Christopher St John (1871-1960)
Christabel Marshall assumed this name upon her conversion to Catholicism and because she felt herself better suited to a man’s name. She was the youngest of nine children, daughter of banker Hugh Graham Marshall and novelist, Emma Marshall who supported the family by historical fiction-writing after the bank failed. Chris grew up in the West Country, went to Oxford University and then worked as Secretary to Lady Randolph Churchill. In 1899 she met Ellen Terry and fell in love with Terry’s daughter, Edith (Edy) Craig
The two set up house together in Smith Square, becoming active members of the suffrage movement. They also provided a retreat and safe-house for other women at their home, the Priest’s House, at Smallhythe, Kent where they were later joined by the visual artist Claire ‘Tony’ Atwood. Their circle grew to include other lesbians such as Vita Sackville-West, whose Sissinghurst home was close by, Gabrielle Enthoven, (whose theatre collection formed the basis of the Theatre Museum’s Collection)
and Radclyffe Hall.
With Edith Craig, she established the Pioneer Players, an innovative theatre company which produced many of Chris’s plays, as well as plays by other feminist writers and experimental works from the European repertoire.
St John’s numerous plays and translations, largely unpublished include The Decision
(1906); The Wilson Trial
(1909); Eriksson’s Wife
(Royalty, 1904), Macrena
(1912,) The First Actress
(1911), The Coronation
(1912, with Charles Thursby), and The Plays of Roswitha
(1923), the tenth century nun and first woman playwright. St John also edited Ellen Terry’s Memoirs
, wrote music and dramatic criticism, in particular for Time and Tide and The Lady
, and a biography of the composer and feminist, Ethel Smyth.
See Cockin 1998 and 2001.
Now the V&A Theatre Collections.