The Pageant of England
Place: Langley Park (Slough) (Slough, Buckinghamshire, England)
Number of performances: 30
28 May–11 June 1935
28 May to 11 June, afternoon and evening
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Lally, Gwen
- Organising Secretary: E.N. Parker
- Assistant Secretary: Miss Ila Hearn
- Gwen Lally's Secretary: Miss Ella Busby
- Wardrobe Mistress: Miss Rankin
- Bankers: Barclay’s (Slough Branch)
- Mistress of the Robes: Hon. Mrs Francis Lascelles
- Mistress of the Dance: Lady George Cholmondeley, assisted by Mrs Mortimer
- Master of the Horse: Captain R. Kingsley-Chiesman
- Assistant Master of the Horse: Andrew G. Wilson
- Hon. Veterinary Surgeon: Major J.B. Walker
- Banners and Horse Trappings: Mrs G. Baly Hayes; Mrs Winby
- Musical Advisor: Herman Darewski
- Musical Director: Muir Mathieson
- Arena Master: G.R. Parker
- Assistant Area Master: C.A. McKeon
- Transport Officer: F.W. Lawrence
- Carpenter and Property Master: F. Swayne
- Lighting: Keith Thompson
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- President: The Hon. Sir Eustace Fiennes
- Lady George Cholmondeley, OBE
- Air-Commodore Lyster Blandy
- Mrs Francis Lascelles
- Lady King
- W.A. Hillier
- W.H. Oliver, Esq.
- Chairman: W.A. Hillier
London Publicity Committee:
- Chairman: Lady George Cholmondeley, OBE
Historical Design Committee:
- Chairman: Lady George Cholmondeley
- Hon. Musical Advisor: Herman Darewski
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
- Lally, Gwen
- Bowen, Marjorie
Numbers of performers4000
Object of any funds raised
In aid of local hospitals.
Linked occasionGolden Jubilee of George V.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 6500
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
£1. 1s.–2s. 6d.
Episode I. Aethelstan Crowned at Kingston-on-Thames, AD 925
a) The Procession of the Western Church.
b)The Miracle of the Healing of the Cripple by the Abbot of Glastonbury with the Holy Thorn.
c) The Pursuit of the Criminal.
d) The Crowning of King Athelstan by Bishop Aldhelm.
e) The Pardoning of the Criminal by Athelstan.
f) Otto the Great, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and the King of the West Franks, paying tribute to Athelstan.
Episode II. The Return after the Battle of Poitiers. Edward III
This episode begins with the entrance of the Woodland Spirits, followed by Herne the Hunter and his ghostly attendants. The entrance of the Court of Edward III, with the ladies of the court in their armorial cloaks, who are waiting to greet Queen Phillipa, Queen Joanna of Scotland, and the Fair Maid of Kent. The entrance of Edward III with his prisoners of war, the King of France and the King of Scotland, who take their places on the dais, in readiness to welcome the Black Prince and his knights, who have returned victorious from the Battle of Poitiers. The Fair Maid of Kent presents the Black Prince with a jewel; they speak to Lord James Audley, borne in upon a litter, pledging him in a loving cup. The departure of the court.
Episode III. Richard II and the Wat Tyler Rebellion
Entrance of citizens, peasants, and country folk, who assemble to greet the boy king, Richard II, and the ladies of the court. A mounted messenger gallops wildly on, announcing the news that Wat Tyler and his rebels are approaching. The king’s guardians (who are his uncles) hurry him away to safety, but he returns later alone, unarmed. Wat Tyler is about to present his petition when he is stabbed by the Lord Mayor of London in supposed defence of the king. The rebels, deprived of their leader, surrender to the king, craving his pardon, which he grants.
Episode IV. The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Henry VIII, 1520
Cooks and scullions make ready for The Field of the Cloth of Gold, where tents are erected for the Kings of England and France. The Queen of England, Katharine of Aragon, and Queen Claude of France meet with their ladies and receive Cardinal Wolsey with his retinue and the French Cardinals on the dais. King Henry VIII and King Francis I and their courts enter the field. The kings and queens are entertained by a ‘Dance of the Four Ladies’, a dance in which they are rescued by fantastic knights on hobby horses. The entrance of the Golden Figure of Peace is the signal for the kings to embrace, while Cardinal Wolsey, who has been busy all the time with diplomatic conversations, gives them his blessings.
Episode V. The Triumph of Gloriana. Queen Elizabeth, 1588
This episode is a symbolic representation epitomising the Golden Age of Elizabeth, in which Gloriana is shown surrounded by her court and suitors. Citizens assemble to see the ‘Progress’ of Queen Elizabeth and acclaim various members of the City companies with their banners. Sir Francis Drake and noted sea captains surround the model of his famous ship, the Golden Hind. The Queen knights the ‘Brave Lady Cholmondeley’. A group of citizens sings a madrigal; dancers form a rainbow and follow the queen as her procession leaves the arena.
Episode VI. The House of Stuart
This episode shows the betrothal of the Princess Royal, daughter of King Charles I, to Prince William, son of the Prince of Orange. The ceremony takes place in the Royal Palace of Whitehall on 2 May 1641. The episode shows the king presiding over the betrothal, surrounded by the full pageantry of heralds and court officials. Matthew Wren, Bishop of Ely, performs the ceremony. The queen, Henrietta Maria, and her mother, Marie de Medici, Queen Mother of France, being papists, are not present but look on from a gallery. They return after the ceremony, greet the bridal pair (aged 14 and 9), and take their places beside the king to watch the revelry. The scene closes with a magnificent masque, inspired by the recorded designs of Inigo Jones. This splendid symbolical entertainment was dressed after the usual manner in pseudo-classical costumes, based on the five orders of architecture.
Episode VII. The Glorious 1st of June, 1794. George III
This episode presents a scene after ‘Morland’, the ‘Festival of Haysel’. Decorated farm waggons with milkmaids and country folk make merry. Celebrities and townsfolk arrive on the scene on foot and in various vehicles to enjoy a day in the country. A post-boy rides on bringing news of Lord Howe’s Naval Victory on the ‘Glorious First of June’. Entrance of King George III, Queen Charlotte, the Prince of Wales, and Princesses in open carriages, followed by other members of the Royal Family, who join in the general merrymaking and are entertained at the village inn by tumblers, dancing, etc. After greeting various friends, they drive off to the strain of ‘Rule Britannia’.
Grand Empire Finale. Symbolic Figures of the Empire
Rose Garden of England. An Allegory
The Epilogue. England from Shakespeare
‘This Royal throne of Kings, this sceptr’d isle, This earth of majesty’ (from Richard II, Act II Scene I).
Key historical figures mentioned
- Æthelstan [Athelstan] (893/4–939) king of England
- Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
- Otto I [the Great] (912-973) holy Roman emperor
- Charles I [Charlemagne](c742/8-814) king of the Franks
- Aldhelm [St Aldhelm] (d. 709/10) abbot of Malmesbury, bishop of Sherborne, and scholar
- Dunstan [St Dunstan] (d. 988) archbishop of Canterbury
- Áedán [St Áedán, Aidan] (d. 651) missionary and bishop
- Wulfstan (d. 955/6), archbishop of York
- Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince] prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376), heir to the English throne and military commander [also known as Edward the Black Prince]
- Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
- John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England
- Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
- Richard II (1367–1400) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Tyler, Walter [Wat] (d. 1381) leader of the peasants' revolt [also known as Tyler]
- Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
- Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
- Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536), queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII
- Francis I (1949-1547) king of France
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Talbot [née Hardwick], Elizabeth [Bess; called Bess of Hardwick], countess of Shrewsbury (1527?–1608) noblewoman
- Sidney [née Dudley], Mary, Lady Sidney (1530x35–1586) courtier
- Vavasour [married names Finch, Richardson], Anne (fl. 1580–1621) lady of the royal household
- Walsingham, Sir Francis (c.1532–1590) principal secretary
- Cecil, William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598) royal minister [Baron Burleigh]
- Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561–1626) lord chancellor, politician, and philosopher
- Davenant, John (bap. 1572, d. 1641) bishop of Salisbury
- Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate [also known as Sutton, Lord]
- Philip II (1527-1598) king of Spain and England
- Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet
- Spenser, Edmund (1552?–1599) poet and administrator in Ireland
- Sidney, Sir Philip (1554–1586) author and courtier
- Drake, Sir Francis (1540–1596) pirate, sea captain, and explorer
- Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author
- Gilbert, Sir Humphrey (1537–1583) explorer and soldier
- Frobisher, Sir Martin (1535?–1594) privateer, explorer, and naval commander
- Hawkins, Sir John (1532–1595) merchant and naval commander
- Herbert, Philip, first earl of Montgomery and fourth earl of Pembroke (1584–1650) courtier and politician
- Howard, Thomas, first earl of Suffolk (1561–1626) naval officer and administrator
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
- Wren, Sir Christopher (1632–1723) architect, mathematician, and astronomer [also known as Wren]
- Mary II (1662–1694) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Cavendish, Henry, second duke of Newcastle upon Tyne (1630–1691) politician
- William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
- Montagu, Henry, first earl of Manchester (c.1564–1642) judge and government official
- Villiers, George, first duke of Buckingham (1592–1628) royal favourite
- Jones, Inigo (1573–1652) architect and theatre designer
- Waller, Sir Hardress (c.1604–1666) parliamentarian army officer and regicide
- Warton, Thomas (1688–1745) Church of England clergyman and poet
- George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
- George IV (1762–1830) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
- William IV (1765–1837) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
- Charlotte [Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz] (1744–1818) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and queen of Hanover, consort of George III
- Charlotte Augusta, Princess [Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales] (1796–1817)
- Augusta Sophia, Princess (1768–1840)
- Austen, Jane (1775–1817) novelist
- Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758–1805) naval officer
- Hamilton [née Lyon], Emma, Lady Hamilton (bap. 1765, d. 1815) social celebrity and artist's model
- Scott, Sir Walter (1771–1832) poet and novelist
- Sheridan, Richard Brinsley (1751–1816) playwright and politician
- Siddons [née Kemble], Sarah (1755–1831) actress
- Burney [married name D'Arblay], Frances [Fanny] (1752–1840) writer
- Edgeworth, Maria (1768–1849) novelist and educationist
- Brummell, George Bryan [known as Beau Brummell] (1778–1840) dandy and socialite
- Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852) army officer and prime minister
- Crabbe, George (1754–1832) poet and Church of England clergyman
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- Pageant of England. London, 1935.
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Bodleian Library, Oxford, John Johnson Collection: Copy of Programme.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Shakespeare, William. Richard II.
If one were in search of England in the 1930s, as so many contemporaries from H.V. Morton to J.B. Priestley to George Orwell seemed to be, one could do worse than head to Slough. The army had set up a vast army depot to the west of the town during the First World War, and after 1918 this became the Slough Trading Estate (1920), the first of its kind in the country, attracting many companies such as Citroen, Gillette, Johnson and Johnson, High Duty Alloys, and Mars. By 1933 over 150 companies were based on the estate, attracting workers from as far afield as Wales.1 The development of light and medium manufacturing industry in a southern industrial estate, with good access to transport links and workforces who commuted from the suburbs, was to typify the shift in British industry in the inter-war period from the staple industries of the northern cities (coal, steel, shipbuilding, cloth and textiles) towards consumer goods and automobiles.2 In fact, Slough’s population had more than quadrupled between 1901 and 1939 (from 11453 to 57550), making it one of the fastest-growing towns in the country.3 The poet John Betjeman remarked that ‘the most valuable market gardening land in England is being turned into factory sites and housing estates’.4 It is here, then, that we must mention Betjeman’s poem of 1937, which excoriated this new style of suburban modernism:
Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.
Mess up the mess they call a town—
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.5
The Pageant of England, held in the grounds of the Duke of Marlborough, one of the last major deer parks in England, was one many pageants held in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of George V (see Jubilee Historical Pageant in Monmouth and Southampton Silver Jubilee Pageant). The Yorkshire Post discussed the two: ‘A pageant, however small, is in itself important as a reminder of past actions and personalities, as a resuscitation of glorious moments from our history. These, being approached seriously and reverently, elevate the pageant from a mere beautiful spectacle to an event of great emotional and educational value.’6
The pageant master, Gwen Lally, had conducted the large-scale Pageant of Runnymede nearby the previous year, and the Pageant of England was designed to supplant that triumph. Although the 6000 performers initially demanded for the Pageant of England, this eventually became 4000.7 While that was a celebration of the virtues of aristocracy, and their symbiotic relationship with the monarchy, this was to be an unmitigated celebration of monarchy, presenting a continuous, unbroken line of triumphant Kings from Aethelstan through to the final episode celebrating the First of June, attended by George III with his two sons, the future George IV and William IV (with the great and good of the day in attendance, from Horatio Nelson and the 25-year-old future Duke of Wellington to almost every conceivable writer that was alive in 1794).
Needless to say, many of the scenes were merely demonstrations of the great and the good and their deference to monarchy, without any particular grounding in history (or even artistic plausibility). As one might guess, the populace had little part in the pageant, aside from the killing of the traitorous Wat Tyler and the rebels’ abject begging for Richard II’s pardon. In this pageant there is no bad monarchy and, aside from this scene, no particular drama. The monarchy appeared here to be unremittingly dull, moving from the various mad, bad and sad monarchs to the domestic, stately and above all bland image projected by the Windsors. The chief interest for the audience must have lain in guessing who everyone was supposed to be, made more difficult in the evening performance, despite the use of floodlighting (one of the earliest instances in a pageant).8 The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin had a message read out at the premier performance by Lord Elibank on the virtues of pageantry:
It is fitting that, in this year of Jubilee, when our thoughts are turned towards achievements on land, on sea, and in the air, there should be staged a pageant depicting nearly 1000 years of English history: history that is marked by deeds of self-sacrifice, loyalty, and patriotism; history that has laid the foundations of new continents which are now linked together in that Commonwealth of nations—the British Empire.
The educational value to the rising generation of such a spectacle needs no emphasis—on them rests the responsibility of upholding the traditions of their forefathers, whose courage, devotion, and wisdom have made the British Empire a power for good, and a champion for self-government, free institutions, and personal liberty in world affairs to-day.9
This depiction was a little incongruous given the events portrayed in the actual pageant. It seems more to have been influenced by the Festival of Empire Pageant (1924), which Baldwin had witnessed. In fact, aside from the afterthought Tableau of Empire (the Pageant of England was one of the last pageants to include this), there is no mention of empire, aside from a possible link with the explorers and naval heroes from Drake to Nelson who populate the scenes.
The newspaper reviews were full of praise for the production, possibly unwilling to criticise a major event linked to the Jubilee. Writing significantly after the event, the reporter from the Tamworth Herald remarked that: ‘The evening was perfect—one of those jewels which the month of June brings to us. English history began to live again before my eyes, and I was thrilled and dazzled by the re-enacted scene of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. For two glorious hours that eventide, I was beholding the rich costumes of the past, the costumes which men wore—princes and courtiers and cardinals.’10 In a production notably short on action, the reviewers predictably focused on the lavish costumes, with the Times writing that the pageant was ‘a thing of rich colour and sweeping movement which is satisfied in general to woo the eye without troubling the dramatic sense’; it praised, in particular, Gloriana’s costume.11
The Yorkshire Post went further than this, interviewing the Mistress of the Robes, Mrs Lascelles, and remarking on the huge scale of work required. The Yorkshire Post also managed to get a few minutes with Gwen Lally herself, and praised her capabilities: She ‘forgets nothing—not even mundane but vitally important matters such as special transport facilities, car parks and floodlighting. That is why she has reached her present position.’12 Lally, in a candid moment, declared that ‘there is nothing more exhilarating than being up in the control tower issuing orders, no louder than a whisper, through the microphone, so that everyone in the arena can hear and act upon them. One feels rather like a general marketing his forces. That is my idea of enjoying life.’13 Compared to her subsequent Pageant of Birmingham (1938), which involved two thirty-foot dinosaurs chasing cavemen, the destruction of three buildings by fire, and a re-enactment of the Battle of Crecy, Lally must have had relatively little to do. The pageant, at any rate, was a success.
The monarchy was soon to enter a difficult period - the year of the three Kings - after the death of George V in January 1936 and the succession and then forced abdication of Edward VIII, marking a nadir of popular affection for the institution. With some irony, Langley Park became home of Bomber Command during the Second World War, later becoming a College and Academy.14 Langley Park is owned by Buckinghamshire Council and makes up a part of the large swathe of greenery to the West of London, which chimes with the last verse of Betjeman’s poem, positing an alternate conception of England based in its land and people rather than its institutions:
Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.15
- Michael Cassell, Long Lease! The Story of Slough Estates, 1920–1991 (London, 1991).
- For this, see Peter Scott, Triumph of the South: Regional Development in the Twentieth Century (Aldershot, 2007).
- GB Historical GIS, University of Portsmouth, Slough MB/UD through Time, Population Statistics, Total Population, A Vision of Britain through Time, accessed 8 June 2016, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10002126/cube/TOT_POP.
- Quoted in Val Cunningham, British Writers of the Thirties (Oxford, 1988), 258.
- John Betjeman, ‘Slough’, accessed 8 June 2016, http://www-cdr.stanford.edu/intuition/Slough.html.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 25 May 1935, 12.
- Observer, 20 January 1935, 18; The Times, 27 May 1935, 12.
- The Times, 24 January 1935.
- The Times, 30 May 1935, 14.
- Tamworth Herald, 28 September 1935, 11.
- The Times, 27 May 1935, 12.
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 28 May 1935, 8.
- Langley Hall Academy Prospectus, accessed 8 June 2016, http://www.lhpa.co.uk/admin/resources/lhpaprospectus.pdf.
- Betjeman, ‘Slough’.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of England’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1151/