Vicki Silverman reminisces about Stanley Halls – as we move a little closer to the re-opening of the Halls later this year…
In 1999, I remember viewing a house to buy off South Norwood Hill and checking out the area. It was dusk as my eyes stumbled across the roof statues lit up by the falling sun, and I thought:
“This area is special”.
I looked up the Halls on Google – that new-fangled search engine of the day – and learned of the philanthropist William Stanley and his legacy to an area that has always been a little left out behind its trendy, more affluent neighbours of Forest Hill and Sydenham. (Let’s leave Penge out of this!)
We moved into Grange Avenue with our two-year old son, and Stanley Halls became the focal point for his birthday parties, our anniversaries and any excuse we could find to fill the space with family, friends, and up to 20 small kids – most of whom would try to break out onto the main road through the emergency exit with frantic adults drawn away from the ‘Hokey-Cokey’ and ‘The wheels on the bus’ to man the doors. My husband insisted on catering for them all and he’d proudly bring quantities of pizza and garlic bread balanced on paper serving plates out of the kitchen.
I remember my friend’s mum having too much to drink and being gently brought to the main entrance for air. The caretaker spoke kindly to her. He was always willing to wait as we cleared up and moved the chattering guests back to our house for more wine and more talk and perhaps another verse or two of ‘The wheels on the bus’. He was never impatient with any of us, even the little kids. His loveliness kind of summed up the goodness of Stanley Halls (although he wasn’t nearly as decorative).
The green and yellow tiles and the wooden stair rails made the place feel like something from a different time and place.
It had real beauty.
It had real poetry.
I remember friends sitting around at our ‘dos’ worrying about when their kids would potty train or talk properly or stop biting other children. All those phases in our lives passed. All the family friends grew older. Some died. All the toddlers became young men and women.
I suppose the Halls are entering a new phase in their lives just as we entered new phases in ours and moved away.