Blog

Welcome to the Elstree & Borehamwood Museum blog.

This blog is about all those happenings inside and outside the Museum that have caught our attention.

From events and exhibitions, to new discoveries in the collections, to news and views.

Any comments and items to go here please contact Simon on info@elstree-museum.org.uk

Object of the Week : I for Mr Innocenti

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week : I for Mr Innocenti

Cambi Hat Factory 73a Shenley Road                                                              Innocenti when young

The Italian family of Cambi began bleaching and dyeing Panama hats in 1908, and thus were one of the earliest employers in Borehamwood.  Mr Innocenti ran the Cambi Panama Hat Bleaching works, and was also the owner of the nearby Central Garage.  The Garage was located next to Hanson’s Tea Rooms and went on selling petrol and servicing cars until the 1980s. Its site is now occupied by Nandos.  The main Cambi factory was in Shenley Road, in what is now the Shopping Park and was situated approximately where Argos stands. But in 1928 Cambi Hats was sold and their building became Keystones Knitting Mills. The entrance was down a lane now called Keystone Passage.

Mr. Cambi in Shenley Road                                                          Innocenti when older

The Cambis also had a factory at the top of Drayton Road. They had developed a system for bleaching the hats white and giving them a unique glossy sheen. After processing the hats were hung on rows of pegs to dry and looked like a miniature forest of giant toadstools. Panama hats are in fact made in Equador, although they are shipped all over the world from the port of Panama, hence the probable origin of their name. In 1908 the Panama Canal was being constructed and as well as the workers on the project, both President Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward V11 were photographed wearing them. In consequence they became very popular. In more recent times the list of celebrities wearing these stylish hats is almost endless. Humphrey Bogart, Sean Connery, and Peter O'Toole all wore them. The price range of Panama hats is enormous. You can buy one for as little as £25, but for the very best which are made in the town of Montecristi, you can pay thousands of pounds. It is all down to the weaves per inch. A "superfino" Panama hat can, according to popular rumour, hold water, and when rolled for storage, pass through a wedding ring. So there we have the reason for the hat in the museum exhibits. It is amazing that an Italian family chose Borehamwood to start a business bleaching and dyeing Panama hats that are made in Equador but they did, and it is part of our history.

The Cambi hat in our Museum collection looks more like Casper the Ghost than a real Panama hat. This is because after bleaching and dyeing the hats were sent to Luton, a couple of stops up the Midland railway line, for blocking and finishing.

Apart from the Cambi hat, the Museum collection holds many photographs of the Cambi Factory as well as Central Garage. Here are some for your delight :

Central Garage before the rebuild

Central Garage later

Panama Hats drying in Shenley Road


Object of the Week : Home of Rest for Horses

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week : Home of Rest for Horses

Now known as The Horse Trust, the Home of Rest for Horses was located off Farriers Way and Furzehill Road between 1933 and 1975.  Where housing has been built on the site, many of the local road names reflect the former Home; Saddlers Close, Cobb Close and Hunt Close etc.

The Home was a charity, set up in 1886 for the working horses of London.  Overworked and sick cab horses, milk horses, grocer’s and coal horses, mules and donkeys were offered refuge at the Home which was initially sited at a farm near Harrow.  The first resident was an overworked cab horse.  The charity was initiated by Ann Lindo, who was allegedly inspired by the novel Black Beauty.  The Home moved to Acton in 1908 and then to Cricklewood. When the Home came to Boreham Wood in 1933, all the animals were transferred by motor horse van.  A description of the site at the time stated that all the stables were under one roof with all the necessary facilities such as chaff-cutting house, a forge, boiler house and a pharmacy.

In the 1970s the land became designated for the building of a housing estate and the Home was moved to a new stable complex at Speen Farm in Buckinghamshire where it remains today.

Our Museum Collection holds many photographs of the Home, which is fondly remembered by many local people.  Here’s a few to enjoy.  Incidentally, the one showing the Home of Rest location sign is Furzehill Road / Barnet Lane before the roundabout was put in place.

Check out the 1955 British Pathé film of the Home here


Object of the Week : G is for The Grange

Monday 15 February 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week : G is for The Grange

The Museum not only holds a large photo archive and collection of objects relating to Elstree and Borehamwood, but we also have a database of shops past and present, notable people and information about buildings in the area.  One such is The Grange.  This was a large house which stood on the corner of Deacons Hill Road and Allum Lane, in Elstree.  It had been built for Frank May, who held the position of Chief Cashier to the Bank of England between 1873 and 1893.  As such, his signature appears on the £5 note of that era.

In 1893, Mr May was asked to resign following serious irregularities.  He allowed an overdraft with no authority and involved himself in serious difficulties by speculating on the stock exchange.  The huge sum of £250,000 was set aside by the Bank to meet all possible contingencies, such was the seriousness of the case.

Mr May, however, vanished from the scene and lived in ‘kindly seclusion’ in the obscure village of Batcombe in the Mendip Hills until his death in 1897.

To give an idea of the value of £5 in those days, the annual wages of staff working at houses such as The Grange would be: £15 for a Kitchen Maid, Cook £20, Housekeeper in charge of all the female staff £50 and a Butler £60.

Here can be seen a £5 note from the period with Frank May’s signature together with photos of The Grange.

After World War I, a devoutly Catholic Armenian family called the Caramans moved into The Grange, where they established a Chapel for fifty worshippers which flourished until the mid thirties.

During World War II The Grange was used for troop training before D-Day, in particular the Coldstream Guards, and in the 1950s, the land on which The Grange once stood was developed into housing estates now known as Grange Road, Bishops Avenue and Lodge Avenue.


Object of the Week : F is for Fortune

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week : F is for Fortune

The Fortune was a timber framed house dating back to 1657 and was located along Fortune Lane.  We have this rather spooky looking photo of the house in the collection, complete with ghostly figure that can just be seen creeping about amongst the branches.

The Fortune was the scene of a strange twist of fate in World War II.  At the start of the War, Ralph Handbury was Managing Director of RKO Radio Ltd operations in the UK and had been living in Hampstead.  He felt uneasy living in London during the bombing and with a premonition, decided to relocate his family to The Fortune, tucked away along a quiet lane in Elstree, for safety.  They had been living there for three weeks when a land mine dropped directly onto the house on 26th September 1940.  Tragically, the bomb killed his wife, son, daughter and baby, leaving his son-in-law as the only survivor.  These were the only fatalities in the area as a result of World War II.

As well as the photograph, the Museum also has a piece of shrapnel from this fated land mine, which was found about 700 yards away.


Object of the Week : E is for Elstree Murder

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week : E is for Elstree Murder

This week’s virtual Museum feature highlights items from the collection and how they can be weaved into a murderous tale from 1882.

We have a brick, made at the Elstree Brick Works on Barnet Lane and which was donated to the Museum from the Station Master’s House when it was demolished.  Bricks made at the Brick Works were used by the Midland Railway Company for works along the railway line and Elstree Tunnel.  A Brick alone might not seem very exciting but the Brick Works was the site of a controversial murder on a Sunday afternoon, 13th August 1882.  George Batchelor, the Brick Works Foreman, was out walking his dogs when something caught his attention in his Works.  He saw a man peering intently through a hedge on the far side of the field, so went to investigate. The voyeur slipped away before Batchelor could reach him but halfway across the field, he suddenly stumbled across the chilling sight that the man had been watching.  A stocky young man behind a large stack of bricks, standing over the prostrate body of a young woman saturated in blood. 

The woman later died from the head injuries she sustained and the stocky young man, George Stratton, was charged with her murder.  His sentence was to hang, but two days before execution was due to take place, a reprieve was sent certifying him as insane.  He was transferred to Broadmoor where he remained until his death in 1908.

Elstree Met Police House

The young woman was identified as Eliza Ebbern.  She had spent her last few hours in the Red Lion, Elstree, at lunchtime, sitting beside a man named James Freeman.  She had offered him half a penny for a share in his dinner, saying: ‘That is all I have’.  Freeman gave her part of his food before leaving the inn.  Later that afternoon, Eliza was seen with two men outside the Artichoke Inn, swigging from a bottle, laughing and joking.  After a while, the three began walking up the hill towards Barnet Lane.  One of the men fell back, leaving Eliza to walk alone with her stocky companion.  As they neared the Brick Works, they passed John Birch, a bricklayer who recognised the man as George Stratton, having worked with him at the Brick Works some months previously.

Eliza Ebbern was buried in Elstree Churchyard on 17th August.  Some of the village children scattered flowers on the coffin as it was lowered into the ground.  It later transpired that Eliza was 28 years old and had left home in Watford at an early age, with no job and was living rough.

As for George Stratton, it will never be known whether he was really insane at the time of Eliza Ebbern’s murder. Doubt was cast on his reprieve when the Barnet Press printed a report on his history, stating that he was a perfect master of the art of assuming lunacy when convenient.  The newspaper described him as a ‘cunning imposter’ and that he was once heard to boast that he could commit even murder with impunity. 

Engraving photo of St Nicholas Church Elstree


Object of the Week: D is for Dragon and Devils

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week: D is for Dragon and Devils

Our Museum Collections’ feature this week begins with a Call Sheet for the film The Devil’s Disciple, which was made at ABPC Studios  in Elstree in 1958.  The Call Sheet is dated 13th August 1958, at the beginning of filming, which took place between July and October. 

The film had big name stars, such as Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier.  It was based on a play written in 1897 by George Bernard Shaw and is set in the American War of Independence.  Tring was also used as a location.  

We also have a large photographic archive and this week’s selection is The Old Green Dragon pub in Leeming Road.  The pub still exists today and is popular with the locals.  During these tough times of the pandemic, the Green Dragon has been offering take-aways.  Flats were built attached to the original pub building. 

In the 1960s, the Green Dragon became the centre for jazz in Boreham Wood.  While the Red Lion catered for the Trad Jazz aficionados the Green Dragon was more towards the contemporary, ‘modern’ jazz end of the spectrum.  In early 1963 a number of local musicians formed the Woodside Musicians’ Association with the intention of getting together on Sundays to play jazz unfettered by management, percentages and fees.  George Wallace drummer from Edgware, Brian Saunders pianist and alto from Hendon, Gerald Hain pianist from Mill Hill and Reg Wood pianist from Boreham Wood were the instigators. The numbers of interested muscians grew so rapidly that by March they had formed a 17-piece big band.  The leading players were Jimmy Skidmore, one of the foremost tenor saxophonists in the UK living in Beech Drive, and his son Alan who would often play together. 

By December 1963 Tuesday was modern jazz night in Boreham Wood, and Jimmy was vice-chairman of the WMA which now had 200 members. A very successful gala evening was held and Humphrey Lyttleton, who lived in Arkley, was the special guest.  By 1965 the Green Dragon was holding dances and jazz nights on Thursdays, and the Jazz Club was still in full swing in 1968. Alan Skidmore would go on to be one of the leading saxophonists in the UK in the 70s and 80s, playing with everyone from Van Morrison, Elvin Jones, Eric Clapton, Clark Terry, Stan Tracey, Charlie Watts, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Weather Report and Dexter Gordon to John Mayall, and beyond.


Object of the Week: C is for Clay Pipes

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week:  C is for Clay Pipes

 The Museum collection contains a number of Clay Pipes which were discovered in Scratchwood forest, which is now a large area of woodland alongside the A1 bordering Barnet.

We have little information about the pipes or how they came to be in Scratchwood. 

Scratchwood itself was part of the once great Middlesex Forest and this ancient woodland has areas which it’s believed grew up at the end of the last Ice Age.

Parts of the woodland were once hay meadows, growing food for the large horse population of London.  In 1866, Scratchwood and Moat Mount were part of a large private estate which was used for sport and rearing game.

Clay smoking pipes were first used in Britain in the 16th century following the importation of tobacco from the Americas. Early pipes tend to have small bowls as tobacco was relatively expensive at the period.

Around the mid 18th Century, Snuff taking in the upper classes became popular and smoking was discouraged because of health risks. Clay pipes came back into fashion again in the 19th Century and designers from around the globe were competing for attention in a huge world market. This was reflected in the artistic designs produced, using every aspect of life as inspiration, such as plants, animals, birds, Coats of Arms, Royal events, names of Inns, Masonic symbolism, sporting events, advertising, heads of celebrities and even characters from mythology.


Object of the Week : B is for Boreham Wood Football Club

Tuesday 12 January 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week : B is for Boreham Wood Football Club

We realise that B could stand for anything Borehamwood related, but as we have quite a number of items relating to Boreham Wood Football Club in the Museum’s collection, we decided this would be this week’s feature.

Boreham Wood FC, better known as ‘The Wood’, was formed in 1948 from an amalgamation of Borehamwood Rovers and Royal Retournez.  They began playing in the Mid Herts League and are currently members of the National League, the fifth tier of English Football.  In 2018 the Club celebrated its 70th anniversary by an appearance at Wembley and beating a Football League Club for the first time in the FA Cup, defeating Blackpool 2-1 at home in the first round.

The Club initially played at Eldon Avenue until moving to Meadow Park in 1963 where they have remained.

A full history of the Club can be found on its website: https://www.borehamwoodfootballclub.co.uk

Here you can see just some of the items the Museum holds in the collection:

A Boreham Wood Football Club Tie

Boreham Wood Youth Football League Fawcett Trophy

Big Match Trophy Cup, presented by London Weekend Television.

We also have a large archive of photographs of players past and present and articles relating to the Club - here's a team from the past!


Object of the Week : A is for Aldenham Bus Works

Monday 4 January 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week : A is for Aldenham Bus Works

Aldenham Bus Overhaul Works was situated in Elstree on land now occupied by Centennial Business Park.  The site had originally been acquired for the Northern Line extension to Bushey Heath, as part of the 1930s New Works Programme to link up all Underground trains and overground bus passenger services from London and surrounding areas.  This Underground extension will be the subject of a new temporary exhibition in the Museum sometime later this year.

Construction of the railway extension was underway and a tube depot was partially complete when World War II broke out.  The works were stopped and the site taken over for use as an aircraft factory.  When the War ended, the railway extension work was not restarted and the plan was dropped in September 1949.

Aldenham Bus Works opened in 1956 to support the existing Chiswick Bus Works with overhauling of body and chassis structures.  The site became well known and featured in films such as Overhaul, a British Transport film in 1957 documenting the work taking place.  In 1962, the opening scene of Cliff Richard’s bus centric musical film Summer Holiday was filmed at the Aldenham Works. 

Financial pressures led to a decision to discontinue the practice of completely overhauling a bus every four to five years.  This and the private sector looking to take over London Transport as a bus operator, led to the inevitable closure of the Aldenham Works in November 1986.

The Museum collection includes this souvenir magazine and many photographs.  The Overhaul film can be found on YouTube here.


Merry Christmas To All Our Friends

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Merry Christmas to all our friends in Boreham Wood and Elstree, and we will see you in the New Year.
Thanks for visiting the blog this year, it's much appreciated!




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