Lancaster pageant took audience on a journey through history

Local historian Andrew Reilly looks at the Lancaster Historical Pageant 1913 which took place in Springfield Park in the second part of this fascinating series of articles.

Thursday, 1st August 2019, 12:45 pm
Flodden scene. Lancaster Historical Pageant (part two).

The pageant took place between August 4–9 at 2.30pm each day.

Full dress rehearsals were held on Saturday, July 12 and Saturday July 26, 1913.

Several months before the pageant, the committee minute book specifies that there was no intention to allow the public to attend dress rehearsals and a comment was made that the general public had proved ‘rather a nuisance’ when they turned up at ordinary rehearsals.

Monks in the pilgrimage of Grace. Lancasterr Historical Pageant (part two).

However, they seem to have relented on this point, as the accounts suggest income from the rehearsals. The performance lasted almost four hours.

After a prelude and the first three parts of the pageant, there was an interval during which time the Band of the Yorkshire Hussars played.

Then it was time for Episode IV The March to Flodden Field, 1513

This episode had around 120 performers and featured the soldiers, Sir Edward Stanley of Hornby and Lord Dacre of Halton. A popular local knight, Brian Tunstall of Thurland Castle, was also included. The episode depicted the early morning muster of troops of the Lonsdale Archers and Lunnesdale Levies ahead of the Battle of Flodden, which took place on September 9. The scene opened with the ringing of church bells while townspeople all rushed towards Lancaster Castle in search of news. The episode concluded with the troops, Stanley at their head, marching off and singing ‘The Song of Flodden’, lustily.

Flodden episode. Lancaster Historical Pageant (part two).

Episode V. Dissolution of the Monasteries, 1536

The suppression of the Dominican Friary at Lancaster was enacted in this episode. The drama was set at the Friary in 1536 as ‘the poor, the lame, the diseased’; were being admitted through the gates. As Friars gave out food and alms and babies were ‘lifted to have their ailments doctored’;, a conversation between Friar Dominic and a sick man named Simeon took place and a ‘shrouded figure’; (a leper) rang a bell.

Within ‘the hubbub’ ; the Prior arrived through the gateway; the bell rang again and the Prior took the initiative and approached the leper—all looked on ‘awe-struck’; as the Prior gave his blessing to the dying leper and then moved off.

Silence descended on the assembled crowd, but just as the business of administering to the poor and sick resumed, men came running to the gate. One announced that a commissioner sent by the King was on his way. More conversation took place among some of the men for and against the actions of the king.

The pilgrimage of Grace. Lancaster Historical Pageant (part two).

Episode VI. The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536

The northern rebellion that followed the dissolution of the monasteries was dramatised in this episode. It took place at the Market Cross of Lancaster and included the characters of John Paslew, the last Abbot of Whalley, and William Trafford, Abbot of Sawley, and eight further players with speaking roles. Around 100 performers in non-speaking roles acted as the ‘army of the pilgrimage’. All the characters in this episode were male.

The scene opened with a group of townsmen discussing the terrible times that had befallen the district since the dissolution and rejoicing that the Pilgrimage was to begin.

Trumpets sounded and heralded the entrance of the Abbots and a company of monks, and a local leader named Captain Atkinson accompanied by soldiers. The episode ended with the company dispersing while singing ‘Vexilla Regis’. The musical director, J.W. Aldous, played the role of a townsman in this episode; he may have directed the singing.

The dying Highlander 1745 scene. Lancaster Historical Pageant (part two).

Episode VII. Trial of the Lancaster Witches, 1612

The cast of the episode numbered around 100 performers. Described as ‘a representation’; of a famous trial that had taken place at Lancaster Castle in 1612, the episode included the Judge—Sir Edward Bromley, various clerks and magistrates, and a jury of 10 men.

On trial were four women. Additional characters included Will Truelove, a poet, and Richard Haygarth, an apothecary. The scene began with the judge taking his seat in the court. In turn, each of the alleged witches were brought in and charged while an excitable crowd looked on. Each pleaded not guilty to witchcraft.

The final woman to be accused, Alice Nuttall, managed to win the sympathy of the crowd with her testimony of innocence; however, they were all found guilty and ordered to be hanged.

Episode VIII. Charles II, 1651

This episode depicted the arrival of Charles—described as the King of the Scots in the Book of Words—at Lancaster. The King and his Scottish army were on a journey from Scotland to Worcester where they would be defeated in battle by Cromwell.

Lancastria who sung in the finale. Lancaster Historical Pageant (part two).

The scene was set at Lancaster’s Market Place and opened with townspeople listening to ‘a roistering Cavalier’ singing a drinking song.

Several men from the crowd argued with one another over the relative merits of royal rule or Cromwell’s Commonwealth. A man named Edmondson stated: ‘Magna Charta’s gone. We’ve set up tyrant Cromwell’. A Herald then announced the arrival of ‘King Charles of England, Scotland and Ireland’.

Episode IX. The Jacobites, 1715

Around 150 performers took part in the episode of which number at least half were women playing the roles of townspeople. Soldiers were played by servicemen, including a number of non-commissioned officers and privates. The main characters with speaking roles included the Jacobite Officers—General Forster, the Earl of Derwentwater, Lord Widdrington, and Brigadier Mackintosh, as well as some fictional characters including a

The drama was situated at the Market Place in Lancaster and included a great deal of dialogue. The scene opened with the entry of local leader, Sir Henry de Hoghton, supporter of King George, Colonel Francis Charteris and the Mayor of Lancaster.

They discussed the imminent arrival of Forster at the head of a Jacobite army; the townspeople made clear that they were hostile to Charteris; and de Hoghton, who agreed with much of the common dissent, was therefore placed in a difficult position. A messenger brought news that an advance army of 1000 men was nearby.

The Jacobites then all left but not before Forster had indulged in badinage with the ladies. The scene ended with Derwentwater and Witherington bemoaning their likely fate.

Episode X. The Second Jacobite Rising, 1745

In this episode, which was performed in two parts, a large cast of around 200 men women, boys and girls took part.

In part one, the principal character of Prince Charles Edward Stuart was depicted arriving at Lancaster’s market square at the head of his army of Highlanders. In his company were prominent Jacobite supporters: The Marquis of Tullibardine, Lord George Murray, Lord Elcho and Cameron of Lochiel.

The second scene depicted a reversed scenario with discussion among the townsmen indicated that there was fear locally about the behaviour of the defeated Highland army, and rumours abounded that the Highlanders were cannibals who would eat local children. Bagpipes were heard in the distance playing ‘Flowers of the Forrest’ ‘.

Grande Finale

This featured a march past by all the performers and a grand entrance by ‘Lancastria’who sang the ‘Song of Lancaster’. The pageant ended with collective singing, led by Lancastria, of the hymn ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’and the national anthem.

The dissolution of the monasteries. Lancaster Historical Pageant (part two).