The forgotten queen of the Scottish arts scene and the revival of her legacy

She published 18 novels, wrote numerous plays and was somewhat of an  Edinburgh celebrity in the early to mid 1900s.

Christine Orr's comedy "East Wind House" is performed in the Princes Theatre, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh, in 1954. A new exhibition is bringing to light the full impact of the writer's work, which has gone largely unnoticed in recent times. PIC: TSPL.
Christine Orr's comedy "East Wind House" is performed in the Princes Theatre, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh, in 1954. A new exhibition is bringing to light the full impact of the writer's work, which has gone largely unnoticed in recent times. PIC: TSPL.

But today, the name Christine Orr remains little known despite her vast achievements in the male-dominated arts and culture scene of the time.

Now, a new exhibition at Edinburgh Writers' Museum seeks to truly reflect the life, legacy and work of Ms Orr,

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with many of her publications and personal items going on display for the first time.

Front cover of Christine Orr's magazine Tops and Tales, from around 1911, which helped to piece together the extent of the writer's vast output. PIC: The Writers' Museum.

Curator Susan Gardner said Christine Orr could be considered worthy of inclusion in the roll call of authors of the

Scottish Literary Renaissance, with her contemporaries including Neil Gunn, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Naomi

Mitchison and Nan Shepherd.

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Photo of Christine Orr, aged around 11, and her friend Peggy, on holiday in the Highlands. The photograph appeared in the 1911 to 1912 edition of her magazine Tops and Tales. PIC: The Writers' Museum.

Ms Gardner said: "I think Christine was really well known in the early 20th Century but there are lots of reasons why some well known writers and artists fade.

"She was involved in some many different things: she wrote novels, poems and plays and worked for the BBC.

"Perhaps because she didn't focus her talents in one area, her profile was allowed to fade.

"Whether it is anything to do with her being a woman, we don't know. But certainly it is the case that during the 1920s and the 1930s, it was harder for female writers to be taken seriously."

Some of the earliest works of Ms Orr, who attended St George's School for Girls and grew up in Great King Street inNew Town, will go on show at the museum, including a pencil box and inkwell and her first publications - two original 'Tops and Tales' magazines that she wrote between the ages of 11 and 16.

It was these magazines that led to the full spectrum of Ms Orr's work starting to fall into place.

Ms Gardner said: "These magazines have been in the museum since the 1960s and it has only been in the couple of years that we really discovered who Christine Orr was and what she went on to do as an adult.

"When Edinburgh Napier University publishing students republished her first novel, The Glorious Thing, which she set in Edinburgh during WWI when she was only 20, I knew the name was familiar.

"Then, here we had these magazines and the connection was made."

She added: It seemed appropriate to stage an exhibition in 2019, the centenary of the publication of her first novel, and it would be wonderful if the exhibition helped to spark new interest in the life and work of Christine Orr.”

"She was obviously talented from a very young age, and a natural story teller."

Most of Orr's published novels were at least partly set in Edinburgh, with titles including Kate Curlew, Hogmanay and The House of Joy, with the titles now out of print.

She also formed amateur theatre companies in Edinburgh including the Christine Orr Players, The Makars and, the Unicorn Players with her husband Robin Stark.

In 1947, the couple staged a play to coincide with the Edinburgh International Festival and became known as one of the “uninvited eight” who kick-started the Festival Fringe.

Ms Orr and her husband, who had no children, worked together on numerous theatre productions, including the Masque of Edinburgh, which was performed at the Usher Hall infront of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during their 1953 Coronation tour.

Despite her marriage fuelling a rich creative output, Ms Orr always wrote under her own name, which was perhaps unusual for the time.

Ms Gardner said the writer became somewhat of an Edinburgh celebrity, and was asked to open school fairs and give talks about her work.

"She strikes me as being like Alexander McCall-Smith of her day," Ms Gardner said.

Talks and Tales: The Childhood Writing of Christine Orr is at The Writers’ Museum, Lawnmarket, Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh EH1 2PA, until March 2020.