Playwrights, Pioneers and Provocateurs 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. From 1 April, the hut will be the home of our new exhibition, Playwrights, Pioneers and Provocateurs, 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.
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'.
There will be a number of other events, displays and talks associated with the LGBTQ history of Smallhythe Place, and some of Clare Atwood’s paintings are also hanging in the main house. Take a look here to find out more.