Miss Irene Hammond is somewhat of a mystery. The daughter of a wine merchant, Irene was born in Cheltenham in 1892. Little is known about her early life apart from two entries in the census records.
1901 Census – Irene Hammond (age 9) is listed living with her mother Matilda (age 43), father George (age 50) and brother Bertram (age 14) at 1 Nevil Villas, Hewlett Rd, Cheltenham. George is listed as a Wine Merchant Manager.
1911 Census – Irene Hammond (age 19) is listed as a dance student living with her mother Matilda (age 53), father George (age 60) and a servant Elsie Elizabeth Ayres (age 19) at 1 Nevil Villas, Hewlett Rd, Cheltenham. George is listed as a Wine Merchant Manager. Their maid Elise had been born in 1891 in Cheltenham and in 1901 was listed living in a Union Workhouse. She died in Birmingham in 1955.
What Miss Irene Hammond did between 1911 and 1917 is also something of a mystery. In 1913 a Miss Irene Hammond (the same age as our Miss Hammond and who looked remarkably like her) and her dance partner Gene Hodgkins performed in the famed Tango Teas at the Queen’s Theatre, London. They were credited as the ‘originators of the London Tango Craze’. In the summer of 1914 Hammond and American born Mr Hodgkins travelled to New York. They performed in various theatres on Broadway until early 1915, and were widely acclaimed. During this tour Hammond and Hodgkins married, but by April 1915 they were separated, and Irene was on the boat back to London.
From May 1916, Hammond was touring with her new dancing partner Arthur Swanston. They danced in Oswald Stoll’s new comedy & revue “Look Who’s Here” at the London Opera House, and later the Coliseum. In 1917 they toured with their production “The Movie Maid”. In late 1917 Hammond disappears from the stage, and suddenly a Miss Irene Hammond appears working at a respectable dancing school in Chester. Is this our Ham?
Miss Irene Hammond, or Ham as she was known, first came to Chester in 1917 where she began teaching ballroom and operatic dance for Mrs Amy Broom, née Webster, at the Grosvenor Ballroom. In September 1919 Miss Hammond took over the school, and it was renamed the Miss Irene Hammond School of Dance.
Miss Hammond appears to have been at the forefront of dance development. The Royal Academy of Dance started as the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing in 1920. In 1921 Miss Hammond was one of the first teachers to pass her examination, and was accepted into the Association. She then passed her Advanced exam in 1923. From 1924, Miss Hammond became a Children’s Examiner for the Association. From 1928, Miss Hammond is listed as the Provincial Representative for the Operatic Association Children’s Examinations, and was invited to be on the Examination Sub-Committee. She remained the Local Organiser until 1935, and was elected on to the RAD Education Committee in 1945.
For 30 years Miss Hammond continued to develop the School, creating the foundation for the establishment we have today. Miss Hammond first began taking residential pupils in the mid 1920s. Her students performed in local opera and theatre productions, as well competing in dance competitions.
Below are some memories of the enigmatic ‘Ham’ from her pupils.
‘Miss Hammond was a fashionable lady, very tall and gaunt and a great disciplinarian.’ Joan Marston – pupil of Miss Hammond in the 1920s.
‘Miss Hammond took the class always wearing a black dress and long black knickers, which we saw when she showed us how to hold our dresses out to the side. She had an auburn wig (so my mother said) in a short bob with 1940s waves.’ Ann Cavenett – pupil of Miss Hammond in the 1940s.
Miss Hammond died on the 20th of November 1946 at the Astoria Nursing Home, Rhos, Colwyn Bay, Denbighshire. The RAD Gazette published an obituary and established a fund in her name.
Was ‘Ham’ the Miss Irene Hammond who had been famed for her Tango on the West End and Broadway?