IT is 3pm on a summer afternoon and thousands of people are seated around a large open-air grandstand.

Four trumpets sound before a full orchestra begins a Solemn March.

Over the next few hours the stage will be filled with a cast of more than 900 volunteers who -with the help of elaborate costumes, props and talented musicians - will bring centuries of history to life.

Anyone who has watched Kynren, Eleven Arches’ epic open air production in Bishop Auckland, could be forgiven for thinking this is a description of the critically acclaimed show. However, it is actually a public pageant that took place in Sherborne in Dorset in 1905. Across seven nights more than 30,000 people witnessed scenes depicting the town’s history, from the arrival of the first Bishop of Sherborne in 705, to Sir Walter Raleigh’s visit in 1593.

Its success led to a wave of similar productions across the country, with pageantry offering a valuable way for communities to celebrate and share their heritage in a pre-internet age when television was still in its infancy.

Based on Puy de Fou in France, Kynren, An Epic Tale of England, tells the tale of 2,000 years of history. It features a cast of more than 1,000 volunteers, spectacular sound and light effects, enchanting costumes, battle scenes, live animals and more.

Expected to attract 500,000 visitors to Bishop Auckland by 2020, there is no denying it is in a different league from the pageants of old. Although they are volunteers, its cast members undergo extensive training with industry experts in everything from combat, cavalry and dancing, to technical production and pyrotechnics.

However, the similarities are such that Dr Mark Freeman has credited Kynren with leading a revival in public pageantry, following its steady decline since the 1950s. Dr Freeman, a reader in education and social history at University College London, is involved with the Redress of the Past project. In recent years, he and his colleagues have produced a database of 20th century pageants and are revealing the many stories they shared.

He has watched Kynren twice and last night he gave a lecture at Newcastle University exploring the part it is playing in reviving pageantry.

The talk, part of the free Insights lecture series, looked at the parallels that exist between Kynren and traditional pageants, from the scale and popularity of the productions, to the volunteer cast and its success in attracting visitors to the area.

“I went to see Kynren in 2016 and 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said. “It was very well put together and inspiring. It shares many characteristics of pageantry, in that it’s outdoors and uses volunteers under professional direction.

“The 20th century pageants combined local and national history, staging local events against a national backdrop and providing local reaction to national stories.

“You see this happen in Kynren too. It offers a North-East perspective on English history. You have got the Miners’ Gala and emotional scenes depicting mining disasters, along with major national events and famous historical figures such as Shakespeare, Elizabeth I and Churchill.”

Dr Freeman partly attributes the decline in pageantry to the rising popularity of television followed by the arrival of the internet and smart phones.

“It is not that people are not interested in history anymore, its just that there are new ways to tell these stories,” he said.

“From the 1960s there has been an increase in the number of historical reenactment societies and there has been an enormous growth in the number of visitors to country houses. There is still an appetite for living history.”

Dr Robert McManners, of Bishop Auckland Civic Society, said the comparisons between Kynren and pageantry offered an interesting perspective but added: “Kynren is more than a pageant in the accepted sense as it brings very modern technology into the spectacle.

“Whilst the show is a great vehicle for learning the history, especially for the participants, it also provides subliminal learning about sense of belonging, civic pride and fraternity as the title suggests. This bonding of cast members, whilst to be expected, seems to have helped form much deeper friendships and broken down perceived social barriers to a much greater extent than anticipated.”

To find out more about Dr Freeman’s research, visit