Royal Ballet founders
Field: Composer; dancer
Location in the Abbey: South transept, poets corner
Type of memorial: Stone
Type of material: Stone

On 17 November 2009 a memorial stone to four founders of the Royal Ballet was unveiled by Lady Sarah Chatto in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey. The slate stone has gold lettering, designed by Stephen Raw to depict movement. In the outer circle are the words:

THE ROYAL BALLET. THE FOUNDERS

and in the centre their names:

Ninette de Valois

Frederick Ashton

Constant Lambert

Margot Fonteyn

Dame Ninette de Valois, dancer and choreographer, was born Edris Stannus on 7 June 1898 in co.Wicklow in Ireland, a daughter of Colonel Thomas Stannus and his wife Elizabeth. The family moved to Kent and she took up dancing as a career. After the Great War she was engaged at Covent Garden and later went to Paris in Diaghilev's company. She ran a private shcool and staged ballets at Sadler's Wells and Old Vic theatres. In 1935 she married Dr Arthur Connell but had no children. She undertook many tours during the Second World War and became director of the Royal Ballet School, being made a Dame of the British Empire in 1951. The Sadler's Wells ballet was renamed The Royal Ballet by Royal Charter in 1956. She was made a Companion of Honour and elected to the Order of Merit. She died on 8 March 2001 and a memorial service was held in the Abbey on 28 September.

Sir Frederick Ashton, O.M.,C.H., dancer and choreographer, was born on 17 September 1904 in Ecuador, a son of George Ashton, vice consul at a British Embassy there, and his second wife Georgiana. He saw Pavlova dance and decided on that as his career. In 1919 he attended a college in England and after his father's suicide he was accepted as a pupil by Leonide Massine and later went to Marie Rambert. He became a choreographer and also partnered Alicia Markova. His ballet Facade, with music by Walton, and La Fille Mal Gardee are still well known. After serving in the RAF intelligence department during the war he created ballets for Margot Fonteyn and many other works. In 1962 he was knighted. He died on 19 August 1988 and a memorial service for him was held in the Abbey on 29 November. Dame Ninette gave the address and a tribute from Dame Margot was read. He is buried at St Mary's, Yaxley in Suffolk.

Leonard Constant Lambert, composer and conductor, was born in Fulham in London on 23 August 1905, a son of George and his wife Amelia. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and the Royal College of Music where he studied under Vaughan Williams. The Russian Diaghilev ballet company commissioned a ballet from him and he later composed songs, piano and orchestral works. He married Florence Chuter (later divorced) and their son was Christopher. He was first musical director of the Vic-Wells ballet, later Sadler's Wells. While touring in Holland he narrowly escaped capture by the Nazis when they invaded. Isabel Delmar was his second wife and he died on 21 August 1951 and is buried at Brompton cemetery in London.

Dame Margot Fonteyn, the greatest ballerina of her generation, was born Margaret Hookham in Reigate in Surrey on 18 May 1919, a daughter of Felix and his half Brazilian wife Hilda. She was inspired by Markova's dancing and joined the Vic-Wells school. Later she took the stage name Margot Fontes, which became Fonteyn. While still young she performed in Ashton ballets and later had a relationship with Lambert. After the war she was also acclaimed in America and married Dr Roberto de Arias in 1955. He was a politician in Panama and later ambassador in London. Her career was extended due to her renowned partnership with Rudolf Nureyev. She was made a Dame in 1956 and died in Panama City on 21 February 1991 and was buried there near her home. A memorial service was held in the Abbey on 2 July. A depiction of Fonteyn dancing appears in a small stained glass window in Cheyneygates, in the precincts of the Abbey. This was designed in the 1950s and was put in by the wife of Dean Don. It can now be seen from the cloister.

A photo of the memorial stone and Fonteyn window figure can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Order of Service - A Service to Dedicate a Memorial to the Founders of the Royal Ballet (PDF, 203KB)

© 2017 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Website design - Design by Structure