The idea for the foundation of the Charles Lamb Society came about following a visit of the Bookman Circle to Chiswick in the autumn of 1934. As a result of the conversations on that outing, a letter signed by E.G. Crowsley appeared in The Times requesting that anyone interested in joining such a society contact him. Following an encouraging response a meeting was held on Friday 1 February in Essex Hall on the Strand (where Elia’s Aunt Hetty worshipped) and thus began The Charles Lamb Society. Walter Farrow was the founding Chairman, E.G. Crowsley was the General Secretary, and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first President. The Society met every month (often at the Chequers Restaurant on the Strand) and during the summer regular visits were made to places of Elian interest. Even during the Second World War the Society continued its meetings in Essex Street in spite of the Blitz.
In 1934 members of the Elian (the dining club that pre-dated the CLS) launched a public appeal to fund a memorial of Charles Lamb. Sir William Reynolds-Stephens was then commissioned to create a portrait bust of Lamb which was placed on the north wall of Christ’s Church, Greyfriars. It was unveiled on 5 November 1935 by Lord Plender. Although the church was bombed in 1941 the memorial miraculously survived and was removed to Christ’s Hospital for safe keeping. In 1962 it was finally returned to London and erected on the rebuilt Watch Tower of the Holy Church of St. Sepulchre on Giltspur Street.
The Society began to flourish as membership grew steadily. In the first three months the Society’s membership rose to 75 and by the mid-1950s it numbered around 500. In 1945 it founded its own dramatic group that read and presented plays by or about the Lambs. The first reading was a play about Charles Lamb by Phyllis G. Mann, The Man Without a Foe, which was broadcast by the BBC in February 1945. In addition, district branches of the Society were established in Bournemouth, Bristol, Bradford, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Although the dramatic group and district societies no longer survive, today the Society works hard to continue in the traditions of its founders. The Society holds a series of events each year in London, and celebrates Lamb’s birthday annually with a dinner at which a guest of honour is invited to speak on a subject of Elian interest. It also publishes The Charles Lamb Bulletin, a bi-annual peer review journal of high academic standing whose contributors have included Edmund Blunden, Geoffrey Tillotson, Earl Leslie Griggs, Helen Darbishire, Jonathan Bate, Gillian Beer, John Beer, Duncan Wu, Nicholas Roe and Mary Wedd. In addition, the Society’s archive at Guildhall Library houses a vast collection of Eliana including manuscript correspondence by Lamb and his circle, portraits, engravings, rare books, maps and ephemera.
New members are always very welcome to join. With work progressing on a new and complete edition of Lamb’s writings, we are very much looking forward to the future.
To read Ernest G. Crowsley’s article on ‘The Charles Lamb Society’ printed in The St. Pancras Journal in November 1948 click here.