Peggy Hookham, later to be known as Margot Fonteyn, was born near Reigate station, moved to Waldeck Road in Ealing when she was two, and soon after that her family moved to the other side of the railway lines to the leafy suburb of Elm Grove.
18 May 2019 was the 100th Anniversary of Dame Margot’s birth, and in appreciation of her immense services to ballet and cultural heritage, The Theatre and Film Guild of Great Britain and America felt it was right to honour her with the installation of a commemorative blue plaque on one of her childhood homes, and 3 Elm Grove had a plaque added on 17 May. It is one of the Guild’s many such projects over the last decade with the installation of plaques, and the restoration of graves and memorials of music hall and theatre performers.
Christened Margaret, the young child became quickly known as Peggy so not to cause confusion with her aunt, another Margaret. When the family were still living in Waldeck Road, Peggy went to her first ballet lessons, aged four, with the dance teacher Grace Bosustow, who held classes in Ealing. The school’s brass nameplate proudly bore the letters A.O.D., the Association of Operatic Dancing, later to be known as the Royal Academy of Dancing, of which Margot Fonteyn would become president one day. The school had a ‘mesmeric grey-green’ linoleum floor.
It was at Bosustow’s school that she rehearsed her first stage role as ‘A Wind’, and her first review was published on 5 July 1924 in the Middlesex County Times,
In the ‘Silver Ballet’ there was a remarkably fine solo dance by Peggy Hookham, which was vigorously encored.
Soon after the family moved to Elm Grove because the larger house had a ground floor room that could be converted into a garage to house Felix Hookham’s car. This house was even closer to Bosustow’s school, just off Ealing Common.
The house was built in the grounds of Elm Grove House, the Estate of the former British Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval. It stands almost opposite a Church built in the memory of Perceval, who was assassinated in 1812.
It was during this time that her mother took her to the Palace Theatre in London and from side seats in the upper circle they watched Anna Pavolva dance her version of The Fairy Doll.
Young Peggy’s time in this leafy suburban street was a happy one but short. When she was eight, her father’s work took him to a tobacco company in China, and in 1927 he left taking his wife and daughter with him. His son Felix, Peggy’s older brother, stayed in England to attend boarding school.
Troubles in China made it dangerous to travel there immediately, so their first stop was New York. It was Peggy’s first major voyage, though there were to be thousands more during her lifetime, and on 5 November 1927, Peggy and her family set sail.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.