Stanley Halls was built as a venue for theatre and performance for the benefit of local residents. William Stanley’s ambitions for the building were influenced by the Victorian ideal that music could lead to cultural enlightenment and reaffirm moral standards.
In the Halls’ early years, professional and amateur performers trod its boards including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and W.Y. Hurlstone. In the 1960s Shirley Bassey, Matt Munro and Johnny Dankworth were among those who rehearsed for performances at Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Community and social events
During the War Years, first aid courses are thought to have taken place at the Halls and the building may have been used as temporary shelter of residents bombed out of their homes. It was also a centre for community celebrations and festivals such as the 1951 Festival of Britain or coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
Records show that social events in the Halls ranged from birthday celebrations, antique fairs, ‘Meet a Mum’ jumble sales, weddings, aerobics, gatherings of Christian groups to a Psychic Festival. The fact that the Halls offered a multi-purpose community venue played a significant role in the promotion of local citizenship and civic pride.
Education and meetings
Over the years, the Halls have hosted a vast array of educational classes, exhibitions and political debates. On March 2 1912, for example, it was reported that “a spirited debate on Votes for Women” took place at Stanley Upper Hall where Alice Abadam (president of the National Women’s Suffrage Society and resident of Upper Norwood) spoke in favour of women’s right to vote. Other speakers who have followed in Alice Abadam’s footsteps at the Halls include Oswald Mosley, Harold Wilson and John Smith.
With the £120,000 raised from floating his business The Stanley Works on the stock market William F. R. Stanley announced that he would “provide the district with a well needed Public Hall” (Norwood News, 1901).
The Halls and Trade School next door (now the Harris Academy South Norwood) were designed by Stanley himself; the final result is a building which, according to art historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, is “one of the most eccentric efforts anywhere at a do-it-yourself free style”.
Stanley Halls Built
On its completion in 1903, Stanley invited all the workmen to a supper at the Halls followed by an entertainment to which the wives and relatives of the men were invited. Stanley said that if “the building was not the most beautiful in the world, it was, at least, one of the most substantially built.” He hoped that the hall would become a pleasant home of entertainment for all of them.
The buildings were completed in stages with Stanley Public Hall (the main hall and art gallery) opening in 1903, the clock tower and second hall added in 1904 and the Technical Trade School in 1907. Two assembly rooms and offices were added in 1909 to complete the complex.
In 1907 the Clock Tower at the top of Station Approach was built by local residents to celebrate Mr and Mrs Stanley’s Golden Wedding Anniversary. It was a visible acknowledgement of William Stanley’s generosity.
William F. Stanley (2 February 1829 – 14 August 1909) was an inventor, manufacturer and philanthropist. Born in Islington, it was only when he was 11 years old that his Uncle, sent him to school where he studied until he was 14 when he joined his father’s business. By the age of 16 he began to study engineering and phrenology at the London Mechanics Institute (now Birkbeck College).
Essentially, however, Stanley was self-taught. He dedicated Sunday to learning; starting with architecture and theology and moving on to English, astronomy, geology, chemistry, mathematics and French.
Stanley the Entrepreneur
In 1854 William set up his own business in Holborn making mathematical and drawing instruments. He invented the t-square, the panoptic stereoscope and a straight line dividing machine; the latter won first prize in the International Exhibition of 1862 and guaranteed his fortune.
Stanley moved his factory to South Norwood in the mid-1870s. Called The Stanley Works it was located near Norwood Junction railway station and by the 1880s employed 80 local people in the production of instruments for civil and military clients. By 1903 the firm was the largest of its kind in the world and operated in South Norwood until 1926 when it moved to New Eltham.
William Stanley died at his home, Cumberlow in South Norwood, on 14 August 1909 and is buried at Beckenham Cemetery.