architecture Community History Palmers Green Planning and open spaces Shops Uncategorized

Every Street in Palmers Green #9: The wonder that was Grouts (now Skate Attack)

grouts as it wasTalk to any Palmers Greener who has been here much more than a decade and the name Grouts will send them of into a trance of dreamy remembrance. The place with the cash railway, for schoolwear, for underwear, for you-just-couldn’t-get-anywhere-else wear.

The exercise to compile the local list of heritage assets isn’t just about proposing new entries, but checking on old ones. Some of them have been lost since it was last updated, like the Pilgrim’s Rest in Hazelwood Lane. Grouts is gone too, but not the building, and not quite all of the frontage (in fact, not even the last signage – you can still just about make it out in Devonshire Road) though some has been lost.

The last local lists said that the frontage of Grout’s was possibly original. Sue Whittemore, whose family owned Grouts from its opening during the First World War, has got in touch to confirm that it is indeed original, or at least it was until the shop doors closed in 2002. She has also provided the proof – six pages of documents from Pope’s the shop fitters of Kilburn dated at the end of 1914. The original Grouts lettering was in gold leaf, the woodwork in polished mahogany with inserts in matchwood, polished glass frontage complemented with beaded glasswork.

Grouts quote from 1914

Sadly the individual glass panes you can see on the photo of Grouts dated xxx have been lost, replaced by single sheets, and the colour scheme of Skate Attack tends to the garish. But the overall shape and top fascia are there, as are some of the original floor tiles.

Is that enough for repeat listing among Enfield’s Heritage Assets? I don’t know, but I know that Grouts is forever listed in Palmers Greeners memories…

In case you haven’t seen it, here is a wonderful video about Grouts by Tec Evans– featuring Sue Whittemore. There is also more about Grouts and its ‘Terminal Vests’ here

  • 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 22 November.
Art and Culture Film History Palmers Green

Every Street in Palmers Green #7: How Palmers Green invented a Raj

Nomination for the local list of heritage assets: 130 Fox Lane and 63 Bourne Hill

Like any other place with a reasonable sized population, Palmers Green has had its fair share of famous people, in particular writers. Most people know that PG was home to Stevie Smith for most of her life, but less celebrated is Paul Scott, writer of The Jewel in the Crown, part of his Raj Quartet. Scott, by then living in Hampstead, won the Booker Prize in 1977 with his sequel to Raj, Staying On.

Scott was born on the 25 March 1920 in the upstairs front bedroom of his parents’ house at 130 Fox Lane. His father, a Yorkshire man, had come to London two decades earlier, and worked as a commercial artist to the fashion trade alongside his unmarried sisters (their studio was a three story Edwardian gabled building called Wyphurst in Southgate High Street).

The Scott family, says biographer Hilary Spurling, allowed themselves the luxury of feeling they were a cut above the neighbours – Tom Scott was the only ‘professional’ man at their end of Fox Lane. The hauteur however was masking something rather different. Scott’s mother Frances, a women who herself had creative ambitions, came from the wrong side of the tracks – the dreaded south London – was the daughter of a labourer and had a sister who was in service. Frances was apparently acutely, almost obsessively aware of their precarious social standing in their new posh suburb. Safe to say, her sister wasn’t a particularly welcome visitor.

Before we allow ourselves to think Frances odd, we need to bear in mind that the hard work involved in maintaining a veneer of respectability in Palmers Green of the 1920s seems to have been all consuming and frankly exhausting. It wasn’t unusual for neighbours who couldn’t pay the bills to suddenly disappear having done a moonlight flit. Other crimes which could lead to being hounded out included such horrors as eating in the kitchen, or doing the washing at the weekend. Palmers Green was new, and its residents new newly respectable. Risk showing it and lowering the social tone – and you were out.
Scott later often said that the social divisions he found when he first journeyed to India in 1943 were little different from those he remembers from his childhood in Palmers Green: “When I lived there we were as aware of social distinctions as they were in Mayapore.”. He did what any good writer would do, and put them in his books. For India, read Palmers Green.

Scott’s Palmers Green childhood was up and down. He and his brother were initially educated at a prep school linked to Winchmore Hill Collegiate School, in a hall just a few steps away from their house (probably Amberley Hall which was on the north side of Fox Lane, now demolished). But the Scotts were forced to leave Fox Lane in 1933, as the depression hit, and moved in with the aunts at Wyphurst, causing all kinds of family tension. By 1934 financial difficulties meant that Paul had also to leave school, though he was not yet quite 15, and forced by his father to become an accountant.

In June 1939, finances improving, the family moved again, first to Cannon Hill – father and son celebrated with a pint in the Cherry Tree – then back to Palmers Green, to 63 Bourne Hill, on the south side of the road near the covered reservoir.

Paul’s room in Bourne Hill was at the front, above the garage you can still see today – he spoke of it as the room where he ‘really began to write’. It was also where he met the poet Clive Sansom and his wife Ruth, who lived next door in a flat at no 61 Bourne Hill. The Sansoms weren’t your typical neighbours. At the time Scott met them, they were rehearsing a part sung, part spoken recital of T S Elliot’s The Waste Land. Scott and the Sansoms became extremely close, and were to have a considerable effect on his early life and writing, sharing ideas and their latest work in a slightly intense and claustrophobic threesome.

Scott joined the army as a private soldier in July 1940, as the bombs fell on Southgate. Though far from the worst hit in London, one hundred and 18 bombs and two mines fell on Southgate in October 1940 alone, including one which hit and demolished two houses in Fox Lane. Later that year, tragedy struck when Scott’s aunts’ house, Wyphurst, was destroyed by a time bomb which had lain unexploded in the house. Both of his remaining aunts were killed, one outright, the other as a result of her injuries. Meanwhile, Scott rose to lance corporal, but was busted back down to private in early 1941, following a mysterious incident which Hilary Spurling indicates was probably related to a sexual indiscretion with another soldier and caused a near nervous breakdown.

scottHis life changed with a posting to India as an officer cadet came in February 1943 – he eventually rose to Captain in the Indian Army Service Corps. The war over, Scott returned to London in 1946 and resumed work as an accountant before becoming a literary agent, representing Arthur C Clarke, Elizabeth David and Mervyn Peake among others.
He published his first novel, Johnny Sahib in 1952. From 1960 he devoted himself to writing entirely and began work on the Jewel in the Crown, the first novel in the Raj Quartet, at his home in Hampstead in 1964. The story, beginning with the rape of Daphne Manners and its consequences, is set against the background of the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, one of its key themes, life as an outsider in your own country, just has his family had been in PG.

Scott struggled for most of his career to make money from his novels, plays and poetry and often supplemented his income with journalism. Though The Raj Quartet is the work for which Scott eventually achieved greatest fame, it was his last novel, Staying On, for which Scott achieved widespread recognition, with the award of the Booker Prize in 1977, just a year before his death. Six years later, the Raj Quartet was made into a 14 part TV series under the title Jewel in the Crown by Granada TV; it continues to be one of the most highly rated television dramas series of all time, and made actor Charles Dance famous.
Scott died in 1978, aged just 57, following a struggle with cancer of the colon and the effects of a longstanding difficult relationship with alcohol.

By that time he had not lived in Palmers Green for many years, but his parents appear to have remained here, possibly into the 1960s. Tom Scott died in 1958, and Frances in 1969.

  • 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 week in November.
architecture Art and Culture Bowes Park Community Green Palmers Green Health History Palmers Green Planning and open spaces Sport

Every street in Palmers Green #6: How Palmers Green went round in circles

Rosalie Skating Rink exterior image (c) Enfield Local Studies Archive by kind permission
Rosalie Skating Rink exterior image (c) Enfield Local Studies Archive by kind permission

If you think that nothing about Palmers Green has ever been cutting edge, then think again. Or perhaps not.

In October 1910 John Cathles Hill, a speculative builder who had been responsible for much of the development of the Bowes Manor Estate (and two of north London’s most beautiful pubs, Crouch End’s Queen’s Head and Green Lanes’ The Salisbury), opened  a vast hall to cater for the craze of the age – roller skating.  Named the Rosalie, on its opening day, 700 people thronged to whizz round on the maple floor, to the accompaniment of a military band.

Dignified whizzing around (c) Enfield Local Studies Archive by kind permission
Dignified whizzing around (c) Enfield Local Studies Archive by kind permission

Unfortunately Hill had opened his new amenity just a little too late. After a rousing start, visitor numbers quickly fell off a cliff and by 1912 the building was sold to the London Omnibus Company. The failure of the rink may have been the last straw for Hill, who at one time had been a major builder and owner of the largest brick kiln in the world. In 1912 he was also declared bankrupt  with a deficit of over one million pounds.

The roller rink building is still standing, now the home of rather more enduring wheeled transport in the form of Arriva buses. In 2004 Maurice Cullum, Mike Wormall, Ted Simpson  Arriva employees at the garage, decided to research the history of the bus garage further.  The result was  Palmers Green Bus Station – a comprehensive history, a 140 page tome detailing the history of the building and of London buses in the area. If you see it, grab it, because it now often goes for extortionate prices on the internet.

Nomination for the local list: Palmers Green Bus Station

  • 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 Comedy Community History Music Palmers Green

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.
Art and Culture Community Palmers Green Planning and open spaces Spooky stories

No sleeps till the Scream

Neighbours, the  time is almost upon us. Ever since the manuscript was found in the town hall telling of  the way in which our forebears banished evil, there has been an imperative to make sure that Palmers Green remains pure and good hearted. With the Palmers Scream this evening, at 5.15 sharp in Broomfield Park, we will meet together and celebrate the dark, and our stories.


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.