Edith’s Ark Club
The Ark Club, formed by Edith in 1915, was a safe haven for her and her friends during war. Meeting every Wednesday, there would be music, dancing, laughing and overall freedom from what lay beyond the doors of Londonderry House in Park Lane.
As time passed, the meeting of a few friends slowly morphed into a sort of secret society (joined by invitation only), bringing together people from all walks of life including politicians, writers, artists and soldiers to give them a chance to escape and have fun. Some famous members included J.M. Barrie, W.B. Yeats, Neville Chamberlain and Prince Albert. Edith also went on to found the ‘Order of the Rainbow’ to signify the hope they still had for peace, giving each member a small badge of an ark with a rainbow ribbon.
Edith was named ‘Circe’ in reference to Circe the Sorceress from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, a goddess who would drug travellers who came to her island and turn them to animals so they could never leave! Even though her friends weren’t so fond of Edith’s new found nickname due to its wicked connotations, she stood by it saying Circe had ‘mental equipment far above the average’, seeing her as a powerful female figure with a personality ‘pregnant with mysterious interest’.
And so sparked the idea of having an animal alter ego for every member of the club. The names ranged from her husband Charles being ‘Charley the Cheetah’ and Winston Churchill as ‘Winnie the Warlock’ to Lord Alistair Sutherland-Leveson-Gower as ‘Ali the Alligator’.
These nicknames were immortalised here at Mount Stewart in the form of the Dodo Terrace in the Italian Gardens. Here stand Thomas Beattie’s concrete creations, representing members in the form of statues, who were all brought together by the Ark, which is staged front and centre among its most prevalent members.
Alongside this, Edith’s love of animals is evident and can be seen through her pet graveyard nearby – a small area dedicated to her pets, each with their own headstones, showing their significance and importance to her which can be found nearby the terrace.
However, it was the conversations that took place in the Ark Club that the Conversations Festival is trying to recreate. Edith’s friends were the glitz and glory of society and the arts world, and that’s who we have invited to come and perform in October. Make sure you get your tickets for the 14th and 15th October, and come along to experience the kind of buzz Edith and the Ark Club would have been proud of!