Sutton Coldfield Pageant
Place: The Park (the part known as Hollyhurst) (Sutton Coldfield) (Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, England)
Number of performances: 4
26–28 July 1928
[26–27 July at 6.30pm, and 28 July 1928 at 3pm and 6.30pm]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Millar, Henry
- Secretary: R.A. Reay-Nadin
- Composer and Musical Arranger: Graham Godfrey
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Willmott, J.E.
Names of composers
- Godfrey, Graham
Numbers of performers1200
Financial Guarantees of £1500 were raised
Object of any funds raised
Profits would be devoted to a memorial perpetuating the memory of Bishop Vesey
The quatercentenary of Sutton Coldfield
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
7s. 6d.–1s. 2d.
Episode 1. AD 108. Roman Soldiers
Episode 2. Recruiting Sutton men for the Struggle against William the Conqueror
Episode 3. Sutton Fair, 1300.
Episode 4. Henry IV and Falstaff
Episode 5. The Granting of Land and the Town Charter
Episode 6. Court of Bishop Vesey
Episode 7. Cromwell ordering the whipping of a wench for kissing a soldier
Episode 8. “The Knight of the Road”
Tom King, a local highwayman, is shown to possess virtue, returning the money of a financially impecunious victim and is saved by Julia Bagehot, his daughter.
Episode 9. The Corporation of the Borough 1886.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Thorkell the Tall [Þorkill inn Hávi],
earl of East Anglia (fl. 1009–1023) viking leader, magnate, and regent [also
known as Thurkilthe Tall]
- Guy of Warwick (supp. fl. c.930) legendary
IV [known as Henry Bolingbroke] (1367–1413) king of England and lord of
Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
- Veysey [formerly Harman], John
(c.1464–1554) bishop of Exeter
- Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord
protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Leamington Spa Couier
Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser
Book of words
- The royal town of Sutton Coldfield. Celebration of the four hundredth anniversary. Book of the pageant. [Sutton Coldfield], 1928.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Daniels, Tony. John Willmott School: the first fifty years. Wellington, 2009.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of a film of the Pageant at BFI Screen Online, accessed 28 November 2016, http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1216414/index.html
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The small town of Sutton Coldfield was fiercely proud of its history, as only a town on the outskirts of Birmingham could be. The Sutton Coldfield Pageant of 1928 commemorated the granting of the town charter by Henry VIII in 1528 at a time when Birmingham was still a collection of tiny villages. The Pageant came together relatively quickly, after a meeting in April. At this meeting there was some argument when a local man, Albert Green, suggested that the pageant should raise money for public baths and ‘strongly opposed the Council’s decision to guarantee £1,000 towards the expenses of such a celebration.’1 The catch was that the Mayor of Sutton Coldfield, T.W. Lawrence, stipulated that any profits would go a memorial ‘perpetuating the memory of Bishop Vesey, the town’s great benefactor.’2 Bishop Vesey, who owned significant lands in the area, had been instrumental in securing the town’s borough status through his close relationship with Henry VIII, and went on to found the local Grammar School. It seems that the Council got its way, and £1500 was quickly raised. Henry Millar, manager of the town’s Little Theatre, was appointed as the producer.3 Millar, as newspapers proudly noted, was an associate of Louis Napoleon Parker, Pageant Master of the great Warwick Pageant of 1906.4
Sutton Coldfield was particularly proud that it was one of only a few towns to be given the title of ‘Royal’, and consequently managed to secure a number of illustrious patrons including the Duke of Gloucester and York, the Earl of Derby, and Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister.5 The Pageant was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Birmingham, and the King and Prince of Wales both sent congratulatory letters to the town for having reached such a venerable milestone.6 The Mayor, clearly eager for the event to be a success issued ‘an appeal to the townsfolk to decorate the town during Pageant week, and to shopkeepers to afford facilities for their assistants to take part in the Pageant or attend it.’7
The Pageant was evidently a great success, with the Lichfield Mercury praising the first performance for containing ‘plenty of incident’. Set in ‘a beautiful park’ and benefitting from ‘fine weather’, the newspaper felt it ‘has every possible natural chance of success’, noting that there were ‘not many empty seats’ at the opening performance.8 The Mercury further stressed that ‘There was no waiting between episodes, and plenty of action was going on all the time. There was very little tedious speechmaking. The author is to be congratulated upon the suitability of his work.’ It added that ‘From the start to last the pageant was a triumph of perfect production, and the amateur actors threw themselves into their parts in the right way.’ The reporter praised the pageant dresses, which ‘presented a fine splash of colour on the green sward.’9 Moreover, it seems that the Leamington Spa Courier was equally dazzled, praising in particular speeches given from horseback (presumably not an easy feat), writing that the Pageant was ‘of a size that would have delighted Mr. Louis N. Parker’.10
The author, J.E. Willmott, was elected as an Alderman in 1929. Willmott went on to write a further play on the life of Bishop Vesey for the Silver Jubilee in 1935, playing the part of the illustrious Bishop. His tireless years as Chair of the Education Committee from 1913 to 1931 were rewarded when the John Willmott School was opened in 1958.11 Whilst the town today sports the Bishop Vesey Memorial Gardens, complete with commemorative plaque, it seems that the scheme was only suggested in 1935, and was completed on the eve of the Second World War.12
The Pageant again came to surprising prominence in December 2012 when the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, Andrew Mitchell, fresh from the so-called ‘Plebgate scandal’, launched a campaign for local residents to carry out further research into the Borough’s illustrious history, with an effort to reaffirm its Royal status.13 The fruits of this Campaign were reported by Mitchell to the House of Commons in June 2014, where he cited the pageant and a further celebration in 1957 as recent instances which used the epithet ‘Royal’, claiming that whilst these had ‘no legal status, they do, I think, indicate what was a clear popular understanding at the time’.14 In response, the Minister of State, Greg Clark MP, replied that despite Sutton Coldfield having officially become a part of the City of Birmingham, the town was still able to use the title of ‘Royal’.15 Thus the 1928 Sutton Coldfield Pageant played its own small part in putting the ‘Royal’ back into Royal Sutton Coldfield, and one can only hope that these events will be included in a scene in a future pageant to celebrate the sixth hundred anniversary of the Borough in 2028.
Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, 21 April 1928, 2.
Tamworth Herald, 28 April 1928, 5.
Tamworth Herald, 30 June 1928, 8; Leamington Spa Courier, 27 July 1928, 10. Millar seems to have worked with Parker in a theatrical and not a pageant context.
Lichfield Mercury, 13 July 1928, 9.
Lichfield Mercury, 27 July 1928, 5.
Lichfield Mercury, 13 July 1928, 9.
Lichfield Mercury, 27 July 1928, 5.
Leamington Spa Courier, 27 July 1928, 10.
Tony Daniels, John Willmott School: the first fifty years (Wellington, 2009), unpaginated.
Detailed Development History for Sutton Coldfield High Street
Conservation Area , Birmingham Council, 6, accessed 28 November 2016, file:///C:/Users/k1507891/Downloads/High_Street_Sutton_Coldfield_Conservation_Area_Development_History.pdf There is extensive information and pictures available at http://www.sutton-coldfield.net/trinity.html, accessed 28 November 2016.
Elise Chamberlain, ‘It's been a 'brilliant' effort says MP, but keep up the search for evidence’, Sutton Coldfield Observer, 7 December 2012, accessed 28 November 2016, http://www.suttoncoldfield-people.co.uk/s-brilliant-effort-says-mp-search-evidence/story-17524421-detail/story.html#yAiFZL2RgDlreDHx.99
Andrew Mitchell, Hansard, volume 582, 12 June 2014, accessed 28 November 2016, https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2014-06-12/debates/14061257000003/SuttonColdfield(RoyalStatus)
Greg Clark, Hansard, volume 582, 12 June 2014, accessed 28 November 2016, https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2014-06-12/debates/14061257000003/SuttonColdfield(RoyalStatus)
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Sutton Coldfield Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1385/