Kennedy, Helen

Also known as: Kennedy-North, Helen


Collection date:

Area: London

Helen Kennedy (North) (1889-1975):  Helen Kennedy was the older sister of dancer Douglas Kennedy (see separate profile). When Douglas married Helen Karpeles in 1914, there were 2 Helen Kennedys for a time (his sister and his wife) and this began to cause confusion. But Douglas’s sister Helen married Stanley North in 1920 and from then on (and retrospectively in literature) she was referred to as Helen Kennedy-North.

Helen Dorothy Kennedy was born in Edinburgh on 5/7/1889, eldest child of John Henderson Kennedy, solicitor, and his wife Patricia Grieve Kennedy. In the Folk Music Journal (1971 p79) Helen said that she knew and loved Scottish dances from her childhood* but found her first introduction to English morris dancing ‘not altogether a happy one’. The Kennedy family had moved down to London when Helen was a teenager. She enrolled herself in the Chelsea Physical Training College at the South Western Polytechnic in 1907 and encountered Florrie Warren’s morris classes there in her first autumn term. Florrie was the best Esperance Club teacher and she stayed for a whole week but clearly didn’t impress Helen. That changed in Year Two when she grudgingly went along to more morris dancing classes and met Cecil Sharp, who was able to inspire her with stories and demonstrations that resonated. Helen continued: ‘The following day Mr Sharp came again and this time he brought with him a traditional morris dancer from Headington’ (Mr Kimber). There is a letter to Sharp from Kimber dated Thurs May 11 1909, saying he will be at SW Polytechnic the next day Friday 12th, so Kimber perhaps attended on several occasions. 

Helen described ‘the excitement and pleasure’ of working out many of the new dances he was discovering at the time. In July 1908 Sharp had recorded the Sherborne tradition from George Simpson and in January 1909 the Ilmington tradition from Sam Bennett. Perhaps Helen was referring to those dances. On Monday 22 May 1909 at Chelsea William Kimber played ‘The First of May’, a morris dance tune (FT2204), to Sharp - another indication of Kimber's presence.

Helen completed her two-year teacher training course in summer 1909 and went for two terms as a P.T. teacher to Tunbridge Wells but was back in London in 1910 and could continue dancing with the informal Folk Dance Club started by the Karpeles sisters. In the 1911 census Helen, aged 21, was listed as ‘a teacher’, boarding at an address in Royal Avenue, Chelsea. It’s known that she worked as a teacher at Whitelands (teacher training) College, which was then based in the King’s Rd, Chelsea but which moved to Southfields in 1931 and subsequently to Roehampton in 2005.

During the war Helen went out to France to assist Daisy Daking in her rehabilitation work with wounded soldiers and in 1920 she was appointed an occasional inspector of folk dancing in elementary schools. In December 1920 she married Stanley North, 33, a fine art expert and restorer, who worked on the royal and other collections. Their son Roger was born in April 1922. They lived in the Ladbroke Grove area for about 20 years but Stanley North died in 1942 and Helen then spent some time in South Africa. She settled back in Tunbridge Wells and lived at the WRVS care home at Mount Ephraim House there.

Helen Kennedy-North died at Pembury Hospital on 13/10/1975 aged 86.

Helen appears in the fictional books of Elsie J Oxenham (real name Dunkerley 1880-1960). In the Abbey girl series she is portrayed as ‘Madam’ alongside ‘The Pixie’ (Daisy Daking). See The EJO Society 

* Folk Music Journal vol2 no.2 (1971 pp79ff). Douglas Kennedy described his sister Helen as ‘a skilled Highland dancer’ (p85).

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