The Pageants

In 1849, two plaques were erected on the ruined piers of the crossing of the Abbey Church. The plaques describe the town’s link with the Magna Carta and list the barons.

The Borough's motto, Sacrarium Regis, Cunabula Legis, (Shrine of the King, Cradle of the Law) also seems to date from about this time.

The 1907 Pageant

The 1907 Pageant resulted from the upsurge of interest in Bury St Edmunds' history. The previous year, the town had celebrated the 300th anniversary of its Charter. The town council invited renowned Pageant Master Louis Napoleon Parker to run the event. To benefit the town's businesses and boost community spirit, he insisted that everything used in the pageant be made in the town itself.

Thousands of local people were involved. Local artist Rose Mead designed the costumes. More than 700 people helped to make them. There were over 2,000 actors, with many of the leading roles taken by prominent citizens. The pageant depicted various episodes from Roman times to the Dissolution of the Monastery. Daily performances were held in the Abbey Gardens during the second week in July.

Cheap railway fares drew crowds from towns up to 150 miles away. Members of the British and Danish Royal Families also attended. A rare film by local cinema owner Ronald Bates preserved scenes from the pageant for posterity.

The Magna Carta Trust

The Magna Carta Trust set up in 1957. It aimed to hold a triennial commemoration of Magna Carta rotated among the five 'Charter Towns' - Bury St Edmunds, Runnymede, Canterbury, St Albans and the City of London. Each town hosts the celebrations once every fifteen years.

The 1959 Pageant

The 1959 pageant involved a cast of thousands from all over West Suffolk. The twelve performances were sold out weeks before the opening night. There were 10 episodes, staged In the Abbey Gardens In front of elaborate scenery. Some of them covered the same events as in 1907. However, the emphasis was on the freedoms which began with the Magna Carta.

Colour films made of both the later productions followed the example set in 1907. The Involvement of so many local people in these events ensured that they are fondly remembered even to this day.

The Cathedral Connection

In 1967 the shields of the Magna Carta barons were put up around the Cathedral choir, financed by an American organisation called the Dames of the Magna Carta.

The 1970 Pageant Play

A pageant play staged in 1970 marked the 1,100th anniversary of St Edmund's death. The 1970 production coincided with the completion of the Cathedral extension. It had a different emphasis from the earlier pageants. The scenery was equally grand, but the action focused on a single episode - the Life and Martyrdom of St Edmund. To ensure that everyone could hear, the words were spoken by separate actors sitting in a glass booth and broadcast over a sound system.