The Elian was an all-male dining club set up soon after the emancipation dinner held in April 1925 which had marked the centenary of Charles Lamb’s retirement from the East India House. It arranged several informal dinners a year and each was customarily followed by an authoritative talk of Elian interest.
The members, limited to 59, included some of the best-known men of letters of their day: Augustine Birrell, St. John Adcock, G.K. Chesterton, Walter de la Mare, J.C Squire, Alfred Noyes, Edmund Blunden, W.W. Jacobs and J.B. Priestley.
During the mid-1930s, as the centenary of Lamb’s death in 1834 approached, problems arose among the officers of the Elian and they chewed over the foundation, early in 1935, of the Charles Lamb Society, with its unwelcome “cock and hen” (mixed) membership. The Elian struggled on until it was suspended during the Second World War. Unsuccessful attempts were made to revive it in the late 1940s.
The Gray’s Inn office of F.A. Downing, apparently a solicitor, the founder and first secretary of The Elian, was completely destroyed by a land mine in 1941, when many of The Elian archives were lost. He died in 1950 and his widow sent “The Elian papers” to the Charles Lamb Society in 1958. They remain amalgamated with our archives at London’s Guildhall Library.
The last surviving member of The Elian was Geoffrey Dearmer, the First World War poet, who lived long enough to give lunch to David Wickham in 1994. He was still bright as a button and utterly charming and attentive, but very deaf. He died in mid-August 1996 aged 103.
To read Claude Prance’s article ‘The Elian’, printed in the Bulletin in October 1979 click here.