The person responsible for the building of the Grafton Hall in Village Way was local resident Mr Charles Day who lived at Coombe Lodge, Half Moon Lane. He leased a large number of houses in the area including Fife Lodge, the next house along Half Moon Lane.
In May 1908 he leased the one acre field adjoining his garden for £5 per annum. Not long after, in February 1910, he asked the Dulwich Estate for permission to build a public hall on part of this field – using an area approximately 55 feet wide and 200 feet deep. He offered “to erect on the land, within two years, a detached hall, one story in height, in accordance with the sketch plans now submitted, at a cost of not less than £850”. Mr Day told the Manager that the possible uses to which the hall would be put included “badminton, club whist drives, musical evenings, gymnasium, social and other meetings, lectures, private theatricals, bazaars for charitable objects, and receptions.” He added that admission would be by invitation or ticket only, and that no money would be taken at the doors. The Manager was clearly impressed by Mr Day saying that he thought “he was not likely to allow the premises to be used for any purpose detrimental to the neighbourhood.”
Work started in June 1910 and in September Mr Day asked for consent to “add to the south east side of the hall a wide corridor with a glazed roof, and with wide exit doors at each end.” The Surveyor thought it an improvement – it is still there. The hall was completed by 24th November and the final cost was reported as £1235. In March 1912 Mr Hetherington Palmer produced drawings showing a proposed extension “a large supper room, kitchen and lavatory accommodation”. The Surveyor’s report said “I consider the addition a distinct improvement on the premises, and think the plans should receive the sanction of the Governors.”
Mr Day was secretary of the hall from 1912 to 1920 and also secretary of the Grafton Lawn Tennis Club which was based here for a time – presumably they played on courts on the remaining section of the field.
In 1925, following Mr Day’s death, the lease of the hall was taken over by the Misses E G and E H Harper and in June 1931 the Misses Harper applied for permission to let the back hall every Sunday evening, from 7-8pm, for the purpose of bible lectures by the Christadelphians. They said that “there will be no money taken and no music but a small poster is to be exhibited in the front garden.” The Christadelphians were considered acceptable but they were not allowed to put up a poster.
In April 1933 the Misses Harper tried to obtain a licence from the Estate to allow them to sell ‘intoxicating liquor’ when they wished but they were told that they would have to apply every time they wanted to. The Apostles Golfing Society Dulwich appeared to be one of the major users of the hall as they had temporary ‘intoxicating liquor’ licenses in October 1937, and January and April 1938.
In 1942 the hall was requisitioned by the London County Council and turned into a ‘British Restaurant’. British Restaurants, originally named Communal Kitchens, were created during the Second World War by the Ministry of Food and run by local committees on a non-profit making basis.
The Grafton Hall remained a British Restaurant long after the war had ended, finally closing in 1950, after which it was retained by the LCC for two more years for use as school classrooms before becoming vacant. In October 1954 a manager of the Dulwich Estate reported that “the building has been empty for a considerable time and has assumed a very neglected appearance and is suffering damage”. In September 1956 an offer was received to use the building for the assembly and storage of plastic decorative work and floral decorations. However, a more promising offer for the lease was then made by Phyllis Walker ANATD to use the building as a dance academy; the dancing school started in the autumn of 1957.
In 1971 the 1961-2 World Professional Dance Champions, Bob Burgess and Doreen Freemen took over the running of the Grafton and as a result the studio was elevated to one of the leading ballroom dance establishments in the world. Bob and Doreen won a host of amateur and professional British and World titles over the years including joint and individual Carl Alan Awards. For eight years, Doreen partnered Victor Silvester in the very popular BBC television’s ‘BBC Dancing Club’ and Bob played in a film called ‘Dance Hall’, starring Petula Clark and Diana Dors.
Bob and Doreen were succeeded by Brenda Bishop who, with her husband Paul, were Senior British dance champions.
In 2010 Paul Burbedge, the current custodian, took up the reins. Paul is a former Scottish Amateur Ballroom Champion.
Well known faces of Strictly Come Dancing fame, Len Goodman, Anton Du Beke, Erin Boag and Karen Hardy have all trod the boards of Grafton Hall at some point in time.
Details taken from “Strictly Come Dancing – The Story of Grafton Hall” by Brian Green and Ian McInnes.
In 2017 Grafton Dance Centre was selected as a location for the feature film “King of Thieves” produced by StudioCanal telling the story of the Hatton Garden jewellery heist. The film features a scene where Terry Perkins (played by Jim Broadbent) and John Kenny Collins (played by Tom Courtenay) attend Terry Perkins’ granddaughter’s ballet class. Sally-Ann Hodge and the Dulwich Ballet School stage a typical lesson as background to the dialogue.