Scenes from Old Walden
With thanks to Gillian Williamson and the Saffron Walden Museum
Place: Saffron Walden Town Hall (Saffron Walden) (Saffron Walden, Essex, England)
Number of performances: 5
24–26 May 1910
- 24 May at 8pm
- 25 May at 3pm and 8pm
- 26 May at 3pm and 8pm.
The death of Edward VII meant that the pageant had been postponed from its originally-scheduled dates of 10-12 May.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Cranmer-Byng, Hugh
- Musical Director: Herbert Mahon
- Mistress of the Dances: Miss Winifred Mayo
- Designer of Costumes: Guy Maynard
- Official Photographer: Horace Mansell
- Scenes produced under the direction of: Brendan Stewert
- Scenic Artist: George Jackson
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: The Mayor of Saffron Walden (Joseph Bell)
- Hon. Secretary: Miss Lucy D. Bell
- Hon. Treasurer: W. Favill Tuke
- Rev J. Anderson
- Rev. Father Norgate
- William Adams
- J. Arthur S. Baily
- W.C.G. Bell
- Stuart B. Donald
- Miss J.N. Dunlop
- A.H. Forbes
- Miss Annie Gowlett
- T.W. Huck
- Thomas Hunt
- J.S. Wycliffe Leverett
- Guy Maynard
- Reginald H. Robson
- Alan W-M. Skinner
- C. Hodgson Taylor
- Mrs W.M. Thompson
- Mrs Favill Tuke
Costume and Design Committee
- Hon. Sec: Mrs Tuke
Staging and Grouping Committee
- Hon. Sec: J.A.S. Baily
- Hon. Sec: Guy Maynard
- Hon. Sec: A. W-M Skinner
- Hon. Sec: Miss Annie Gowlett
- Hon. Sec: R. Morley Pegge
- Hon. Sec: T. Hunt
- The Property Committee purchased or borrowed from local businesses. Local pubs lent benches and tables, for example.
- Guy Maynard, Curator of Saffron Walden Museum, played a major part in costume and property design. His sketches of costumes and templates for wooden props survive in the museum archive.
- Winifred Mayo (Mistress of the Dances) was an actress and suffragette who was twice imprisoned for her political activities.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Cranmer-Byng, Hugh
- Cranmer-Byng, Launcelot
The pageant script was written by Hugh Cranmer-Byng. His older brother Lancelot was responsible for the lyrics to which the music was set.
Names of composers
- Mahon, Herbert
- Goldstein, Herbert
Numbers of performers100
At least one hundred performers
The pageant expenses were £354 5s 8d; the pageant made a small loss of £1 5s 8d. This deficit was easily covered by the Guarantee Fund, which stood at about £170.
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Scene I. Romano-British, B.C. 54.
Tribesmen making submission and offering hostages.1
Scene II. Saxon. Ansgar’s Banquet. 1042.
Ansgar [Asgar] later submitted to William the Conqueror but was also deprived of his estates and office.
Scene III. Norman. Funeral Procession of Geoffrey de Mandeville. 1167
Geoffrey de Mandeville died during an expedition against the Welsh at Chester and his body was brought home by knights of the Abbey in Walden, in spite of the interference of the Countess Rohese, his mother, who endeavoured to intercept the body in order to bury it at Chicksand Priory, her own foundation.
Scene IV. Edwardian, 1327-77
Episode a) Pilgrims bringing Saffron Bulb from the East
Episode b) Saffron Dance
The culture of Saffron from which the town of Walden during a long series of years derived so much advantage and took its arms and praenomen, must not be passed over without notice. The bulb was taken from the East and first planted some time in the fourteenth century. It diminished so much in value in the eighteenth century that it had fallen entirely out of cultivation by 1790.
Scene V. Elizabethan. A tableau of Elizabeth I receiving the Walden Council at Audley End, 1571.
Scene VI. Cromwellian. Cromwell and the Generals at the Sun Inn. (1647)
In March 1647 the army around Nottingham broke up and marched on London, halting at Saffron Walden, demanding pay, indemnity for acts done in war and a clear discharge. On 8 May Cromwell, Ireton, Fleetwood and Skippon proceed again to Saffron Walden to investigate the Army’s claims. Returning several weeks later, their measly offer of eight weeks pay is rejected, causing the emergence of the Leveller movement.
Scene VII. Stuart. Pepys and the Mazer Bowl at the Almshouses (1660)
Scene VIII. The Flying Serpent of Walden (1669).
Saffron Walden was particularly prone to dragons (in popular belief). As late as 1669, the whole town and district was thrown into wild alarm by the appearance of what was thought to be a ‘Flying Serpent’ at the village of Henham.
Scene IX. Stuart (1671)
Episode a) Queen Katherine preparing at Audley End for the Walden Fair
Episode b) Queen Katherine and her Attendants at Walden Fair with Morris Dancing, songs, etc.
Epilogue. Time and Saffron Walden.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Asgar the Staller (d. after 1066) nobleman
- Mandeville, Geoffrey de, first earl of Essex (d. 1144) magnate
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Ireton, Henry (bap. 1611, d. 1651) parliamentarian army officer and regicide
- Fleetwood, Charles, appointed Lord Fleetwood under the protectorate (c.1618–1692) army officer
- Skippon, Philip, appointed Lord Skippon under the protectorate (d. 1660) parliamentarian army officer and politician
- Pepys, Samuel (1633–1703) naval official and diarist
- Catherine [Catherine of Braganza, Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança] (1638–1705) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles II
Music performed by the Arion String Quartette with a pianist and horn player.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Nottingham Evening Post
Western Daily Press
Cambridge Independent Press
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Scenes from Old Walden, B.C. 54 A.D. 1671: a pageant given at the Town Hall, May 10th to 12th 1910 [Souvenir Programme]. Saffron Walden, 1910. [Price 1s 6d].
- Scenes from Old Walden: An Illustrated Supplement to the 'Pageant Book', Containing between 50 and 60 Reproductions of Photograms, taken in connection with the Saffron Walden Pageant. Saffron Walden, 1910. [Price 10s 6d].
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Programme in Cambridge University Library Rare Books Room, reference Rc.41.94. UkCU
- Essex Records Office, Script, book of photographs and music, reference D/B 2/SOC2/15.
- Saffron Walden Library: Collection of printed publicity material and other items
- Saffron Walden Museum: Saffron Walden 1910 Pageant Archive
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Did Saffron Walden possess the material with which to make a successful Pageant? The London Daily News was equivocal on the subject, remarking that ‘Few towns possess a more interesting history than the ancient Borough of Saffron Walden’, whilst on the following day, the newspaper directly contradicted itself, stating that ‘Saffron Walden does not possess the moving records of Colchester, or even of the old town of Maldon, but its history extends from the time of Edward the Confessor.’2 Local papers were more hopeful, however. The Chelmsford Chronicle claimed that ‘Saffron Walden is full of historic interest, and a visit to the Pageant will allow those who are not at present acquainted with the town to see some of the landmarks of history which it contains.’3 It went on:
Few towns possess a more interesting history than the ancient Borough of Saffron Walden. Since pageants have become the order of the day, visitors have frequently remarked upon the scope which the life and history of the place in medieval times would give to a pageant there. The idea has at last ‘caught on’.
Indeed, it was the Chronicle’s hope that, in light of the discounted railway fares to the town being offered in association with the event, ‘The pageant will… be well supported by visitors from all over the East of England.’4 The Essex Newsman agreed, remarking that Saffron Walden ‘lends itself admirably to a pageant’.5
The pageant was a significant civic occasion for the town of Saffron Walden. It received strong support from local leaders, including the Lord Mayor, Joseph Bell, and Henry Neville, the 7th Baron Braybrooke, whose family seat was the nearby mansion of Audley End. Lord Braybrooke assembled a supervising council whose membership included representatives of local landed families, clergymen, leading local businessmen. as well as doctors, lawyers and other professionals. This group provided financial backing for the pageant, acting as guarantors.
The pageant itself was conceived by Hugh Cranmer-Byng, Lord of the Manor of Chickney and Ruling Councillor of the Thaxted Habitation of the Primrose League (a Conservative political organisation). Cranmer-Byng wrote the script, and also acted as pageant master. He was the Churchwarden of Thaxted Church where he found himself repeatedly at odds with its radical Vicar Conrad Noel, ‘the Red Vicar of Thaxted’. In the view of the Chelmsford Chronicle, Cranmer-Byng ‘candidly declares himself opposed to the Vicar on the questions of Socialism and incense, with an uncompromising aversion to the confessional.’6 Cranmer-Byng and his family continued to be major figures within the local Conservative Party for the next few decades, brokering an uneasy truce with Noel (the two men’s wives served together on the local committee of the Women’s Institute).7
The Pageant itself gave some attention to celebrating the (in fact rather tenuous) links between the town and prominent historical figures. One scene showed Samuel Pepys playing bowls, while another featured Katherine of Braganza, wife of the philandering King Charles II, visiting Walden fair; and of course there was the ubiquitous visit of Elizabeth I. The most significant historical event depicted was the negotiation between Oliver Cromwell and his disgruntled army, which was afraid that Parliament would disband it without back-payment. Whilst this was an important moment in the history of the Civil War, it has been utterly eclipsed in popular memory by the army debates at Putney some months later.8
Other episodes of the Pageant, however, focused more particularly on events of local history. Scenes were included which depicted the history of Saffron cultivation in the town, to which the place owed its name, and the colourful tale of the Flying Serpent which threw the whole town into disarray. Such content perhaps hinted at the emergence of a newer form of pageantry based on interesting local stories. In any case the content of the pageant narrative, with its squarely local focus, was quite different from the great and solemn spectacles seen in pageants such as that staged at Winchester (1908), which presented the town as pivotal to the history of the British monarchy. The Chelmsford Chronicle appreciated that Saffron Walden had ‘thoroughly grasped the fact,’ of its historical limitations, ‘and produced some very delightful living pictures of the town’s history.’9
The Pageant was postponed by two weeks following the death of Edward VII on 6 May 1910. The king's death did not, however, cause very major disruption to the production itself, although at least one part had to be re-cast. And in the event the Pageant was well received, with the Essex Newsman remarking that there was ‘a large and appreciative audience, who followed with enthusiasm the development of the story’.10 The Chelmsford Chronicle likewise noted that ‘The performers generally acquitted themselves admirably. Altogether Saffron Walden is to be congratulated on the enterprise which has prompted the pretty display, and upon the success which has attended the presentation of so charming a summary of its history.’11 Despite this, and seemingly near sell-out audiences (just 8 seats remained unsold for the first performance), the Pageant made a small loss of £1 5s 8d.12 The indoor location may well have restricted the number of spectators who were able to attend, for all that it ensured the pageant would not be disrupted by the weather.
On 15 May 1912, a concert was given in the town hall which included on its playbill a performance of the 'Saffron Walden Pageant Music'. More recently, on 9 January 2019, Saffron Walden Town Library hosted readings from the pageant script, together with commentary on the event itself, written by Gillian Williamson.
- Text of synopses based on Scenes from Old Walden, B.C. 54 A.D. 1671: a pageant given at the Town Hall, May 10th to 12th 1910 (Saffron Walden, 1910).
- Daily News, 24 May 1910, 6, and 25 May 1910, 5.
- Chelmsford Chronicle, 4 March 1910, 6.
- Chelmsford Chronicle, 22 April 1910, 5
- Essex Newsman, 28 May 1910, 4.
- Chelmsford Chronicle, 26 May 1911, 5.
- E.g. Chelmsford Chronicle, 8 November 1935, 10; 27 November 1936, 10. See also Arthur Burns, ‘Beyond the ‘Red Vicar’: Community and Christian Socialism in Thaxted, Essex, 1910–84’, History Workshop Journal, 75 (2013), 101-24, esp. 103.
- Barry Coward, Oliver Cromwell (London, 2013), 49-50.
- Chelmsford Chronicle, 27 May 1910, 6.
- Essex Newsman, 28 May 1910, 4.
- Chelmsford Chronicle, 27 May 1910, 6.
- Essex Newsman, 8 October 1910, 3
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Scenes from Old Walden’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1313/