Stanley Halls Lives


By - Tuesday 24th September, 2013

Debbie Challis outlines a new line of research from the Stanley People’s Initiative – and shares some good news


An exciting project, ‘The Lives of Stanley Halls: Theatricals, Community and Entertainment’ has just been launched in South Norwood. The Stanley People’s Initiative (SPI) has been given £9,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)  to find out more about the past of Stanley Halls with a team of volunteers and put on a touring exhibition around the local area. SPI is one of the first groups in the UK to receive a HLF Sharing Heritage grant, which is a new funding programme to help people across the UK explore, conserve and share all aspects of the history and character of their local area. Stanley Halls is a fascinating complex of unique Edwardian buildings built in 1904 -11 by local inventor William Stanley. This wonderful resource has been underused and SPI is working on changing that. This Sharing Heritage project is a wonderful opportunity to investigate the past of the Halls through the people who used it just as SPI takes over management of the building from Croydon Council.

The group of volunteers will go into archives, record people’s memories and collate information from newspapers to find out more about the building and the people who used it for theatre and music, meetings, celebrations and fun. Led by project co-coordinator Phillippa Heath, the group of keen volunteers has already met to tour the building and heard from the brilliantly knowledgeable local historian John Hickman. One of the volunteers who has grown up in South Norwood and has lived here for nearly all her life comments that “it is imperative that South Norwood retains the unique asset of the Stanley Halls” and that the Lives of Stanley Halls project will go far to ensure that this happens by “finding out what others remember, discovering the past and being with others who have the same aim to preserve our history and secure Stanley Halls’ future”.

Some stories are already live on our blog, such as Roy Shepard’s memories of the halls and the local area in the 1950s or Vicki Silverman on family parties in the 2000s

We have heard fascinating snippets of information about how the Halls were used and who was there, such as people who saw Ronnie Corbett in panto, a Labour Party election rally with John Smith and Tony Blair in May 1994 (shortly before Smith died) and memories of family parties, weddings, tea dances, union meetings etc. Some stories are already live on our blog, such as Roy Shepard’s memories of the halls and the local area in the 1950s or Vicki Silverman on family parties in the 2000s. Yes, history is that recent! We want to hear more stories of Stanley Halls so please get in touch.

We will share the information gathered through a mobile exhibition on Stanley Halls that will open on 5th December as well as sharing snippets of research via our twitter feed @StanleyHalls, our channel on History Pin and posting stories on our blog. We are running a memory-sharing open day on Saturday 12th October which would allow people to drop in and share their reminiscences of the Halls (and they can be recorded by one of the project volunteers). The Halls will act as a physical prompt and draw out people’s experiences. Tea and coffee will be provided, though it will just be a kettle and teabags and instant coffee as we have a lot to do with regard to the café/bar area yet!

We hope to see many local people on our memory-sharing open day and then at our exhibition in December. In the meantime we also have to get the Halls up and running as best we can so that people can use them again for classes, parties and performances – the shows must go on!

Debbie Challis

Debbie Challis

Dr Debbie Challis is Fundraising Officer for The Stanley People's Initiative and lives in South Norwood. She also works in public engagement and museums at University College London at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. She has curated a number of exhibitions, including Fit Bodies. Statues, Athletes and Power (University College London, 2012). She is the author of articles and books, including From the Harpy Tomb to the Wonders of Ephesus: British Archaeologists in the Ottoman Empire 1840-1880 (2008) and Archaeology of Race: The Eugenic Ideas of Francis Galton and Flinders Petrie (2013).

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