A Cinematic Centenary in Chepstow Castle

A cinematic centenary is celebrated in Chepstow Castle on Saturday 13th on Sunday 14th of July with the screenings of the 1913 Hollywood epic film ” Ivanhoe” filmed on location in the Castle.  Ivanhoe was one of the first Hollywood films made abroad. Piano accompaniment to the these unique screenings of this 48 min long film will be created live by international singer and pianist Karl Daymond and will include music composed in 1913.

Original poster (courtesy of Chepstow Museum)
Original poster (courtesy of Chepstow Museum)

The first part of the celebration is a picnic concert by the hundred strong singing club led by Karl Daymond, the audience are invited to bring rugs or folding chairs and elaborate picnics.  “Ivanhoe” will be shown as darkness falls. The performances will be held under the giant Castle canopy (so there is no problem if it rains)  Tickets are both evenings are £5 and are available from Chepstow Museum telephone 01291 625981

Karl Daymond, musician inspiration behind the Chepstow/Usk/Lydney singing club’s will be providing piano accompaniment to the film and the master of ceremonies for the event.

The Film
Ivanhoe is a 1913 silent adventure/drama motion picture starring King Baggot, Leah Baird, Herbert Brenon, Evelyn Hope, and Walter Craven.  Directed by Herbert Brenon and produced by Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Pictures after IMP was absorbed into the newly founded Universal, which was the distributor, the screenplay was adapted by Brenon based on the epic historical novel of the same title by Sir Walter Scott.

One of the first expeditions abroad, Ivanhoe was filmed on location in Wales.  Many of the hundreds of extras in the film were Chepstow people who were used to dressing up having staged spectacular community theatrical events in the Castle for many years.  Copies of this early feature length production are preserved at the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, The National Film Archive, London and Chepstow Museum.


Set in late 12th century England, this silent adventure is filled with pageantry and excitement as it chronicles the star-crossed love between a dashing knight and a beautiful Jewish maiden.  Wilfred of Ivanhoe (played by King Baggot), son of Sir Cedric (played by Wallace Bosco), returns to England from the Crusades in the Holy Land. As Ivanhoe, disguised, discovers that his beloved Lady Rowena (played by Evelyn Hope) has remained faithful, two weary travelers, Isaac of York (played by Herbert Brenon) and his pretty daughter Rebecca (played by Leah Baird), are admitted to Sir Cedric’s castle, but after the knights learn that Isaac has money they abduct the visitors to the Norman stronghold of Torquilstone Castle.

When Ivanhoe realizes that Sir Cedric and Rowena have also been captured, he enters the forest, where he meets Robin Hood (played by Walter Thomas) and the Black Knight, actually King Richard, the Lion-Hearted (played by Walter Craven). Their band defeats de Bois in battle, but the villain escapes with Rebecca, later charging her with sorcery.

As Ivanhoe defeats de Bois in single combat, King Richard arrives, revealing his identity and reclaiming the crown from his traitorous brother, Prince John (played by George Courtenay).
Sadly, Rebecca must undergo a period of suffering, as well as come to terms with the loss of the man she loves, and witness the nuptials of her gallant Ivanhoe and the beautiful Rowena.

The filming of Ivanhoe at Chepstow, July 1913

The making of the film Ivanhoe, based on Walter Scott’s historical novel, was a memorable event for Chepstow in 1913. Not only was it the location for a great feature film with American film stars, in those early days of film-making, but also hundreds of local people took part as extras and even more watched them do it, an experience that they all had the thrill of re-living at numerous showings of the film thereafter in the Electric Picture Hall in Beaufort Square. What’s remarkable to us now is the incredibly short period of time that was taken for the whole enterprise, said then to be “the biggest venture of the kind ever attempted in England.” The first intimations of the Imperial Film Company’s interest in Chepstow Castle were mentioned in early June, negotiations for its use two weeks later, filming finished on 15 July and the film actually released in September.

For those three or four weeks in 1913 Chepstow took on “a state of festival and fancy raiment”. All the hotels were full of Norman knights and damsels with American accents, the local ‘supers’ or extras apparently went about their work in costume and reporters from national newspapers and the film press came to see how a “great cinematograph picture is taken”. They gave high praise to the making of the battle scene. The sack of ‘Torquilstone’ caused two days of great excitement involving an army of 200 locals – the Bridge Works virtually ceased to function. Enthusiastic participation resulted in a number of injuries, mostly minor, and many broken ‘weapons’. The whole film, a loose adaptation of Walter Scott’s classic, had a cast of 50 horses as well as 500 people. Ivanhoe was played by the then famous American star, King Baggot. Under the direction of Herbert Brenon, who also starred as Isaac of York, 20,000 feet of negative were exposed by the two cameramen out of which 3,500 ft made the final three-reel film.


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