An Oxfordshire Historical Pageant
Place: Shipton-on-Cherwell (Kidlington) (Kidlington, Oxfordshire, England)
Number of performances: 3
18, 19, 20 June 1931
Performances were held in the evening.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Salter, E.A.
- Producer: Neville Rainsley
- Stage Manager: Walter Wright
- Musical Advisers: Rev. G.H. Salter; George Dyson; Sidney Nicholson
- Mistress of the Robes: Mrs Sawyer
- Leader of the Orchestra: G.H. Haslehurst
- Historiographer: Mrs Freeborn
- Adviser of Costumes: Miss Judith Masefield
- Artists: Sidney D. Kitson; Miss Barbara Kitson; Gifford Ambler
- Organiser, Expenses Fund: Mrs E.A. Salter
- Directors of Performers: Major H.N. Kermack; Mrs. Kermack
- Masters of the Amphitheatre: A.S. Taylor; S. Walker
- Masters of the Horse: Max Adamson; W.F. Burrows
- Master of Properties: E.J. Edwards
- Hon. Veterinary Surgeon: T.D. Hughes
Patrons include the High Steward of Oxford, the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, the Bishop of Oxford, the City Rector, the Mayors of Oxford, Abingdon, Banbury, Chipping Norton, and the Wardens or Masters of most colleges.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Frank Gray
- Hon. Treasurer: E.A. Salter
- Assistant: H.G. Gibbs
- Hon. Secretary: P.I. Benham
- Hon. Auditor: J.F. Chaundler
- Chairman: E.A. Salter
- Chairman: S.D. Kitson
- Chairman: E.A. Salter
- Chairman: Frank Gray
- Chairman: R. Cox
- Chairman: Mrs Sawyer
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Buchan, Alice
- Buchan, John
- Coppard, A.E.
- Duvall, Claude
- Willson, D.A. Wynne
- Knox, E.V.
- Rowse, A.L.
- Edmondson, E.E.
- Freeborn, M.E.
- Sawyer, S.
- Prologue: D.A. Wynne Willson
- Episode I: Miss Alice Buchan and John Buchan
- Episode II: Miss E.E. Edmondson
- Episode III: A.L. Rowse
- Episode IV: A.E. Coppard
- Episode V: Claude Duvall
- Episode VI: Miss S. Sawyer
- Episode VII: Mrs Freeborn
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
To raise £1000 for a social club in Kidlington.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 3750
The Times reported that there were 1200 in attendance on the first night, despite rain showers.1
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Spoken by Clio, Muse of History.
Episode I. Masque of Oseney Abbey, AD 1129
Edith is troubled by a dream and is reassured by Father Ralph. He reflects on its meaning and suggests that it indicates that all of Edith’s wealth will be dissipated, and that she must give to charities. She is fearful. Their conversation is interrupted by music and dancing water-spirits, followed by demons. Ralph and Edith pray. The demons are routed by the Spirit of Oseney which addresses them about the Isis and England’s green and pleasant land. Robert D’Oily enters, having witnessed the spectacle, and he and Edith vow to build an abbey on the site.
Episode II. Edward III and his Court at Woodstock Manor, AD 1357
The episode shows Edward and Queen Philippa preparing a feast of Pentecost in honour of the Black Prince’s victories. A company of nobles arrives with the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, and the French King as prisoner. Men-at-arms bear captured French banners. Geoffrey Chaucer recites a verse on the victory and is crowned with a laurel wreath. There is a country dance.
Episode III. The Princess Elizabeth Passes Through Kidlington, AD 1554
People cheer the princess. Bedingfield tries to get them to desist, as the princess is disgraced and on the way to exile at Woodstock. The princess continues smiling and waving to the crowd, encouraging the people. Some people hail her as the rightful queen, and Bedingfield threatens to charge them with treason. An old man is led to the stocks. Elizabeth commands them to obey their sovereign and praises Bedingfield’s heart. She bids farewell and rides off.
Episode IV. The Civil Wars, AD 1645
This scene is based on the famous painting ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father’ by W.F. Yeames (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Anne and John are playing hide and seek. They are upset by the prospect of their father in the Tower of London. As they depart, Sir William enters, having escaped the tower, and is greeted by an old servant. The man leads his horse away, and William’s wife and children embrace him. He takes the jewels and tells of his escape. During this, Puritan soldiers and an officer arrive, knocking at the door. William is hidden in a chest. The family assume an air of nonchalance as the soldiers break in. John is writing a letter to his father, in the tower. The captain believes Sir William to have flown, despite the parson’s advice to the opposite effect. The clerk and parson try to get the boy to confess. The captain makes the boy stand on a stool and questions him, but he gets nothing out of the boy. The captain compliments the boy and departs. The family reunite.
Episode V. Claude Duval: an Extravaganza
Claude Duval and his fellow highwaymen ambush a coach, forcing Lady Morton to dance with him. They banter and dance. The lady, impressed, drops a handkerchief, and the coach rides off.
Claude is driven to the hangman on a cart. The crowd bewails his fate, with ladies remarking on his solicitations. William Morton, Lady Morton’s husband, addresses him. Ladies in the crowd beg for him to be spared. Claude addresses them and wishes them adieu, flinging a rose to Lady Morton, and the cart moves off.
Episode VI. Charles II and Nell Gwyn at Water Eaton
The king and Nell Gwyn approach Lady Lovelace and the crowd. The king remarks how much he likes this place. He presents or greets various people. A woman, whose child is affected with the King’s evil, comes forward. The king touches the child and gives it a medallion. A man’s son is pardoned for poaching; all cry ‘Long Live the King’, and the party moves off towards the house.
Episode VII. After the Wars, 1820
A feast day on Kidlington Green. The three prominent characters are Mr Collier Jones, the Rector of Exeter College who sailed with Nelson; Giuseppe Giacomorsi, valet to Napoleon; and Alexander Robert Reinagle, a musician who played as a boy at the ball in Brussels before Waterloo and who is now choir-master of the church. Children mock Giacomorsi before being dispersed. The three men have a bottle of wine and reminisce about the old days during the wars.
Final Procession of Actors
Key historical figures mentioned
- Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince] prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376), heir to the English throne and military commander [also known as Edward the Black Prince]
- Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
- John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England
- Chandos, Sir John (d. 1370) soldier and administrator
- Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340–1400) poet and administrator
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Bedingfeld [Bedingfield], Sir Henry (1509x11–1583) administrator
- Morton, Sir William (bap. 1605, d. 1672) judge and politician
- Duval, Claude (d. 1670) highwayman
- Sawyer, Sir Robert (bap. 1633, d. 1692) lawyer and politician
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Gwyn, Eleanor [Nell] (1651?–1687) actress and royal mistress
Newspaper coverage of pageantTimes
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- An Oxfordshire Historical Pageant, Shipton Manor, June 18, 19, 20, 1931. Oxford, 1931.
References in secondary literature
- Merrington, Peter. ‘Staging History, Inventing Heritage: The ‘New Pageantry’ and British Imperial Identity, 1905–1935’. In Archaeologies of the British: Explorations of Identity in Great Britain and its Colonies 1600–1945, edited by Susan Lawrence. Abingdon, 2003. At 248.
- ‘Shipton-on-Cherwell: Introduction’. In A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, edited by Alan Crossley and C.R. Elrington. London, 1990. At 257.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Bodleian Library, Oxford: Copy of Book of Words.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The rural nostalgia of the interwar period reflected a pervasive anxiety that something important was being irretrievably lost.2 Some three years before the performance of the Oxfordshire Pageant, Clough Williams-Ellis, the famous architect-owner of Portmerion in Wales, published England and the Octopus (1928), an impassioned denunciation of the expansion of suburban England and the commuter railways, roads, and tourism that were destroying the last vestiges of organic folk culture. This was a cry that had some affinities with those raised by William Cobbett in the 1820s and George Sturt in the early twentieth century;3 it was also one that would be taken up by a host of writers and artists from F.R. Leavis to W.H. Massingham and John Nash (who, coincidentally, was resident in North Oxford at the time).4 Pageantry, it is fair to say, has been an ideal bedfellow for projections of a bucolic ‘deep’ England, unspoiled by the motorcar.
Many felt that Oxford was being ruined by the motorcar twice over: first, by the expansion of roads and streets across the beautiful countryside around the Cherwell and the Thames, and, second, due to the burgeoning suburbs of Cowley and Headington which mushroomed up to house the workers in Henry Morris’ motorcar factory. Yet, should anyone repeat the journey up the Thames that Henry Morris’ namesake, William Morris, had memorably described in his socialist science-fiction News from Nowhere (1888),5 they would still find the comforting site of the ancient Shipton Manor. It was there, in the summer of 1931, that the Pageant of Oxfordshire was held. Douglas Woodruff wrote in his foreword: ‘Those who see the growing future of Kidlington must feel the moment is well chosen for this Pageant. Too much of the rich past has already gone into oblivion.’ He noted that ‘on the eve of expansion and partnership with the larger City to the South, Kidlington is entitled to take a backward look at the long and varied past which lies behind, and to ask whether she does not emerge with credit from history’.6 More acerbically, given the presumed audience of Oxford dons and the well-heeled denizens of North Oxford, he asked: ‘Which of us would care to say as much or risk a Pageant of our own lives?’7 In 1929 the boundaries of the rapidly growing city had been expanded to Headington, Cowley and Iffley to the east and Wolvercote to the north.8
The pageant was a continuation from the successful 1926 Oxfordshire Pageant, held in the grounds of Worcester College, though the phenomenally popular right-wing historian Arthur Bryant was replaced by E.A. Salter, heir to the Salters Steamers which plied the Thames, who owned Kidlington Manor between 1919 and 1954.9 Instead of raising funds for the district Women’s Institute, the pageant sought to raise funds for the construction of a social club in Kidlington which, it was hoped, would preserve the spirit of the community once it had been inevitably engulfed by Oxford. The club would, ‘it is hoped, unite the activities of the village—social, literary and athletic—and would step by step become a focus of village life.’10 The book of words took the surprising step of suggesting how those interested might assist further.11
As with the great Oxford Historical Pageant of 1907, academics played a prominent role in the pageant, with scenes written by A.L. Rowse, the leftist historian at All Souls (who would later rival Bryant as a bestselling public historian of countless books of varying quality), the poet and satirist E.V. Knox (who edited Punch from 1932–49) and the poet and novelist A.E. Coppard. The first episode was written by the novelist, historian and former governor of Canada, John Buchan, who had performed in the Oxfordshire Pageant four years previously, along with his daughter, Alice.12 Yet despite the pageant being written by some of the leading historians and writers of the day, for the most part it eschewed great events and personalities to present a village in which, like so much of England, history merely passed through on its way to somewhere else. Princess Elizabeth is en route to a dangerous imprisonment at Woodstock, and Charles II and Nell Gwyn are also on their way elsewhere when they stop in Water Eaton, as are the fugitive Cavalier and pursuant Roundheads of the previous scene. The final scene portrays Kidlington as a place where the great upheavals of history, such as the Napoleonic Wars, can be forgotten and reconciled through peace and friendship. While the pageant avoided great historical moments, it displayed a wealth of literary allusions to Chaucer, Clio (the Muse of history popularized by G.M. Trevelyan’s influential 1902 essay of that name),13 and G.F. Yeames’ famous portrait ‘And When did You Last See Your Father’ (around which the fourth episode is based). The scene written by the Buchans, Masque of Oseney Abbey, is a surprising tale of the supernatural, coming from the down-to-earth author of The Thirty Nine Steps.14
The Times, which sent a reporter to the pageant, was appreciative of the ‘beauty of words’ which ‘was followed by richness of spectacle’.15 Despite the rain, which ‘threatened to spoil to-night’s performance’, the first performance went off without a hitch in front of a good-sized audience. The newspaper thought it ‘wise to select simple episodes of the past and take chances with tradition rather than give their thoughts to the chronicles of Oxford City, the eighth-century struggle between the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, or the battles of the Civil War’, praising the ‘happy pictures for a summer evening’s entertainment…intended to be simple’.16
The Times was correct in its estimation that ‘in its beginning it was to be the Kidlington Pageant’. The pageant was consciously written to shake off the dominating cultural and historical influence of its southern neighbour—ironic given how many of those who wrote, performed in or organised the pageant were themselves a part of it. In a period in which automobiles and omnibuses were vastly increasing the distance one could commute to work (while developers, seizing on cheap agricultural land, were busy throwing up housing estates), the intellectuals and artists who had had populated North Oxford and Kidlington in the nineteenth century as a means of getting some distance from the university were able to combine a critique of industrial modernity with biting the hand (or rather city) that fed them. It was a classic case of 'nimbyism' of the thinking classes. D.H. Lawrence it was not, but the Oxfordshire Pageant of 1931 was a nice enough production in itself.
Even though it has remained outside Oxford’s city limits, Kidlington has continued to grow, increasing its population from 1300 in 1901 to 13723 in 2011.17 Despite being briefly closed due to indebtedness in 2013, the Kidlington Green Social Club has subsequently re-opened and is ‘well used by the community’.18
- Times, 19 June 1931, 12.
- Jeremy Burchardt, Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change Since 1800 (London, 2002), esp. chapters 1, 8–9 and 11–12; Alexandra Harris, Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (London, 2010); Georgina Boyes, The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival (Manchester, 1993); Patrick Wright, On Living in an Old Country: The Past in Contemporary Britain (London, 1985) and The Village That Died for England: The Strange Story of Tyneham (London, 1995). Peter Mandler has criticized this rural nostalgia in ‘Against Englishness: English Culture and the Limits to Rural Nostalgia’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 7 (1997): 155–175.
- See William Cobbett, Rural Rides ed. Ian Dyck (London, 2001 ); George Sturt [pseud. George Bourne], Change in the village (London, 1912).
- Although it is important not to see such expressions of early twentieth-century ruralism as necessarily reactionary-conservative, opposed to modernity and its works. As George Sturt recognised, what was involved was a ‘forward movement’. He, for one, felt unable to ‘go back. I would not lift a finger, or say a word, to restore the past time, for fear lest in doing do I might be retarding a movement which… looks like the prelude to a renaissance of the English country-folk’. As ‘the past time’ was not to be restored – Englishmen would and should continue to live in cities – Sturt’s ‘renaissance’ took its inspiration from a conviction that there were aspects of the old country life that if commemorated or preserved could have a revivifying effect on modern England (Sturt, Change in the Village, 308-9). See also, in general, the discussion in David Matless, Landscape and Englishness (London, 1998).
- For which, see Norman Kelvin, ed., The collected letters of William Morris vol. I 1848-1880 (Princeton, 1984), p. 581-2; J.M. Baïssus, ‘The expedition of the Ark’, Journal of the William Morris Society, 3 (1977).
- Douglas Woodruff, ‘Foreword’, in An Oxfordshire Historical Pageant, Shipton Manor, June 18, 19, 20, 1931 (Oxford, 1931), 8.
- Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C.J. Day, T.G. Hassall, Mary Jessup and Nesta Selwyn, 'Boundaries', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 4, the City of Oxford, ed. Alan Crossley and C.R. Elrington (London, 1979), pp. 260–264, British History Online, accessed 12 May 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol4/pp260-264.
- A.P. Baggs, W.J. Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C.J. Day, Nesta Selwyn and S.C. Townley, 'Kidlington: Manors and Other Estates', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, ed. Alan Crossley and C.R. Elrington (London, 1990), 188–194, accessed 12 May 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp188-194.
- An Oxfordshire Historical Pageant, 47.
- Peter Merrington, ‘Staging History, Inventing Heritage: The “New Pageantry” and British Imperial identity, 1905-1935’, in Archaeologies of the British: Explorations of Identity in Great Britain and its Colonies 1600–1945, ed. Susan Lawrence (Abingdon, 2003), 248.
- G.M. Trevelyan, ‘Walking’, in Clio: A muse: and other essays literary and pedestrian (London, 1913).
- Gertrude Himmelfarb, ‘John Buchan—An Untimely Appreciation’, Encounter (September, 1960), 46–63.
- The Times, 19 June 1931, 12.
- ‘Area: Kidlington (Parish)’, Neighbourhood Statistics, accessed 12 May 2016, http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadKeyFigures.do?a=7&b=11125159&c=Kidlington&d=16&e=62&g=6458566&i=1001x1003x1032x1004&m=0&r=1&s=1463083770822&enc=1&nsjs=true&nsck=false&nssvg=false&nswid=1366.
- ‘Trust Shuts Social Club Down Over £9,000 in Rent Arrears’, Oxford Mail, 7 November 2013, accessed 12 May 2016, http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/yourtown/oxford/10790248.Trust_shuts_social_club_down_over___9_000_in_rent_arrears/
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘An Oxfordshire Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1147/