Place: Under the walls of Tewkesbury Abbey (Tewkesbury) (Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, England)
Number of performances: 10
14-18 July 1931, at 3 and 7pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
Producer and Pageant Master: Lally, Gwen
Orchestral Director: Arthur D. Cole
Leader of Orchestra: Guy Macgrath
Master of the Choirs: The Rev. G.W. Webb
Producer’s Assistant: Margaret Fraser
Mistress of the Robes: The Hon. Mrs Vincent W. Yorke
Chairman: H.F. Rogers-Tillstone
Patrons include Duchess and Duke of Beaufort, Earl of Coventry, Earl of Beauchamp, Bishop of Gloucester and Stanley Baldwin
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Vincent W. Yorke, MFH
- Mrs Berens-Dowdeswell
- Mayor of Tewkesbury, Ald. L.L. Stroud
- Councillor R.A. Gaze
- Mr W.W. Baker
- Councillor S.C.J. Moulder
- G.T. Clapham
- G. Howes
- A.E. Healing
- G.L. Howes
- Mrs H.A. Badham
- Mrs R.E. Grice-Hutchinson
- V. Seeley
- Brig Gen. W.F. Bainbridge
- Rev. E.P. Gough
- G.W. Webb
- C. Cooper
- W.E. Sainsbury
- E.R. Thompson
- Father Jackson
- Councillor H.G. Brown
- B.C. Gray
- W. Ridler
- H.A. Bedham
- J.S. Gannaway
- A. Baker
- C.E. Chatham
- Dr Laurie Smith
- Dr T.H. Holroyd
- Lieut. Col. F.E. Robeson
- Mr C.N. Hayward
- Pageant Secretary: C.A. Roberts
- Secretary: H. de C. Peach
- Assistant Secretary: Miss Burbidge
- Councillor Gaze
- Dr Holroyd
- A.E. Heal
- J.S. Gannaway
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Gray, B.C.
- Housman, Laurence
Housman wrote the prologue
Names of composers
Numbers of performers2000
Source Gloucester Journal, 25 July 1931, 20 and Gloucester Journal, 27 July 1932, 1.
Object of any funds raised
Profits went to the Tewkesbury Hospital
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 2350
- Total audience: n/a
There was seating for 2450 in total
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
£1 1s. to 2s 6d.
Written by A.L. Housman. A heavenly host appears on the tower of the Abbey and Angels sing Glorias. Two archangels lead the Spirit of the Abbey down to the arena who proclaims the passing of time between each episode and declaims a vision of Past and Future.
Episode One. Consecration of Tewkesbury Abbey, 1123.
Bells are ringing and a crowd of people witness the arrival of Pilgrims including returning crusader knights with religious persons. The Almoner gives each pilgrim a token. The Knights of their dead Lord Fitzhamon enter with further nobles, followed by further ecclesiastics who go into the abbey. Two priests sprinkle holy water on a lame man who miraculously gets up. An amulet is hung round the neck of the healed man. The bells ring again, the crowd falls to its knees. The procession returns and then exits as the clergy retire and the crowd melts away.
Episode Two. Marriage of Richard Beauchamp, Lord Abagavenny to Isabel-le-Despenser, 27 July 1411.
A crowd watched the wedding party cross the meadow, the bridegroom on a palfrey. They reach the Cloister Gate and are received by Abbot Parker. Guests enter with pages ad flower-girls. Young Isabel is mounted on a white palfrey, followed by a Benedictine Abbess and nuns. The Abbot and bridal procession pass through the cloister door and the watching crowd outside are entertained by folk dancing. In the background John Falstaff, Justice Shallow, Pistol and Bardolph are recruiting men to fight in a war against Owain Glendower. They also rob one or two of the attendant ladies and gentlemen. A bugle call announces the arrival of Sir Walter Blount who hands a parchment to an attendant monk. The Parchment proclaims war. Two of the bridegroom’s squires hasten out and prepare their Lord’s departure. The Bride and Bridegroom appear outside followed by wedding guests. The bridegroom is in armour while the bride buckles on his sword. He embraces his bride and is given a cup of wine by the Abbot. He mounts his war horse and gallops through the gate to war. The bells turn from wedding peal to a note of alarm.
Episode Three. Battle of Tewksbury. May, 1471.
After the defeat of the Lancastrian army, Margaret of Anjou are in flight across the meadow to meet up with the Earl of Pembroke’s forces. The Prior comes to meet them. Men from the defeated army are pouring in in a rabble. Queen Margaret calls them to duty and they form up across the meadow. Prince Edward bids farewell to his wife and mother as they leave the field. The battle is joined by Yorkists and Prince Edward is slain. The Lancastrians are forced up to the Abbey with the wounded lying around it. Edward, Duke of Clarence and other nobles arrive join the Duke of Gloucester who hammer on the door. The Abbot appears, holding a sacred host which calms the battle. A bier containing the prince passes into the Abbey. The victorious King and his royal brothers give thanks in the abbey for their victory. Many Lancastrian prisoners, Somerset and Oxford enter with hands ted on their way to execution. The King’s banner is set on the tower summit.
Part 1. The Dissolution of the Monastery, January 1540.
Commissioners enter, Sir J. Whittington, four squires and three doctors of law. Having completed their work, they are now drinking wine from the Abbey vineyards. Plate is brought out and placed in horse panniers. The Abbot and priors of Tekesbury advance towards the table with a reliquary. He is treated with scant respect. Priors hand over their rolls of accounts and the Doctors of Law produce the deed of surrender which is sealed by the Abbot. The silver wine vessels are swept into baskets and packed. Whittington motions to a servant who produces a bill advertising sale of building materials. A hostile crowd watches the commissioners leave. Surviving monks gather round a dying brother and lift him up. The monk dies and they exit chanting a Miserere. Two of the Commissioners’ men are seen carrying off a side of beef, followed by a Benedictine cook whose joint they have stolen.
Part 2. The Purchase, June, 1541.
The commissioners attend to receive half the purchase money and hand over the conveyance of the church to the men of Tewkesbury. A procession of townspeople enter and give £200 in gold. Sir John Whittington hands over the keys and the Commissioners receive a present of a “butt of sack”. The bells ring out as the civic procession passes into the Abbey Church, followed by men and women of Tewkesbury.
Episode Five. King Charles I at Tewkesbury.
A party of Puritans enter singing a hymn and conveying a witch to the town ducking stool. Royalist soldiers enter, scattering the crowd, releasing the witch and arresting the Puritan ringleader. King Charles enters with Charles and James, Prince Rupert, Lord Chandos, William Vavaseur, and Colonel Godfrey with the Governor of Tewkesbury. The Puritan prisoner is tried as a spy after the Town Bailiff and Royalist gentry approach and are presented to the King. The Prisoner is sentenced and led away to execution. The King is offered refreshments and leaves. The witch picks up the King’s glove and presses it to her lips. Puritans return and chase her.
Episode Six. King William III’rds Charter, July 13, 1698.
Townspeople are taking a holiday awaiting the procession and the Earl of Essex. A procession of beadles, schoolboys, the burgesses, and prominent townspeople enter and sit on chairs of state. A fanfare of trumpets heralds the arrival of the Earl of Essex’s party. The Earl takes his seat. The charter is handed to the Bailiffs, who acknowledge the King’s grace. The principal Bailiff presents the Earl of Essex with the Town Freedom. The Corporation retires and the procession moves off. The Beadles and schoolboys prepare to beat the boundaries of the parish, followed by the rest of the crowd.
Episode Seven. Mr Pickwick’s Visit to Tewkesbury, July 17, 1828.
There is plenty of life outside the Hop Pole Hotel with farmers and a crowd watching a Punch and Judy show. The sound of a horn announces the coach to Birmingham. The horses are replaced with fresh animals and a guard allows a lady to alight. She is agitated and is certain one is missing. It transpires that was left at home. A post-chaise approaches from Gloucester containing Mr Pickwick, Bob Sawyer, Ben Allen and Sam Weller. They alight and go into the hotel. The Bristol coach passengers climb up the coach which departs onwards to Gloucester. Pickwick and his colleagues exit the hotel, though Bob Sawyer wants to break into song at every step. They hoist Bob onto the front of the coach. A waiter brings a fresh bottle out which is handed to Mr Pickwick and singing they take the Worcester Road.
The Great Tower is again filled with angels and Our Lady of Tewkesbury who raises her hand in Benediction. This brings on all the figures of the past who process through the cloisters. A host of child angels appear who lead the Madonna into the Abbey. The bells peal out triumphantly.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Beauchamp, Richard, thirteenth earl of
Warwick (1382–1439) magnate
- Richard [Richard of Conisbrough], earl
of Cambridge (1385–1415) magnate
- Blount, Sir Walter (d. 1403) soldier
[Edward of Westminster] prince of Wales (1453–1471)
VI (1421–1471) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
[Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
- Edward IV (1442–1483) king of England and lord of
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland,
- Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and
duke of Cumberland (1619–1682) royalist army and naval officer
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland,
- James II and VII (1633–1701) king of
England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Brydges, George, sixth Baron Chandos
(1620–1655) royalist nobleman
- Vavasour, Sir William, baronet (d. 1659)
royalist army officer
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser
Leamington Spa Courier
Book of words
Other primary published materials
Tewkesbury Pageant. Official Souvenir Programme and Book of the Pageant. London, 1931.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Gloucestershire Archives: Book of Pageant, RR/302/27 and Cuttings D3398/2/2/27
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Tewkesbury had first attempted to stage a pageant in 1923, cancelling plans due to large estimated costs intimidated potential guarantors.1 Seven years later, the town was ready to try again. After Gwen Lally’s success at the Spirit of Warwickshire Pageant (1930), she was invited to propose a Pageant in the town in December 1930. Lally suggested that the pageant would bring significant financial gains to the town’s economy, remarking that whilst ‘a pageant brought a great deal of happiness and pleasure into people’s lives she hoped it would [also] bring more prosperity to their town’, at a time of economic recession. She also reported that on first mentioning the possible pageant to acquaintances, she had received a number of enquiries as to the best hotels in the town and the people of the town ‘might therefore be sure that when England was deluged with the information about Tewkesbury, Tewkesbury would be very full indeed.’2
With such a pitch, the town could hardly resist, and £3000 was quickly raised as a guarantee. Nevertheless, Lally subsequently warned that wider help would be needed from the wider area. At a meeting in nearby Gloucester in January 1931, she declared that ‘It was very difficult to get people to make a start on a thing of that kind, she said, but once they became enthusiastic in the work everything would go with a swing, and she was certain that the people of Gloucester would “come up to scratch”’.3 By March, 100 people had signed up from Malvern, though more were evidently required.4
With Lally’s precious talent for organisation, the Pageant plans developed swiftly, with the retired poet Laurence Housman engaged to write a prologue. Aside from this part, Lally decided to hold the rest of the Pageant in dumb-show, ‘which imposed far less strain on actors and audience than a spoken pageant in the open air’.5 Despite this, the Pageant was able to convey a great deal of action. A number of scenes alluded to Tewkesbury’s key strategic importance near to the Welsh border. The second episode featuring the marriage of Richard Beauchamp to Isabel-le-Despenser (the Pageant neglected to mention she was only eleven at the time), depicted the nuptials interrupted by news of war, showing the new spouses willing to answer the martial call. The third episode depicted the human cost of the battle of Tewkesbury in brutally realistic terms. Other episodes portrayed the displacement and upheaval of the Reformation and a fictional (and humorous) portrayal of Mr Pickwick’s visit, drawing on Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers (1836). Coincidentally, the Rochester Pageant three weeks before also represented Pickwick in a scene evoking Dickens’ association with the town. After Shakespeare (whose history plays almost certainly influenced the third episode), Dickens was the most popular writer evoked in pageants. The Pageant was bookended by a depiction of a heavenly host in the tower of Tewkesbury Abbey acclaiming Our Lady of Tewkesbury, stressing the continuity of the abbey, and of the church, in the town’s life.
the first performance was ‘marred by rain, which soaked the actors and caused
great discomfort to the audience’.6
The second performance had to be cancelled due to the deluge, which caused many
to worry (unduly, it turned out) about possible financial losses, with the Bishop of Gloucester going so far
as to divert the collection at Tewkesbury Abbey the following Sunday to the
Pageant Hospital Fund.7
The Cheltenham Chronicle reported
that the arena had become a quagmire ‘dangerous for horses and actors’,
particularly those in the stagecoach for the eighth episode. The Cheltenham Chronicle remarked that ‘Some
of the soldiers in the battle of Tewkesbury likened the arena to Salisbury
Plain in wet weather.’8
Despite continued poor weather, the Chronicle
reported that ‘enormous interest was manifested in the event and there were
some very large attendances’ and praised the pageant as ‘a dramatic epic of
English history’ which was ‘magnificently dressed, nearly every episode
producing a riot of colour all over the arena.’9 It
held out lavish praise for Lally, lauding her ‘profound optimism and
perseverance, undeterred by illness, a remarkable series of local floods, and
many other obstacles, she has guided through to a successful consummation the
pageant of this week’.10
Strangely, for a
pageant that was almost completely without words, two performances of the
Tewkesbury Pageant were broadcast on the BBC Midlands Programme on 15 July,
with the first half of the episodes broadcast in the afternoon and the second
half at the evening performance.11
The Manchester Guardian reviewed the
effect of the Pageant on the airwaves:
It was not the fault of the Tewkesbury Pageant…that the cries of men in action were almost indistinguishable from the sounds of anxiety and incitement uttered by spectators, and that the battle scene, in which a large number of men were bent upon action of the utmost violence, bore in consequence a striking resemblance to broadcasts previously heard of cup-tie matched.12
Though the paper complained about being unable
to hear Housman’s prologue, it nonetheless praised the commentator Percy
Edgar’s commentary, which was touched ‘with humour; he was alive to beauty,
quick to seize the significance of episodes in the pageant, and to give them
Despite the rain, the Pageant was a great success, taking over £4600 in receipts.14 The Reverend Edgar Neale, vicar of Charlton Kings, who played both Bishop of Worcester and a Kings Commissioner preached a lesson on the Pageant, remarking ‘what might things can be done by unselfish co-operation inspired by a really strong leader…Then there was engendered a wonderful spirit of comradeship among us – no class distinctions, everybody helping everybody like one big family.’15 The experience of a number of successful pageants that summer led the Observer to write in their praise, declaring that ‘We mistakenly regard ourselves as a solemn nation, not given to shows and ceremonies. English social history marches to pipes and fiddles, whose echo has been too easily forgotten.’16
In spite of its evident success, it took a year before it was finally revealed that the Pageant had made a healthy profit of £700.17 This was due to protracted negotiations with Inland Revenue over whether the Pageant was liable for Entertainment Tax of up to 30% on revenues, which had been brought in in 1916.18 Whilst most previous Pageants had been exempt due to their supposed educational value, large-scale pageants were increasingly taxed significant amounts. Whilst Tewkesbury was finally deemed to be exempt (the reasons were not specified), a number of Gwen Lally’s subsequent pageants were taxed significant amounts. The Battle Abbey Pageant (1932) lost nearly £3000, including £1210 in tax,19 and the huge Runnymede Pageant (1934) lost £474 after a bill of £2062 in entertainment tax.20 The increasingly large and lavish Pageants which Gwen Lally staged showed both the ultimate limits of the Pageant movement and that the taxman had increasingly come to see pageants as legitimate professional productions, liable to taxation. Nonetheless, the Tewkesbury Pageant was a fine example of what could be achieved from Lally's ambitious vision for pageantry. It was remembered for many years afterwards—indeed to this day—as a great success, as John Dixon (Life President of the Tewkesbury Historical Society) confirmed to members of the project team. Despite worries about the finances, the money (and publicity) raised by the pageant went some way towards saving the local hospital, which was then deemed to be almost bankrupt. In the event, a new hospital was built in 1935—this only recently being demolished to make way for the modern (and much in-demand) Tewskesbury Community hospital and Devereux Medical Centre.
- http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/1cfe66ac28624d2a81aa3ae15e80c835 and http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/df074af5c4ce4da29281bded81a4eb8f
- Ibid. See also Alexander Hutton, ‘A Pageant By Radio’, The Redress of the Past website, accessed 29 October 2016, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/blog/pageant-radio/
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Tewkesbury Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1348/