Thomas Becket Play and Pageant 2022

Whilst I was giving a Roman Tour on Saturday, my guests and I happened across a mini rehearsal fora special event coming up later this week in the Guildhall Yard. Two very large figures were inthe process of being taken apart. At first I thought it might be Gog and Magog but I quickly worked out these were different and relating to one of London’s most famous sons, Saint Thomas Becket who was born only a few minutes walk from this very spot.

In fact had stumbled across a rehearsal of the Becket Pageant for London which will take place in historic Guildhall Yard, off Gresham Street, London EC2V 5AE on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th June 2022.

Amongst other things will be:

Livery Crafts Fair: open from 11am to 4pm. Entry free
“London’s Turbulent Son”: performances 12 noon-2 pm and 4 pm-6 pm each day. Tickets now on sale below. A limited number of premium covered seats available
Suitable for a family audience
Audiences are welcome to add a touch of Tudor dress

After a 500 year wait, the return of a Thomas Becket Pageant to the City of London looks a lot of fun and is yet another way the City of London is harking back to its ancient roots.

The centrepiece of the whole event is the exclusive performance of a brand new show!

 ‘London’s Turbulent Son’ is a thrilling modern musical interpretation of  the dramatic life of former Patron Saint of London, Thomas Becket, inspired by an historic guild Pageant of 1519. Charting Thomas’s story from the mythical meeting of his parents in the Middle East and early life on London’s Cheapside, to his meteoric rise  to King’s right hand man, we follow his struggle between ambition, friendship and conscience to its tragic climax  in the most shocking murder of the Middle Ages.  

‘London’s Turbulent Son’ is performed with great energy and heart by a talented professional cast and live band, members of the City of London community and local schools. Suitable for a family audience. Audience are welcome to add a touch of Tudor dress. 

If you are local and have never really been in the wonderful old Roman heart of London then this is a great opportunity to wonder into the maze of lanes and alleys between St Pauls and the Tower of London and you can pre-purchase tickets by clicking on the link below.

Tickets

The Becket Pageant of 2022 will take its inspiration from an historic Becket Pageant which was performed in 1519, four hundred years after Thomas Becket’s birth on Cheapside, while he was still Patron Saint of London.

From the extensive work done by scholars including Professor Anne Lancashire, we know that this would have been a processional entertainment moving through the principal streets of the City, with large numbers of porters bearing wood and canvas boards above the crowds which supported a number of ‘tableaux vivants’ (moving narrative pictures or dumbshows) performed by guildsmen, child actors and a small number of professional actors on horseback. The procession continued well into the night with torches lighting the way.

The Pageant route began and ended in the St Paul’s area, ran east along Cheapside and Cornhill to Aldgate, then looped back along Fenchurch St. to Gracechurch St., up Gracechurch St. to Cornhill, and back west along Cornhill and Cheapside which are all streets you can visit today.

Although there would have been no text as such, apart from the occasional descriptive banner, the subject matter of the life of St Thomas would have needed no introduction to the devout Catholic audiences of the early 16th century (rather as the nativity processions of today need no explanation to religious Catholics on mainland Europe).

The pageant would run on the annual Midsummer Watch.Parade which traditionally took place over the two public ‘holy days’ of the Feasts of St John the Baptist (24th June) and Sts Peter and Paul the Apostles (29th June). These London Watch parades, recorded from the late 13th century onwards, were originally devised in part as a marching display of armed force for keeping order in the City, in part as a form of military muster (in which the Crown required freemen to provide arms for use in military defence). 

By the late fourteenth century, however, there are records of the Watches incorporating decorative display. For example, in 1477 the King commanded the City to put on the ‘greater watch’ on the eve of St Peter and St Paul due to the presence of the ambassadors of France and Scotland, for which twenty-six companies provided a total of five hundred and ten men for the Watch; the Drapers, who had a mayor in office, are recorded as paying for a morris dance and portable pageant involving gold and silver paper and ‘the nine worthies’ which required fourteen men to carry it.

By the time of the Becket pageant of 1519 (staged by Skinners’ Lord Mayor Thomas Mirfyn), the Midsummer Watch parade had grown into an annual spectacle and street entertainment on an immense scale, best known today from the affectionate account (below) written in 1598 by the historian John Stow recalling the event from his (pre-Reformation) boyhood. 

‘On the vigil of St. John the Baptist, and on St. Peter and Paul the apostles, every man’s door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, St. John’s wort, orpin, white lilies, and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers, had also lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all the night; some hung out branches of iron curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps alight at once, which made a goodly show, namely in New Fish street, Thames street, etc. Then had ye besides the standing watches all in bright harness, in every ward and street of this city and suburbs, a marching watch, that passed through the principal streets thereof, to wit, from the little conduit by Paule’s gate to West Cheape, by the stocks through Cornhill, by Leaden hall to Aldgate, then back down Fenchurch street, by Grasse church, about Grasse church conduit, and up Grasse church street into Cornhill, and through it into West Cheape again. The whole way for this marching watch extendeth to three thousand two hundred tailor’s yards of assize; for the furniture whereof with lights, there were appointed seven hundred cressets, five hundred of them being found by the companies, the other two hundred by the chamber of London. Besides the which lights every constable in London, in number more than two hundred and forty, had his cresset: the charge of every cresset was in light two shillings and four pence, and every cresset had two men, one to bear or hold it, another to bear a bag with light, and to serve it, so that the poor men pertaining to the cressets, taking wages, besides that every one had a straw hat, with a badge painted, and his breakfast in the mornings amounted in number to almost two thousand. The marching watch contained in number about two thousand men, part of them being old soldiers of skill, to be captains, lieutenants, serjeants, corporals, etc., wiflers, drummers, and fifes, standard and ensign bearers, sword players, trumpeters on horseback, demilances on great horses, gunners with hand guns, or half hakes, archers in coats of white fustian, signed on the breast and back with the arms of the city, their bows bent in their hands, with sheaves of arrows by their sides, pike-men in bright corslets, burganets, etc., halberds, the like bill-men in almaine rivets, and apernes of mail in great number; there were also divers pageants, morris dancers, constables, the one-half, which was one hundred and twenty, on St. John’s eve, the other half on St. Peter’s eve, in bright harness, some overgilt, and every one a jornet of scarlet thereupon, and a chain of gold, his henchman following him, his minstrels before him, and his cresset light passing by him, the waits of the city, the mayor’s officers for his guard before him, all in a livery of worsted, or say jackets party-coloured, the mayor himself well mounted on horseback, the swordbearer before him in fair armour well mounted also, the mayor’s footmen, and the like torch bearers about him, henchmen twain upon great stirring horses, following him. The sheriffs’ watches came one after the other in like order, but not so large in number as the mayor’s; for where the mayor had besides his giant three pageants, each of the sheriffs had besides their giants but two pageants, each their morris dance, and one henchman, their officers in jackets of worsted or say, party-coloured, differing from the mayor’s, and each from other, but having harnessed men a great many…etc.’

John Stow – 1598

With the weather set to be perfect, perhaps even hot, what better way to spend an afternoon under the shadow of one of the worlds great halls and incidentally on the very spot Romans would come for their entertainment 2,000 years ago!

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
This entry was posted in Culture, Heritage, history, Life, London, News and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

A blog is nothing with out feedback, please give me some!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s