The Cambridge Pageant
- The Cambridgeshire Pageant
- The Cambridge Pageant and Gala
Place: King’s Meadow and King’s Fellows’ Garden (Cambridge) (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England)
Number of performances: 2
10 July 1924, 3pm and 6pm
Gates opened at 2pm and closed at 11pm.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Bryant, Arthur
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Admission 1s. all day.
Reserved seats for the pageant: 2s. 6d., 2s., and 1s.
The Gala in King’s Fellows’ Garden: Exhibition of Dancing; Exhibition of Fencing; Two Garden Concerts; Promenade Concert; Dancing: stocks dance orchestra; Tea Garden; Children’s Fancy Dress Parade [children in fancy dress admitted free at 5pm]; Demonstrations in Red Cross Week, and by Girl Guides and Boy Scouts.
Incident I. Merchants Preparing their Booths
Merchants are busy laying out their wares and setting signs outside their booths.
Incident II. The Assembling of the Crowd
Gradually buyers appear, and start to mingle. The visitors are mostly country folk of varying degrees—farmers and peasant folk—and here and there, brighter colours of local gentry and visitors from London.
Incident III. The Prior’s Procession
To the sound of trumpets and distant music a procession arrives, led by four men in red coats armed with staves, followed by a band of musicians and the Prior and the Vice-Chancellor with a number of Monks. Behind them follows a cheering crowd of townsfolk and young University students.
Incident IV. The Proclamation Opening the Fair
The Prior, Vice-Chancellor and two trumpeters mount a platform against the Maypole. The trumpets sound and there is tremendous shouting—then much laughter—followed by a hurrying to and fro of the Redcoats silencing the onlookers. The pompous mayor reads out the proclamation to cheering and blowing of trumpets.
Incident V. The Buying and Selling Begins
Incident VI. The Eastern Merchants Arrive
Regal looking eastern merchants arrive, with their servants, led by a gaily dressed piper.
Incident VII. Jews [crossed out and replaced with Usurers] and Pickpockets Taken to the Duddery
A certain clamour begins; two elderly men are heard raising their voices over some bargain. A crowd gathers round, but the two disputants, absorbed in their business differences, take no notice. A Redcoat approaches. Suddenly an indignant cry of Jew [now crossed out with other suggestions like usury, profiteer, forestaller, regrator] is heard—at which point everyone gathers round in great excitement. The Prior comes out of his tent, and some of the crowd attempt to explain what is happening; on hearing these explanations he takes his place in the Court of Pie Powder and demands that the two supposed Jews [crossed out] shall be brought before him. This is done, but at first the course of Justice is hampered. Despite the Prior’s judicial aspect, the two prisoners before him still continue their quarrel with much vociferation and gesticulation, with the crowd, their accusers, all talking and explaining at once. At last the Prior makes himself heard, but neither of the prisoners will take any notice of him, their minds being entirely absorbed in their quarrel. The crowd grows impatient and begins to call out demands that the ‘Jews' [crossed out] be taken to the ducking pond. Losing his temper, the Prior waves them away and retires to his tent. The crowd thereupon take up the two Jews [crossed out], both still disputing, and bear them away with loud shouts and laughter across the stage and out behind the booths to the right. Meanwhile commerce at the Duddery resumes its normal aspect, the two eastern merchants obviously doing good business and being treated with great respect by all about them.1
Incident VIII. In the Pillory
Incident IX. The Faction Fight
Shortly after the disappearance of the Jews to the ducking pond, a Jester comes in, throwing red roses. A heavily-built farmer wearing a white rose threatens the jester. The Jester then hits the farmer, who hits him back, knocking him down. Red rose wearers now confront the farmer. Tensions run high and staves are drawn. The fight becomes general.
Incident X. The Redcoats Restore Order
At first the fighters take little notice of the redcoats, and the Prior’s bailiff is met with jeers. The redcoats start thwacking anybody close by. This causes panic, and the crowd disperses.
Incident XI. The Fun of the Fair
Round the maypole and general dancing
General singing concludes the spectacle
Key historical figures mentioned
Musical productionNot clear, but seems to be live instruments
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- BRYANT C3 and BRYANT J1 at the Liddell Hart Military Archives at King’s College London.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
This small one-day play was Arthur Bryant’s first foray into pageantry. At the time he was 25 years of age, and had recently taken up the position of headmaster at the Cambridge School of Arts, Crafts, and Technology, becoming the youngest headmaster in England. In a sense it was not a ‘true’ historical pageant, consisting of only one day in history, that of a rural fair. It was still organised into episodes, however, and is relevant—if only for its organisation, its themes, and as a contrast to Bryant’s later pageants.
The organisation of the pageant was notable in that it was almost totally undertaken by women in Cambridgeshire, mobilised through the village Women’s Institutes that made up the Cambridgeshire Federation of Women’s Institutes. Each episode was organised by a different group, each stall at the fair was manned by a different group, and the stewards were mostly women. Men, however, did still act in the pageant in approximately proportionate numbers. Unlike most pageants, where rehearsals included most, if not all, of the cast, each group rehearsed their own parts on their own, before just a couple of final full-scale all-cast rehearsals in the immediate run-up to the actual day of the pageant. 2
Much of the logic that Bryant would use for staging later pageants was first apparent here. He believed that the pageant would act as a popular form of education, appealing ‘far more than set lectures and classes’ and acting ‘as a first-class start to an educational programme in Liberal subjects’. It would do this through stimulating interest in local history, costume, and music in ‘an attractive way’ and by ‘showing everyone what villages do.’ 3
The Women’s Institute’s desire to stage a pageant that drew attention to community may have been a reflection of the desire of mainstream women’s organisations to construct a non-confrontational sense of citizenship following suffrage, appropriating a theatrical form that had been previously dominated by men to show their own ability to engage with the past.4 It is perhaps notable, however, that Bryant, seemingly without any opposition, did not include any contentious ‘women’s issues’ in the storyline.
One particularly nasty element of the pageant was the expression of Bryant’s anti-Semitism—an element of his thinking that persisted throughout the interwar period. Bryant was at this point a headmaster and not a published historian, and his prejudice was crass and basic. It lacked the intellectual judgement in which he would later cloak his beliefs—as seen, for example, in books such as Unfinished Victory (see entries for the Greenwich and Wisbech Pageants). In the numerous drafts of the pageant that survive in Bryant’s papers, the sixth incident at first had blatant anti-Semitic overtones:
a certain clamour begins; two elderly men raising their voices over some bargain. A crowd gathers round, but the two disputants, absorbed in their business difference, take no notice. A Redcoat approaches and tries to expostulate. Suddenly an indignant cry of Jew [crossed out] arises—at which point everyone gathers round in great excitement. The Prior coming out of his tent, some of the crowd attempt to explain to him; on hearing he takes his place in the Court of Pie Power and demands that the two supposed Jews [crossed out] shall be brought before him. This is done, but at first the course of Justice is hampered, despite the Prior’s judicial aspect, the two prisoners before him still continuing their quarrel with much vociferation and gesticulation, and the crowd, their accusers, all taking and explaining at once. At last the Prior makes himself heard, but neither of the prisoners save for a rapid self-deprecatory gesture, will take any notice of him, their minds being entirely absorbed in their quarrel. The crowd grows impatient and begins to call out ‘Jews’ [crossed out] to the ducking pond and the Prior losing his temper, waives them away and retires to his tent. The crowd thereupon take up the two Jews [crossed out], both still disputing, and bear them away with loud shouts and laughter across the stage and out behind the booths to the right. Meanwhile commerce at the Duddery resumes its normal aspect, the two eastern merchants obviously doing good business and being treated with great respect by all about them.5
In later drafts Bryant crossed out Jews in pen, instead using terms like usurer, profiteer, forestaller, or regrator—revealing the characteristics he gave to Jews.6 It is unclear to what extent these Jewish stereotypes were in the final performance—though evidence from the Oxfordshire Pageant two years later, directed by Bryant and essentially the same narrative as the Cambridgeshire Pageant, suggests that it was understood on some level (see entry for the Oxfordshire Pageant). What is interesting is the way in which only Jews were marked out as being ‘the other’; Bryant goes out of his way to make sure the reader understands other races and ethnicities are acceptable, since they conform to what he sees as the correct social code. Implicitly this had ramifications for social citizenship and the way that pageants highlighted past morality relevant to the present day. Evidently, there were ‘correct’ ways to behave at the fair, but also ‘incorrect’ ways.
Bryant choice of a rural fair as the central element of the pageant was important; a gathering that brought people from all over the nation and the world to one seemingly insignificant location cemented the importance of locality, and displayed his preference for the ‘rural idyll’. Patronised by civic elites like the Mayor and Vice-Chancellor of the University, it was also a site of law and justice, presided over by the Court of Pie Powder. In one early draft Bryant listed the ‘foreigners’ that would attend such a grand fair. These included Flemings trading linen; Norwegians trading pitch; Greeks trading almonds, spices and coconuts; the Dutch trading pipes and cheese. At the end of this list the final entry was ‘NO JEWS—Expelled from England’ followed by the observation that ‘Shakespeare, who wrote about “Shylock”, probably never saw a Jew’.7
While Bryant included important civic figures, he made sure to include elements of humour; during the proclamation of the fair, a jester mounted the platform and imitated ‘the pompous gestures of his master the Prior behind his back, much to the amusement of the baser elements of the crowd.’8
It is also noteworthy that, in one of his earlier drafts, Bryant considered including a 1914 scene, to show ‘the gathering of these men from farm and cottage, who went out to foreign lands, there perhaps to die, for the same tradition as all their fore-fathers, whom we would, in this pageant, commemorate’.9
Unfortunately, not much evidence has been found (yet) that details the success of this pageant—it does not seem to have made a significant impression on public opinion, or on in the national newspaper press. Yet Bryant, at the least, must have thought it worked, since he reproduced it almost exactly two years later for the Oxfordshire Pageant.
- Mostly taken verbatim from: ‘Incidents’ [Loose and undated] in BRYANT J1. All BRYANT material at the Liddell Hart Military Archives at King’s College London.
- ‘Women’s Institutes’ Pageant Scheme’. Loose, dated 20 November 1923. BRYANT C3. All BRYANT material at the Liddell Hart Military Archives at King’s College London.
- ‘Women’s Institutes’ Pageant Scheme’.
- M. Andrews, ‘“For Home and Country”: Feminism and Englishness in the Women’s Institute Movement, 1930-1960’, in Richard Weight and Abigail Beach, eds., The Right to Belong: Citizenship and National Identity in Britain, 1930-1960 (London, 1998); M. Andrews, The Acceptable Face of Feminism: the Women’s Institute Movement, 1930-1960 (London, 1997); C. Beaumont, ‘Citizens Not Feminists: the Boundary Negotiated between Citizenship and Feminism by Mainstream Women’s Organisations in England, 1928-39’, Women’s History Review, 9 (2000), 411-29.
- Stage document for 1450 Cambridge Pageant. BRYANT J1.
- ‘Incidents’. Loose, undated. BRYANT J1.
- ‘A Women’s Institute Pageant’. Loose, undated. BRYANT C3.
- ‘Actors’ Directions’. Loose, undated. BRYANT C3.
- ‘A Women’s Institute Pageant’, 2.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Cambridge Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1021/