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Guest post: Palmers Green’s Cormac O’Duffy: the music of reconciliation

A memory of a talented Palmers Green family by journalist Frances Sealey.

Visiting Dresden in the last week was quite an emotional experience in several wayand not least that it reminded me of a remarkable family that lived in Palmers Green.

The O’Duffy family were a multi talented one. Michael the father was a very accomplished singer of Irish folk songs and he performed on several occasions for the Enfield Committee For Racial Harmony at some of our events including a huge event of over 300 people in the Edmonton Banqueting Hall with contributions from our ethnic communities that ended with a West Indian Steel Band.

His eldest son Paul was a talented music producer who I think worked with Paul McCartney.

But it was the youngest son Cormac who had the links with Dresden. Cormac was a music teacher and taught many young people including my daughter the piano. Cormac was passionate about bringing communities that had been in conflict together to heal and reconcile.

With him I once arranged a showing at his church of the banned BBC film “The War Game” that dramatized the effect of nuclear war on London – a film that impacted on all who saw it.

But Cormac also felt the tragedy that people went through in Dresden as a result of the mass bombings on that City during the War. Equally he was also concerned with what had happened in Coventry.

Dresden was bombed in February 1945 with 39,000 tons of high explosive killing around 25,000 people through both the blast and the following fire storm. The blitz on Coventry took place in 1940 with over 4,300 homes being destroyed as well as the Cathedral.

Cormac wanted to bring the communities of Coventry and Dresden together and composed a Requiem for that special occasion that was performed in front of an audience from both communities.

I felt the emotion of that whilst I stood in the square to listen to two young people singing opera to the audience gathering round in such beautiful tones that it made me think of Cormac and his deployment of music to express common humanity.

As the singers finished lightening lit up the sky and blasts of thunder could be heard across the city and again I thought of 1945 knowing that was the sound they heard then – only that time it brought not lightening but bombs and death.

Cormac O’Duffy from Palmers Green helped the world to move on from that dreadful time and through his Requiem find peace and reconciliation.

A Dresden Requiem – Cormac O’Duffy Music

— Read on


Guest post: Thinking back to Franklin House School

So many people have fond memories of where they went to school. This is a guest blog from an ex student of Franklin House boys preparatory school in Palmerston Road. According to British History Online, the school began its life in Wood Green in  1897 before moving to Frankfort House in Palmerston Road 1901. There were nearly 140 boys by 1973.

Does this trigger a memory? Let us know …

There is more about Andrew Ray, 10 year old star of 1950’s The Mudlark, on the website, including this great article by his son on the relationship between Andrew and his father, the comic and local resident Ted Ray.

Bowes Park is an interesting district of North London ‘twixt Wood Green and Palmer’s Green, its name a link to the late Queen Mother’s family, which had sold land in the district as building spread in the second half of the 19th Century.  Palmerston was the Tory PM of the day, while the building developer had been Alderman Sidney, hence Sidney Avenue & Sidney Road within the district.

FHS was run by Mr JP Hope whose wife ran the kitchen with her own mother, Mrs Shiplake and one afternoon a week after school, she also ran the uniform shop. The Hope’s house was to one side with a magnificent chestnut tree in the back garden, on the other was the Christian Science Reading Room while across the back flowed the New River from Enfield in towards London. Its banks always had luxuriant verdant edges. The Fourth & Fifth forms were housed in a large, green corrugated-iron clad hut adjoining the New River boundary.

Outside the school gates was a red post box and some 5 minutes walk down Kelvin Avenue along Green Lanes was the celebrated Dom’s Snack Bar, Maxwell Miel an estate agent, ‘Jay House’, Pitman’s College and the Bus Stops for the  29, 29A buses for Southgate, Cockfosters & Oakwood and the 279 for Winchmore Hill, a route that had been a trolley bus line until such elegant vehicles were banished in perhaps 1961 by red petrol buses.

Wednesday afternoon were given over to Sports at Tottenhall Road, occasionally at Broomfield Park. School attendance was also required in the church hall on Saturday mornings for Drill sessions and human pyramid exercises led by Mr Hawtin, a retired-PTI who still terrified one or two fathers who had known him before the war. Mr Hawtin also offered swimming lessons at the Wood Green pool although demand for these sessions was, surprisingly, not keen.

 One pupil was Andrew Ray (1940-03), son of the comedian and violin player Ted Ray who became a child star. His brother was Robin Ray, the star of BBC TV’s ‘Face the Music” who may also have attended FHS. Many boys went on to Highgate or other local schools.




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A present to Palmers Green

I hope you had a great Christmas. We did, though there were some recent losses amongst family and friends, and not everyone was as well as I would have liked them to be. But it’s a cathartic time, and one where  we hopefully end the year reminding ourselves, if we are lucky, of the love all around us, and that however difficult life is sometimes, there can still be sparkle and possibility.

This year we all got one other, amazing present. The Bourlets clock, long fallen  into sad decay, and telling the right time only twice a day, re-emerged from behind scaffolding and covers, beautiful and fully restored. No fuss, no ceremony, just there, renewed.

The clock a few months ago

The renovations were carried out by Frix Vasou whose family owns the building and for many years ran the audio visual shop which occupied the premises up until 2014, Frix had  long wanted to restore the clock but the costs looked like they would be astronomical. Then the shop was leased to Costa Coffee, and leaks to the building following heavy rain meant roof repairs and scaffolding –  Frix asked for it to be reconfigured so he could get a look of the clock up close. The clock was then gutted, rubbed down and painted, and new clock faces, hands, motors and LEDs from a clock tower specialist were modified by Frix to fit the clock. There is now a new electric supply and remote control capability so that the clock can be reset in spring and autumn and a few more tweaks since the clock reemerged to get it to a state where Frix is happy with it,

‘but its done and it’s finally working, which is what counts.’

It will be up there for many years to come. I have enjoyed bringing it back to life and hope that it brings enjoyment to others too.’

and now

If one person can do that what could we all do, if we gave up moaning about this and that, and just got on with what we can do for our area, here and now…?

So I wonder what 2018 will hold for us. For me, it seems like time to take some real pride in Palmers Green, take advantage of the cleaner, newer streetscape, polish the pilasters, remove the taxi card stickers, cherish the old and build something new.

Happy New Year!


A new word for ugly

I was amused by this article from Londonist’s ever entertaining Matt Brown, not least because it introduced me to a new word, ‘cackbastard’ which I am sure will come in handy.

I love Palmers Green but I don’t love it all. The Store21 parade for example which is all the more upsetting when you remember that it replaced the by all accounts wonderful Palmadium Cinema.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this.


Fireworks and candle grease

One of the loveliest things about running a history blog is when people get in touch with what Palmers Green means to them and how it shaped their lives. Here are some memories from Brian Watling who grew up here on and off from 1938.

I grew up in Palmers Green, Lived for 2 to 3 years in an apartment in Oakthorpe road from my birth in 1938 and then we moved to Lynbridge gardens where we lived until I left home and married in 1964.

My father was an Air Raid Warden during the war and I can remember seeing the Doodlebugs coming over Palmers Green after I returned from Newcastle where I was evacuated to early in the war. I still have a coat hanger from Groats haberdashery with their Ivory name plaque riveted to the wood. I went to Hazelwood Lane Infants school and Junior schools.

Our house backed onto the New River which always drew us to trespass in the hope that the “River Men” did not see us. Janes and Adams was my favourite toy shop, The chemist at the top of Hazelwood Lane provided us with certain chemicals to make our home made fireworks!.  I used to get my hair cut in the barbers just round the corner from the National Westminster bank on the Triangle. We spent a lot of our playtime in Broomfield Park, using candle grease on the slide to make it really quick. There was also an abundance of conker trees near the entrance where we were forever throwing various missiles at the trees in order to get the conkers to drop much to the annoyance of passers by and the Park Keepers.

My Father founded the Fives Cricket Club whose home was at the “Wreck” at the end of Lynbridge Gardens. I understand that the Fives now play up near Oakwood Tube Station.

Other places we often frequented in the school holidays were Hadley Woods (29 Bus from the Triangle) where we used to trespass onto the railway line and stick pennies on the line with tape so when the train ran over them they doubled in size!

Barrowell Green Swimming Baths were great fun in the summer accessed through Ash Grove where a Doodlebug landed during the war. I remember sleeping in a steel shelter with my brother in our back room during the war, you slid into it and then pulled up the steel fence panel around the outside to protect us in case the house got hit.