Playwrights, Pioneers and Provocateurs at Smallhythe Place

Edy, Chris and Clare at Smallhythe Place

Nestled in the garden surrounded by wild flowers is Christopher St. John’s (born Christabel Marshall) writing hut. There she wrote political and social plays and stories, and would later wander up to the Priest House where she lived with Edy and Clare Atwood in a ménage a trois. Following this exhibition's success in 2017, Playwrights, Pioneers and Provocateurs, will remain on display in the writing hut for 2018, allowing us to continue celebrating the diverse work of these three remarkable women.

Celebrating our LGBTQ history

Following in the theatrical footsteps of her mother and resident of Smallhythe Place, Ellen Terry, Edy Craig founded the Pioneer Players. The group was dedicated to creating and producing propaganda plays including the ‘Play of Ideas’ which addressed societal issues of the time.

Edy, Clare and Chris lived extraordinary lives. They were part of a thriving community of contemporary LGBT artists and theatre practitioners. There was nothing “closeted” about their lives and the feelings and openness about sexuality and gender influenced their pioneering work in a way that's still relevant today. 

Edy Craig and Chris St. John holding hands
Smallhythe Place LGBTQ history Edy Craig

The exhibition delves into this work, providing a rare opportunity to learn about the connections between this vibrant group of intriguing women. Their lesbian contemporaries and friends included:

  • Radclyffe Hall, author of the notorious lesbian-themed novel The Well of Loneliness. She once contemplated building a home for herself and lover, Lady Una Troubridge, adjacent to Smallhythe Place, as she fell in love with the environment and spending time with Edy, Chris and Tony.
  • Vita Sackville-West, Christopher St John’s one-time lover who played an important part in Smallhythe Place being taken on by the National Trust.
  • Virginia Woolf, who most likely used Edy Craig as the model for the character Miss LaTrobe in her novel 'Between the Acts'.
  • Cicely Hamilton, author and playwright who collaborated with Chris St John to write the suffrage play 'How the Vote Was Won'.

A number of other events, displays and talks associated with the LGBTQ history of Smallhythe Place took place in collaboration with this exhibition in 2017. These events are now finished, however some of Clare Atwood’s paintings remain on display in the main house. Take a look here to find out more. 

Clare Atwood’s painting of Chris, Edy, Ellen, Olive Terry and her son Antony Hawtrey.
Clare Atwood painting of friends at Smallhythe Place