THE county’s dance classes run on hope; hope that the honing of steps and sequences might one day make a break.

Mary Hatton should be an inspiration to that hope. She made it, out of Hereford to captivate a continent.

A ballerina of brilliance, Mary was going to be big, but didn’t let it happen.

Instead she took her talent back to its roots.

By turns elusive and enigmatic, Mary’s story has evaded definition over time.

It makes for more than a tribute to a gifted young woman, built as it is on a bond between mother and daughter – with all the mystery that brings.

Mary’s story is thrown back into focus with the recent return from the USA  of works by her father Brian Hatton, an ranked ready to be ranked amongst Britain’s best when his talent was taken by the First World War.

The Hereford Times first told Mary’s story in 2002.

That story stands for telling again



A YOUNG girl dreams of being a dancer. The precocious prima ballerina first takes her bow to imaginary ovation, but practice perfects a poise and grace to make this dream come true.

Then, the toast of capitals and companies, she casts it aside … to follow in her mother’s steps and nurture that same dream in others.

No one is ever to really know why.

Mary Hatton, as enigmatic as the spirit that lured her from the limelight, illuminated only in sepia now, classic scenes conjured out of old programmes; Swan Lake, Bar au Folies Bergere, The Mermaid…

Contemporary tributes provide colour, praising the ‘petite figure’, the dark hair framing ‘a face of unusual attraction’, the ‘luminous expressive’ brown eyes – and the talent, the ‘natural undoubted’ talent.

Her father had talent too, a father she never knew. All the artistic promise evident in Brian Hatton died with him during the First World War. Aged just 28 he had barely begun to fulfil potential that put him among the finest painters of his generation, and even the best Britain has produced.

Born in Hereford on September 21, 1915, and christened at the city’s St Nicholas Church a month later, Mary was barely an infant when confirmation of his death came.

Her own gift flourished under the eye  of her mother May, who ran what was for many years Hereford’s only dancing academy out of a studio in Union Passage.

The bond forged between mother and daughter during those early days at The Brooklands, Victoria Street, lasted a lifetime.

Just two, Mary made her stage debut at the city’s Kemble Theatre, a feature of bygone Broad Street.

Even then her inheritance was apparent, a beguiling blend of Brian’s sensitive spirit and May’s exuberant enthusiasm for performance.

It was as winner of the all-England Solo Competition for Classical Dancing that Mary went to Milan and study at the renowned Cia Fornaroli School.

Here, she set about perfecting the Cecchetti method, with personal tuition from Signora Cia Fornaroli, ex-prima ballerina assoluta of La Scala and herself a pupil of Maestro Enrico Cecchetti, perhaps the greatest teacher in ballet history.

Soon sought for solos by special engagement, Mary moved to Paris, there, to take two of the finest dancers to grace the Russian stage - Mathilde Kschessinskaya and Olga Preobrazhenskaya – as her mentors.

In 1931 Hereford had its own chance to  applaud the prodigy’s progress. She was back where it all began, The Kemble, and a performance as Premiere Danseuse at the centenary celebration tribute to 18th century actress Sarah Siddons, another artist of renown to come out of the city and one of its famous theatrical Kemble family.

The accolades Mary earned here were accorded in competition all the country,when she wasn’t in Italy honing the skills that brought such acclaim.

Still in her teens she toured Germany with the Ballet Russe de Paris and danced for the Nini-Theilade at Copenhagen - a discerning Danish audience took her to its heart.

Between seasons with the Markova Dolin Ballet in London and Birmingham Repertory, she featured on early television working out of the then BBC base at Alexandra Palace with choreographer Andre Howard.

But when her beloved Paris promised ‘starring roles’ Mary shone in the city of light, top of the bill with the Paris Opera Company on tours that had her hailed as far as Cairo.

Peers and critics alike praised her versatility as a Danseuse. If classical ballet was clearly her forte, she was always willing to enliven character roles with humour and mime.

Mary spent what was to be her final season with the Ballet Rambert, now Rambert  Dance Company, and during this time made up her mind to surprise so many who thought themselves sure of what destiny had in store.

The onset of the Second World War saw her spurn certain fame. Heading for home  and fulfilment training another generation of dancers through her mother’s academy and city schools.

Together the two were known as generous sponsors of charity dances and balls – occasional opportunities for Mary to show the skill that captivated a continent.

And by all accounts she was happiest tending to the next generation, proving a conscientious, caring teacher.

Though some say her sudden return was down to May’s ‘war work’ taking up teaching time, no one could ever claim to really know what drove this still young woman on to a less glittering path.

Her reasons went with her to the USA in 1946. First New York, then Chicago where her dance tales were a hit on the Woman’s Auxiliary circuit.

They reached the ear of one Cecil Shaler, editor and proprietor of the Crystal Lake Herald, which served the Illinois town of the same name; what began as an interview led to marriage and two children.

By 1955 May had joined the family in   Crystal Lake, having remarried only to suffer a second blow when this husband died in 1944.

May was, however, to outlive her daughter, reaching 97 before her death in 1984.

She had lost Mary nine years earlier.

Pneumonia took her life in 1975 at 59.