The Arundel Pageant of August 1923

Cover of the Arundel Pageant programme
Cover of the Arundel Pageant programme

‘Glorious weather favoured the opening on Tuesday, August 14, of the three-day Arundel Pageant. Every sort of preparation had been made for the great event. Lines of flags criss-crossed the High Street at several points; business and private houses displayed a wealth of colour in bunting and flowers, and from an early hour visitors arrived by rail and road. An aeroplane descended in the Castle grounds during the morning, and the river brought a large number of people from Littlehampton.’

So said one of the local press reviews of the day about this ambitious plan to raise funds for West Sussex Hospitals.

The final procession past the crowds

The final procession past the crowds

The event was advertised as ‘the principle social event on the South Coast this season’, and that ‘the Duchess of Norfolk is not only president of the pageant, but is taking a lively interest in the arrangements’.

The Historic Pageant of Arundel in 1923 was a huge logistical undertaking involving hundreds of people, both directly as well as behind the scenes.

It was a three-day extravaganza by Arundel people and those of neighbouring towns, recreating key events based on the history of the castle.

There were many different types of entertainment available, but the main event took place at the cricket ground with the backdrop of the castle battlements.

The Saxons quarrel over their new Lord - The Norman Roger de Montgomery

The Saxons quarrel over their new Lord - The Norman Roger de Montgomery

Between 2pm and 3pm each day, the Band of the Depot, Royal Sussex Regiment, entertained the large crowds with a selection of tunes such as The Old Cork Road, The Spirit of Pageantry, Carmen, Rosamunde and All Souls Day.

The publicity for the event finished off by advising that ‘after the performance each day the castle would open to the general public at an additional cost of one shilling’ – 5p today.

The three-day event was broken down into the following periods from the history of the castle.

I also include the towns/villages that were performing each episode:

The Normans arrive and offer their terms to the anxious Saxons

The Normans arrive and offer their terms to the anxious Saxons

• Scene 1 – The coming of Roger de Montgomery – 1070 – Littlehampton.

• Scene 2 – The Lady of England makes terms with Stephen of Blois – 1139 – Eastergate.

• Scene 3 – Arundel gives welcome to King Edward First – 1302 – Bignor Park.

• Scene 4 – The foundation of Holy Trinity College – 1380 – Chichester.

Some of the costumes that drew gasps of delight from the watching crowds

Some of the costumes that drew gasps of delight from the watching crowds

• Scene 5 – The young Earl jousts before Queen Elizabeth – 1581 – Arundel.

• Scene 6 – The castle is besieged by William Waller – 1644 – Worthing.

• Scene 7 – The festivities at the opening of the Baron Hall – 1815 – Petworth.

• Scene 8 – The procession of the Earls – 871-1923 – All participants.

The action commenced with the prologue to the pageant that was read out in the style of Chaucer by a man mounted on a magnificent white stallion.

This was followed by the first act, performed by residents of Littlehampton who covered the arrival of Roger de Montgomery in Arundel to take possession of the huge estate he had been given by his friend William the Conqueror.

The attendent of the real Duke Bernard

The attendent of the real Duke Bernard

The first scene shows Saxons gathered together and discussing how they should receive their new lord.

They are encouraged by some of the more defiant and determined men to resist the Normans, but these voices are calmed when – on the arrival of Roger and his retainers, headed by a party of monks – it was announced that King William promised fair government and justice for all in return for their support when required.

The second act, performed by residents of Eastergate and Fontwell, dealt with the 1138 siege of Arundel Castle by King Stephen and his dispute with the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I.

Matilda was given refuge by William de Albini at Arundel Castle and Stephen built siege works around the castle in response but was unable to break the defences. Matilda escaped, but was later captured.

Jumping ahead to the fourth act, this was described in the press of the day as: “Scene 4 depicting the Foundation of the College of the Holy Trinity was an exceedingly beautiful episode carried out by residents from Chichester.

“The singing of the choir as it proceeded across the ground came sweetly to the ears of all, the inspiring Veni Sancte Spiritus being chosen as the introduction of the display.

“While this scene was being enacted the sound of distant church bells lent a charm to the proceedings.”

The visit of Queen Elizabeth in the fifth scene was described as: “Also an entrancing one; probably no more gorgeous a spectacle has ever been witnessed in this country.

“The Queen’s maids of honour and her courtiers advanced from one part of the ground and the knights about to engage in the tournament arranged for the entertainment of the Queen from another, all attired in armour.

“A strikingly beautiful spectacle was presented and enjoyed by all present.”

The Earl of Arundel, impersonated by Mr Oliver Thynne, was adjudged the winner of the joust.

This scene ended with a dance called a pavane in which, ‘the movements, a perfect dream of refinement and grace, caused the spectators unbounded delight.’

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers appears to have been the residents of Worthing with the Civil War act, complete with gunpowder, the sound of cannon, billowing smoke clouds and the crack of musket fire as the Cromwellian and Royalists battled for control of the castle, before it finally fell and the Royalists left the castle to agree their terms of surrender with Sir William Waller, commander of the Roundheads.

It is said some of the canon used in this act had been used in the actual siege of 1641.

The final episode was pure theatre, which included all the participants of this three-day event.

It included a well-received procession of all the 37 past earls of Arundel as they stepped down from their niches in history, led by King Alfred, who mentions the town in his will.

In the middle, when all the representatives but one line up on stage, there is left an empty space.

With a background of cheers and applause from the crowd, this is filled by the present young Duke of Norfolk dressed in a hunting costume.

A fitting climax to the pageant of 800 years of Arundel Castle and one we are unlikely to ever see repeated on such a scale.

What was surely unique about this pageant is that practically every event took place almost on the square of green on which it was re-enacted.

I will leave the final words to another review of the day: “The spectacle was excellent, the sun was brilliant and the crowd was huge – and so the three days of this historic Pageant was thrice blessed!”

• Forthcoming events at Arundel Museum:

Thursday, April 16, 7.30pm-9pm, Virginia Woolf in Sussex, a talk by Sybil Oldfield, tickets £5, bar available.

Friday, April 17, 7pm, quiz night at the museum, tickets £10, includes supper, bar available.

For more details visit or call 01903 885866.

The real Duke Bernard who took his place in the final line-up of Dukes and Earls

The real Duke Bernard who took his place in the final line-up of Dukes and Earls

The sedan chair in this photo is now on display at Arundel Museum

The sedan chair in this photo is now on display at Arundel Museum

Some of the performers and musicians

Some of the performers and musicians