1905 Sherborne Pageant Album presented to L.N. Parker

1905 Sherborne Pageant album presented to L.N. Parker.

The Sherborne Pageant was performed at Sherborne Old Castle between the 12 and 16 June 1905.  Over 800 performers took part and all the actors, apart from one, Mabel Terry-Lewis (1872-1957) who played the role of Lady Raleigh, were amateurs.  It is estimated that the Pageant was attended by 30,000 visitors.

The origins of the Sherborne Pageant date back to 1904 when the antiquarian Canon Charles Herbert Mayo (1845-1929) wrote to the Vicar of Sherborne suggesting that in 1905 the 1200th anniversary of the arrival of Aldhelm in Sherborne should be celebrated.

The Rev. Arthur Field (1872-1960), who was curate to the Vicar of Sherborne and an old boy of Sherborne School, wrote to Louis Napoleon Parker (1852-1944), his former music master at Sherborne School and by then a successful dramatist in London, asking whether he had any suggestions as to what form the celebrations should take.  This request resulted in Parker making a speech at a town meeting held in Sherborne on 14 July 1904 in which he pitched the then entirely novel idea of staging a Pageant.

Parker believed that the Pageant should be a truly community event involving everyone in the town, saying, ‘The participants must include every class of the community, both male and female: peers and ploughboys; dignitaries of the Church and all the clergy; ministers of every denomination; young men and maidens; old men and children; the beautiful and the less beautiful; youth is no hindrance, and age no bar; nobody is too good to be in a Pageant and almost everybody is good enough.’  He also believed that all the actors should be anonymous and instructed them to change into their costumes at home and to make their way, sometimes on horseback, through the streets of Sherborne to the Old Castle.  It is said that their costumes were so good that even their closest friends did not recognise them.

Sherborne School was involved in all aspects of the Sherborne Pageant.  In 1948, the Rev. Arthur Field claimed that ‘without the school the Pageant would never have been held as it was due to Westcott’s [Frederick Brooke Westcott] enthusiasm that preliminary difficulties were overcome.’

The script, which told the story of Sherborne from 705 to 1593 in eleven episodes, was written by Louis Napoleon Parker (1852-1944) with James Rhoades (1841-1923), a former master at the School, and Walter Raymond (1852-1931).  It was based on the research of William Beauchamp Wildman (1852-1922), a master at Sherborne School, with particular reference to his publications A Short History of Sherborne from 705 A.D. (Sherborne, 1896), King Alfred’s Boyhood (Sherborne, 1898), and Life of S. Ealdhelm. First Bishop of Sherborne (London, 1905).

The choral score was composed by Louis Napoleon Parker with Archibald Frank Tester (1882-1925), then organist and piano teacher at Sherborne School, and Clive Carey (1883-1968), a former pupil of the School who later became famous as an opera producer and folk song collector.

The Master of Music for the Pageant was the School’s Director of Music, Charles Herbert Hodgson (1857-1922).  Much of the artwork, including the posters and programme covers, was designed by the School’s art master Henry Hudson (1864-1943), and Jocelyn Albert Ffooks (1851-1917), a former pupil of the School and Clerk to the Governors, created the shields held by the children in the final tableau.

Many members of the School’s staff appeared in the Pageant, with the Headmaster Frederick Brooke Westcott taking the lead role of Aldhelm and boys from the School appeared en masse in Episode 10 in which ‘Sherborne School Gets its Charter’.

On 31 May 1905, the Charles Urban Trading Company filmed, free of charge, the first dress rehearsal of the Pageant, which was then shown for publicity purposes in London before the actual Pageant had taken place.  For many years the original film was held in the Sherborne School archives but, in 1998, the nitrate was sent for safe-keeping to the British Film Institute (BFI).  The original film contains approximately 18 minutes of black and white footage with no soundtrack, but an excerpt of the March Past can be viewed on YouTube accompanied by a recording by Sherborne Chamber Choir of ‘The Triumph Song’.

The Sherborne Pageant was dubbed by Louis Napoleon Parker as ‘The Mother of all Pageants’ because it lead to ‘Pageant Mania’ in England and the USA.  After Sherborne, Parker went on to create large-scale pageants for Warwick (1906), Bury St. Edmunds (1907), Dover (1908), Colchester (1909), and York (1909).

Today, Sherborne School holds the largest collection of material relating to the 1905 Sherborne Pageant. The collection comprises scripts, scores, programmes, photographs, publicity material, postcards and souvenirs, press cuttings, publications and audio-visual material.  In 1943, L.N. Parker gave Sherborne School two albums that had been presented to him in 1905, one containing photographs of the Pageant and the other signatures of those who took part.  Examples of some of the costumes from the Pageant can be seen at Sherborne Museum.

For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist.

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