and laze around, as the monks and ladies amuse themselves with games. The Prior of Launceston now approaches, explaining he is late because, he thinks, the Lord Bishop of Exeter disproves of hunting and has come to the Abbey to catch the monks drunk. The Prior declares that the Bishop had ‘stuck his nose into Tavistock Abbey more times than I can count on my fingers.’ The Abbot, swaggering, declares he cares not for the power of the Bishop. All of a sudden the Bishop is spotted in the distance, petrifying the crowd. As the Bishop enters, the Abbot tries to maintain his cool; their greetings are both sarcastic and icy. After the Bishop chastises the Abbot for his hunting and laxity, the Abbot reminds the Bishop of the power of his brother, the Earl of Devon. The Bishop declares his loyalty is only to the King of Heaven, and expresses extreme distaste for the monks who are introduced to him. The Abbot, increasingly uncomfortable, expresses his belief that it would be a sin to reject the gifts of God by not hunting the ground. The Bishop announces that he will hold an official visitation at Tavistock to further investigate the matter, before leaving.
The boy expresses his confusion that the roads to liberty and duty are never straight. The Old Man bids him to carry on watching.
Episode IV. The Manor Court, 1601
Oliver Cloberry, the Lord of the Manor of Bradstone, enters in a foul mood, violently chastising his servants. He sits down with the nervous Parson, ready to attend to Court business. Christopher Doble, a hind at Combe, enters, acting humbly towards Cloberry. Cloberry and Doble discuss the accusation that Doble has illegally cut down a tree and impounded some of Master Bidlake’s sheep. Doble at first avoids the question and then makes up excuses for why it could not have been him. When Doble turns the tables and tries to influence Cloberry by threatening to tell Bidlake about one of Cloberry’s misdoings, Cloberry beats him. Young John Cloberry and the Parson rush in and restrain Cloberry. Bidlake enters and exchanges over-the-top greetings and compliments with Cloberry. They soon argue, however, over the impounding of the sheep, before old John Coombe arrives; hilarity ensues as the old man witters or mishears all of Cloberry’s questions. More arguments ensue, before a boy rushes in and announces that Bidlake’s sheep are in Cloberry’s oats. Cloberry beats the boy and instructs him to drive the sheep away.
The boy sulkily remonstrates with the Old Man, asking why, if he is trying to show pride in the place, he is showing such sordid tales from history—instead, he tells the old man, he wants to see where the roads of the town go. The Old Man tells him he can leave when he wishes, yet the boy is reluctant.
Episode V. Harvest Home, 1820
A band of children come running in, followed more slowly by Granny Davy, who is supported by a younger woman, Polly Masters. The children excitedly anticipate the arrival of the Neck (the corn harvest). Granny Davy cries in grief for her son who was taken away by press-gang to the sea years previously. After Granny Davy has told the story of her son, the farmers enter singing with the harvest. They take a drop of cider to quench their thirst, before the girls and men dance ‘Gathering Peascods’. A sailor with a red handkerchief sack and a parrot in a cage watches the dance, before he is invited in by the farmer. It quickly transpires that it is Granny Davy’s son, back from sea. They reunite emotionally, before he finds his old love, Polly. All celebrate in the good news, before the Crying the Neck ritual follows (in which the Neck is carried by the Sailor to the house, where he is drenched with a bucket of water by a local girl).
The Old Man tells the boy that there is ‘no end to the roads’; that they lead around the world, but all ‘track back in the end’—to ‘home—and that is the end, as ‘twas the beginning.’ The old man pulls the bell three times, as all the persons in the pageant file in to a Latin chant. They arrange themselves in a semi-circle fronting the spectators, before all singing, with the spectators, ‘O God our Help in Ages Past’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Wulfsige [St Wulfsige] (d. 1002) abbot of Westminster and bishop of Sherborne
- Ordgar (d. 971) magnate
- Grandison, John (1292–1369) bishop of Exeter
- A string orchestra provided incidental music.
- Works such as ‘God our Help in Ages Past’ (Final Chorus) were sung.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Western Morning News
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Book of words
- Kelly, Mary. The Pageant of Bradstone. [Place of publication unclear], 1929.
Cost: 1s 1d.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Kelly, Mary. How to Make a Pageant. London, 1936.
- Merrington, Peter. ‘Staging History, Inventing Heritage: The “New Pageantry” and British Imperial Identity’. In Archaeologies of the British: Explorations of Identity in Great Britain and its Colonies 1600-1945, edited by Susan Lawrence. Abingdon, 2003, 239-258.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘Delving the Levels of Memory and Dressing up in the Past’. In British Theatre between the Wars, 1918-1939, edited by Clive Barker and Maggie Barbara Gale. Cambridge, 2000, 190-214.
- ___. ‘Unlocking the Secret Soul: Mary Kelly, Pioneer of Village Theatre’. New Theatre Quarterly 16, no. 4 (2000), 347-58
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Kelly, Mary. The Pageant of Bradstone. [Place of publication unclear], 1929. Plymouth Record Office. 3950/2.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Domesday Book.
- Leofric Missal, edited by F.E. Warren, Oxford, 1883.
The Bradstone Pageant of 1929 was a small event staged by Mary Kelly, the influential founder of the Village Drama Society. Also involved in the production of the pageant was Arthur Quiller-Couch, the noted writer and academic, and, at one point, the President of the Village Drama Society, as well as Charles Henderson, a young historian of Cornwall. It was performed four times across two days, in front of the 12th century church and the manor house. Bradstone at this time was a very small parish, perhaps the smallest in the country, and had a population of less than 100. The sister parishes of Kelly, Lifton, Milton Abbot and Meavy were thus brought in to help.2 It seems that Bradstone was a logical choice for Kelly to stage a pageant since the Church of St Mary, in her ancestral home of Kelly (two miles away), was attached to the Rectory of Bradstone, a gift of her father, the late Rev. Maitland Kelly (Lord of the Manor and principal landowner).3 A small success, the pageant is notable for the approach and ethos of Mary Kelly, who defined her pageants in direct opposition to the mainstream of the movement.
Indeed, as the Western Morning News rightly pointed out, the ‘moving spirit in the affair’ was definitely Kelly—‘a firm believer in the value of the drama as a means of making village life more interesting.’4 She had already instigated a dramatic tradition in her own village, with religious plays performed regularly by the villagers in the old barn of Kelly House, turning the place into ‘an English Oberammergau’ (the German town noted for its passion plays).5 Kelly, in her manual How to Make a Pageant (1936), was very clear about what she saw as the failings of the pageantry movement, declaring the majority of performances as resembling each other ‘as closely as do peas’. The large and uncontrolled audiences, she argued, were ignorant—there simply to ‘pick out’ people they knew ‘in unfamiliar clothes, to admire them or laugh at them, and to enjoy to the full any incongruity—not to experience any emotion or to make any effort of understanding or imagination.’6 At the same time, Kelly thought, audiences also attended from ‘a sense of duty’, with little criticism heard from spectators or the press due to the social and charitable nature of the event.7 Yet, she believed, the pageant format had so much promise. Rather than concentrating on historical presentation, continuity, and ‘a vague desire to remember the days that are past, to “praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us”’, a pageant should show ‘the real drama of history; the conflict of strong ideas driving men forward, the reaction from them that pulls them back, the dominance of the feat of character and intellect, the growing-pains of humanity.’8
Furthermore, as Mick Wallis has argued, Kelly, ‘unlike many of her more nostalgic contemporaries… recognized the class conflicts and history of deprivation of the rural poor, and blended such elements into the pageants she devised’.9 The Kelly Players, which she founded in 1919, aimed to include all people in the parish, whatever their age or class; and her Village Drama Society aimed to encourage similar experimentation in other villages. By 1939 the Village Drama Society had been absorbed into the British Drama League, and over six hundred village societies had been formed.10 The Bradstone Pageant thus aimed to concentrate on a highly localised and ‘everyday’ form of history, and to celebrate the spirit of the people instead of their rulers. As Charles Henderson declared in the foreword to the book of words:
The history of any English Parish is the history of England in miniature. This is sometimes forgotten by the producers of Pageants when they overload their scenes with famous historical personages and exciting events. But the true pageant of the normal English parish knows neither kings nor battles. Its task is to depict the Social life of the place throughout the ages.11
This critique of pageants was mirrored in the Western Morning News in its coverage, which argued that the Bradstone event ‘should prove something of a much richer and more sincere kind than the tinsel shows which too often pass as pageants nowadays.’12
The narrative of the pageant reflected this interest in local, rural and common spirit. In the first episode, several serfs of 970 were freed, an action that was shown in a positive light; in the following chorus, the pageant’s narrators (an old man and a young boy) ruminated on the nature of freedom of liberty. The third episode, in contrast, displayed the lax and drunken antics of monks during a hunting party. The young boy, in the chorus that followed, expressed his confusion that ‘the roads’ to liberty and duty were thus not straight, so articulating a conscious rejection by the author, it seems, of the usual Whiggish linear narrative of historical pageantry. The fourth episode supports this interpretation by showing the even more reprehensible squabbles and double-dealings of the local court and gentry in 1601. In the chorus this time, the young boy sulked, surprised that the Old Man, if he wanted to show pride in the locality, was showing such sordid tales. The final episode, however—a ‘happy ending’ where a local sailor was reunited with his mother years after being press-ganged, before then performing an idiosyncratic harvest ritual—showed that the spirit and honesty rested with the common rural folk and not the nobility. The old man finally explains to the boy that there is ‘no end to the roads’; that they lead around the world, but all ‘track back in the end’—to ‘home—and that is the end, as ‘twas the beginning.’
The scant press coverage the pageant garnered was positive, the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, for example, declaring that ‘Nothing could have been more charming, and little imagination was required to conjure up visions through the centuries as the fine episodes were submitted.’13 As a very small event, little contemporary evidence of its staging remains beyond the book of words and such short newspaper reports. It must have been well attended, however, since it made a profit of £68, which was distributed to the Holy Cross Mission, the churchwardens of Kelly, and the churchwardens of Bradstone. Mary Kelly went on to stage other pageants in the West Country at Launceston (1931) and Exeter (1932), and wider afield at Selborne in 1926 and 1938.
The version of pageant that Kelly championed was different than many current at the time – such as those of Frank Lascelles, with their large and spectacular staging, and often ahistorical themes. As Wallis has argued, she was closer to Louis Napoleon Parker.14 Placing the individual ‘in a rich soil which is at once deeply local and yet thoroughly integrated into the nation’ was ‘lived history’ in Kelly’s hands, but a sentimentalisation of nationhood in the hands of ‘many others’ – like the original pageant-master himself, Parker.15 In summary, the Bradstone Pageant, and the ideas of Kelly, show that the pageantry movement had developed, by the inter-war years, to such an extent that it could be challenged. But, rather than disavowing historical pageantry altogether, Kelly adapted the format, demonstrating the perceived benefits that performing past could still have.
- ‘The Bradstone Pageant’, Western Morning News, 2 October 1929, 9.
- ‘Notes of the Day’, Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 19 July 1929, 9.
- ‘Lifting the Veil of Yesterday’, Western Morning News, 1 August 1929, 5.
- ‘The Bradstone Pageant’, Western Morning News, 7 March 1929, 3.
- Ibid., 3.
- Mary Kelly, How to Make a Pageant (London, 1936), 4.
- Ibid., 5.
- Ibid., 8-9.
- Mick Wallis, ‘Unlocking the Secret Soul: Mary Kelly, Pioneer of Village Theatre’, New Theatre Quarterly 16, no. 4 (2000), 348.
- Mick Wallis, ‘Unlocking the Secret Soul: Mary Kelly, Pioneer of Village Theatre’, New Theatre Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 4 (2000), 350.
- Charles Henderson, MA, ‘Preface’ in Mary Kelly, The Pageant of Bradstone ([Place of publication unclear], 1929).
- ‘The Bradstone Pageant’, Western Morning News, 7 March 1929, 3.
- ‘Bradstone Pageant’, Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 August 1929, 9.
- Wallis, ‘Unlocking the Secret Soul’, 354.
- Mick Wallis, ‘Delving the Levels of Memory and Dressing up in the Past’ in British Theatre Between the Wars, 1918-1939, ed. Clive Barker and Maggie Barbara Gale (Cambridge 2000), 204.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Bradstone Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1001/