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Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 11:16 UK
Exhibition recalls town's pageant
Archive picture of the Colchester Pageant
All of the costumes were made especially for the week then auctioned

A celebration of Colchester's history that took place 100 years ago is now the subject of its own retrospective.

For one week in June 1909, the Colchester Pageant marked 2000 years of the town's history through a variety of plays, musicals and parades.

Based in Lower Castle Park and marking six points in history, the pageant brought together 3000 of the townsfolk.

A century on, the event is now the subject of an exhibition at Hollytrees Museum until 27 September.

Community involvement

The brainchild of local councillor Mr Jarman, and two years in the planning, the pageant was a moment for the townsfolk of Colchester, no matter their background and status, to join together as one.

Each performance lasted three hours, marking six key events in the town's history - starting with The Dedication of the Temple of Claudius and concluding with the Siege of Colchester.

"The idea was to include members of the community, to celebrate and educate people about the town's history," explained Assistant Curator of Community History at Hollytrees Museum, Catherine Newley.

Aerial view of the Pageant
Much of the pageant took place in Lower Castle Park

"There were about 200 speaking parts, the majority of which went to the great and good, the prominent members of the community.

"But it was by no means just for them. The local schools were involved, the military were involved; there were shopkeepers, apprentices, all sorts."

Most of the scripts were written by the well-known pageant master of the time, Louis Napoleon Parker, but locals got involved in making the props and scenery (all of which were auctioned off afterwards) and promoting the event.

"The music was written by a local school master, so it really was a contribution of many people to get it off the ground," explained Catherine.

"There were committees for different costumes, props, and such, so there was massive organisation involved.

"The Mayor of Colchester, who also happened to be the editor of the local newspaper, was very heavily involved in generating the publicity for the event," explained Cllr Paul Smith, Colchester Borough Council's current portfolio holder for Culture and Diversity.

Louis Napoleon Parker
Louis Napoleon Parker directed the pageant with great enthusiasm

Special train services from London to Colchester were laid on to get people to the events.

"It was a really well organised thing," Paul added.

"It attracted people nationally and internationally, members of the Royal Family and even the Russian Parliament attended!"

A Cast of Thousands

Much of the preparation for the pageant took in a private house adjacent to Castle Park, which became known as 'Pageant House'.

It is fitting then that the building, which is now home to the Hollytrees Museum , is the venue for a centenary exhibition throughout the summer - entitled 'A Cast of Thousands'.

"We have a significant amount of archive material in our collections at the museum, especially lots of black and white photographs which really give a sense of what the pageant looked like," said curator Catherine Newley.

"We've got a costume worn by a woman called Evelyn Gibson, who played Boudica in the pageant and that was donated by her family a few years ago.

"We're still very interested in getting objects for it because it was such an important event in Colchester's history."

A century on, the event is now the subject of an exhibition at Hollytrees Museum until 27 September.




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