Walsh, Peggy

Also known as: Kettlewell, Peggy


Collection date: Jan 1899

Area: London

Peggy (Margaret) Walsh (1884-1972): Peggy Walsh was a member of the Chelsea women’s dance team and a teacher of folk dancing. She became the first secretary of the English Folk Dance Society soon after its formation in Dec 1911:

Margaret Walsh was born on 15/8/1884 at Killmallock, 21 miles S of Limerick, Ireland. In the 1901 Ireland census she appears to be the eldest of 2 children of Thomas Arnold Walsh and his wife Mary Jane (née Harris) but there may have been older siblings who had already left home. They were Church of Ireland people, comfortably off with a live-in servant.

Margaret (Peggy) came to London and enrolled on a two-year course* at the Physical Training College, part of the South Western Polytechnic Institute at Manresa Rd, Chelsea. The course had been founded in 1898 by Miss Dorette Wilkie (see separate profile). It involved Practical Studies (gymnastics, physical training, sports, swimming and dancing); Theoretical Studies (anatomy, hygiene); and Teaching Practice (in local schools). Its Diploma allowed the holder to teach Physical Training in schools and other settings.

*Three year courses were not established until 1909.

In the April 1911 census Peggy Walsh, aged 26, was living with the Karpeles family at 87 Westbourne Terrace and described herself as a ‘teacher of dancing’. This was just before the EFDS was founded and its certification process established but Sharp did examine and certificate students at his SW Polytechnic course from Sept 1909. Helen Kennedy, sister of Douglas Kennedy, maintained that she was Sharp’s first teacher of dancing and she graduated from the Polytechnic in July 1909, so it seems likely that Peggy Walsh graduated in July 1910. If so, Peggy would have been in the SW Polytechnic dance team that performed at the Queen's (Small) Hall on 31 May 1910 where their 'grace, skill and discipline provoked universal admiration' (Daily Telegraph and Courier report Wed 1 June). 

Maud and Helen Karpeles had met Sharp at the Stratford Festival in May 1909 and from Sept 1909 began attending extra-curricular morris classes at the Polytechnic on Tuesday evenings (open to the public). Peggy Walsh must have become friends with them at that time and joined their informal Folk Dance Club, which took place weekly at their house in Westbourne Terrace. In her unpublished autobiography (MK/7/185 p20) Maud described how the girls would remove all rugs and furniture and ruin the highly polished parquet floor with a plentiful supply of vim (presumably to give the floor ‘grip’) without protest from their long-suffering parents. On 3 April 1911 the Dance Club gave a successful public performance at the Portman Rooms in Baker Street (Westminster Gazette notice 29 March).

So, Peggy Walsh was part of the women’s dance team that performed with Sharp at several public events in 1910 and 1911. During the same period she was invited to Oxford to teach folk dance classes. The English Folk Dance Society was formally constituted in Dec 1911 and not long afterwards Peggy became its first administrative secretary. In its first year the Society attracted 144 members, 96 of whom were female (69 giving their title as 'Miss'). The total had nearly doubled by 1914 (figures from Arthur Knevett 'A History of the Folk-Song Society 1898-1932' University of Sheffield PhD thesis 2011 p237). 

At some point she met William Kettlewell, son of Florence Kettlewell, who had hosted Sharp on his Mendip song expeditions several years before (see her profile). William was a Naval captain and was renting a flat in central London. He agreed to be Treasurer of the new Dance Society. William and Peggy were married on 16 April 1913 at St Margaret’s Westminster. They moved to Westhall Hill, Fulbrook nr Burford in Oxfordshire and it seems that both the men’s and women’s morris teams went there later that summer to celebrate the wedding (there is no mention in the local papers of any public display).

The 1921 census shows the Kettlewells living at High St, Burford, no children, 1 servant'. Peggy Kettlewell died on 21/5/1972 in Sussex, aged 87.

For a history of the Chelsea Physical Training College (now part of the University of Brighton) see Ida M. Webb 'The Challenge of Change in Physical Education' Falmer Press 1999

Books by Author David Sutcliffe

Cecil Sharp and the Quest for Folk Song and Dance

A new biography of Cecil Sharp, written by David Sutcliffe

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The Keys of Heaven - The Life of Revd Charles Marson

This is the first biography of the Revd Charles Marson.

£6.00 + p&p