Peter Mancroft Pageant
Place: Grounds of Faith House (Norwich) (Norwich, Norfolk, England)
Number of performances: 6
26–29 June 1912
[26 June at 8pm; 27 June at 3pm and 8pm; 28 June at 8pm; 29 June at 3pm and 8pm]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Monck, Nugent
- Music Director: Mr. R.J. Maddern
- Mistress of the Robes: Miss Jennie Moore
- Dances: Miss Chaplin, Miss Claire
- Assistant Director: Mr Charles Power (of
Abbey Theatre Dublin) and Mr C.R. Maltby
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Rev. F.J. Meyrick
- Treasurers: G.M. Chamberlin and A.F.
- Hon. Secretaries: Mr G. Clark and Mr
- Nugent Monck
- Jennie Moore
- Chairman: Mr A.F. Gentry
- Chairman: Mr N. Howlett
- Chairman: Mrs Meyrick
- Chairman: W.B. Turner
- Chairman: Mr. E.V. Cox
- Chairman: Dr Frank Bates
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Wise, Miss
- Kendrick, Miss
- Clayton, Mr
- Burton-Fanning, Mrs
- Evershed, Mrs
- Gibson, Miss
- Chamberlin, Rev. C.
- King, Wallace
- Beattie, Mr
- Burton, George
- Day, Mrs
- Coke, Viscountess Astley
- Holme, Mr
- Clark, George
- Gurney, Lady
- Amherst, Hon. Sybil
- Meyrick, F.J.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers600
The Pageant made a profit
Object of any funds raised
For the church restoration fund
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 2000
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Episode I. Introduction.
A number of local Norfolk citizens are maddened by the absence of a church. The priest encourages them to be patient. Some criticize the church’s teaching of humility for the poor, and that the rich can buy favours. A poor bride comes forth, and is given clothes by the weaver and jewellery by the goldsmith. The poor criticize the bride, who chastises them.
Episode II. The Laying of the Foundation Stone, 1075
Pastoral music is heard offstage. Enter dancing nymphs and a Shepherd boy, who recites verse. An old priest with a boy approaches. The boy digs a hole and plants a cross on it. The boy talks to a Goose Girl about his piping. A procession of Saxon children throwing flowers comes into sight with the patrons Ralf de Guader and his wife Emma, who have given land to build a church. The boy continues to play a pipe; then the boy and girl exchange vows of love. The Bishop blesses the stone. The Bride kisses the girl and the boy. A Jew enters and talks to the boy about lending money to kings. The Jew warns them not to lust after gold. They are sceptical of him, but he predicts that ‘I will make your city great,—the Second in the land’. The Jew speculates that he will help build the church, whilst the two lovers recoil from him. Nymphs return to dancing.
Episode III. The Black Death
More nymphs. Arthur and Tom discuss various matters and are joined by Jack and Will. A crowd is in the background. Morris dancers perform a dance; a monk and priest enter and talk of the church’s work. Harry, torn and travel-stained, enters. He warns everyone about the arrival of the Black Death. No one heeds him. He then falls down ill, having recently kissed Joan. She is led off screaming. Everyone but the priest leaves, who carries Harry out.
Episode IV. A Mystery Play, about 1400.
A crowd of boys and youths enter and demand that the minstrel play a song. The Mayor’s procession enters as the minstrel starts to sing before being chased out by soldiers and the beadle. A crowd enters to witness the Mystery Play of Abraham and Isaac, performed on a pageant cart. Peter criticizes the acts of Abraham and there is general uproar in the crowd. Ralf is accused of being a Lollard, before the play continues to the end. Peter and Ralf continue to argue.
Episode V. The Rebuilding of the Church
The Dean addresses the crowd on the need to rebuild the church. He tells of dreaming of the rebuilt church which will stand for an age. A priest collects alms from wealthy citizens. The crowd sings and there is a procession.
Interlude of Kings and Queens who have visited Norwich.
Includes: 1) Edward I and Queen Eleanor, 1278; 2) Queen Philippa, 1335; 3) Henry VI, 1448; 4) Henry VII, his Queen and Mother, 1498; 5) Queen of France (?); 6) Queen Catherine of Aragon and Wolsey, 1520; King and Queen of Denmark, 1529.
Episode VI. Kett’s Rebellion, 1549.
A bell tolls and a crowd of rough men enter. Citizens talk in alarm, but one claims Kett to have been imprisoned for his part in the rebellion. They argue with one another and about Kett’s fate. A young rebel claims that Kett served the poor and downtrodden. The rebel is attacked and this causes a general scuffle. A prophet condemns the bloodshed as soldiers enter. They kill the prophet and force people back to allow the procession to enter with various prominent townspeople, Kett and the Earl of Warwick [Ambrose Dudley, not yet ennobled, in fact]. Kett addresses the people and claims that he took up arms, not against the crown, but to defend it from the abuse of customs. He speaks of the misery and oppression of the people and attests to his fate, swaying the crowd. The Earl of Warwick [Dudley] orders him to be led away before a further riot ensues, and the crowd disperses. The child of the prophet arrives and cries over his dead father.
Episode VII. The Pillage of the Church, 1555.
The former abbess Cicely addresses Ann, a former nun, and warns her of the dangers of human love. Ann seems unconvinced by Cicely’s railing against all mankind. Whilst Cicely maintains that her vow still stands, Ann seems reconciled to the dissolution of the nunnery. A messenger announces that the king’s commissioners have plundered the church. The citizens are angry and talk of the Mayor’s corruption. The sacristan laments the plundering. The commissioners arrive looking for the sacristan. He tries to direct them elsewhere but is given away by the crowd and is ordered to be hanged. A priest speaks to Ann. It turns out they were in love before either took Holy Orders. Ann is unconvinced that they should finally break their holy vows but that she still loves her. She eventually convinces him that they should not break their vows. A commissioner returns with the church property but decides not to hang the sacristan.
Episode VIII. Sir Peter Reade. 1566.
The vicar reads a letter from Sir Peter Reade telling the townspeople to come hear him presently. They dismiss him as a man full of visions. Reade enters and begins a rambling story of a trip to Yarmouth. As he tells the story, characters from it are acted out including pirates who sing a drunken horn-pine and attempt to capture the young Peter Reade. The bells of St Mancroft chime finally dispelling the pirates. It transpires that he has fallen asleep and is awoken by the Vicar. The voice of Reade’s grandson is heard.
Episode IX. Queen Elizabeth, 1578.
Couples of young men enter, followed by the queen’s train. Elizabeth is greeted by the Mayor in Latin and distributes gifts to her subjects, the Mayor being given a mace. The Device of Thomas Churchyard is performed with a masque of Cupid, Chastitie, Wantonness and the Philosopher who argue among one another about the purpose of life.
Episode X. The Burning of the Vestments, 1643.
Twenty Puritans enter singing a penitential psalm. Children attempt to play a game but are prevented from doing so and told to listen respectfully. The Alderman and Sheriff are discussing what to do with the vestments and decide to burn them. Soldiers enter wearing them in a mocking ceremony. The crowd attacks the soldiers and it transpires that the town has been set on fire. An old woman, who has been protesting throughout, is arrested and taken away.
Episode XI. King Charles and Sir Thomas Browne.
A Puritan criticizes dancing children but cannot do anything. A young girl attempts to kiss the Puritan. A chorus tells of the restoration and the king is announced to much cheering; he is accompanied by Queen Catherine and the Duke of York [the future James II and VII], with various other dukes and nobles. The Mayor welcomes them and the king greets him, offering to make him a knight. The Mayor initially refuses, and then asks that the famous Sir Thomas Browne be knighted too. The king agrees to this, and knights both men. The Mayoress faints because of a too-stiff dress and makes various excuses not to see the king before leaving. All dance.
Episode XII. Tenison and Finale. About 1666.
Tenison, a young man of around 30, enters and talks of the church. A black slave approaches and gives him a letter. Tenison greets the young slave who is a Christian but cannot understand why he was imprisoned and taken overseas. He tells of his experience of the middle passage and his awful treatment by his drunken bigamous master. The slave is sent away, leaving Tenison in great perturbation. He muses and is greeted by the Saints, seeing various tableaux of their sufferings.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Ralph [called Ralph de Gael, Ralph
Guader], earl (d. 1097x9) magnate
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England
and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
[Eleanor of Castile] (1241–1290) queen of England, consort of Edward I
[Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England,
first consort of Henry VIII
Robert (c.1492–1549) rebel
[Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward
Ambrose, earl of Warwick (c.1530–1590) magnate
VI (1421–1471) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
Margaret [known as Lady Margaret Beaufort], countess of Richmond and Derby
(1443–1509) royal matriarch
[Elizabeth of York] (1466–1503) queen of England, consort of Henry VII
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of
England and Ireland
Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
[Catherine of Braganza, Catarina Henriqueta de Bragança] (1638–1705) queen
of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles II
II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Browne, Sir Thomas (1605–1682) physician
- Tenison, Thomas (1636–1715) archbishop
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Eastern Daily Press
Hull Daily Mail
Western Daily News
Great Eastern Railway Magazine
Western Daily Press
Book of words
Peter Mancroft Pageant. Norwich, 1912.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Norfolk Record Office, Norwich.
Text of Mancroft Pageant with photographs, Reference SO 26/208, 505X6; Folder of pageant music, Reference SO 26/209, 505X2; Scrapbook of Mancroft Pageant, Reference SO 26/230, 505X1; Pageant Script, Reference PD 26/140; Pageant Correspondence, Reference PD 26
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Peter Mancroft Pageant was Norwich’s first foray into large-scale pageantry. In fact, pageant-master Nugent Monck had been invited by Rex Rynd, the precentor of Norwich Cathedral to direct a programme of historical tableaux at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich. The production met with such success that Monck was offered a handsome house in Norwich and was invited to come back the following year. Thus began a long and fruitful connection with the city.1 The Peter Mancroft Church is Norwich second most-significant church after the cathedral (in a city with thirty-six medieval churches!), one whose long and illustrious history gave many opportunities for the writing of a lively pageant.2
The Eastern Daily Press was wildly enthusiastic about the pageant, demanding that ‘Norwich has waited long for some presentation of her history in pageant form. No city in the kingdom more worthily deserves such an honour.’3 The newspaper, in a fit of inter-city rivalry, admitted that whilst the pageant was smaller than those of York, Chester, Chelsea, Colchester or Bury, ‘citizens will at any rate be grateful to those who have so successfully overcome some of the difficulties supposed to stand in the way of any more adequate scheme. It tells, it is true, but a small half of what there is to be told, but what it does tell it tells with rare force and beauty.’4 The pageant, which naturally focused on Norwich’s medieval greatness, also featured a number of more recent episodes dealing with the effects of the Civil War in Norwich as well as the violent dispossession of the church’s lands at the Dissolution, as depicted in the seventh episode. Predictably enough, the Puritans are portrayed as sacrilegious killjoys. The eleventh episode showed one of Norfolk’s most famous sons, Thomas Browne, being knighted by Charles II at the behest of the Mayor. A statue of Browne (who is buried in the church) had been erected nearby in 1905.5
Plans for the pageant had begun as early as 1910, with a guarantee of £160 already raised by January 1911. That it was not until 1912 that the event was actually staged was probably due to Monck’s busy schedule. And as it turned out there were a number of significant problems in the run-up, these being exacerbated by Monck remaining in London until March 1912.6 There was also an acrimonious dispute between the pageant organisers and the hosiery manufacturers J. White and Sons of Nottingham. It seems that one of the parties dramatically underestimated the required sizes, and the manufacturers refused to refund the pageant for hundreds of unwearable tights.7 Worse still, the production had to be moved from the Bishop’s Palace to the grounds of Faith House in Mountergate due to the Bishop’s illness.8 In the event, the Pageant was opened by the Bishop of Birmingham, standing in for his fellow Primate.
Nonetheless, the pageant was greeted with enthusiasm and its first performance seems to have been a triumph. As the Norwich Mercury reported, ‘The opening day had been somewhat unsettled as regards atmospheric conditions, but with the approach of evening the sky cleared and, with slight exception, the threatening rain held off.’9 The newspaper declared the pageant was
one of the most brilliant sights this city of Norwich has witnessed during recent years. It is truly a wonderful spectacle, and through it all there runs a deep religious note. In all this amazing open-air blending of colour and sound and motion it is evidenced and felt. It pervades every incident throughout the various episodes, until finally the Spirit of Christianity, typified in the Bride of Christ, His own Church, is crowned triumphant.10
Whilst the Eastern Daily Press was largely in agreement, it was more guarded in its assessment, remarking on the small scale of the proceedings. Whilst the Eastern Daily Press praised the presentation, which it described as ‘a kind of “miracle play” and historic presentation rolled into one’, it also went on to remark that that
in furnishing such a combination, Mr Monck frequently causes each theme in turn to mark time for the other. Action is often delayed and directness sacrificed. A considerable amount of the dialogue could well have been omitted without detriment to the production. We are afraid that not much of it is heard, except by those of the audience seated well to the front.11
It was also noted that some of the more expensive seats were ‘not as well filled as they might have been’, though ‘the cheaper parts were fully occupied’. The Eastern Daily Press also published a letter of complaint from ‘Annoyed’, who sat in the 1 shilling seats. ‘Annoyed’ complained that:
Throughout the performance there were always assembled in the space at the rear of the stand a large number of the performers, who, without any consideration to the audience, held their conversations in such a loud tone as to make it impossible to hear the words of the Pageant. In addition to talking aloud, many of the younger performers were to be seen running about, and the noise generally was most disturbing.12
Nonetheless, despite its remarks about the pageant, the Eastern Daily Press praised the action as ‘a teaching through the eye’. Indeed, its conclusion was that ‘we English people’ had been ‘required to learn more through the eye both in regard to religious and historical matters than we had been accustomed to do’, and that the pageant, in making such demands on its audience, had largely been a success: ‘The scenes will remain a glorious memory with all who are fortunate enough to be spectators thereof.’13 This judgement seemed a sound one: despite poor weather throughout, attendance was generally excellent, and no doubt the audience figures were helped by the generally very positive newspaper coverage. Some commentary, indeed, verged on the rapturous. As Norwich Mercury told its readers,
All must pay a visit to the pageant. They may rest assured their money will not be thrown away for it goes to enrich that singularly lovely church—one of the city’s greatest glories—whose parishioners have had the spirit and the enterprise to expend so much time and pains under the master’s skillful guidance in producing this vivid presentment of the joys and sorrows, hopes and fears of their far-off ancestors.14
All in all, the Peter Mancroft pageant was a great success. It ensured that Monck would continue to work closely with the people of Norwich in staging theatrical performances and pageants, while continuing to work in London and at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, at W.B. Yeats’ behest.15 Monck went on to form the Guild of Norwich Players for ‘the presentation of Mysteries, Moralities and Plays of Merit’, which was later housed in a disused Roman Catholic chapel, converted into a replica Elizabethan stage, called the Maddermarket which was opened in 1921.16 Monck produced many further pageants, notable events including Northampton (1930), Ipswich (1930), Dartford (1932), Ramsgate (1934), Nottingham (1935), Chester (1937) and Manchester (1938). Closer to home, Monck would produce a number of pageants in Norfolk, such as the 1926 Norwich Pageant, which re-used a number of scenes from the Peter Mancroft Pageant. The pageant was restaged by Monck in its entirety at Peter Mancroft Church for its quincentenary, and featured Benjamin Britten’s specially-commissioned piece, ‘Hymn to St Peter’.17
Eric Salmon, ‘Monck, (Walter) Nugent Bligh (1878–1958)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/57168
‘History’, The Church of St Peter Mancroft, accessed 24 October 2016, http://stpetermancroft.org.uk/home/history/
Eastern Daily Press, 22 June 1912, unpaginated cutting in Scrapbook of Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/230, 505X1.
In 1840, Browne’s tomb had been accidentally opened and his skull removed, remaining in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital museum until 1922 when it was re-interred! See ‘Sir Thomas Browne’, Literary Norwich, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.literarynorfolk.co.uk/Norwich/sir_thomas_browne.htm
Letter from G. Clark to Mr Burton, 8 February and 25 March 1912, Pageant Correspondence, Norfolk Record Office, Reference PD 26.
D.O. Holme to J. White and Sons, 22 and 29 May 1912, Correspondence, PD 26.
Norwich Mercury, 29 June 1912, unpaginated cutting in Scrapbook of Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/230, 505X1.
Eastern Daily Press, 29 June 1912, unpaginated cutting in Scrapbook of Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/230, 505X1.
‘Annoyed’, Letter in Eastern Daily Press, 29 June 1912, unpaginated cutting in Scrapbook of Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/230, 505X1.
Eastern Daily Press, 29 June 1912, unpaginated cutting in Scrapbook of Pageant, Norfolk Record Office, Reference SO 26/230, 505X1.
Mervyn Cooke, Britten and the Far East: Asian Influences in the Music of Benjamin Britten (Woodbridge, 1998), 48.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Peter Mancroft Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1353/