Ellen Terry and Edith Craig: Theatrical Lives and Letters
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Hull
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Research findings on the lives and work of Edith Craig (1869-1947),
lesbian theatre director and suffragette, and her mother, Ellen Terry
(1847-1928), internationally celebrated Shakespearean actor have been
shared with members of the public, family history researchers and members
of Equity (the actors' union) through talks, a conference and documented
use of the AHRC Ellen Terry and Edith Craig database (20,000 records).
This online database has had a significant impact on the preservation and
worldwide accessibility of one of the most significant theatre archives in
the UK. It has assisted members of the public in genealogical research,
raised awareness of women's enfranchisement, promoted citizenship and
inspired public performance of original drama.
The underpinning research on women's suffrage and theatre history
focusing on Ellen Terry and Edith Craig was undertaken by Cockin as
Lecturer (1998-2002), Senior Lecturer (2002-2008), Reader (2008-2011) and
Professor (2011 — present) at Hull from January 1998.
One of the central outputs of the research is the AHRC-funded Ellen Terry
and Edith Craig Database (2006-2008), an online catalogue of over 20,000
documents providing research-informed item-level description.
The database project relied on Cockin's sustained collaboration with the
National Trust, facilitating the long-term loan of the majority of the
papers with the British Library Manuscripts Department. It was launched at
an international conference at Hull in 2009, which in turn resulted in
Cockin's edited collection, Ellen Terry, Spheres of Influence
Cockin's monograph Women and Theatre in the Age of Suffrage: The
Pioneer Players 1911-25 (2001) was the first study of this
London-based theatre society. Playing a key role in the production of
women's suffrage plays and responding unconventionally to World War I and
feminism, the Pioneer Players theatre society has a significant place in
theatre history. With Terry as President and Craig as Director, the
Pioneer Players strove to establish an art theatre in London comparable
with similar establishments in Europe, introducing the British public to
plays by Nikolai Evreinov,Torahiko Kori and Paul Claudel.
Cockin's research led to further work on women's suffrage literature,
Edith Craig and her mother Ellen Terry, and was supported by a number of
grants awarded by the Society for Theatre Research (2001, 2008, 2009:
total of £1,250), the AHRC (Small Grant in the Performing Arts, 2004:
£1,007), and the British Academy (Small Grant, 2005: £4,000; 2008:
The online database describes a major theatre archive; it is freely
available to genealogists and the general public and has aided the
dissemination of research on women's suffrage drama, notably Cicely
Hamilton's innovative historical play A Pageant of Great Women
(1909), and has facilitated Cockin's scholarly edition of Ellen Terry's
letters (2010-17). With the exception of a one-volume correspondence with
George Bernard Shaw published in 1932, Terry's letters were previously
unavailable in print. The British Academy-funded critical edition runs to
eight volumes and will include over 3,000 letters.
The underpinning research has reassessed the performances, plays and
cultural significance of Ellen Terry and Edith Craig, highlighting the
extent to which these women have been hidden from history. Terry was more
than a `charming' performer; she was the financial backer of the Lyceum
Theatre during its heyday. Craig was the most significant British director
of early twentieth-century theatre, bringing world theatre to a London
stage during the First World War.
References to the research
Key research outputs:
(i) Authored book:
• Women and Theatre in the Age of Suffrage: The Pioneer Players.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. ISBN 033 3 68969.
(iii) Critical edition:
• Ed., Ellen Terry: The Collected Letters, Vols 1-4 (of 8),
London: Pickering & Chatto, 2010-13. 288pp., 232pp.,389 pp., 374, pp.
416. ISBN 978 1 85196 145 0, 978 1 85196 146 7, 978 1 85196 147 4, 978 185
• Ed. Ellen Terry: Lives of Shakespearian Actors, Part V, London:
Pickering & Chatto, 2012. ISBN 978 1 85196 931 9
(v) Essay collection:
(vi) Key grant:
• AHRC Resource Enhancement Grant (2006-2008): £85,720 (total project
cost £101,000; completed October 2008). Awarded for AHRC Ellen Terry and
Edith Craig database.
Details of the impact
Cockin's research into women's theatre history has been disseminated
through the Ellen Terry and Edith Craig database, and through books and
papers, public talks and a conference which have brought academic and
general audiences together. This has resulted in impacts for members of
the public (especially those researching family histories), HE college
students and professional actors, from the launch of the database in 2008
to the present.
International reach is indicated by Google Analytics data on the
usage of the online database. Since its launch, from 2008-13, the resource
has had 9776 visitors from more than 97 different countries,
achieving 70-74% new visits each year. The international reach is
evidenced by visits to the website from 29 countries in 2008 and 58 to 75
countries in 2009-11. A key use of the database is by members of the
public researching their family history.
- Google Analytics data show 447 UK visits to the Ellen Terry and Edith
Craig online database in 2008, rising to between 1026 and 1533 in the
- Links refer users to the database from websites such as the Irving
Society, British Library Manuscripts Department, National Trust
Smallhythe Place, Bristol University Theatre Collection.
- Cockin was invited to present on Edith Craig to the actors' union
Equity (Phoenix Theatre Club, London, 12 February 2010) as part of
Lesbian History Month and, as a result, an audience member took part in
the performance of A Pageant of Great Women at Cockin's Pioneer
Players conference (see below; DVD available).
- Regionally, Cockin presented to the Historical Association at Hull (18
November 2010) and Grimsby (16 September 2011); and at the Family
History Centre Hull (17 February 2011).
Added evidence of the significance of the impact and the interconnectedness
of original, internationally excellent research and public engagement
is demonstrated by the ripple effect of Cockin's research. For example,
following a lecture by Cockin on 7 January 2011 at Hull College, a play Suffragette
was written and performed by BTEC Performing Arts students from the
College. It represented key episodes in the women's suffrage movement,
including a scene in which Edith Craig directs actors in Cicely Hamilton's
A Pageant of Great Women. Suffragette had a profound effect on many
of the students who were involved or who watched it. The play was then
performed at The Pioneer Players: Politics and the Art of Theatre, a
conference to mark the centenary of the Pioneer Players, organised by
Cockin at the University of Hull on 7-8 May 2011.
The conference also included an interactive performance of A Pageant
of Great Women, directed by Dr Anna Birch (Royal Conservatoire of
Scotland). The delegates at the conference and invited non-academic
members of the public (specifically members of Hull Historical
Association, Hull College BTEC Performing Arts students, members of
Equity) as well as University of Hull students were invited to take part
as `great women' in the production. A Pageant of Great Women was
filmed and is available on DVD with photographs of scenes available at
Supported by iHull (the University's Institute for Creativity and
Innovation), the filming of the play facilitated the archiving of the
performance and ensures the longevity of the project.
Media reach is evidenced by non-academic articles and interviews:
- Article by Simon Stabler in Family History Monthly magazine
(international distribution, Family History News: The Family History
Profile, January 2010; issue 178, p.16). Cockin was subsequently
contacted by members of the public tracing their family history.
- Cover story article by Jane Connolly in Kent on Saturday's
colour supplement article (`Actress Back in Limelight: Online Archive
Reveals a Remarkable Life' (13 June 2009, p. 3).
- Article by Cockin on the regional significance of the Ellen Terry and
Edith Craig archive for Kent Life (`Queen of the Theatre',
September 2009, pp. 47-49).
- Cockin was interviewed by Aaysa Lodhi in two episodes of `Open Book',
introduced by Mariella Frostrup, Radio 4, 10 July 2011 (10,555,000
listeners to Radio 4 for the quarter ending September 2011).
- Cockin provided background information to Jude Kelly for the Radio 4
programme `Leading Ladies' marking the 350th anniversary of
the first English professional actress, 26 Oct 2010) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vhg2z
(10,319,000 listeners to Radio 4 for the quarter ending December 2010).
Cultural Heritage and Preservation
The AHRC Ellen Terry and Edith Craig Database has had a significant
impact on the National Trust property Smallhythe Place in its
custodianship of the Ellen Terry and Edith Craig archive.
The database is, according to the House Steward, `immensely valuable to
both researchers and staff connected to Smallhythe Place and is used `on a
daily basis; as a basic tool it tells me what material is housed at the
British Library but it is invaluable when staff and volunteers are
carrying out research.' (see Source 9)
Research enquiries come from a diverse international community, as the
House Steward reports: `There is an increased interest in Ellen Terry and
Edith Craig and I always refer researchers to the database; the fact that
it provides concise descriptions of each item saves me answering endless
emails.' (see Source 9)
Furthermore, the online database has facilitated an improvement in access
and preservation of the majority of the papers, as confirmed by the House
Steward: `The database has made possible the removal to the British
Library of a large part of our archive, making it more accessible, being
in London, and better housed in terms of conservation conditions' (see
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Google Analytics User Statistics (summarised above; full data
available on request) — corroborating the reach (UK and international)
of the impact from use of the database from October 2008-July 2013.
- Emails from database users (available on request) — corroborating the
database's role in genealogical research by members of the public.
corroborating the talk to Equity members (testimonial available)
- Feedback from Hull College students who participated in and watched
the play Suffragette (available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vllG5CQkUo
corroborating the educational and societal impact on the students.
Suffragette, a play devised by students from Hull College —
testimonial corroborating the influence that Professor Cockin's lecture
to Performing Arts students had on their producing the play.
- Press release (available online at http://www2.hull.ac.uk/newsandevents-
— corroborating that the The Pioneer Players: Politics and the Art
of Theatre conference took place, and particularly the active
involvement of non-academic members of the audience and Hull College
- RAJAR listener figures (available online at
— corroborating the audience for and reach of radio interviews Ballot on
great women of the past following public lecture on 11 February 2013
Votes were invited from the audience after the public lecture (in person
and online) on Ellen Terry and Edith Craig on great women to include in
a possible production of A Pageant of Great Women. A programme
for the event directed audience members to access the website for
downloadable information about the research and to online voting. See
- Smallhythe Place, the National Trust (testimonial available; see also
link corroborating the use made of the resource made by the National
Trust, available at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/smallhythe-place/history/