William Ford Stanley was a well travelled man, so it seems fitting that The Lives of Stanley Halls exhibition, following in the footsteps of that eminent Victorian gent, is just about to embark on its own grand tour……
If you were among the 50 or so that attended its grand unveiling on 4th December, you will know that the exhibition, The Lives of Stanley Halls: Theatricals, Community and Entertainment was anticipated with great excitement…and the excitement did not go unfulfilled! Curated by volunteer researchers and oral historians, the display offers a thoughtful and fascinating insight into the history and heritage of Stanley Halls and explores the various ways that it has been enjoyed by the community since its opening.
The exhibition comprises 8 panels which focus on diverse topics such as the building of the Halls, its opening and its various uses such as for educational, communal and theatrical purposes. Teeming with detail, it also includes a huge number of memories given by members of the South Norwood community. If you have yet to see it, over the forthcoming weeks there will be many opportunities to catch the exhibition starting with the Stanley Halls Open Day on Saturday 18th January (12.30pm – 6.30pm). And for those of you that just can’t wait that long, here are a few pictures to whet your appetite ……
After the Stanley Halls Open Day the exhibition will be visiting a number of venues including South Norwood Library from 20th January. A full exhibition schedule will be revealed in due course but, in the meantime, if you have any suggestions of venues which might like to host the exhibition, please let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lives of Stanley Halls Project Coordinator
Phillippa Heath comes up for air as she and her team puts the finishing touches to an astounding exhibition. The past shapes the future, so as we get ready for the future of Stanley Halls, it seems the perfect time to delve into the past…
In terms of blogs, you will be forgiven for thinking that The Lives of Stanley Halls project has been a tad quiet of late. Far from it! Over the last few weeks volunteers and project staff have been busier than ever.
Drawing on the copious amount of research and oral history interviews that have been carried out of late by our project volunteers, the exhibition has had to be written, edited and images had to be selected and, in the meantime, volunteers continued their research and conducting interviews. The final exhibition, The Lives of Stanley Halls: Theatricals, Community and Entertainment which will be revealed on Wednesday, 4th December (6.30 pm), is bold, vibrant and celebrates the history and heritage of Stanley Halls and the community’s enjoyment of it since its opening in 1903.
During the project we have learned so much about the variety of ways that the Halls have been used, such as the opening ceremony in 1903, meetings of suffragettes in 1912 and pantomimes and performances. Some uses have been quite surprising such as aquarist exhibitions, psychic festivals, shoe sales, dog shows and baby welfare clinics. But what all these various events and activities demonstrate is how central Stanley Halls has been to life in, and reflective of, the interests of the South Norwood community.
A poster advertising The North Wood Morris performance of A Christmas Carol which was remembered fondly by one of our interviewees, Susan Abigail. Read more about her experience (and the experiences of many others) in the exhibition The Lives of Stanley Halls: Theatricals, Community and Entertainment.
Phillippa Heath, The Lives of Stanley Halls Project Coordinator introduces us to Jane Nicholl’s first steps on to the stage.
On Saturday, 12th October, Stanley Halls opened its doors to the residents of South Norwood for a Stanley Lives Open Day and attracted over 60 visitors who toured the building and reminisced over tea and cake about their memories of visiting Stanley Halls. All of these recollections will form the basis of The Lives of Stanley Halls exhibition which will be on display in the Halls from December 4th and then tour around community venues in the new year. But, to whet your appetite, here are the type of fascinating recollections that you can expect to discover.
Meet Jane Nicholl, who first visited the Halls in 1953 at the tender age of two and a half years old, and recalls these early memories with project volunteers, Anne, Sharon and Jan, and SPI trustee Andrew Nelson.
“The first time I came to the Halls I was about two and a half; it was 1953 and I was part of a ballet class in the area and we did a performance and we dressed in little swimming costumes and our towels. That is my first memory.”
“Our mothers all took us into the changing rooms back in the Halls. It was freezing because we were all performing in our swimming costumes and we all had to be huddled in our woollen cardigans until the actual performance took place. I can remember it being absolutely freezing cold and going out to this huge stage which seemed so massive at the time. Massive for a small child. I can remember we all waved our towels around and I dropped my towel and brought shame on the family…. Yes I remember them being all frosty afterwards because I dropped the towel. I think it must have been Autumn, Winter or Spring because it was so cold.”
Were you aware of people watching you?
“Yes but for some reason I wasn’t daunted by it. I felt quite separated because the stage lights were on so I think at the time you felt separated from the audience and it didn’t feel quite real, it was like I was looking out at them rather than them sitting looking at you”.
“The music was played on the piano by a woman – it always seems to be women who played in those days – this who had an enormous bosom. It was always plump women with enormous bosoms playing away on the piano….! And funnily enough my Dad had a piano business in Crystal Palace and he supplied the piano”.
“Stanley Halls was one of those places that I can always remember….. it’s always been there, it’s always been a landmark. Over the years it got into more of a state of decay but it’s always been there for performances, it’s a landmark, everybody knows it”.
What events do you remember attending at the Stanley Halls? Did you take part in a dancing performance? Did you attend a dog show or an infant welfare clinic? If you can recall visiting the Halls we would love to hear from you! (email@example.com)
Proving that things never really change, historian and The Lives of Stanley Halls project leader Phillippa Heath reminds us that the values of the ’60s are still relevant today…….
“Without question the (Stanley) Halls fulfil an important social need in the area by providing local organisations with a place to meet and discuss and organise their activities. And this, of course, stimulates a sense of community and an interest in the area and its problems. A live and active community centre is certain to result in more vigorous local organisations and consequently more interest in local government”.
You will be forgiven for thinking that these words were written recently but, in fact, they were recorded nearly 50 years ago.
The Lives of Stanley Halls project is now very much underway and our team of dedicated volunteers is busily researching in archives and starting to conduct oral history interviews. As we embark on bringing the Stanley Halls’ history back to life through the project, among the articles that we have unearthed is this stirring piece in the Croydon Advertiser, November 5th, 1965, which talks about the Halls’ great successes and its hope that Stanley Halls will continue to be central to community life long in the future.
Croydon Advertiser, Friday November 5th, 1965:
“The Stanley Halls in South Norwood Hill puts the lie to the theory that television has virtually destroyed any demand for community centres. For not only are the halls still flourishing after 62 years of life, but their popularity among the local social groups is increasing rapidly. In the past five years the number of bookings at the halls has nearly doubled from about 900 to almost 1600.
No doubt a great deal of the credit for the rising popularity of the concert hall goes to Mr James Smith, the manager of the Stanley Halls since July 1960. The son of a West End stage director and himself a cinema manager for 20 years, Mr Smith has worked hard to make the concert hall increasingly attractive to local amateur groups. He has installed new stage lights, re-dressed the stage and put tip-up seats in the balcony.
At almost any time, on any day of the week except Sunday, something will be going on at the halls, in either one of the two spacious assembly and rehearsal rooms, the committee room, the concert hall or the art gallery. It might be an old-time dancing session organised by a Townswomen’s Guild in one of the assembly rooms, or a rehearsal for a play, or a lecture, or a flower show, or a bazaar. Dog shows, church bazaars, infant welfare clinics, dancing classes, union meetings, political rallies, dances, orchestral concerts, bingo, dog-obedience classes and a score of other events are all held at the Stanley Halls.
Without question the halls fulfil an important social need in the area by providing local organisations with a place to meet and discuss and organise their activities. And this, of course, stimulates a sense of community and an interest in the area and its problems. A live and active community centre is certain to result in more vigorous local organisations and consequently more interest in local government.
Council members who profess concern at the general apathy over local government and then refuse to provide community centres in all areas might do well to re-examine their attitudes. One of the major reasons for the increased use of the Stanley Halls, is that so many other similar halls have been demolished in recent years. The demand is still there but the facilities are disappearing. And if anyone doubts that a demand exists, the constantly increasing popularity of the Stanley Halls is proof that it does.”
What events do you remember attending at the Stanley Halls? Did you attend a dancing class? A dog show? A bazaar? Infant welfare clinics?
If you have any memories of visiting the Halls we would love to hear from you! Please share any recollections with us for The Lives of Stanley Halls project on the form below or email me here firstname.lastname@example.org or drop in and meet us during our Stanley Lives Open Day (Saturday, 12th October: 11 am – 4 pm)