Pageant of Hampton (Southampton, 1929)


The ‘Pageant of Hampton’ took place in the Rectory House of St Mary's Church (known as ‘the Deanery’) in the summer of 1929.

Historical pageants, a sort of amateur re-enactment, were incredibly popular forms of engagement with the past in the early to mid 20th century. They usually took the form of a series of chronological episodes, often starting as far back as the Romans and sometimes coming right up to the present day. The cast was almost always made up of local volunteers, and could be massive - as many as 10,000 people in some cases. You can read more about historical pageants in Britain on this website.

In 1920, Southampton had already staged one large historical pageant - in that case explicitly about the Mayflower voyage. In 1929, around 500 amateur performers, marshalled by the pageant-master Charles Thursby, acted out 11 historical episodes that covered period of the 14th to the 19th century. The story began with the legend of Sir Bevis throwing his father’s supplanter into a cauldron of boiling dogs’ meat; drew on Shakespeare’s plays to stage scenes about Henry V and Henry VIII; and narrated the later visits of Elizabeth I and Charles I. In the final episode, Southampton was depicted during its time as a Georgian spa town. But, rather than celebrate that time of Jane Austen, the Mayor of the period predicted that the spa would die out and Southampton’s great prosperity would be found in the quays. In the finale a character styled as ‘The Spirit of Hampton’ was thus hailed as ‘Queen of Ports’ and presented with two ship models: one of the Mayflower and another of a modern steam liner. In this way, the Pageant of Hampton used the memory and legacy of the Pilgrim Fathers to celebrate Southampton’s commercial power in the present. The pageant, which wore its history lightly and was mostly a humorous affair, was seemingly a great success locally, with audiences ‘large and enthusiastic’.


F.E. Stevens, A Pageant of Hampton (Southampton, 1929)

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘A Pageant of Hampton’, The Redress of the Past,