Croydon legend being erased from history books

Croydon Guardian: William Ford Robinson Stanley moved to South Norwood in 1865 William Ford Robinson Stanley moved to South Norwood in 1865

The name of one of Croydon’s greatest benefactors is disappearing from the borough.

William Ford Robinson Stanley moved to South Norwood in 1865, and spent considerable amounts of his vast fortune in the local community.

By the time of his death, he had given the area a town hall, art gallery, community centre and a school for underprivileged boys.

But his legacy is in danger of disappearing as his school lost its name to the Harris Academy, and his old house was torn down by developers.

He was so popular in South Norwood the residents put up a clock tower in 1907 in honour of his golden wedding anniversary.

He was born in 1829 in Islington, the son of mechanic and builder John Stanley and Selina Hickman.

His father, a skilled tradesman, had no head for business and Stanley spent most of his youth in poverty, gaining an intermittent education and was mostly self taught.

As well as mathematics, he taught himself mechanics, astronomy, music and French.

In 1854 he set up his own business, determined to improve the quality and lower the cost of mathematical drawing instruments.

His inventions won him a prestigious award in 1862.

With his business flourishing he married Elizabeth Ann Savory, the daughter of a waterman.

Their marriage was happy but childless, though this did not deter the generous couple who adopted two daughters.

The Stanleys’ home stood on the corner of Albert and Harrington Road, although they later moved to Cumberlow Lodge on Chalfont Road.

In a fitting memorial to Stanley’s generosity, Cumberlow Lodge was a children’s home for over a century after his death, but it was unceremoniously torn down by developers in December 2006.

Stanley moved his factory to Norwood, producing a variety of instruments for civil, military, and mining engineers, prospectors and explorers, architects, meteorologists and artists, and by 1900 his firm became a limited company, with authorised capital of £120,000.

Stanley was heavily involved in the local community.

In 1901, spurred on by his own experiences and by coming into contact with his unskilled labourers, he decided to build and set up Stanley Technical Trade School. It was the first of its kind in the country.

The school was designed to educate boys between the ages of 12 and 15 in general studies, as well as trade. It was made to Stanley’s own design and included an astronomy tower.

The original building and school still stand, but lost the name of its benefactor despite petitions from local residents.

During the last 15 years of his life Stanley gave over £80,000 to education projects.

In 1907 he was made a Freeman of the Borough. He died at his home in Cumberlow, South Norwood, on August 14, 1909, and was buried at Elmers End cemetery.

Apart from what he left his wife, most of his estate, valued at £59,000, was bequeathed to trade schools and students in south London.

• Do you know about of Croydon’s hidden history? Tell the Heritage desk on 0208 330 9559

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