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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.


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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.
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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.


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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.
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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.
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Digitization prompts fears for local archive

Times are tough for cash strapped local authorities as they seek to provide a plethora of essential services. Unsurprising then, that Enfield Council has been looking for areas in which it can find economies. One such appears to be Enfield Local Studies Centre and Museum.

The Enfield Local Studies Centre identifies, acquires, and preserves archival materials that document the history of the London Borough of Enfield, and makes records available for the benefit of all. If you haven’t been there personally, you will have to take my word for it that it’s run by an amazing staff, who have a brilliant knowledge and a genuine enjoyment in revealing the uncovered history of the borough.

The archive probably doesn’t bring in much hard cash directly, but it performs wonders in developing a sense of place in Enfield, working across the generations and helping promote the borough, and helping others to do so. Palmers Green Jewel in the North wouldn’t have anything like its current content without help from the team, in particular in sourcing photos and references.

Until 18 October, Enfield Council is running a consultation on big changes to the archive. The aim is to digitize the entire collection so that it will be available online, but – to avoid a drop in service while that digitization is happening – if the plans go ahead you will only be able to visit by appointment. It will be exciting to be able to access the archive online but once the digitization is complete there is no indication of what might happen to the service and the team, and that is where my concerns for the service really set in in earnest.

A petition has been set up via 38 Degrees – I am not sure that it is quite accurate in that the petitioners seem to think that the intention is to make the digital archive available via, which is not the case from my reading of the consultation information. Enfield Council has also not explicitly said that the service will be cut, although obviously that is a reasonable fear. You can sign the petition here – more importantly, if you care about the archive, please respond to the consultation by clicking here.