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Every street in Palmers Green #5: Ladies and Gentlemen, live from Palmers Green…

The Intimate Theatre image (c) St Monica's church
The Intimate Theatre image (c) St Monica’s church

A giant mast towered above the Intimate Theatre, dwarfing neighbouring St Monica’s Church. Below, the car park buzzed with BBC crew, clutching clipboards and hurrying about with technical equipment. Inside the theatre, dressed up to the nines, the audience hummed with excitement, chirruping to neighbours while they waited for the performance to start and the cameras to roll. It was 2 December 1946 and the Intimate Theatre Palmers Green was about to play host to a first – the broadcast of a play live on television – George and Margaret, a comedy by Gerald Savory.

It had always been the intention that the Intimate would accommodate some theatrical productions, but national fame certainly hadn’t been part of the original plan. The theatre had begun its life as St Monica’s Church Hall in 1931. Opened by Cardinal Bourne, it had been built by the church as a place for good clean fun – church groups and meetings, dancing – there was a sprung floor – and yes, a little amateur dramatics – there was modern equipment and a balcony. In the 1930s, people made their own fun.

It all changed when in 1935 25-year-old John Clements approached the church with plans to run his own theatre. Clements was already beginning to make a name for himself on stage and screen but the circumstances under which he came to be able to put in a bid for the Intimate and the exact financial arrangements with St Monica’s don’t seem entirely clear – or indeed why he chose Palmers Green, though the hall appears to have been just the right size for his plans. Perhaps it was PG’s reputation for manicured respectability and keeping-up-with-the-neighbours, including in matters of culture. Most nearby theatres focused on variety performances – there was nothing in the area catering to a higher brow.

Whatever went on behind the scenes in securing a lease from St Monica’s only four years after they had built the hall for themselves, Clements got his wish. Among the plans were new seating, but, says Geoff Bowden in his fascinating book about the Intimate, all did not go quite to plan. The first play to run at the Intimate was to be Dover Road by AA Milne on Boxing Day 1935. The delivery of the new seats on Christmas Eve was delayed and workmen downed tools. Undaunted the actors rolled up their sleeves and did it themselves, and then did the show!

After a short interlude the theatre opened proper and from January 1936 began the reperatory theatre traditional routine of a play a week which was to continue for many years.

The process of a play a week at the Intimate was certainly more arduous than glamorous. At any one time the company would be performing one play, rehearsing another, and learning lines for a third. The conditions were not luxurious. The stage at the Intimate was small and going from one side to the other out of sight of the audience required actors to leave the building through one door, walk around the back, and enter through another (eventually a covered walkway was installed to protect the actors from the elements.)

Early days were precarious, and though productions often got rousing responses, the quality could, apparently be quite variable. Stevie Smith was a regular among the audience and wrote to friends in 1937 that she was glad she hadn’t waited for a production of a new play to arrive on her home turf at the Intimate ‘and almost certainly risk its mangling by an indifferent cast’.

Inside the intimate. Image (c) St Monica's Church
Inside the intimate. Image (c) St Monica’s Church

The Intimate Theatre was also ‘intimate’ in all senses. Though its reputation meant that it attracted audiences from far and wide, the core audience was drawn from Palmers Green and its close environs – a trip to the Intimate meant a chance to catch up with your neighbours over a cup of coffee served to you at your seat. The resident company also meant the cast was tight-knit and the audience developed particular favourites. Some among the regular cast, like Sheila Raynor and husband Keith Pyott, lived locally – in their case just a stumble away in Stonard Road. Another Intimate regular who lived locally was Brian Hayes, Patricia Hayes’ brother.

From the 1930s onwards, the Intimate attracted a host of famous and soon to be famous actors. June Whitfield appeared at the Intimate in 1946 and 1947, and was mortified to be out for a coffee with a friend when she realised that she should be in the afternoon matinée, the timing of which had recently changed. She arrived for the second act, which must have been somewhat confusing for the audience. Richard Attenborough made his debut performance in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness. Irene Handl appeared in the forties and then again in 1965, and EastEnders’ Anna Wing in several plays in the 1940s. Nicholas Parsons was also a regular for a while. Later, there were performances by a freshly demobbed Roger Moore, Arthur Lowe, Bill Owen, John Inman, Dad’s Army writer Jimmy Perry and his wife Gilda, Tony Blackburn and, strangely, Stephen Berkoff.

Unfortunately television, the medium which had helped put the Intimate on the map, eventually became its biggest challenge – people were choosing to stay indoors and be entertained in the comfort of their own homes. By the 1960s the Intimate was the only reperatory theatre left in London and a bingo and social club was created to try to boost income, amidst protests from the regulars. By 1967 the theatre was receiving support from Enfield council and Director Earnest Dudley was trying to boost audiences by introducing new casts for each production. Unfortunately this had the effect of alienating some of the local audience and an attempt to backtrack and go back to a company didn’t seem to help

It was around this time that the Intimate hosted perhaps the most unusual performance in its eventful history. In November 1968, a 21-year-old David Bowie appeared in a mime improv production called Pierrot in Turquoise. Bowie was far from famous at the time. He had only released one album as a solo artist and was still 8 months away from the breakthrough single Space Oddity. Devised by dancer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp, who was to radically influence Bowie’s approach to performance, the five songs featured in the production were all written by Bowie. The four nights at Palmers Green appear to have been the last time the production was performed live. The website gives the plot synopsis of the TV version thus:

“Pierrot is a freaky mime who ventures into a mirror where he falls in love and rolls around with the equally grotesque Columbine. But when Columbine beds black stallion (in half-assless spandex) Harlequin, Pierrot’s jealousy takes over and drives him to murder. Cloud (Bowie) watches over the proceedings from his perch (on a ladder!) and narrates in song.”

Unmissable. Though most of us did.

The Intimate closed as a rep theatre in 1969 and reverted to a parish hall. All was not lost however and the theatre continued as a venue for local amateur groups, as it does to this day.

One off events also continued. The 60s and 70s saw performances from The Wurzels, Joe Brown, George Melly, Tommy Trinder, and Hinge and Bracket. There was also a tradition of panto, attracting stars such as Bill Pertwee, Ruth Madoc, and Tony Blackburn. Bill Owen wrote and performed in Mother Goose, and John Noakes starred in Cinderella in 1986.

Though performances are now by local societies, the Intimate remains at the heart of PG’s history and community. If you would like to find out more about the story of the Intimate Theatre, please do seek out Geoff Bowden’s fascinating book, The Intimate Theatre.

Nomination for the local list of heritage assets: The Intimate Theatre, Green Lanes

  • This article has been prepared as part of the process to nominate buildings and landmarks to Enfield’s updated local list. For more information see And if you have any suggestions for buildings which aren’t listed but should be included in the local list, please get in touch. But do get in touch soon, as submissions need to be in by the second weeks in November.
architecture Art and Culture History Palmers Green

Every street in Palmers Green #4: from the words of Miss Hum, great things come

The corner of Osbourne Road and Green Lanes where Miss Hum had her school
The corner of Osbourne Road and Green Lanes where Miss Hum had her school

On 8th May 1905 a tiny new school was opened Palmers Green at no 1 Osbourne Road, its founder a passionate 29 year old from Tottenham who had decided from the age of just three that it would be her vocation to be a teacher.

Alice Nellie Hum was a woman with a gift. According to Frances Spalding:

…[she] enjoyed huge respect. She was a small, red-cheeked woman invariably dressed in brown: velvet in winter, silk and cotton in the summer. She was bright, cheerful, energetic and a silent martyr to ill health. Though small in stature and nicknamed ‘Cow’s Eyes’ by her pupils, she exerted complete authority and was capable of making the largest girl feel very small.

We might not know so much about Miss Hum of course had she not had two famous pupils – in fact, arguably the most famous people that Palmers Green ever produced – the writer Stevie Smith, who began attending the school in 1911 when she was 9, and her contemporary the actress Flora Robson, who was 13 when she began there in 1915.

And had she not taught both of them English literature from her front room at 1 Osbourne Road. Said Robson of the lessons, where the girls sat on the floor

Miss Hum had a great gift for imparting her love of literature, it was not just a lesson. My hands  shook with joy when I picked up the Golden Treasury of Verse, my Tennyson, and the works of William Shakespeare…it was not just a swallowing of facts and figures; like a pebble dropped into still waters, the circles widened till we began to love what we studied, and went on with our studies after we left school.

Miss Hum was also a woman of principle – when war broke out, she read anti-war poems to her pupils to counteract the jingoistic atmosphere that was prevailing in the area. She was a very wise and original lady said Stevie Smith ‘because when the war came…she said that not absolutely every German was ‘a fiend incarnate’ as was the general opinion in our suburb’.

Avondale College
Avondale College

The school had six pupils on its opening day, but expanded so quickly that it had spilled over into the house on the same corner but fronting Green Lanes 1907, and then into a third building. By 1912 when Miss Hum went into partnership with her cousin Elsie Roberts and friend Esther Tempest, its reputation had apparently grown to the point where families were moving to Palmers Green to be near the school.  By 1918 the school had grown to 300 pupils and had moved to Avondale Hall, in Hoppers Road.

Sadly, Palmers legendary teacher did not have a long life. Hum had become a Quaker in 1916, her faith inspiring the school’s motto By love serve one another. She died aged just 53, and is buried at the Quaker Meeting House in Winchmore Hill. Her legacy continues: Palmers Green High School in Hoppers Road.

(Quotes are taken from from Frances Spalding’s Stevie Smith:  A biography) 

  • This article has been prepared as part of the process to nominate buildings and landmarks to Enfield’s updated local list. For more information see And if you have any suggestions for buildings which aren’t listed but should be included in the local list, please get in touch. But do get in touch soon, as submissions need to be in by the second weeks in November.
architecture Art and Culture Community Enfield History Palmers Green Planning and open spaces

Every street in Palmers Green #3: Palmers Green’s Gatekeeper

rp_The-Fox-April-2012-detail-300x225.jpgWhy do I love The Fox? Well, I admit to having had a drink in there once or twice, several trips to Talkies, and even been to a christening. It is also, so far, Enfield’s only Asset of Community Value.

But none of those things are really it. This series is about buildings we think should appear on Enfield’s list of local heritage assets. And The Fox to me fits the bill better than almost any of the buildings that were missed from the last edition.

Why? because in many ways it is the most iconic building in Palmers Green. Coming into Palmers Green from the north, it announces Palmer Green in bold and high Edwardian style, preparing one for the exuberant Sykes architecture further down.

The case for the importance of the Fox was made in the application for The Fox to become an Asset of Community Value earlier this year, so, at the risk of boring through repetition, I will simply allow an edited version of those words to make the case for the Fox also appearing on the List of Local Heritage Assets.

The Fox stands in a prominent position on the corner of Green Lanes and its namesake, Fox Lane. Tall and imposing, for those coming to Palmers Green from the north, it acts as a gateway into Palmers Green’s main shopping area.

The Fox has a number of accolades. It is the oldest remaining pub in Palmers Green to have continuously stood on the same site – there has been a Fox on the site for over 300 years. It is also the only purpose built public house still remaining open on the main route between Wood Green and some way north of Winchmore Hill, the others being shop conversions with little architectural or historical merit.

The current building, of 1904, was built as part and parcel of the Edwardian development of Palmers Green. The size and grandeur of the building is a reminder that Palmers Green was once a place of enough significance to require a hotel and associated dining for travellers. Before the coming of the car, the Fox was the terminus of the horse drawn bus service into London, run by the Davey family of publicans who had stables at the back. Once the trams came, it was a major landmark on the journey from London. All taxi drivers still know the Fox.

As a former bus and train terminus, and a hotel, the Fox has always been at the centre of Palmers Green’s social and community life. June Brown, Dot Cotton from Eastenders, ran her theatre company from it, bands, including big names like Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, have played in it, famous comedians perform in it to this day, and the famous have drunk in it – locals like Rod Stewart and Ted Ray and visitors including the famous names who trod the boards at the Intimate Theatre.

The Fox, then, holds a position of huge cultural significance in an area, which tends to think of itself as having a short past… If Palmers Green were ever to lose its landmark pub, and this landmark building, it would lose part of itself.

I still do not know the architect, having tried all the usual places, but perhaps there will be someone reading this who has a cunning ruse to find out, or can even tell me.

Nomination for the local list: The Fox

  • This article has been prepared as part of the process to nominate buildings and landmarks to Enfield’s updated local list. For more information see And if you have any suggestions for buildings which aren’t listed but should be included in the local list, please get in touch.
architecture Art and Culture Community Enfield Green Palmers Green History Palmers Green Planning and open spaces

Every Street in Palmers Green #2: A warning to heavy traffic

Deadman’s bridge and the traction engine sign, Green Lanes

If you walk down Green Lanes in the direction of the north circular on the west side of the road you will eventually come to Deadman’s bridge. This stretch of road was once known as Deadman’s Hill, although no one seems to know quite why (unless you credit the fanciful story of Gabriel Haynes and his tragic accident which appears elsewhere on this site).

The name appears to be ancient. A History of the County of Middlesex vol 5 (www/ states that in the sixteenth century Green Lanes was a collection of linked roads, one of them being Deadman’s Hill in Palmers Green. In 1789 they find a reference to “Bowes Farm Bridge, presumably Deadman’s bridge in Green Lanes” where “a single arch, was built…by the road trustees and repaired in 1822 by the county”. It is reasonable to assume that the 1789 bridge replaced an earlier structure, (given that Pymmes Brook always needed to be traversed by those heading north out of London). Presumably too the present bridge is in part or wholly another post 1822 incarnation.

One further curiosity on the bridge is a black on white and well cared for sign which gives warning to traction engines and other heavy vehicles.

‘COUNTY OF MIDDLESEX / TAKE NOTICE that this Bridge / which is a County Bridge is insufficient to carry / weights beyond the ordinary traffic of the / District and that the owners and persons in / charge of LOCOMOTIVE TRACTION ENGINES / and heavily laden CARRIAGES are warned / against using the Bridge for the passage of / any such Engines or Carriages / Richd. Nicholson / Clerk of the Peace.’

IMG_0060The reference to traction engines dates it to the last part of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th, though traction engines were a common sight well into the post war years. My personal guess is that this sign is from before the first world war, when the building boom in Palmers Green began in earnest. There must have been a huge weight of traffic as the builders brought in  materials from all over London and the south east (though much clay was actually extracted locally).

I have written to the National Traction Engine Trust, but so far no reply.  I will get in touch with Enfield Local Archives to see if they know more about Richard Nicholson.

  • This article has been prepared as part of the process to nominate buildings and landmarks to Enfield’s updated local list. For more information see And if you have any suggestions for buildings which aren’t listed but should be included in the local list, please get in touch.
architecture Palmers Green Planning and open spaces Shops Uncategorized

Every Street in Palmers Green #1: Very ‘Voyseyish’, Mr Sykes

315 -397 Green Lanes, 288 Green Lanes, 286 Green Lanes

IMG_0005If one man above all others could be said to have shaped the look of central Palmers Green it would probably have to be Arthur Sykes.

Sykes was the architect of the amazing and fanciful parade on the west side of Green Lanes up to Devonshire Road and the Grade 2 listed National Westminster Bank on the east side – according to Pevsner, Palmers Green’s gems amid ‘a poor man’s Muswell Hill’. He was also responsible for the more restrained 286 Green Lanes, now home to ubiquitous burger flippers McDonalds.

Born in 1862, Sykes came to London in 1883 to the offices of Sir Robert Williams Edis, but had already set up on his own by the age of 26. Though he built the home of Lilley (of Lilley and Skinner fame) in Clacton, he spent much of his career in designing buildings primarily for the purposes of business and retail. Such skills were much in demand – the turn of the century saw purpose-built parades and arcades springing up all over London, including Muswell Hill, Crouch End, Streatham and Bromley.

For the most part, based on the larger buildings still extant, Sykes’ style seems to have been dignified and restrained, often with a slightly Italianate or classical bent. In 1899-1901 he was commissioned to design huge premises for Pontings in Kensington. Six stories high, including two floors in the mansard roof, the new Pontings cost £14,000, an astronomical figure at the time. 1905 saw another substantial Sykes designed building, Kingsway House, springing up in Holborn and in 1911 the Lilley and Skinner shoe and boot warehouse, another six story red brick colossus.

Perhaps the restrained look was simply what his clients were asking for, for Sykes had already designed an arts and crafts shopping parade in Acton, and seems to have finally given vent to his creative energies in Palmers Green.

IMG_0003The effect he achieved in our humble home streets must be pretty much unique in the UK. The parade on Green Lanes from the Triangle to Devonshire Road, originally known as ‘The Market’, was built in seven stages, inching its way north between 1909 and 1913, and featuring ellipses, balconies and tall steep new Tudor style gables on four storey buildings. Its style was described by Pevsner in Buildings of England (London: North) as ‘Voyseyish’ and the Nat West Bank over the road at 288 ‘a triumphant essay in rusticated brick, with purple and red brick dressings, and dramatically composed chimneys’. (Voyseyish, by the way, is not a Pevsnerish term of abuse, but a reference to the leading arts and crafts architect and designer Charles Voysey). Number 286, built in 1924-5 by comparison is ‘sober’. If you stand in Lodge Drive with a degree of care and an eye out for passing cars, you should be able to contrive to see all three of Sykes’ Palmers Green creations together – the monumental parade, which could admittedly do with a lick or two of paint, no 286 and the ‘sedate 17th century style’ bank.

Sykes had already headed north before his work was done in Palmers Green, partnering with Bill Stocks of Huddersfield, getting involved in the creation of Alwoodly Golf Club in Leeds and becoming an alderman of Huddersfield, where he died in 1940. If you are visiting, you can still see the Sykes designed and grade 2 listed Empire Cinema, at 80 John William Street. Though judging by my internet search this afternoon I am afraid it appears to be a sex shop.

architecture Art and Culture Community Green Palmers Green History Palmers Green Planning and open spaces Southgate

Developer with a sense of humour?

evocative of ancient Greece
Evocative of ancient Greece

In ancient Greece. a Prytaneum or Prytaneion, was the town hall of a Greek city-state, normally housing the chief magistrate and the common altar or hearth of the community. Ambassadors, distinguished foreigners, and citizens who had done signal service were entertained there.

Why mention it now? Well, it’s the name of the new Southgate Town Hall development. The restored and extended building now consists of one and two bedroom apartments, and if you want to have a sneaky nose inside to see what has become of our Town Hall, there is an open day on 26 September).

Dear Palmers Greeners, in case the penny isn’t dropping, they have called it, essentially, Greek Town Hall.

I think I sort of like that…