22nd June marked the 3rd year running for the Croydon Heritage Festival to showcase the history of Fairfield Halls. With a guided tour from John Spring, Fairfield Halls Head of Marketing, the tour was a great insight to the history of the theatre: from its grand opening in 1962 (opened by the Queen Mother), to all of the famous pop legends that have graced its stages.
Before Fairfield Halls was established, the area was in fact a fair, and evidently where ‘Fairfield Halls’ gets its name. Although now a place for plays, films and stand-up comedy, it once used to be a field for fairs to take place (until 1860, when they were banned for being too riotous). Even after then, the area was used as disused railway cuttings, and was converted to a car park and an air raid shelter. It has been providing either entertainment or assistance for hundreds of years, but only recently established itself as a theatre. Worth noting is the lavish, bold design of Fairfield Halls, which was very much modelled on the Royal Festival Hall, from 10 years earlier.
We were taken through all the main sections of Fairfield Halls: the Concert hall; the Ashcroft theatre, which was named after Peggy Ashcroft (who actually only attended the theatre once); and the Arnhem Gallery- once an art gallery, then used for standing concerts, and now more commonly used for community events. The Concert Hall, with Croydon’s largest cinema screen, is very popular with the younger generations (a showing of Peppa Pig recently had a very good turnout) and seats around 1500 people.
A very thorough segment of the talk was devoted to, possibly Fairfield Halls largest claim to fame, The Beatles. In 1963, photos were taken of the band by a 15 year old photography student, and only recently had been rediscovered and posted online. These photos, when he was not yet aware of how valuable they would be in the future, were taken from all angles of the stage, and some were even taken backstage! Our attentive tour guide was obviously passionate and very excited about these photos, to the point where he was able to pinpoint where all the photos had been taken to their exact location in Fairfield Halls.
Of course, this year’s Croydon Heritage Festival has an emphasis on the famous faces of Croydon. Those who have performed at Fairfield Halls include music legends such as Elton John, Pink Floyd, The Who and David Bowie, and classical musicians like Yehudi Menihum, Vladimir Ashkenazy and very recently, Nicola Benedetti, a classical violinist. Although now Fairfield Halls features a diverse array of entertainment – from plays to stand-up comedy to being used for community events- one thing remains the same after all this time: it’s ability to facilitate entertainment for Croydon.