The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"EGC's truest friend"

Edward A. Craig on Martin Shaw

Craig looking up from his work directly into the camera with his distinctive chin-length hair √ widow's peak


How We Met: Edward Gordon Craig & Martin Shaw

Craig and Shaw were loyal friends until Shaw's death in 1958. Their friendship was to result in the Purcell Operatic Society, and the birth of Modernism.



Edward Gordon Craig is increasingly recognised as the father of modern design, whose influence on the Bauhaus Movement spread his ideas around the world. These ideas of simple elegance and dramatic form are still used today, and influenced the designers of the AppleMac.

A versatile artist, Craig's favourite media were woodcuts, etchings and lithographs, the techniques for which he had learned from the Victorian lithographers the Beggarstaff Brothers,whose work can be seen at London's V&A museum.

Through his mother, the actress Ellen Terry and her partnership with Henry Irving, Craig was an experienced actor with a keen sense of the theatre; his father Edward Godwin had been an architect.

The talents of his parents combined when Shaw asked Craig to do the mise en scene for his newly created Purcell Operatic Society. Craig produced explosively futuristic designs for Shaw, which heralded the start of Modernism.

The two men had originally met when they organised a benefit concert for some stranded actors while Craig was holidaying in Southwold with his friend and mentor James Pryde, one half of the Beggarstaff Brothers.

Craig's words are taken from Index to the Story of my Days, © The Craig Estate, and are reproduced exclusively for screen reading by permission.


1897: Southwold

"Jimmy and I went down to Southwold. ...We changed into a toy-train at Bimbleswick or some such junction... Southwold was then a very pretty place with some good houses on the front which looked very like the England of 1750 or thereabout.


ornate mix of terraced houses

"... And there lived the Shaw family – Martin Shaw’s family... which consisted of Papa Shaw, Mrs Shaw, Martin, Geoffrey, Jules and three or four daughters – two of whom were called ‘the tots’.


small children at the turn of the twentieth century with their older siblings on Southwold sands


Some Stranded Actors

"A small theatrical company had been stranded in a nearby town. The manager being a bit bogus, the actors were left with no money –they had to get on or back to some town."

Craig learned this one day at the old inn, where the comedian of the stranded company was "telling a plain story well and thoroughly". There could be no mistake, and something had to be done to help.


A Benefit Concert

"There was a show arranged, and quickly too. The bar parlour clamoured for this, so we decided to give a performance which would do honour to the eastern counties of England in general, and to Southwold in particular.

"Martin Shaw, being a musician to the finger-tips, would be at the piano. Mr. Pryde would be one of the actors, with me – there were two only.

"We prepared a wonderful programme. Martin Shaw would open with a lot of twiddles and strumming on the piano, and then I would come on, dressed as a Pierrot, and recite to slow music one of Hans Andersen's stories, 'What the Moon Saw'.


Edward Gordon Craig dressed as a pierrot


" (I had not got a Pierrot's dress, but one was made for me by our landlady, who had only a few hours to do it in – not only because the performance was to be ready in a day, but because she was about to give birth to a handsome child. She got it done in time – the Pierrot dress: I was even photographed in it.)

"After this there were to be some songs by one or two of the local people whom we slected with considerable care...


Martin Shaw, James Pryde and Craig arrange the Entertainment

"Anyhow, M.F.S. and J.P. and I got together the entertainment, consisting of recitations, playlets, songs and solos on the piano. The most popular local singer was the postman... He was put on to sing his first song just before the curtain was to rise on the play 'Villon'.

"The song was a thundering success. I don't know what it was about, but it was full of hiccups, and its chorus ran something like this:

It must 'ave been the lobster, it couldn't have been the crab.
I 'adn't 'ad enough to 'urt a fly.

So presumably the theme was sickness after a night out.


"Martin Shaw was the orchestra – and made the piano sound like three, six or ten instruments, and gave the music a swing which Southwold cannot have heard before or since. He always has had a superb sense of rhythm..."


The Actors are able to Depart

The show raised £1 18s. 6d., which, with contributions from Mr. and Mrs. Shaw and a few pennies from Pryde and Craig, was enough to enable the stranded actors to depart.


open top omnibus in Southwold High street going to Lowestoft