A Tudor costume, worn in scene 8 of the Barking Pageant, 1931.
In 1931 Barking Town Urban District Council celebrated gaining its charter (an official document of incorporation) to become an Essex Borough by putting on an historical pageant for its inhabitants. Taking place over 11 days, the Barking Pageant was a huge theatrical event intended to promote the Borough to outsiders and to develop a sense of community.
There were eleven scenes, eight of which were written by Colonel Ernest Achey Loftus, Headmaster of Barking Abbey School. Each scene portrayed a different event in Barking’s history, as follows:
Scene 1 – the story of the Romans at Uphall Camp, AD 43
Scene 2 – the foundation of Barking Abbey, 666 AD
Scene 3 – the obsequies of Bishop Erkenwald, 693 AD
Scene 4 – the destruction of the Abbey by the Danes in 870 AD
Scene 5 – King Edgar founding the second abbey c.960 AD
Scene 6 – William the Conqueror at the Abbey, 1066 AD
Scene 7 – the Abbey at the height of its glory, c. 1136 AD
Scene 8 – the dissolution of the Abbey, 1539 AD
Scene 9 – Elizabethan Barking c.1580 AD
Scene 10 – King Charles I plays a game of bowls at Barking c.1620 AD
Scene 11 – the great Barking Fair, 1746 AD
Thousands of Barking residents, taken mostly from local community groups, took part in telling the borough’s story either as actors or singers in the chorus. The biggest scene had a cast of 300 people.
A funfair and industrial exhibition in Barking Park started the celebration on 1st October. On 5th October, Prince George (later the Duke of Kent) came to hand over the Charter of Incorporation and watched the first scene. He also planted a tree in Barking Park to commemorate the event, and the central avenue was named after him.
There were also firework displays and a special Ladies’ Day on the 10th October. A multitude of famous people came to watch the events.
On the last day of celebrations, 50,000 people watched as a parade wound its way through the town. It is estimated that 200,000 people visited Barking Park to take part in the week-long celebrations.