A look back at the 1907 event and some curious postcards

THE series of pictures of an Oxford pageant were always a mystery to John Edgington.

They were left to him by his grandmother, Martha Webb, who lived in North Oxford and later North Hinksey.

He had no idea how she came by them, or whether she attended the pageant.

Despite knowing nothing about the event, he had the pictures mounted in two large frames.

He then put them in the attic at his home in Perrott Close, North Leigh, near Witney, where they stayed until a former colleague suggested he contact Memory Lane.

The pictures were postcard-size illustrations of a week-long extravaganza that took place in Oxford from June 27 to July 3, 1907.

A cast of between 3,000 and 4,000 people was recruited to re-enact memorable scenes from the city’s history.

The pageant was the brainchild of Frank Lascelles, the 30-year-old lord of the manor at Sibford Gower, near Banbury.

When he approached Oxford City Council with his idea, the response was lukewarm.

Sceptics told him he was crazy if he thought he could persuade Oxford people to dress up, and even more crazy if he thought he could bring together town and gown.

In the event, everyone fell over themselves to oblige.

Apart from the thousands who came forward to perform, the Prince and Princess of Wales headed the list of patrons and all sorts of celebrities were happy to write scripts, including the future Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, and Oxford University’s Chichele Professor of Modern History, Sir Charles Oman.

The site chosen for the performances was the end of Broad Walk, where the River Cherwell divides Christ Church Meadow from Magdalen College School.

Scenes included the legend of St Frideswide, the beginnings of the University, King Henry II and Fair Rosamund, the St Scholastica’s Day riots and the Civil War.

It was a typical British summer. It rained almost non-stop during the preparation and during the run.

The bad weather did not deter the performers – many were seen squelching through the mud in their period costumes – but it affected the audiences.

When the biggest and most expensive spectacle in Oxford’s history was over, the profit to be shared by the Radcliffe Infirmary, the Oxford Eye Hospital and other good causes was just £810, a tenth of what the organisers had hoped.

But the event did Frank Lascelles no harm. On the strength of his success at Oxford, he went on to organise pageants to mark the tercentenary of Canada and King George V’s Coronation.