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Axbridge Pageant 2021

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES BREAKING NEWS: organisers of the Axbridge Pageant 2020 have pulled the event due to the coronavirus crisis – and will reschedule it for August 2021 – full statement here from John Bailey the artistic director

At a crisis meeting held last night in the town the committee that organises the Axbridge Pageant made the decision to postpone this year’s August production for 12 months.

The artistic director John Bailey said that due to the Government’s advice to cancel meetings for the next few weeks meant rehearsals would be affected and there would be a reluctance for people to commit to the pageant.

“We cannot risk it,” he said, “The coronavirus has blown it away, and we have had to bow to the inevitable and put it off for a year.”

However he said he remained committed to the project and fortunately no money had yet changed hands as tickets had not yet gone on sale. Nigel Scott the treasure said it was fortunate that no major purchases had been made as the finance of pageant was vital to its success. John Bailey agreed saying the pageant had to be a sell out in order to cover costs and although things may improve by August ticket sales would be hit as a result of the crisis.

The massive project includes 15 scenes, 400 actors, 200 production people and costs £60,00 to stage

Some of the factors behind the decision included the large number of the audience who would be in their 70s or older, many in the cast being of a similar age and the uncertainty over the length of the coronavirus crisis inevitably would be a brake on residents volunteering.

The pageant was set to take place from August 29-31 but will now be rescheduled to be performed on August 28-30, 2021.

John Bailey’s full statement:


In troubled times difficult and troubling decisions, inevitably, need to be made. I have had the privilege to oversee two Axbridge Pageants in 2000 and 2010, and have spent the last two years progressing and developing the 2020 Pageant with the exceptional community that is Axbridge. Hard work? Yes, but always rewarding and heart-warming because of the collective will of the people who believe in something and want to make it happen.

It is, therefore, with heavy heart that I need to announce that we have found it necessary to postpone the Axbridge Pageant for 2020. I am sure, that in the light of escalating events, that I do not need to outline in great detail why we have made this difficult decision. However, the acceleration and severity of the Coronavirus leaves us with no alternative.

In making this decision we are seeking to protect the commitment, passion and enthusiasm that the community has for this unique event. A spectacle which has achieved international recognition and has even gone into the history books. Plaudits indeed, and all the more reason to protect it from the scourge of our time.

This, of course, is hugely disappointing news for the many people who have worked tirelessly on the event and for the hundreds who were about to embark on the exciting journey of bringing the Axbridge Pageant to fruition in August of this year. But, very sadly, these are exceptional times and we are sure you will realise that this is the responsible thing to do.

However, we must feel that this postponement is not without a sense of hope. By making the decision now we firmly believe that we can put the whole thing on ice and hope to re-convene when there is no longer a threat to our society. To that end we cautiously announce that the Axbridge Pageant will be put on hold until August of 2021. It is to be hoped that, later this year, when we have negotiated our way out of the present gloom we may be able to pick up where we left off.

In the meantime I send you all the warmest of wishes.

John Bailey

The finale of the pageant in 2010

In 1963 the former Cheddar Valley Railway often called The Strawberry Line was closed after almost a century of use. A few years later the line above the town was turned into the bypass ending the traffic jams that had dogged the town for years. To celebrate a pageant was proposed to chart the town’s history in the square soon after.
It was a huge success prompting further pageants in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Each time the Square was turned into a vast arena and stage – to portray the long and extraordinary story of the town through drama, music, poetry, spectacle and pageantry. And so we gather once again in August 2020 to maintain this tradition – that in its own way has also become part of the town’s history. The website will carry news, views and features about the pageant and will carry photos of the past productions.

Take part

Rehearsals take place in the lead up to the event in August

Recruiting is underway

If you would like to take part either behind the scenes or as a walk on part or as an actor or musician then send an e-mail to with the following details:

  • Names of other family members who would like to take part
  • Whether you/they would like speaking or non-speaking parts or either
  • Any particular parts or scenes you/they would be interested in
  • Any backroom/backstage roles you/they may be interested in (eg. Fund raising, marketing, costumes & props, design & construction, etc)

You may have missed the recruitment days or the chance to complete a form and leave it in the Post Office – it’s not too late – email your details and prepare to be part of the town’s biggest and most famous event this summer.

The scenes include the Romans and Celts, the battle of Saxons v Danes, Normans, founding of Christian Axbridge, Queen Henrietta Maria’s visit, Bull Baiting, The Lady Day Fair, Hannah More and the fighting vicar, Victorian Axbridge, Edwardian scene and World War One, Inter war years and World War Two, plus post war and the late 20th century.

Rehearsal dates announced

The important dates are:

Saturday 22nd August – collection of costumes

Sunday 23rd August – dress rehearsal in the Square

Saturday, Sunday and Monday 29th, 30th & 31st August – three performances commencing at 3pm daily.

Pageant rehearsals will take place on Sundays during the 10 week period leading up to the dress rehearsal. These will be in various venues including the town hall – although sequences involving actors and the narrators are already underway.

For more details email the producer John Kendall on


Some background

In the 1960s the Cheddar Valley Railway (often known as The Strawberry Line) was finally closed after almost a century of use. The railway had taken Axbridge’s people and produce out into the wider world. It had been an escape to the seaside, to the shops of Wells and a means of getting to work for generations of workers. And it had placed the valley’s famous strawberries onto teatime tables from Scotland to Cornwall.

Then the age of steam had come to an end, and the motorcar was now king.

At the time Axbridge was a bottleneck for traffic with its narrow streets – with no alternative route. When the Axbridge bypass opened in 1967, heavy traffic ceased to pour down the High Street and through the Square. The traffic jams had been legendary with long tailbacks to Cheddar in one direction and Cross in the other.

Crowds would gather outside the Lamb Inn to witness the chaos as lorries and buses backed up in order to squeeze past the medieval houses.

Peace descended as the traffic roared past on the new road that ran along the old railway embankment – and the town was able to breath a sigh of relief. To celebrate, the community held a pageant in the Square with hundreds of residents embracing their inner Roman, Tudor and Victorian personas.

The two hour long drama immortalised the community’s history in a moving tableau representing many of the town’s key moments in time. From the era of the Roman Empire to Queen Victoria, the charters, fairs and personalities were brought to life by ordinary members of the public.

It was a huge success prompting further pageants in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Each time the Square was turned into a vast arena and stage – to portray the long and extraordinary story of the town through drama, spectacle and pageantry.


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