The “Pageant Hows” near St Botolph’s churchyard by Trevor Nuthall – Feb 2019

According to the Norwich Landgable Assessment of 1568-70, a sum of money was
payable in respect of a property in St Botolph’s parish not far from St Botolph’s
churchyard. The property is referred to as “the garden & hows called the Pageant Hows… late belonging to the wardeynes of the worsted wevers”. Galloway defines a pageant
as a wagon used as a stage or a play performed on such a wagon. It is unlikely that the
building was a playhouse. It is much more likely that it was called a pageant house
because before the Reformation it housed a wagon from which the guild of worsted
weavers performed religious plays.

Tanner has much information about the Norwich worsted weavers guild. They
were among the many craft guilds that in 1489 processed with a banner behind the
Body of Christ on the feast of Corpus Christi to the college of St Mary in the Fields.  They
were dedicated to the Holy Ghost and on their guild day they celebrated their guild
mass at the Cathedral.

According to Tanner, on Whit Monday 1530, the many Norwich craft guilds performed
twelve plays as part of a great procession. The plays were probably performed on
moveable floats. It seems that the worsted weavers’ pageant was performed on a wagon
and was called The Holy Ghost. It is likely to have depicted the exciting events described
in Acts chapter 2:

“When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place. Suddenly
a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house
where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and
came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to
speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

Tydeman gives a useful insight into how a pageant house was used and what a pageant
wagon looked like. The York Mercers’ pageant wagon was dismantled every year and
stored, being brought out of the pageant house on rollers after reassembly by labourers
paid to carry out the operation and mount the pageant on its four-wheeled base. The
Norwich Grocers’ pageant was built of oak panelling, in the form of a house built on a
horse-drawn cart with four wheels, surmounted by a square flat roof supported on
posts at the corners, decorated with devices and banners and hung about with
draperies.

Not far south of St Botolph’s churchyard is St Saviour’s church. Two painting fragments
have been discovered from a single large medieval painting that used to be in the
church. It contained scenes from Christ’s Passion. It has been pointed out that it is
rather like episodes being performed as plays on carts or other stages in different parts
of a medieval town.

Sources
Galloway D (editor), 1984, Norwich 1540-1642 – Records of Early English Drama
Rodgers M and Wallace M (editors), 1999, Norwich Landgable Assessment 1568-70,
Norfolk Record Society volume LXIII
Tanner NP, 1984, The church in late medieval Norwich 1370-1532Tydeman W, 1978, The Theatre in the Middle Ages
St Saviour’s church – Huby’s Yard painting fragments, The Medieval Churches of
Norwich – City, Community & Architecture, norwichmedievalchurches.org

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