The photographs below, taken 110 years ago, show members of prominent Welsh families dressed in full medieval costume for the National Pageant of Wales.
Held in Cardiff over two weeks in July and August of 1909, the pageant celebrated Welsh history through the re-enactment of famous events from history and folklore. With a total cast of 5,000 the scenes ran from the arrival of the Romans in Wales through to the crowning of Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Seen by many as a sign of Cardiff’s growing importance, following the award of city status in 1905, the pageant was watched by crowds seated in temporary stands in Sophia Gardens. The event was hailed by the Western Mail as …the event of a lifetime [that] will certainly rank as one of the chief Welsh events of the twentieth century.
However, although the three hour performances included an appearance by the Marchioness of Bute as ‘Dame Wales’, a firework display by Brocks of Crystal Palace and an array of rugby internationals dressed as Ivor Bach’s men storming Cardiff Castle, the public were far from convinced. Poor attendances led to a significant financial loss. Perhaps unkindly, critics labelled the pageant as ‘an overblown Edwardian fantasy’ and the event was never repeated.
Glamorgan Archives holds a number of photographs of the cast in costume and a copy of the programme produced for the pageant that sets the scene and lists those taking in part. There is also a copy of an edition of the Western Mail, produced on 27 July 1909, with photographs and reports of the performances.
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer