The Ipswich Pageant
Place: Christchurch Park (Ipswich) (Ipswich, Suffolk, England)
Number of performances: 8
9–16 June 1951
- Saturday 9 June, afternoon.
- Monday 11 June, evening
- Tuesday 12 June, evening
- Wednesday 13 June, evening
- Thursday 14 June, evening
- Friday 15 June, evening
- Saturday 16 June, afternoon and evening
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Jenkins, Warren
- Honorary Organiser: J.T. Hill
- Musical Director: Peter Burges, BA, ARAM
- Personal Assistant to Producer: Barbara G. Hammond
- Scenic Design: Reginald Woolley
- Manager: Eric O. Tripp
- Sound Engineer: Geoffrey Knights
- Stage Director: Franklin Gardner
- Master Carpenter: Frank Field
- Secretary to the Director: Miss Betty Waterman
- Resident Designer: Gillian Armitage
- Costume Design and Preparation: Mr E. Mayer, ATD, DA (Manc), (Principal of the School of Art), Miss J. Taylor ARCA
- Hon. Mistress of the Robes: Miss Beatrice M. Hossack
- Hon. Mistress of the Dance: Mrs W.H. Underwood
- Assisted by: Miss Olive Goodwin, Mrs Mary Goddard, MRAD, AISTD, MISTD, Mr W.L. Ford
- Hon. Property Masters: Miss Joan Campling, Mrs M. Slack, Miss M. Quinton, Miss P Woodward, William Franks, Tony Barnard, Paul Collinson, John Woolard, John Ager, Alan Goreham, Lawrence Peachey, Brian Wright
Warren Jenkins appeared by kind permission of the Ipswich Arts Theatre Trustees.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Special Charter Anniversary and Festival Committee:
- Chairman: His Worship the Mayor (Until 22 May 1951—Alderman Cyril Catchpole; From 23 May 1951—Alderman A.J. Colthorpe)
- The Deputy Mayor (Until 22 May 1951—Alderman A.J. Cook; From 23 May 1951—Alderman Cyril Catchpole)
- Alderman Miss M.M. Jefferies
- Alderman F.H. Warner
- Alderman Mrs M. Whitmore
- Councillor A.V. Bishop
- Councillor R.A. Evans
- Councillor Mrs L. Lewis
- Councilllor R.J. Lewis
- Rev J. Brynley Jones
- Mr A.H.L. Stammers
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Williamson, Hugh Ross
Names of composers
- Burges, Peter
- Williams, Ralph Vaughan
- Byrd, William
- Arne, Thomas
Numbers of performers2000
Players drawn from local Drama and Music Societies, the schools, and from local townspeople.
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasion750th anniversary of the grant of the first charter by King John in 1200.
Festival of Britain 1951, itself a commemoration of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 13000
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Associated eventsA congregation of over 3000 assembled in the Pageant arena on the final day of the festival for an interdenominational service to mark its close. The service was conducted by the Rev. Dr S.M. Berry, Secretary of the International Congregational Council, and included an address by the Dean of Westminster (Dr Alan C. Don, KCVO), who spoke of the necessity of restoring spiritual values to Britain. The lesson was read by the Mayor of Ipswich, and the final blessing was pronounced by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich (Dr Richard Brook).
Scene I. The Granting of the First Charter in 1200 AD
At the sound of trumpets, the Narrator comes forward and, whilst the inhabitants of Ipswich are assembling, explains briefly what the granting of the Charter means to the town, leading us to that day in June, 1200, when, in the churchyard of St Mary’s Tower, Bigod comes bearing with him the Charter from the King. The trumpets sound again and Bigod rides up, accompanied by his attendants. He reads to the citizens extracts from that first Charter and the various town officials are chosen. First, the two Bailiffs are selected. They are each taken forward and ‘chaired’ by their supporters, so that there is one on each side of Bigod. The four Coroners and the twelve Portmen are then chosen and take their places. An ecclesiastic comes forward and, standing before Bigod, holds a large book of Gospels, opened. He raises it above his head and each Bailiff puts one of his hands upon it. The Coroners and the Portmen turn towards it and raise their right hands, and, at Bigod’s command, all those present do the same. The oath, faithfully to observe the Charter, is taken, and the players then go off.
Scene II. Edward I at Ipswich 
Ninety years have passed, and on the stage we now see an Ipswich family of the year 1290. The Narrator speaks again. He outlines what has happened since the granting of the Charter, and a conversation between the members of the family explains why the people are assembled—King Edward I has come to Ipswich to celebrate the marriage of his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, to the Count of Holland. In the past ninety years, Ipswich has not kept faith with the King, its Charter has been lost, and, as we shall hear, advantage is to be taken of the happy occasion to ask the King to restore it. Whilst the family is talking, the crowd is gathering. The Narrator tells us that our stage has now become the Shire Hall, near St Peter’s Church, the Austin Priory. There the King has banqueted after the wedding of his daughter, and on the stage are the King, the Prince of Wales, the Count of Holland, Princess Elizabeth, the Court Jester, the various nobles, attendants, etc., and Adam the Goldsmith. Here we see the enactment of the incident when the King, annoyed by the inferior craftsmanship of his daughter’s crown, throws it into the fire and orders a new one. Adam the Goldsmith is sent away to procure a better crown and the entertainment begins. Here we hope to give you some idea of the type of entertainment which accompanied festivities towards the end of the thirteenth century. Matilda Makejoy will dance, accompanied by her little hunchbacks; there will be country dancing, archers, acrobats, mummers with St George and the dragon, and tumblers. Then a sudden hush falls over the crowd and the troubadour’s voice is heard. At the end of the song, the dancing is resumed, and as that finishes Adam the Goldsmith returns with a new crown. The King, put in a better humour in consequence, is then approached by representatives of the inhabitants and, in response to their quest, restores the Charter.
Scene III. The Procession of the Guilds
A generation has passed; Edward III is King and Ipswich once more is flourishing. Among her vintners is Robert the Chaucer who kept an Inn at the corner of Tower Street. His grandson, Geoffrey Chaucer, with other members of the family, is watching the pageantry of a procession of the Ipswich Guilds of those days. Reference is made to each Guild as the procession passes by. In conclusion, the Narrator refers to the disorders which have crept into the town, and prepares us for the next scene.
Scene IV. The Mock Trial
The sailors and smugglers—friends of those who have been tried—come from a distance singing a ribald song of their day: ‘Back and Side Go Bare’. The town officials appear in what is now a court of law and the fun begins as the smugglers now try the town officials. As this ceases, we learn from the Narrator that when the King heard what had been done, that Ipswich was not strong enough to keep the peace, the Charter was once again revoked.
Scene V. Wolsey—as Boy and Man
One hundred years have passed during which the Charter has been restored; peace has returned after the Wars of the Roses, and Henry Tudor sits on the throne. In the year when he took the throne, a boy of thirteen lived in Ipswich in the parish of St Nicholas—his name was Thomas Wolsey. Whilst the Narrator is telling us this, the Wolsey family has taken the stage and again we have a small family interlude, to introduce us to Thomas as a boy. The Narrator then tells us how the boy has grown to fame and how he is coming to Ipswich to visit the school which he founded here and which he intended should make Ipswich rival Eton and Winchester. History tells us that on the great day when his school was founded, the Cardinal was unable to visit Ipswich, but it is not unreasonable to assume that, whilst the building was being erected, he came to bless it. Now we see him surrounded by his scholars and the singing boys of many Ipswich Churches. He has with him his crucifer, four personal attendants, twelve of the clergy and his choirboys. Awaiting him are the Headmaster of his school, teachers, pupils and his mother. Wolsey addresses the boys and the citizens, blesses the building, and then leaves accompanied by the procession and the choir.
Scene VI. Charles II at Ipswich
Our Narrator tells us that another century or more has passed, containing many years and events which are not good to remember. We have reached the days of the Civil War and the execution of King Charles I. His son, the second Charles, is making his way through England in disguise. We are told that during his wanderings he came to Ipswich and lay hidden for a time in the Ancient House—‘Sparrowe’s House.’ Our main scene at this stage is taken up by merrymaking. We see dancing—maypole, country and Morris Dancing—but before long the Puritans protest and, with the aid of soldiers, disperse the crowd. As this happens we find on the platform a party including Charles, who is dressed as a serving man, Jane Lane, Robert Sparrowe, Mrs Sparrowe and their son, a Puritan Councillor or two, and others. There is a dispute between a Puritan and the Sparrowe family, in which the young King becomes involved. The Puritans go for assistance and Charles escapes as the Puritans return, bringing with them a large body of citizens and a guard. As the scene changes, the Narrator tells us that eighteen years have passed and that the young Charles, who was then a hunted fugitive, has now for eight years been King Charles II. He has come back to Ipswich and is staying with Lord Hereford in Christchurch mansion, and is granting the town a new Charter—with a difference. Whilst the Narrator is speaking, the arena fills with the citizens waiting to welcome the King. He enters, surrounded by his courtiers, and he greets, once again, his friends, the Sparrowes. He then informs the assembled crowds of the confirmation of a new Charter.
Scene VII. The Visit of Nelson to Ipswich
We learn from the Narrator that in the century that passed the Corporation became corrupt; there had been bad days for Ipswich; the town had decayed; the river had silted up; poverty had overtaken many—but we have now moved on to the time when, at Roundwood House, Ipswich, two years after Horatio Nelson won the Battle of the Nile, Nelson’s wife and his father are living. A great reception has been given to them, and in his absence Nelson has been appointed Lord High Stewart. He has, however, been abroad for some time and his wife is weary of the tedium of Ipswich. Now, at a ball given at Christchurch Mansion in her honour, she shows her boredom. The dance is taking place, and from the interlude we learn her annoyance on hearing that Lord Nelson has landed at Yarmouth and is coming to Ipswich with Lady Hamilton. Lady Nelson will not remain in the town and leaves for London. We are told that Nelson is travelling slowly and in triumph from Yarmouth and that Ipswich makes holiday to welcome him (but he only stayed one night, at the Great White Horse Hotel). The sailors have prepared their carriage, in which they themselves will drag Nelson, and when Nelson arrives, they stop his carriage, help him from it and into the one which they have prepared, and drag him through the cheering crowds to the platform where he speaks to the crowd. During Nelson’s speech a hush falls as the Hamiltons pass, but the liveliness is resumed as they go out of sight.
Scene VIII. The Visit of Pickwick to Ipswich
In this we see the author read from the Pickwick Papers to an audience of Ipswich citizens, and whilst he reads the actors, in mime, enact the scene which took place in the ‘Great White Horse’ Hotel.
Scene IX. The Visit of the Prince Consort to Lay the Foundation Stone of the New Building for Ipswich School
Here we try to enact for you the scene which Ipswich saw 100 years ago all but a month, that is, in July, 1851. We are fortunate in that we can turn to the copies of the local press of that day to obtain an exact record of what took place. The Mayor greets the Prince Consort. Prince Albert makes a suitable response and the Headmaster, the Rev Rigaud, offers up a prayer composed by himself for the occasion. At the end of the prayer, the Architect, Mr Fleury, presents the Prince with a silver trowel, the stone is duly laid, the band once again strikes up ‘God Save the Queen’ and the Royal Party departs in its carriages.
The procession which brings the Pageant to its close is set against the musical background of the solemn Lydian melody which was heard at the beginning of the pageant, together with references to all the music especially composed for the pageant and to the historic ‘Agincourt Song’, which will now be heard more fully. The Pageant ends with ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ the verse of which will be rendered by a solo voice from the choir, and the audience are asked to join in the chorus. As the last strains of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ fade away, the final fanfares are heard, the flags will be struck and the Pageant will end.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Bigod, Roger (II), second earl of Norfolk (c.1143–1221) magnate
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Florence (V), count of Holland (1254–1296) claimant to the Scottish throne
- Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340–1400) poet and administrator
- Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Lane, Jane, Lady Fisher (d. 1689) royalist heroine
- Nelson [née Woolward], Frances Herbert [Fanny], Viscountess Nelson (1761–1831) wife of Horatio Nelson
- Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758–1805) naval officer
- Albert [Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha] (1819–1861) prince consort, consort of Queen Victoria
- Rigaud, Stephen Jordan (1816–1859) bishop of Antigua
Musical production8 violins; 2 violas; 2 celli; 2 clarinets; 1 horn; 1 timpani; 2 percussion; 1 pianoforte, flutes, piccolos, 2nd horn, trombone, and trumpeters from the Band of the First Battalion of the Welch Regiment.
Side drums from members of the Boys Brigade.
The Choir: Members of the Ipswich Choral Society and Male-Voice Choir; Northgate Grammar School for Boys and Northgate Grammar School for Girls; The Secondary Modern Schools.
Music in scenes:
- Background music based on a melodic march in the Lydian mode, composed by Mr Peter Burges; and Gordon March, adapted by Peter Burges (both these pieces also featured in other scenes).
- ‘Summer is I’Cumin in’.
- [song of the end of the twelfth century], ‘A l’Entrade.’
- the ‘Agincourt Song’.
- ‘Back Side and Go Bare’ [tune by Vaughan Williams from ‘Sir John in Love.’
- A canon on the text, ‘Non Nobis, Domine.
- William Byrd’s three-part round, ‘Hey, Ho! To the Greenwood Let us Go.’
- ‘The Castleton Garland’
- ‘When the King Enjoys his Own Again.’
- A tune from Thomas Arne’s operetta ‘The Sailor’s Return.’
- Rule Britannia
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Ipswich Evening Star
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Ipswich Pageant in Christchurch Park, Celebrating the 750th Anniversary of the Incorporation of the Borough and the Festival of Britain. 10 Scenes of Events in the History of the Town. Ipswich, 1951.
Price: 1s. In Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- In Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch:
- The County Borough of Ipswich Pageant 1951. Leaflet about the pageant. HD2272/153/5/15/2.
- Programme for Ipswich Pageant in Christchurch Park, Celebrating the 750th Anniversary of the Incorporation of the Borough and the Festival of Britain. 10 scenes of Events in the History of the Town. Ipswich, 1951. 1s. HD2272/153/5/15/1.
- Details of Exhibition of Records at the Ipswich pageant. HD2272/153/1/5/21.
- Pageant. Photo. K 626/1/47/18.
- Flyer for a 1951 Exhibition. HD2272/306/8.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Ipswich Pageant of 1951 was staged for a coincidental dual purpose: firstly, as part of the much wider Festival of Britain celebrations (alongside hundreds of others, for instance at Arundel, Blenheim, and Leek Wootton); and secondly, to commemorate the granting of the city’s first Charter by King John 750 years previously in 1200. It was a ‘happy chance’, as a leaflet advertising the event put it, to ‘pay tribute at the same time to the foundations of its own and the country’s importance.’4 The pageant took place in Christchurch Park, a ‘natural amphitheatre’ and also the site of the large Wolsey Pageant in 1930.5 The pageant was written by Hugh Ross Williamson, a historian and playwright also responsible for Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, which was concurrently playing at the Ipswich Arts Theatre.6 Williamson was ‘well known in the field of historical drama’ after staging his version of The Pilgrim’s Progress at Covent Garden in 1948 and, more recently, his play Queen Elizabeth elsewhere in London.7 Costumes were made by local students from the Ipswich School of Art.
Like the Wolsey Pageant of 1930 in Ipswich, the 1951 pageant was mostly the work of the town council—all of the major organisational roles were taken by Aldermen and council officials, both male and female. The first fifty years of the twentieth century were an intensification of Ipswich’s late nineteenth-century economic and social growth, despite the weaker national picture. The town’s population had grown throughout the first fifty years of the century: to 80000 by 1921, almost 90000 by 1931, and to 105000 by 1951.8 The organisation of the pageant was dominated by the town council which had presided over this growth. As Peter R. Odell has written, Ipswich benefited from a strong and ‘pro-active’ local government. It was designated as a County Borough in 1888, and was ‘seriously’ involved in late nineteenth-century municipal socialism. It invested strongly in the port, in public health facilities (such as water supply and sewerage), in gas and electricity, and in education and culture—not to mention the construction of a set of worthy civic buildings including the Town Hall, the Corn Exchange, libraries and museums. By the inter-war period there were also important public sector investments in entertainment and service facilities—of which the Wolsey Pageant could be viewed as one example.9 However, between 1945 and 1951, Ipswich, like many other towns and cities, suffered the blow of the loss of its traditional municipal enterprises as the Labour government nationalised the gas, water and electricity industries and, according to Odell, ‘so effectively diminished the town’s municipal pride.’ Only the Borough’s public transport (buses and trolley buses) and the port survived the snatching away of its public-sector enterprises.10
A generic message of congratulation from the King was read out by the Mayor, Alderman A.J. Colthorpe,11 before the pageant was opened by R.R. Stokes, the Lord Privy Seal and Labour MP for the city. He told the crowd that the ‘doubting Thomases’ who suggested the Festival of Britain was a waste of money should remember both the tangible and spiritual benefits arising from it. For Stokes, an ‘ex-tradesman’, as he put it, the festival would both inform visitors about what Britain was selling, as well as remind the British themselves of their ‘historical foundations and of the great achievements we had brought about as a result of the work of our ancestors.’ In 1951, it seems that, at points, the pageant had been a bit of a burden on the social scene of Ipswich. In a description of the pageant, the Ipswich Evening Star referenced how ‘during the months of planning there has been more than one moment when mild despair gloomed the horizon.’12 A member of the public also wrote to the press and, though otherwise praising the pageant, noted that it had, at times, faced ‘indifference and all other difficulties.’13
It is not entirely clear how much dialogue there was in the pageant. A leaflet explained that the ‘unity of the piece will be maintained by the unusual device of a family group, the story of each scene being told through the conversations of the parents with their children.’ This perhaps means that the family narrated the historical episodes, which were portrayed in mime.14 Unlike the Wolsey Pageant, which focused solely on the life of that famous figure, the Festival of Britain pageant seemed to draw more attention to the building up of the Ipswich Corporation and its place in civic life. This could be interpreted in one of two ways: as either a genuine expression of belief in the importance and power of municipal government, or as a last-ditch attempt to maintain an outward appearance of relevance to the people of the city. Episodes included The Granting of the First Charter in 1200 AD; the restoration of the Charter in 1290 by Edward I; a medieval guilds’ procession in flourishing Ipswich; the confirmation of a new Charter in the seventeenth century from Charles II; and the visit of the Prince Consort to lay the Foundation Stone of the New Building for Ipswich School in July 1851. Of course, Wolsey had an episode—linking both his power and good deeds to the town. Admiral Nelson, too, was shown visiting. Perhaps the oddest episode was the visit of Pickwick to Ipswich. In this episode Charles Dickens read from the Pickwick Papers to an audience of Ipswich citizens, while actors, in mime, enacted the scene described by the great author. A device to show the relationship between the area and Dickens, it nonetheless stood out as the only fictional episode in the whole pageant.
The Ipswich Evening Star was surprisingly blunt in its review of the pageant, treating it more as a theatrical piece to be critiqued than a civic celebration to be encouraged. It questioned the inclusion of the Pickwick scene, both on the grounds that it was too long and that a piece of fiction perhaps had no place in the dramatization of history. It complained that the stage was too small, and also criticized the production for what it saw as the overuse of music. Furthermore, it damned the script with faint praise, describing it as ‘sensibly workmanlike’. Still, it complimented the bright costumes, the smuggler scene, and the enthusiasm and patience of the producer.15 No media coverage was given to the pageant outside the region, it seems. In terms of attendance, the pageant was not a failure, but hardly a striking success. There were ‘some vacant places’ at the opening performance. Several hundred cheekier locals instead watched from some nearby grassy slopes outside of the wire-enclosed auditorium—not ideal, but an ‘adequate enough view of the proceedings.’16 Altogether, 13000 people saw the pageant—almost half the number that had crowded in to see the Wolsey Pageant (at a time when the population of Ipswich was also much smaller).
A few members of the public did write into the press to express their praise of the pageant—one declaring that it had made him ‘proud’ to be a ‘fellow townsmen’ of those who had staged the event. The Mayor, in a public letter of thanks to all the performers and helpers, declared that ‘The Pageant itself provided a memorable sight to all those who witnessed it, and the colourful presentation of scenes from the borough’s history were so vividly portrayed that they will linger in our memories for some time to come.’17 But not everyone was as positive. One local, writing under the pseudonym ‘C. Dredger’, noted that ‘For the Festival of Britain it would appear that Ipswich for their pageant have included a festival of smells. Orwell, the old corkscrew river, will well be remembered’.18 This letter-writer was referring to an on-going problem with sewerage and dredging in the area. Another writer in the weeks after the pageant suggested that, ‘in all seriousness, the most sensible thing that Ipswich could do to celebrate its 750th anniversary as a borough’ would be to install some efficient sewerage disposal works.19
To summarise, the Ipswich Pageant of 1951 was, in comparison to the earlier Wolsey Pageant in 1930, a small event. It seems to have been moderately successful, but it did not capture anywhere near the same amount of engagement or enthusiasm. The town council had again used its clout to organise the event, but it seemed slightly anachronistic in the context of a shifting relationship between the local and central state. Still, at the least, the Ipswich Pageant added to the whole host of other 1951 Festival of Britain Pageants in both Wales and England and shows how it still seemed natural for Britons to turn to historical pageantry when celebrating events of both national and local importance.
- ‘Ipswich Pageant Seen by 13000’, Evening Star, 18 June 1951, 5.
- Ipswich Pageant in Christchurch Park, celebrating the 750th anniversary of the incorporation of the Borough and the Festival of Britain. 10 scenes of events in the history of the town’ (1951), Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch.
- The County Borough of Ipswich Pageant 1951, Leaflet about the Pageant, Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch. HD2272/153/5/15/2.
- ‘The County Borough of Ipswich Pageant 1951’, Leaflet about the Pageant, Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch. HD2272/153/5/15/2.
- ‘Lord Privy Seal Opens the Ipswich Pageant this Afternoon’, Ipswich Evening Star, 9 June 1951, 1.
- ‘The County Borough of Ipswich Pageant 1951’.
- Peter R. Odell, ‘Ipswich: Twentieth Century Challenges and Responses’, in Ipswich from the First to the Third Millennium: Papers from an Ipswich Society Symposium (Ipswich, 2001), 67.
- Ibid., 67.
- Ibid., 68.
- ‘Lord Privy Seal Opens the Ipswich Pageant this Afternoon’, 1; ‘Royal Congratulations Read at Ipswich Pageant’, Ipswich Evening Star, 11 June 1951, 5.
- ‘2000 Performers Dramatise History’, Ipswich Evening Star, 11 June 1951, 5.
- Letters from Readers, Ipswich Evening Star, 12 June 1951, 4.
- ‘The County Borough of Ipswich Pageant 1951’.
- ‘2000 Performers Dramatise History’, 5.
- Ibid., 5.
- Letters from Readers, Ipswich Evening Star, 21 June 1951, 4.
- Letters from Readers, Ipswich Evening Star, 12 June 1951, 4.
- Letters from Readers, Ipswich Evening Star, 14 June 1951, 4.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Ipswich Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1100/