A few months ago, The Lightbox received a poster announcing a "grand starring engagement" of "Little Nancy, the ten-year-old artiste, including pretty songs and special effects dances". It was to be held at the Electric Empire and People’s Picture Palace, Commercial Road, Woking, on Monday 27 November and during the week. The year was 1911 and the venue was the building erected as The Public Hall in 1895 and during its time as a theatre, cinema, and social venue attracted a variety of names.

The poster also advertised that a prize would be given at a children's matinee on the following Saturday to the best Little Nancy lookalike. We decided to investigate further and see if a star was born that Monday evening – alas, no, but she did perform locally until her marriage.

Public Hall, from 'West Surrey Times' 28 Sept 1895.  Image © The British Library Board.  All rights reserved

Nancy and her family came from the southeast of Surrey. Her parents, Alfred Hoadley and Olive Rose Hitchcock married at Charlwood Church on 30 December 1899. Olive was born in 1878 and Alfred, was a gardener age 34: both were from Charlwood, and Olive’s father had been a cowman.

Their daughter named Nancy Lenorah Rose May was born on 28 July 1901 and was baptised at St Bartholomew’s Church, Leigh on 8 October 1901. By 1908 the family were living in the cottage adjoining Downside in what became Park Road, where Alfred was a domestic gardener, probably to Frank Ashby, although between 1912 and 1916 they moved to Pollard Road, Woking, returning to the cottage by 1921. Nancy gained a good conduct and efficiency prize at Monument Hill School in 1910.

The Surrey Advertiser for 20 July 1914 mentions an enjoyable entertainment held by Woking Women’s Club in the gymnasium of St Katharine’s School, Hook Heath. Nancy and Gladys Smart performed a Spanish dance and Nancy gave a song and dance routine. St Katharine’s had been St Bernard’s College, but was relaunched as St Katharine’s School for girls about 1907 and closed about 1918. Its most noted pupil was Marie Chisholm, one of the few women to see active service on the front line in World War I.

The Surrey Advertiser for 15 January 1916 tells us that Nancy was one of several bridesmaids to Miss Violet Alice Macdonald at the Congregational Church in Woking. Miss Macdonald ran a dancing school in Woking and several of her young pupils, including Nancy, were bridesmaids. A long and detailed list of wedding presents shows that Nancy and her fellow pupil Gladys Smart gave the bride an oak-crumb brush and tray. Violet’s cousin, Gilbert Macdonald, played the organ: he was to die in France in 1917 and is commemorated on the Cambrai memorial. Another war casualty, close to the family, was the death of Olive’s son Bert Hitchcock, who was killed in Iraq on 27 December 1915, aged 20, and is commemorated on the Basra Memorial.

The Surrey Advertiser for 27 May 1916 tells us that three clever little pupils of Mrs. Irwin (née Macdonald) of Belsize, Horsell, performed at the Hut Concert at the YMCA Hut, Pirbright Camp. They had frequently appeared in local entertainments with marked success and performed songs and dances; Nancy and Sheila Lawrence performed a humorous duet which ”brought the house down”.

Nancy’s career does not seem to have been long-lived. On 26 August 1927 at the age of 26 she married Alexander Lionel Chambers Heane, a bus driver, age 23, at Christ Church, Woking: the couple, who were childless, moved in with Olive and Alfred until they set up their own home in Apers Avenue in the mid-1930s. About 1950 Olive and Alfred moved to new housing in Queen Mary Close, dying in 1968 and 1963 respectively. Alexander died in 1958 and while Nancy remained in Apers Avenue for some years, she moved into her parents’ old home in Queen Mary Close, dying there on 18 June 1989. We are most grateful to the donor of the poster to The Lightbox: she was a former neighbour of "Little Nancy" in her last years.

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