Leading stage actress of 20th century commemorated with blue plaque

  • Actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft, remembered at her childhood home  

English Heritage has commemorated the leading stage actress of the twentieth century, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, with a blue plaque, the charity announced today (13 June). Marking her childhood home in South Croydon, the plaque will celebrate not only her birthplace but also her connection with the London borough. Once dubbed ‘the finest Juliet of our time’, Peggy often spoke of her fond memories of growing up in what was then a leafy market town. It was while standing outside the local grocer’s shop on George Street, at the age of thirteen, that she first dreamt of becoming an actress. When she returned to Croydon in 1962 to open the theatre named after her, Ashcroft recalled the formative experience of watching Shakespearean productions at the Grand Theatre when she was a schoolgirl.

Dame Judi Dench said: “I met and worked with Peggy Ashcroft in 1961 in Stratford upon Avon in The Cherry Orchard. She and Sir John Gielgud gave me immense encouragement and we became friends, and we remained friends throughout both their lives. Not only was she a wonderful as a person but as an actress. She is much missed.”

Peggy Ashcroft’s son, Nicholas Hutchinson, and granddaughters, Manon and Emily Loizeau, said: “Peggy always received honours with humility and a great sense of humour, but all of us who knew her - children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews - know how very moved she would have been to see this blue plaque on her childhood family home.

“We will be imagining her here with her beloved brother Edward, running outside and laughing through the windows and we will be able to show to our own children, who didn’t know her but have heard so much about her, that this house was where she grew up, had her first dreams of going on stage, the place where it all started.”

Peggy Ashcroft excelled in classical and new roles alike and showed a remarkable courage in taking on new parts. She starred in several of the most iconic productions of her day, from playing opposite Paul Robeson in Othello to her portrayal of Margaret of Anjou in John Barton’s The Wars of the Roses. Although she was pre-eminently a stage actress, she created some of the most memorable performances on screen, from the young crofter’s wife in The Thirty-Nine Steps to her Oscar-winning portrayal of Mrs Moore in Lean’s A Passage to India. When asked why she continued to act, Ashcroft replied ‘Well I think it’s some kind of compulsion. I’m compelled to do it’. Amongst the other actors commemorated by the London Blue Plaques Scheme are many of Peggy Ashcroft’s contemporaries, including Sir John Gielgud, Paul Robeson, Dame Edith Evans, and Sir Ralph Richardson.

Just over 15% of the thousand-plus official London blue plaques celebrate women: for the first hundred years of the plaque scheme’s existence, the great majority of those honoured were male. However, English Heritage’s ongoing 'plaques for women' campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016. Recent recepients of a blue plaque include Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, Jean Muir and Dame Barbara Hepworth. Nominations are the lifeblood of the London blue plaques scheme and if we are to continue to see a significant increase in the number of blue plaques for women, we need more female suggestions.

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl and members of the public.