Of work and toil, of love and life, of crooks and pioneers...

Mary Kelly, queen of pageants, wrote in 1936 that ‘We must be an optimistic people, for, in spite of the notorious uncertainty of our climate, we continue to produce pageants and outdoor plays.’ (1) Over 70 years later this proved to still be true when the Imagined Land Village Pageant took place in Tasburgh last month.
 
For three weekends running in September the Village Hall was full of activity. During the first weekend costumes were made to reflect the four main periods of the Pageant – the Victorian, Medieval, Saxon and Iron Age; beautiful bright banners were being sewn together and embroidered; and outsized sheep were being constructed. The sheep were chosen as a symbol for the pageant partly because the earthworks are known locally as the ‘sheep field’.
 
During the second weekend, these activities continued, enhanced by singing and performance rehearsals in the midst of it all – there was a lovely buzz of creative activity on the Saturday when I turned up with my guitar, ready to join in with the band. In the two days running up to the big day, many of the makers and performers were in the school helping the pupils to learn their parts for the Victorian story, compose a Saxon song, and find out where to stand to show the position of the Saxon buildings at the earthworks.
 
On Saturday 16th the rain came. We had a very soggy dress rehearsal, the rain tipping down as we stood in the middle of the field practising the medieval peasant sketch. We all looked considerably more medieval by the end of it.
 
Miraculously the rain stopped at about 6.30 that evening just as everyone gathered to set off. Even more surprising was the fact that our audience was not put off by the weather – the crowd of participants and onlookers stretched along the road from the Village Hall to the site, many of them carrying one of the seventy lanterns that had been made during earlier workshops.
 
The pageant told the story of Tasburgh through four different scenes – a poignant story of a Victorian grandmother who watched her son struggle with drink, inspired by the Temperance medallion found during the test pits sessions and the research on the village in the 19th century; a pantomime-like sketch with two grubby peasants and the snooty Lord of the Manor, inspired by the research on Manors; an inter-active scene where children marked out where the Saxon village once stood,  informed by the geophysical survey; and for the finale, as it got dark, an atmospheric story about the hunting of a boar during the Iron Age, written during the creative writing sessions, and enhanced by a beautiful sculpture made specially by a local artist.
 
All this was accompanied by a newly formed village choir singing songs written and composed by local participants - including the Tasburgh Song:
 
Join us as we tell a tale of Tasburgh
Join us as we march along the years
Join us as we sing a song of Tasburgh
Of work and toil, of love and life, of crooks and pioneers. 
 
 
The photographs were taken by Gary Diggenes who said 'It was a wonderful day and I feel honoured to have been there.' It was a truly uplifting event, and I expect to find myself humming the Tasburgh Song next time I carry out a site survey. 
 
(1)  Mary Kelly How to make a pageant (1936) London (Thanks to Simon Floyd for bringing this to my attention)
 

News in brief

  • NAT Annual Outing, Saturday 4 November 2017:  West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Opportunity to visit West Stow Anglo-Saxon village.  The ‘village’ is the only early Anglo-Saxon settlement reconstructed on the original excavated site.  There are seven buildings to explore  www.weststow.org
 
Visits begin with a short DVD introduction followed by a tour of the Anglo-Saxon Village led by a specialist member of staff. There will then be time to explore the buildings on your own, and visit the Museum and West Suffolk Archaeology gallery where finds from the settlement, the cemetery and other local sites can be seen, with replicas to handle.  There is a gift shop and a café available on site.
 
We plan to leave by coach at 9.30am (pick-up venue Caistor Roman Town – parking will be available on field south of main car park) and return by 17.00 latest.
 
Cost will be £16 for NAT members/CRP associate members, £18 for non-members.
 
To book:
 
Please email info@norfarchtrust.org.ukto book places on the coach. 
 
Please indicate whether you wish to book lunch in the café, or whether you will bring a packed lunch.
 
Payment will be requested once the outing is confirmed (dependent on numbers).
 
  • Saturday 7 October ‘What is Icenian Coinage?’ Dr John Talbot. NNAS Joint lecture with the Prehistoric Society. Lectures begin at 2.15pm at the Town Close Auditorium, Castle Museum, Norwich. Lectures are free to all members; non-members are most welcome and are asked to leave a small donation. www.nnas.info/activities
  • Thursday 12 October 2.00pm ‘Understanding Medieval Churches: Insights from a Craft Guild’. Dr Stephen L'Normand and Colin Howey, the Master Mason and Clerk of the Stonemason's Guild of St Stephen and St George. The Green Room, Norfolk Record Office, The Archive Centre. Free, no need to book.
  • Saturday 14 October 2.30 pm St Edmund and St Æthelthryth: ‘A Tale of Two Houses’. Rebecca Pinner (Lecturer in Late Medieval History, UEA) NAHRG Lecture. Thomas Paine Lecture Theatre, UEA. Non-members are welcome to try a couple of meetings (no charge) before joining. www.nahrg.org.uk
  • Thursday 26 October 7.30pm ‘The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Great Ryburgh’. Matthew Champion. Friendship Hall, Aylsham (opposite The Feathers public house on Cawston Road). Aylsham Local History Society: non-members £3 alhs.weebly.com