Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1952
- The Sixth Annual Presentation of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant
The organisation formally in charge of the pageant was the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society; however, the burgh council also took a keen interest in the pageant even if they were not its official organisers and many members of the Society's committee were also elected councillors.
Place: Arbroath Abbey (Arbroath) (Arbroath, Angus, Scotland)
Number of performances: 6
14–17 August 1952
Thursday 14 August 1952, 6.30pm; Friday 15 August 1952, 6.30pm and 10.15pm; Saturday 16 August 1952, 2.45pm and 10.15pm; Sunday 17 August 1952, 10.15pm.1
There was a dress rehearsal on the evening of 13 August 1952 at which schoolchildren attended. The Provost of Arbroath, J.K. Moir presided and Rear-Admiral Rebbeck gave the introductory address.2
The pageant took place within the ruins of the medieval Arbroath Abbey, which has long been roofless and open to the elements.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Thornton, F.W.A.
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Shepherd, George S.
- Art Director: William Reid
- Electrician and Lighting Engineer: Fred Leslie
- Sound Engineers: Alex Napier and Alan Wedge
- Wardrobe Supervisors: Miss C.J. Hendry and Miss Ruby Melvin
- Costume Designer: Miss C.J. Hendry
- King Robert's Helmet: William Craig
- Choirmaster: Andrew Morrison3
Thornton and Shepherd were again co-producers of the pageant as they had been since 1949.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society:
- Honorary Presidents: The Right Hon. The Earl of Airlie, KT, GCVO; The Provost of Arbroath
- Honorary Vice Presidents: The Hon. Mrs Lindsay Carnegie; The Hon. J.S. McLay, MP; Dr Agnes Mure Mackenzie, CBE; Dr J.B. Salmond; Mr George Law; Mr E.J. Joss; Mr A. Linton Robertson
- Chairman: Mr T. Matheson
- Vice-Chairman: Mr A. Sandison
- Hon. Secretary: Eric B. Mackintosh, CA;
- Hon. Treasurer: Mr A. Aitken
- Hon. Auditor: Mr J. W. Campbell.
- Convenor: Councillor F.W.A. Thornton
- Vice-Convenor: Provost J.K. Moir
- Hon. Treasurer: D.A. Gardner
- Other members: Mr W. Stark; Mr G. S. Shepherd; Miss M. Brodie; Messrs. A. Sandison; D.D. Wilson; D.L. Gardiner; Andrew Morrison; Rev. Colin T. Day; J. Donald; A.B. Mitchell; A.W. Aitken; Mrs D. W. Webster; Mr J. G. H. Clyde; Bailie R. MacGlashan; Bailie Eric B. Mackintosh; Dean of Guild D.A.S. Smith; Councillor James Keir
There was very little change in the composition of the pageant society or its executive and still only one woman member.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Thornton, Donald
- Thornton, F.W.A.
- Mackenzie, Agnes Mure
The author of a new Prologue and Epilogue was Donald Thornton, brother of the pageant's producer. The producer Frank Thornton also wrote the scenario and narration for the signing of the declaration scene and the script of the pageant-play, Of Their Own Experience. The historian Agnes Mure Mackenzie did the translation of the declaration used in the pageant. 4
Names of composers
- Irvine, Jessie Seymour
The tune 'Crimond' is generally attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine. This psalm was sung during the pageant using this tune.
Numbers of performers200
Although some women may have taken the role of foot soldiers, the overwhelming majority of the performers were men. A large number of horses were involved.
Donations at pageant procession collection: £151
Total income: £1351
Total expenditure: £1025
Object of any funds raised
Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society
The illuminated performance on Saturday night took £160 in ticket sales; on Sunday night the sum taken was £140.Ticket sales overall increased by £250 compared with those in 1951.6
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
4s. 6d.–2s. 6d.
Grandstand (all performances): 5s.
Area A. 14, 15 and 17 August: 3s. 6d.; 16 August: 4s. 6d.
Area B. 14, 15 and 17 August: 2s. 6d.; 16 August: 3s. 6d.7
Some advertisements specified that there was 'standing room in Areas A and B for 1200 spectators'.8 This suggests that there were no unreserved seats in these areas as there had been in previous years and that all seats were now sited in the grandstand. Advertisements are unclear on this issue but if this were the case, such a change suggests a significant rise in price for standing only tickets (previously these had cost 1s.). It is difficult to be sure what the exact seating arrangements were for the pageant but it does seem likely that capacity was increased compared with previous years.
Associated eventsMonday 11 August: A Scottish Country Dance at Marketgate, Arbroath, tickets 2s. 6d.
Tuesday 12 August: A Pageant of Dancing (display of dancing by children) at Marketgate and an interlude of singing (sea shanties) by the Sea Cadets. Tickets 2s., children half-price.
Saturday 16th August: A Pageant Procession following the afternoon performance of the pageant (5pm approx.) during which a street collection was taken.
The order of the procession was as follows:
- The British Legion Pipe Band
- Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland
- King's Herald
- The Barons of the Realm of Scotland
- Foot Soldiers
- The Declaration of Independence
- Bernard de Linton, Lord Abbot of Aberbrothock
- Bishops of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Aberdeen followed by standard bearers
- Bearer of the Banner of St Columba
- King Edward I of England
- Abbot Henry
- David de Braikie
- English Knights and Monks of the Abbey
- The Aberbrothock Pipe Band
- Then historical tableaux mounted on vehicles as follows:
- Founding of Arbroath Abbey (Messrs Innes Henderson and Co., Ltd);
- Saint Ninian Preaching in Angus (St Ninian's Church, Arbroath);
- Siege of Roxburgh Castle Leven (Arbroath Merchants' Association);
- Katherine Douglas Barring the Door (Arbroath Women's Citizens Association);
- Macbeth and the Witches(Arbroath Business and Professional Women's Club);
- Crown Jewels at Dunottar castle (presented by Arbroath Branch British Legion);
- The Stone of Destiny at the Abbey (Arbroath Co-operative Society);
- Mary Queen of Scots at Arbroath Abbey (British Red Cross Society);
- The Queen's Four Maries (Arbroath Herald Ltd);
- Florence Nightingale at Scutari (British Red Cross Sciety)
- Arbroath Instrumental Band
- An Industrial section, which included the following:
- Messrs Alex Shanks & Son Ltd;
- Messrs. Innes, Henderson & Co., Ltd.
- Arbroath Smokie Industry (Arbroath Fish Merchants' Association);
- Boys' Brigade Pipe Band;
- Fisherwomen at work (Arbroath Fisherwomen's Association);
- Arbroath Boy Scouts' Association
- Angus Accordion College Juvenile Band.
Sunday 17 August: A Thanksgiving Service, 3pm, held in the Abbey Grounds; officiating ministers were Rev. Angus Logan, Old Church, Arbroath, and Rev. Frederick Kennedy, Old Church, Montrose. There was seating for 1200.
Singing of the national anthem.
The pageants held in the afternoon and evening were each introduced and chaired by different persons. It is unclear whether this opening ceremony was included at the night-time shows. There is no mention of this in press coverage and, therefore, it seems likely that these were omitted. Those appearing in the opening ceremonies are recorded as follows:
Thursday 14 August, 6.30pm:
Chair: The Provost of Arbroath, A.K. Moir
Address: Rear-Admiral Rebbeck
Friday 15 August, 6.30pm:
Chair: Sheriff H.F. Ford
Address: Lord Blades, Court of Session Judge
Saturday 16 August, 2.45pm:
Chair: Captain J.A.L. Duncan, MP for South Angus
Address: Mr H.J. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, Hereditary Royal Standard Bearer for Scotland.
Act of Worship
This included prayers and a sermon and ended with singing of Psalm 23 to the tune of 'Crimond'. The clergy officiating were as follows:
Thursday evening: Rev. William W.M. Bell, Hopemount Church, Arbroath
Friday evening: Rev. J.T. Hornsby, Congregational Church
Saturday afternoon: Rev. Angus Logan (affiliation unknown).
Andrew Stewart delivered this monologue in the guise of a soldier of old. He describes knowing the Abbey in times gone by and exhorts the audience 'to honour the men who choose Freedom' and bids them recall 'Scotland's darkest hour' during the wars of independence. Stewart performed standing on a high pinnacle on the broken wall of the Abbey.11
Pageant-Play. Of their own Experience: a Historical Interlude in One Scene, 1296
This was the first enactment of this play written by Thornton, also the author of the Declaration scene. It had seven speaking roles and was set in 1296 when the English army under the command of Edward I invaded Scotland and defeated the Scots. The play purports to depict a visit to Arbroath Abbey by the English monarch. Following this, Abbot Henry is banished to the south. The characters included: Edward I; two English knights, De Clifford and De Loring, Abbot Henry of Aberbrothnock, Prior Nicholas the Almoner, Brother Joseph and David de Braikie.
Main Scene. The Signing of the Declaration of Scottish Independence, 1320
This continued largely unchanged from previous years (there may have been small adjustments that have not been detailed in news reports), but briefly the action was as follows:
1. Entrance of the Lord High Abbot, Bernard de Linton, in Ceremonial Procession with Bishops, Canons and Monks.
2. Arrival of King Robert the Bruce, accompanied by Cavalcade of Barons and Squires, with retinue of Foot Soldiers.
3. The Signing of the Declaration.
4. Departure of King and retinue.
5. The Lord High Abbot, Bishops and Monks seen in Ceremonial Procession.
This scene had a cast of around 50 main and supporting players, plus the Arbroath Male Voice Choir playing the parts of a choir of monks (around 18 choir members) and many others playing the roles of foot soldiers (number not known). There may have been some women in the King's entourage although this is not specified in listings; overall, however, the great majority of the players were male and all of the main players were men.
This reprised the role of the soldier and was again performed by Andrew Stewart from a high point on the Abbey's walls. It was a short monologue extolling the gift of freedom.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Robert I [Robert Bruce] (1274–1329) king of Scots
- Bernard (d. 1330/31) administrator and bishop of Sodor
- Douglas, Sir James [called the Black Douglas] (d. 1330) soldier
- Randolph, Thomas, first earl of Moray (d. 1332) soldier and guardian of Scotland Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
There was a male voice choir, which performed during the signing of the Declaration scene. There was organ music for the religious service relayed from the nearby Hopemount Church. There were fanfares played but this may have been recorded music.
The tune 'Crimond' is usually attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836–1887). Composed in 1872, this is commonly used for singing Psalm 23, 'The Lord Is My Shepherd', in Scotland and elsewhere.
Newspaper coverage of pageantArbroath Herald
Book of words
No book of words was produced.
Other primary published materials
- Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society Presents the Sixth Annual Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 14th to 17th August, 1952 Souvenir Programme, 1/- (Arbroath, 1952).
Arbroath Public Library holds two copies. Shelfmark: 394.5.
References in secondary literature
- There is a brief mention in The Third Statistical Account of Scotland, see Gladstone-Millar, Rev. W.E. 'The Abbey Pageant'. In The County of Angus, edited by William Allen Illsley. Arbroath, 1977. At 525.
- Ritchie, J. N. Graham. 'Images of the Declaration: The Arbroath Pageant.' In The Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting, edited by Geoffrey Barrow. Edinburgh, 2003. At 86–107.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- The NLS has a copy of Agnes Mure Mackenzie, On the Declaration of Arbroath (Edinburgh,1951). 5.1542.
- The Angus Archives at Hunter Library, Restenneth, near Forfar, holds photographs of the pageant and the pageant procession. MS747/18/1356–9 and MS747/18/1379–80.
- Arbroath Public Library holds the souvenir programme.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Mackenzie, Agnes Mure. Translation of the Declaration.
- John of Fordun. Chronicle of the Scottish Nation.
The Translation of the Declaration by Agnes Mure Mackenzie was first published in the 1949 souvenir pamphlet and was used in performance of the signing of the document. This was reproduced in the 1952 souvenir programme and in many subsequent programmes.
The epilogue quotes or paraphrases a well-known passage from John of Fordun's Chronica Gentis Scotorum [Chronicle of the Scottish Nation]. The passage extols the virtues of freedom and states that it is to be cherished 'above gold and topaze'.13
During the 1951 pageant, some rumblings about nationalism had infiltrated discussion of the event. Undoubtedly, feelings had been heightened by the discovery of the hitherto missing 'Stone of Destiny', which had been placed in Arbroath Abbey in April of that year, from where it was recovered and sent quickly back to Westminster Abbey. The ill feeling persisted into 1952, however, as the following letter to the press makes clear:
In recalling history as was illuminated in the Arbroath pageant, it is a pity that so much stress is laid on the strife between Scotland and England... But the spirit of peace and friendliness amongst all countries should be emphasised and thus purge this feeling of enmity, which if fostered, can endanger the relations of the present generation north and south of the Border, which should remain merely as a geographical term.14
Such accusations were of course, regularly denied by the organisers, the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society. And while invited speakers at the pageant also sometimes tried to ameliorate such accusations, their utterances could also be inflammatory. This is nicely illustrated by a passage in one of the opening speeches made in 1952. The speaker, H.J. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, Hereditary Royal Standard Bearer for Scotland, declared that
the worst international criminals of that age were the Plantagenet Kings of England... the unscrupulous greed of the English king [Edward I] and the cruel atrocities of his invasion, which spared neither age, nor sex, nor religion, created centuries of implacable hatred and miserable strife between Scotland and England, whose traces have perhaps not even now been entirely eradicated... The Scots were eager and willing to make their contribution to the defence of Europe [against the Moors in Spain] if only they were unmolested by the English. Their Declaration at Arbroath is a very good example of the difference between patriotism and nationalism. They did not regard the state as supreme. On the contrary they acknowledged that their country's right of freedom was derived from the law of God, and carried with it the obligations to fight for the freedom of other countries, however distant, who had the same rights as themselves.15
This type of comment, however well-intentioned, was unhelpful, since 1952 was something of a make-or-break year for the pageant as an annual event. Following financial failure in the previous year and what was perceived as rising indifference amongst the population of Arbroath, the Society was keen to preserve the reputation of the pageant as a patriotic effort that commemorated an important historical event and that was non-political and non-sectarian. They had no wish to risk the end of the pageant as a yearly festival by courting controversy.
Probably in order to address complaints about the format being tired and the whole event being overly nationalistic, the organisers decided to alter the content of the pageant: out went the pageant-play on Wallace's trial, The Laurel Crown, and a new drama, written by the same author, was introduced as a curtain-raiser to the main scene. This was entitled Of Their Own Experience. Few details have been recovered about the text of this, but it did include the characters of King Edward I and a knight called 'De Loring'.16 It purported to enact a visit by the English monarch to the Abbey following his victory over the Scots at the start of the Wars of Independence in 1296. The Prologue and Epilogue also took a new format and were a little more conciliatory:
The Prologue written by Mr Donald Thornton, Aberdeen, introduces the play ‘Of Their Own Experience’—the work of his brother, Councillor Thornton—in a spirit which contrasts the unity of the nations of this island in the present with the disruption of the past, and proves to be an effective answer to the critics who label the pageant ultra-nationalistic in tone...17
The pageant organisers evidently hoped to put an end to the recurring accusation of nationalism by removing the drama about the final humiliation of Wallace, since this may have been perceived as a potential focus of anti-English feeling. But since it was known that that Thornton, the pageant's long-time producer and author, was certainly sympathetic to greater home rule, although perhaps not yet to full independence, this was likely a vain hope. It is doubtful if any depiction of the 'hammer of the Scots', seen in the person of Edward I in the new play, deflected accusations of anti-Englishness, particularly since this involved the execution of one of the Scottish characters, David de Blaikie, who is shown in the scene defying 'the implacable enemy'.18 The fact that it was Thornton's brother who was enlisted to write the new Prologue also underlines how incestuous the organisation of the pageant had become, notwithstanding the Society's constant bleat that the people of Arbroath did not come forward to help.
The new Prologue and Epilogue took the form of short monologues in which a soldier from the past describes how he has fought with Wallace and Bruce. He addresses the audience thus:
I knew this Abbey once when like a rock it rose above this ancient town. Roofless and crumbled it stands today, but there is still a spirit in these broken walls...speaking of the past...Secure in this island, united under one crown, you know a happiness I and my comrades never knew. Your Border keeps are empty ruins... Britain is a land of peace... I belong to the old Scotland, and from the past I rise... to honour the men who chose Freedom and led me to victory. You should not forget them now, even though you are members of a wider community of Freedom. They helped to make the Scotland you love to-day—a nation within a United Kingdom, proud of her past, but not dwelling in it. But had proud Edward crushed us, then what a rancour might have been stored in the hearts of a conquered people! Come back with me to those days when even this proud Abbey was no refuge from fear...here in Aberbothnock, we hear the shout of tyranny.19
For the Epilogue the same character returns. In 1952, a young local man played the warrior. His name was Andy Stewart and he would later go on to become a well-known kilted entertainer and purveyor of the song 'Donald Where's Yer Troosers'. His role in the 1952 Arbroath Pageant was fairly close in tenor to the sentiment he would purvey in songs and sketches for years to come in that it was intensely patriotic, affectionate, sentimental and, at times, more than a little kitsch.
In order to attempt to secure the viability of the pageant, further innovations were also tried in terms of timetabling and technology. Instead of reducing the number of performances, as might have been expected, these were increased. And since the 1951 experiment with a single floodlit performance had been popular, three illuminated presentations were undertaken in 1952. The Saturday afternoon 'Gala' pageant, to which civic dignitaries from many Scottish towns were invited and which included a pageant parade through the streets, remained unchanged. In addition, there were two early evening performances, making a total of six (two more than in the previous year), all of which ran over four days rather than three, as had been usual. The big innovation, however, was that one of the floodlit presentations took place on Sunday night. Scottish Sabbath observance was still, in the early 1950s, a shibboleth that few would have been prepared to challenge. However, the fact that this show took place within formerly consecrated walls perhaps facilitated this unusual novelty. The night-time shows were shorter and ran for under two hours, finishing on the stroke of midnight, as they did not include the introductory speeches and prayers that were a regular part of the afternoon and evening pageants. This curtailment may also have made them popular with the public.
The hard work paid off: despite the extra cost of the illuminated performances, the pageant turned in a profit and ticket sales increased. The pageant also managed to attract some high profile spectators, as the press reported:
Distinguished visitors to the floodlight performance of the pageant on Saturday were Aneurin Bevan, former labour Minister of Health, and his wife, Jenny Lee, MP for Cannock... asked how he enjoyed the performance, Mr Bevan said that he was very impressed with what he had seen, while his wife commented that that was how history should be taught.20
All of this sufficiently buoyed the Pageant Society, which, with a new Chairman in place, decided to keep going with an annual event. Decisions were taken in the months following the 1952 pageant that more effort with publicity was required. At the meeting of the Society held in November, at which a former Vice-Chairman, Tom Matheson, was confirmed as Chair, plans were made to work with the Scottish Tourist Board and have advertisements for the 1953 pageant placed in travel agencies in places like 'America and South Africa'. It was stated that an attempt was again to be made to encourage the BBC to televise the event (this had been tried unsuccessfully before) by letting them know of the dates of the pageant well in advance.21 It seems to have been recognised that after six years of annual presentations, the pageant could definitely not count on a local audience or even one from other parts of Angus and surrounding counties. It could not always count on the unquestioning support of civic leaders either. In October 1952, one long serving town councillor threatened to resign over a bill for £37. 11s. that had been presented to the council. This was to meet the cost of hospitality offered to civic leaders invited to attend the Saturday afternoon performance of the pageant.22 In the end, although his resignation was submitted, it was later withdrawn. However, this storm in a teacup pointed up the fact that the pageant was not as wholeheartedly supported as the local press sometimes painted. Nor was the town council as divorced from the pageant's business dealings as many perhaps believed. Though those closely involved with the Arbroath pageant remained passionate about celebrating the town's traditions, they also knew that in order to survive they had to admit some changes and make the books balance.
- Advertisement, Dundee Courier, 11 August 1952, 1.
- 'Children Have Preview', Dundee Courier, 14 August 1952, 3.
- Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society Presents the Sixth Annual Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 14th to 17th August, 1952 Souvenir Programme, 1/ (Arbroath, 1952), np.
- For further information about Mackenzie, see entry by Joan Morrison Noble in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 229; and William Donaldson, ‘Mackenzie, Agnes Mure (1891–1955)’, October 2006, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), online edn, accessed 22 October 2014, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/57342.
- 'Arbroath Pageant Makes £320 Profit', Dundee Courier, 27 September 1952, 6.
- 'Arbroath Pageant Makes £320 Profit', Dundee Courier, 27 September 1952, 6.
- Advertisement, Dundee Courier, 11 August 1952, 1.
- Advertisement, Dundee Courier, 11 August 1952, 1.
- Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society Presents the Sixth Annual Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 14th to 17th August, 1952 Souvenir Programme, 1/- (Arbroath, 1952), np.
- Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society Presents the Sixth Annual Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 14th to 17th August, 1952 Souvenir Programme, 1 /- (Arbroath, 1952) ,np; 'This Year's Pageant will Have a New Look', Dundee Courier, 7 August 1952, 2.
- 'Prologue and Epilogue', Arbroath Herald, 22 August 1952, 7.
- See entry for Jessie Seymour Irvine written by Richard Watson in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 180.
- This famous text has been translated from the original Latin and reproduced several times; see, for example, 'John of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish Nation’, trans. Felix J.H. Skene, in The Historians of Scotland, Vol. IV, ed. William F. Skene (Edinburgh, 1872), 45.
- Letter to the Editor, Dundee Courier, 21 August 1952, 2.
- From a speech made by H.J. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, Hereditary Royal Standard Bearer for Scotland, at the opening of the pageant on Saturday afternoon, quoted in 'Declaration Provides a Difference between Patriotism and Nationalism', Arbroath Herald, 22 August 1952, 6.
- Photograph of players of these characters, Dundee Courier, 14 August 1952, 3.
- 'Prologue and Epilogue', Arbroath Herald, 22 August 1952, 7.
- 'Arbroath Abbey Pageant Scenes', Arbroath Guide, 22 August 1953, 6
- Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society Presents the Sixth Annual Arbroath Abbey Pageant Within the Abbey of Arbroath 14th to 17th August, 1952 Souvenir Programme, 1/, (Arbroath, 1952), np; see also 'Prologue and Epilogue', 7.
- 'Distinguished Visitors', Arbroath Herald, 22 August 1952, 7.
- 'New Chairman of Pageant Society', Dundee Courier, 26 November 1952, 2.
- 'Councillor Says he will Resign', Dundee Courier, 14 October 1952, 2.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1952’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/960/