This is an extract from the programme written by Harry Mottram for the Axbridge Pageant due we hope in 2021. It was originally due to be performed this August but has been put back 12 months due to Covid-19 with even a question mark over that date due to the ongoing problems of social distancing. The pageant is directed by John Bailey.
At the end of the 18th century the entire country was in need of reform. There was no national health service, state education, police force or transport system.
However the agricultural and industrial revolutions were transforming society. The population was growing, workers were on the move, and in the pre-socialist era Christian Evangelism was providing answers to a growing thirst for education. Except in Axbridge – where the vicar and the gentry were still living a pre-Georgian neo-feudal world where ordinary people were there to serve the social elite.
Enter Hannah More with her messages of enlightened living inspired by the New Testament. Hard work, good housekeeping, education and new found economic independence for families are what she was offering – and the establishment were horrified. What? Common people being offered a way out of their squalor and ignorance? The scene was set for one of the most famous confrontations in the town’s history.
The Rev Gould was a land owner, employer of child labour and was staunchly against reform. He was also a member of the council and was already under investigation for financial and ecclesiastical irregularities. The Bishop of Bath and Wells dispatched clerics to investigate his activities and in a remarkable turn of events each one died on the way to Axbridge.
However he hadn’t counted on the fervency and inner belief of Hannah and her sister Mary who were on a mission to bring education to the women and children of the towns of Somerset.
They were to open schools across the county and open the way to the enlightenment of the 19th century when social reform took hold. In one of the pageant’s set pieces Hannah takes on Rev Gould in a war of words in which good wins out over evil and Axbridge turned a page in its social history. In the scene Hannah leads the children up onto the hills for a giant picnic and to celebrate a reformed and enlightened Christianity.
Do join in with their rendition of the hymn Rock of Ages.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
The pageant with a cast of 300 is now scheduled to take place from Saturday to Monday August 28-30th, 2021 – having been put back a year due to Covid-19. Please note due to the ongoing pandemic the date may have to be altered again.
For more details of the pageant visit http://axbridgepageant.com/index.html and
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For more from the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk