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Rochester Historical Pageant 1931

Rochester Historical Pageant was presented during Rochester City Council's Civic Week in Rochester Castle Gardens 22-27 June 1931 and was accompanied by historical, industrial and trades exhibitions at the Old and New Corn Exchange, evening displays and shop window displays. The pageant consisted of a prologue, eight episodes and an epilogue.

Monday 22 June was designated Royal Day and was opened by Prince George; Tuesday 23 June was Civic Day, marked by the visit of Sir William P. Neal, Lord Mayor of London; Wednesday 24 June was Clergy Day, marked by the visit of Martin Linton Smith, Bishop of Rochester; Thursday 25 June was Industrial Day, marked by the visit of Sir Herbert Austin, founder of the Austin Motor Car Co. Ltd.; Friday 26 June was Aviation Day, marked by the visit of Colonel F.C. Shelmerdine CBE, Director of Civil Aviation; and Saturday 27 June was Dickens Day marked by the visit of Sir Henry Fielding Dickens.

The following footage appears to have been filmed on Civic Day, 23 June. There are two versions of the film, varying by about 2 minutes in length and featuring different scenes. The first clip lasts 13 minutes, 9 seconds and the second clip (clip 3) lasts 11 minutes, 20 seconds.

The scenes stated are fictitious and are re-enacted in Rochester Castle Gardens or Inner Bailey.

First version (clip 1)


The first scene is of the procession of VIPs entering the arena from the west side of Rochester Castle Gardens, seen from a vantage point at the lower level of the keep looking in the direction of Castle Hill and showing the grand-stands. Footage of the procession continues with a view looking from the top of the keep in the direction of the River Medway, showing grand-stands in the middleground and the bandstand in the middle distance.

Next the procession is viewed in close-up, headed by ceremonial mace bearer and sword bearer, Sir William P. Neal, Lord Mayor of London, the mayor of Rochester, ceremonial mace bearers in bicorn hats, mayors of local municipalities and accompanying ladies. J.L. Percival, Town Clerk, is prominent among those in the procession. The procession disperses into an informal group and Sir William P. Neal is seen standing bareheaded among a group of ladies and macebearers. Neal is greeted by a leading lady and responds, declaring the pageant open, before the visitors move towards their place in the grand-stand.

Prologue. The Spirit of Rochester (played by Miss Betty Wheatley or Miss K. Walter), enters the area from the direction of the keep and comes to halt, with the northern mural tower or gatekeeper's lodge in the background. Fame (played by A.T. Goodborn), attended by heralds and pages, glorifies the Spirit of Rochester and crowns her, to represent the Coat of Arms of the City of Rochester. She takes a standard bearing the St. Andrew's cross, representing Rochester Cathedral.

Clio, the Muse of History (played by Miss Gladys Hepworth or Miss Joan Batchelor), not content to tell the story of Rochester in dry prose, calls to her aid such of the Hours of the City's history as she intends to make live again. These dance in. The Muse further commands the services of Colours and of Voices, in order that the eyes and ears of beholders may be pleased. These also approach dancing, whilst in song is expressed their delight to be thus employed. Clio next invokes Elves (guardians of gems and masters of delicate crafts) to assist her to adorn the actors, and Emotions to re-enact the joys and sorrows of former days. They also answer the summons. Finally, all are invited to unite in glorifying the honoured Spirit; and the response to this appeal finds vent in a hymn of praise to Rochester (text taken from the official souvenir and programme). The parts of the Hours, Colours, Voices, Elves, Emotions, heralds and pages are played by children of Rochester Grammar School for Girls, Chatham County School for Girls and boys from Miss Snowdon Smith's School.

Episode 1 The foundation of the Roman Military Town of Durobrivis AD43

Scene: the ancient mound near the present castle

The Episode begins with a tribune, satisfied that the camp at Durobrivis has been prepared for the reception of a portion of the Emperor's army, now returning to Gaul, stating his arrangements for shepherding a small and depleted tribe, who had been finding refuge in the Weald, into the presence of Claudius. The Emperor appears, accompanied by Generals and guarded by praetorian troops. Whilst awaiting the chief of the tribe, he decrees that Durobrivis shall become a walled military station, and that a bridge over the Medway shall carry a military road. The chieftain arrives with the poor remnant of his tribe, and implores mercy and protection. Hostages are demanded and given. Thereupon Claudius assigns the tribe as slaves to Geta, who is to carry out the work at Drobrivis (text taken from the official souvenir and programme).

Dramatis Personae

Claudius Caesar, fourth emperor of Rome is played by Major I. Granville Winch or W.J. Joshua; Aulus Plautius, chief legate and later governor of Britain by R.S. Morriss; Vespasian by F.C. Stigant or Rev. S.L. Boucher; Sabinus, legate and brother of Vespasian by F. Lyle; Geta by H.F. Hamilton; Titus, military tribune and later emperor of Rome by G. Pooley; Fabricius, military tribune by S.C. Redwood; Longinus, centurion commanding a depleted century of exploratores or scouts by E.J. Furse; centurion of the Imperial Bodyguard by L.C. Brigden; Penwallon, the British chieftain by J.H. Coles or W.J. Joshua; and the chieftain's wife by Mrs. J. Robinson or Mrs. W.J. Manicom.

The main characters are supported by lictors, scribes, messengers, interpreters, trumpeters, adjutants, knights and soldiers.

Episode 2 The arrival of the first Bishop of Rochester with Ethelbert of Kent and Saint Augustine AD604

Scene: near the Jutish settlement on the hill upon which now stands St. Margaret's Church

The episode begins with the camera panning from right to left around the arena, showing the front of the grand-stands.

In the next scene, a gathering of English inhabitants led by the Alderman of West Kent (played by W. Marshall), Leofwin (leader of the Alderman's minstrels) (played by L.V. Bailey) and the chief priest of Woden (played by A.S. Norman) is joined by King Ethelbert of Kent (played by Paymaster Lieutenant Commander P.H. Morrissey, Royal Navy) and his queen, Bertha (played by Miss Tyrwhitt) on horseback.

The camera pans to the right to bring into view St. Augustine, bishop of the English (played by J. Povey), Justus, first bishop of Rochester and later archbishop of Canterbury (played by E. Bulley), Mellitus bishop of London and later archbishop of Canterbury (played by E. Couchman), Laurentius, later archbishop of Canterbury Paulinus (played by J. Gormon), Rufianus (a missionary) (played by W.G. Bulley or C. Lewis Levy), a crossbearer (played by C.D. Regan) and the abbot Peter (played by Wilfred J. Collins).

Bishop Justus makes a speech followed by a procession of monks and bishops. An English woman is blessed. The final scene is filmed from a high vantage point in the keep and shows local inhabitants kneeling in veneration of the procession of monks.

The Ealderman of West Kent is awaiting the arrival of Ethelbert, who seven years previously had been converted by St. Augustine; Christianity being thus definitely established in England. Before the King appears, the Ealderman by an appeal to loyalty to the Crown, the Chief Priest of Woden by an appeal to the Teutonic belief that a beautiful god, slain but immortal, should reign after the fall of the gods, and the minstrels by an appeal to the dissatisfaction of the people with their life and superstition, prepare the way for a cordial reception of the Christian missionaries. The song of the minstrels is suddenly contrasted by the chant of the approaching monks. Ethelbert and the missionaries having come on the scene, the King conveys his desire that the bishop shall be accepted and his teaching followed. After Justus has promised to found a Christian school also - now known as the King's School -  the King proclaims his gift of lands to Justus, and his intention of building a church near the forum of the devastated Roman city (text taken from the official souvenir and programme).

Episode 3 The visit of King Henry I on the occasion of the dedication of the Nave, Ascension Day 1130

Scene: the green near the cathedral, now the site of St. Nicholas' Church

The sequence begins with townsfolk bustling around stalls. In the foreground a hermit (played by E.W. Hawes) affects disgruntlement and turns his back on them. The camera pans to the left until two mounted figures at the head of a processsion come into view, the northern mural tower or gatekeeper's lodge in the background. The King (played by Major R.A. Arnold) delivers a speech, in the presence of ecclesiastical dignitaries, interrupted by smoke billowing over the arena from the right. The sequence closes with views of thronging townsfolk.

The Episode opens with a churchwake, at which ale, supplied mainly by citizens, is being sold to defray the expense of the completion of the nave of the Norman Cathedral, which had been begun by Bishop Gundulph soon after the Conquest. In medieval times churchwakes were held even on saints' days and during service time. After a glee has been sung, the royal and ecclesiastical procession emerges from the Cathedral, where the solemn service of dedication, in the presence of the King, the Archbishop and thirteen bishops, has been in progress. The King, a lover of law and order, expresses his disapproval of the churchwake, as a hermit also previously had done. But immediately the attention of all is distracted by an alarm of fire. The King, learning that the whole city is in danger, sees that steps are taken to protect the Cathedral. Then, in spite of protests, he decides to make a progress through the town (text taken from the official souvenir and programme).

Dramatis Personae

Queen Adela played by Miss Arnold, Matilda, the king's daughter by Mrs. Briggs, Geoffrey of Anjou, her husband by Alan Browne, Robert of Gloucester by G.E. Wood, Stephen of Blois (later King Stephen) by E. Willis, Matilda of Boulogne, Stephen's wife, played by Mrs. W.B. Lord, Roger le Poer (chancellor) by H.C. Pendleton, lord chamberlain by Surgeon Commander S. Bradbury, Royal Navy, William de Corbeil, archbishop of Canterbury by Bishop G.L. King, Bishop John of Rochester by Rev. W.B. Lord, bishops by Revs. TRL Aldridge, GT Aslachsen, JT Clapperton, FW Farmer, AJM Ffinch, JA Hancock, AO Standen, CE Webb and HV Kemp, Royal Navy and Messrs. E. Farley Cobb, RL Bartlett, JG Machin and T Peters; the abbot of Worcester by Rev HM Johnson; the prior of St. Andrew's Church by Rev SM Epps; a churchward by AJ Simmons; boy server by P. Perse; cross bearer by EJ Phillips; chanters by JP MIller and PT Rogers; the bailiff of Rochester by LJE Hewitt; aldermen of Rochester by Messrs Edwards, Featherstone, Francis, Hale, Harvey, Marsh, Philp and Southcott; ale-taster by JC Warren; gamekeeper by AL Collett; hackneyman by ALD Ball; oyster-seller by Miss Ayling; fish-seller by Miss Bailey and a pedlar by JW Bartlett; glee singers Messrs Blatchley, Horniblow, Millington, Robson, Smith and Simpson; court ladies by Mesdames Bostock, Browne, Brooks, Brooks [sic], Crane, Crout, Crawford, Dawes, Kent, King, Morton, Newcomb, Rigg, Shippick, Warne, JH Wood, GE Wood, Woodforde and Yorke; barons by Messrs HJ Mortley, Epps, Hamilton, Langston, Perkins, Simme, Stedman, Stears, Stacey and Misses Wheatley and Walter; borsholders of Rochester by AC Holliday and J. Lewis. With extras playing Benedictine monks.

Episode 4 Simon de Montfort's last unsuccessful attack on the castle, Easter 1264

Scene: Rochester Castle

Noblemen desport themselves in the inner bailey, one with an eagle, their ladies in attendance. Men at arms descend from the keep into the inner bailey to form a defensive line which is attacked by the besiegers. A melee ensues and is viewed from ground level and atop the keep. The defenders are seen gesturing to the attackers from a corner turret of the keep. After further fighting, de Montfort and his force retire.

Simon de Montfort and the Earl of Gloucester, leaders of the baronial party who quarrelled with Henry III over constitutional rights, having burnt Rochester Bridge, captured the city, and slaughtered many of its inhabitants, have laid siege to the Castle, part of which is already in their hands. Episode 4 depicts their final attack. As de Montfort prepares to storm the bailey, the alarm is given from the Keep. Men-at-arms fill the court below, whilst crossbowmen train their weapons on the attackers. A first assault is beaten off. Sir Roger [Leybourne], however, is wounded. De Montfort's soldiers give vent to their savage joy by roaring a ballad, made in London the year before, in derision of Leybourne. The defenders retreat to the Keep, as the garrison has suffered heavily. A second attack is organised; and de Montfort, confident now of success, demands the surrender of the garrison. But defiance is hurled at him. he therefore orders a battering-ram to be brought up. Just now, however, a messenger arrives and warns him that the King is marching to the relief of Rochester; whereupon de Montfort withdraws his troops amid taunts from Surrey, Fitzalan, Percy and de Saye (text taken from the official souvenir and programme).

Dramatis Personae

John de Warenne (Earl of Surrey and constable of the castle) played by Lieutenant CM Stringer, Royal Engineers (RE); Sir Roger de Leybourne by Captain S St D Skinner RE; Lord Fitzalan of Arundel Lieutenant J Murray RE; Sir Henry de Percy by Lieutenant HHC Withers RE or Company Sergeant Major Gander, Royal Army Service Corps; William de Saye by Captain KM Papworth RE; Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester by Lieutenant JEC McCandlish RE; Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester by Lance Corporal L Field RE; nobleman with eagle by Captain CWR Knight; a herald by Captain H Ewart-Biggs, a messenger by Sergeant D Maskell RE; women in the castle played by Mrs Ewart-Biggs, Mrs McCandlish, Miss Julian, Miss K Faussett-Osborne and Mrs Fryer. Extras in the parts of knights, men at arms, crossbowmen and watchmen.


At this point in the performance an address is delivered by Herbert S. Thorpe of Rochester, New York, United States of America, followed by an address from Leon Vincent, Mayor of Calais, France.

Mr. Thorpe, wearing a carnation and holding notes, speaks to the main grand-stand with the northern mural tower or gatekeeper's lodge in the background. Dignitaries and guests in the grand-stand are briefly glimpsed and break into applause.

Leon Vincent, Mayor of Calais is seen briefly from a vantage point inside the main grand-stand, with pianos and pianists in the foreground and members of the public on outdoors seating and the northern mural tower or gatekeeper's lodge again visible in the background. The spectators are seen applauding.

Episode 5 The commencement of work on the medieval bridge and the arrival of Chaucer, April 1388

Scene: Near the quayside at Strood

A procession of horsemen arrives from the right and taking station, watch a display by morris men, the northern mural tower or gatekeeper's lodge in the background. The dancers are accompanied by musicians. Citizens, women and children of Rochester stand in the backround.

Dramatis personae

Geoffrey Chaucer is played by Rev FW Kay or W. Cobbett Barker; the knight by Olaf Nordbye; the prioress by Mrs EA Spencer-Edwards, the wife of Bath by Miss IP Chappatt or Miss C Bartlett; the pardoner by Mrs D Cuckney; and the reeve by W Anderson. A full list of the caste can be found in the official souvenir and programme a copy of which is held in the Local Studies collections at this office.

Episode 6 Visit of Queen Elizabeth to Mr Richard Watts at Satis House, September 1573

Scene: The Pleasaunce of Satis House

Queen Elizabeth I (played by the Countess of Darnley) is borne into the area in a canopied litter at the head of her retinue. The Queen, having alighted, is greeted by Richard Watts (played by RW Dale) and Robert Devereux, Earl of Leicester (played by the Earl of Darnley) and makes a speech. The visitors are waved off by bystanders.

A full list of the caste can be found in the official souvenir and programme a copy of which is held in the Local Studies collections at this office.

Episode 7 Departure from Rochester of Charles II, lately restored to the throne, 29 May 1660

Scene: outside the guildhall of the time

Three horsemen including the king on the right, hat doffed, played by WS Searle, stand in the arena facing the main grand-stand with the northern mural tower or gatekeeper's lodge in the background. Two leading citizens are presented to the King. A wailing woman foretells that the last Stuart king, James II, will return to Rochester ito begin his exile and is ushered away by General Monk.

Rochester was highly favoured by the Stuart Kings: each granted or confirmed a charter; each visted the city. The inhabitants, on their part, were loyal to the Crown, and during the Civil War suffered for their fealty.

Episode 7 depicts the restored Monarch about to leave Rochester, where, after a visit to the Dockyard, he has been a guest of Colonel Gibbon, formerly an officer in Cromwell's army. Many citizens are assembled near the Guildhall. A Royalist song is sung; flags are flown, scarves are waved, bells are pealed; maidens strew flowers in the path of the King as he approaches. Gibbon presents an address, the Mayor a silver basin and ewer, and Sir Richard Head, from whose house James II fled to France in 1688, a large silver bowl. Charles praises the loyalty of the citizens, and knights Francis Clerke and William Swan, General satisfaction is temporarily interrupted by a woman who foretells that the last King of the Stuart line (referring to James II) will return to Rochester in order to escape from the country. She is summarily dealt with by General Monk, the chief agent in the restoration of the Stuarts. Then the cavalcade sets out for Westminster. The crowd, anxious to follow, break through the line of militia, singing lustily (text taken from the official souvenir and programme).

Episode 8 Dickens' last vision of Rochester, 8 June 1870

Scene: the shrubbery opposite Gadshill Place, Higham

The figure of Charles Dickens, played by JT Hawes or Sidney M Williams, strides into view in the arena, with the northern mural tower or gatekeeper's lodge in the background. He is next seen in close-up, holding his manuscript of The Mystery of Edwin Drood under his left arm. Dickens falls into a reverie and conjurs up characters and scenes from his novels before the spectators.

A Cathedral Group. The first scene evokes a discussion among a group of cathedral characters from The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a top-hatted man discoursing with a bareheaded man in clerical garb.

The little boy who met the uncommercial traveller near Gadshill (both representing Dickens himself, at different ages). After a procession of passers-by move on, a young boy stands by the older Dickens' side and talks.

A Chatham Group from David Copperfield. David Copperfield (played by D Le Gassick or SR Hopwood) is confronted by an old Jewish shopman (played by W Cobbett Barker) with a garment. Next we catch glimpses of cameos by Mrs Micawber (played by Miss Neile) and Mr Micawber (played by AR Purle), wearing tall beaverskin hat.

A Bull Hotel Group from Pickwick Papers. Mr Pickwick (played by AD Littlewood) and friends arrive by coach and horses, driving past the castle keep. A group discussion takes place and culminates in Mr. Pickwick proposing a toast. The party drive off in the direction of Castle Hill, the cathedral spire momentarily visible in the distance.

It is the eve of Dickens' death. The novelist, having written the last words he ever wrote of Edwin Drood, comes from his chalet to rest awhile in the Shrubbery. His mind reverts to the beautiful description of Rochester he has penned a few minutes previously, and he falls into a reverie, in which there appear vividly before him characters from his novels connected with the city he loves. He seems not only to see his creations, but to hear again snatches of their conversation; and he perceived himself as a little boy speaking with yearning about Gadshill Place. Pickwick and his companions arrive in a coach. Pickwick's suggestion of a minuet to Mrs Wardle- one of the incidents recalled by Dickens- results in the novelist's imagining a number of characters joining in such a dance. After this, the vision fades, to be replaced by the form of Longfellow, accompanied by others of Dickens' friends who visited Rochester. So real is the fancy that Dickens requests Longfellow to recite from A Psalm of Life. Longfellow consents; and both apply the poet's sentiments to Dickens himself. But this vision also fades; for Georgina Hogarth comes to summon her brother-in-law to the house (text taken from the official souvenir and programme).

A full list of the caste can be found in the official souvenir and programme a copy of which is held in the Local Studies collections at this office.

Epilogue: grand finale and march past

The actors and participants are led by staff of Short Brothers of Rochester, aeronautical engineers, with model aircraft components and other local manufacturers. The participants assemble in the arena and send up a cheer. W.J. Joshua, dressed as an air pilot, addresses the grand-stand followed by closing prayers or the National Anthem for which the men doff their hats.

Dignitaries and guests stand for the final hymn or National Anthem, the orchestra playing in the foregound. Sir William Neal leaves, doffing his hat, led by ceremonial macebearers and ladies.

Black and white, silent

Cameramen G. Morris and S.P. Howland, edited by G.L. Springett

Second version (clip 3)

As for the first version except for the addition of a title card and the ending which is cut after the Chatham Group in episode 8.

The footage of Rochester Historical Pageant may have been filmed in conjunction with Historical Rochester: A survey of some of the monuments left behind by the march of progress (click here)

Still photographs of the Pageant from the Couchman Collection are published in our Imagebase

File updated by Borough Archivist 25 January 2008

Date: 23 June 1931
Quantity: 13 minutes, 9 seconds; 11 minutes, 20 seconds
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