Frank Lascelles (1875-1934)
The Man Who Staged the Empire and lived in Sibford Gower
In the early twentieth century a new meaning was given to the word ‘pageant’ when Louis Napoleon Parker produced his elaborate outdoor play at Sherborne in 1905. This new form of drama captured the popular imagination and a wave of ‘pageantitis’ swept Britain. Pageants were dramas in which the place is the hero and its history is the plot, performed by casts of hundreds, if not thousands, of amateurs of all classes. They were thought to induce local and national pride and were thus a good way of educating the public.
One of the most prolific pageant masters was Sibford Gower born Frank Lascelles. Frank was born Frank William Thomas Charles Stevens on 30 July 1875. His father was the Rev. Edward Thomas Stevens, the village’s vicar. Frank attended the village school and won his way to read English Literature at Keble College, Oxford University, where he was a leading light of the dramatic society. After Oxford, he worked as an actor in London between 1904 and 1906 at Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s His Majesty’s. It was during this time that he changed his name from Stevens to Lascelles.
Frank invented a grander persona for himself that misted over his humble origins. Indeed, he held the title of Lord of the Manor of Sibford Gower and created a new manor house out of an old barn in the village, despite the fact that there was already a manor house standing. He entertained friends such as Ivor Novello lavishly, also putting on plays for the villagers in his gardens. He was passionately attached to Sibford and the beautiful house that he created. Lascelles was a prominent member of the local community, serving on the Parish Council and the Town Estate Trustees and also building a new village hall.
Lascelles staged his first pageant in 1907. The Oxford Historical was a great success, despite initial reservations by the University authorities and a student riot. The following year he organised the celebrations for the Tercentenary of Canada at Quebec. Lascelles enlisted the services of the Iroquois Indians and was made an honorary chief under the name of Tehonikonraka, “the man of infinite resource”. In 1909 he organised the Bath Historical Pageant and was Master of Pageantry at the celebration of the opening of the Union Parliament of South Africa in Cape Town. He was made a chief of the Basutos under the name of Rakalello, “the father of wonderful thoughts”. The following year he organised the Pageant of London, performed by a cast of 15,000. In 1912 Lascelles was Master of the Pageant at the Coronation Durbar at Calcutta with the participation of over 300,000 indigenous peoples and troops and also produced Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts. In 1923 he was Master of the Harrow Pageant and the following year Master of the Bristol Pageant (Cradle of the Empire) and the Pageant of Empire at the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley. Lascelles’ imperial triumphs earned him the epithet “the man who staged the empire”. A number of local historical pageants followed in Carlisle (1928), Stoke-on-Trent (Wedgwood Bicentenary Celebrations) (1930), Rochester (1931), Bradford (1931), Barking (1931), Leicester (1932), Essex (1932), and Kent (1932).
Lascelles also practised sculpture; among his subjects were the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Connaught, Earl Grey and the Aga Khan. He sculpted a memorial to his mother in the church at Sibford Gower, as well as painting a Roll of Honour. He also contributed prose and verse to periodicals. In 1932 the Earl of Darnley compiled Our Modern Orpheus, a volume of essays paying tribute to Lascelles.
Towards the end of his life, ill health restricted Lascelles’ finances and he died in poverty on 23 May 1934 in rented rooms in Brighton. Lascelles’ dying wish that his estate should be used by his friend Frank Brangwyn, the painter, to set up a “School of Nations” where children from all over the world could study was unable to be realised. Despite a gross value of nearly £13,000, the net value of Lascelles’ personal estate was nil.
Dr Deborah Sugg Ryan
University College Falmouth
Deborah is currently researching a biography of Lascelles and would love to hear from anybody who has any information on Lascelles’ life and work.