The Raglan Castle Pageant
- Four Episodes from Arthurian Legends
Organised by Monmouthshire Women’s Institutes
Place: Raglan Castle (Raglan) (Raglan, Monmouthshire, Wales)
Number of performances: 3
5 July 1951
[Performances were at 2pm and 6pm—plus a third performance later in the evening. It seems this extra performance was put on to meet demand.]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Organiser [Pageant Master]: Mills, Mrs.
- Monmouth Episode Organiser: Mrs de
- Producer: Mrs. Mollie Wanklyn
- Narrator: Miss D. Baxter
- Music chosen by: Mrs Miles
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
1951 Festival of Britain
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 4000 - 6000
A further performance was put on for those who could not gain admission to the two scheduled.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
A Festival at Tintern Abbey
The Court at Caerleon
(By Monmouth WIs)
Arthur’s coronation and the gathering of nobles, knights, villagers and others. Archbishop Dubric performs the ceremony and the company goes to High Mass. Feasting follows, after which Dubric tells Arthur he wishes to leave the court and live as a hermit. Arthur grants this, with heavy heart, and the feasting continues.
Enid and Geraint
(By Newport WIs)
‘The Holy Graal’
The Lady of Shalott
Key historical figures mentioned
- Arthur (supp. fl. in or before 6th
cent.) legendary warrior and supposed king of Britain
- Dyfrig [St Dyfrig, Dubricius] (supp. fl.
c.475–c.525) holy man and supposed bishop
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Leicester Daily Mercury
Book of words
- None known
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Women’s Institute (WI) pageants had flourished in the late 1920s and early 1930s (see Berkshire and Staffordshire pageants (1928), often organised on a county-wide basis. However, these had waned in later years, making the Monmouth Pageant something of a rarity in the context of the 1950s. The pageant was one of many organised for the 1951 Festival of Britain. It was organised from late 1950 onwards and diligently planned among forty-seven WI’s across the county.1 As with several other Welsh pageants in the Festival year at Cardiff and Anglesey, Raglan blended myth and history together to present a cultural vision of Welshness.
The pageant was evidently a great success, being praised by the Monmouthshire Beacon newspaper, which was especially taken by the ‘brilliance and ingenuity of the costumes, all made by hand from various household odds and ends—not one of them hired or bought’. The paper also noted that ‘The setting for the performance was perfect; in fact it would be difficult to imagine a better location in which to recapture the atmosphere of the legends’.2 Quite what a castle built by an Anglicized Welshman who fought and lost on the Yorkist side in the Wars of the Roses had to do with Arthurian legend was unclear, but the pageant was a hit nonetheless: ‘The clouds, though often dark and overcast, refrained from loosing more than a few drops of rain, and never damped the enthusiasm of either the actors or the spectators’. In fact, there was such a demand for the pageant that not all those who came to the castle were able to see the two scheduled performances and a third was put on late in the evening (it is not clear how this performance was illuminated). In total over four thousand people saw the pageant.3 Whilst they were waiting for the performances to start, those in the queue were entertained by pupils of Overmonow Girls’ School, who also performed dances in pageant itself. They ‘rendered valuable assistance as “queue entertainers.”…Their delightful dances made the period of waiting much more pleasant.’4
A regular correspondent of the Monmouthshire Beacon, W. Allen John, was particularly effusive about the pageant. He offered ‘Congratulations and a hundred thanks nay more, to the Monmouthshire Federation… thanks for choosing to attempt something so ambitious and “out of the run” of what has been general in Festival of Britain celebrations.’5 John declared that ‘The splendid success of the pageant proves again that a bold, imaginative policy, strengthened by obvious training and enthusiasm, is always worth while. Indeed, far more worth while than tawdry carnivals, children’s bun-fights, comic cricket matches and the like.’6 Significantly, he also suggested that the pageant showed the true strength of the ‘much misunderstood’ and ‘maligned’ Festival of Britain, and certainly more so than the obvious and somewhat lightweight celebrations offered at the South Bank site in London—‘the Fun Fair at Battersea Park’ that drew the majority of attention and ire.7 Becky Coneckin has written extensively on organisers’ attempts to spread the Festival to the provinces, but noted that these efforts largely failed to capture the public imagination in the way that the shimmering vision of the future—typified by the famous ‘Skylon’—did.8 In the words of the Manchester Guardian,
In the rest of the country the Festival will leave small things behind it—a concert hall here, a paddling pool there, a grove of trees on that hill-side, a stoutly made (or ‘fashioned’ as they say in Festival English) bench by this footpath overlooking the meadow where they held the pageant—‘a hundred years of Muddlethrough Barn’ produced by a gentleman from London (failed RADA).9
Nonetheless, the obvious success of the
Raglan Pageant, which was warmly remembered afterwards, demonstrates that
Coneckin—and contemporary commentators—may have overlooked the
extra-metropolitan success of the Festival. At a social event in the Beaufort
Arms Hotel the following week, praise was heaped on all the organisers of the
pageant, and in February 1952, after further lavish praise was aired, it was
decided that the Buckholt section of the WI would form a permanent dramatic
Indeed, Festival pageants could leave similar legacies elsewhere, one example
being Headley in Hampshire, whose own 1951 pageant also led to the foundation
of local dramatic groups.
Monmouthshire Beacon, 26 January 1951, 6.
Monmouthshire Beacon, 13 July 1951, 3.
Monmouthshire Beacon, 13 July 1951, 2.
W. Allen John, Letter in Monmouthshire Beacon, 13 July 1951, 3.
Becky E. Coneckin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’: The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester, 2003), 116-82.
‘Fun and Games in a Cold Climate’, Manchester Guardian, 29 September 1951, 4.
Monmouthshire Observer 20 July 1951, 6 and 15 February 1952, 6.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Raglan Castle Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1370/