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

The 'Most Missed' Buildings in Elstree & Borehamwood, Part 3

Monday 1 August 2022

Here is the next on our list of the 'Most Missed' buildings in our area.  They are in no particular order, and we are adding them one by one, week by week, and would love to have your feedback on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. What are your memories? Which is your 'Most Missed'?  What iconic building have we forgotten? Let us know on

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Last week drew many comments on the unusual photo of the MGM Clock Tower. This week should draw out many memories :


Commissioned in 1927 by a 'Mrs Merrick', of which not much is known, it was opened in 1934 on the A1 or the Barnet By-Pass. In the style of an American 'roadhouse-motel' but with an English twist with its thatched roof, it was ideally suited for 'stars' from the flourishing studios nearby to take their companions. With a large dining area, chefs, a swimming pool, and other facilities located a short drive from the expensive areas of north London it became a well-known attraction.

It was bought by holiday camps’ founder Billy Butlin in 1939 as his first hotel but then during the Second World War, his business was requisitioned by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). They turned the Barn into Station XV of the Inter Services Research Bureau and developed explosive devices, camouflage and coding equipment, using the local expertise found in the studios. It was run by film director and World War I RAF veteran Capt. J. Elder Wills,  By the end of the war, the building had fallen into disrepair and the owner went bankrupt.  But then, in the 1950s, the Ministry of Works used the Thatched Barn as its Building Research Station.

Restored to its original function in the 60s it was still attracting stars as well as locals to dances, swimming galas, etc. Unfortunately in 1962 it suffered the first of a series of fires which damaged the thatched roof for which it was famous. It then became a Playboy Club for a brief period in the Sixties but prohibitively high prices and an exclusive membership ensured its eventual failure.  The Thatched Barn was demolished in December 1989 to be replaced by the Holiday Inn which was built in style similar to the Barn. Now it's a Double Tree by Hilton Hotels and still in a prominent position for travellers.

Object of the Week : Y is for Yale Key

Tuesday 31 August 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 : Y is for Yale Key

The giant Yale Key hanging up behind the reception desk in the Museum, was donated from Borehamwood Ironmongers. 

This key was located in the doorway of Borehamwood Ironmongers for many years. The shop was known as ‘the Emporium that sold everything’ and was probably the only place in Borehamwood where you could get many different types of key cut. 

Fred Thomas was the man to go to for key cutting and any other questions relating to ironmongery or even screws for those DIY projects. Nails were brought by weight and the Museum holds the weighing scales that were used for this very purpose.

The shop stocked one of almost everything and was used by public and contractors alike. There was usually a queue back to the front door at busy times.

The mechanical till was unique and never wore out. In the times of power cuts during industrial disputes of the 1970s, it was still going when all electrical tills had stopped working.  VAT was always added on to any purchase making things seem a little more expensive than expected. The shop was located between the Crown Inn and Glenhaven  Avenue and lasted for 42 years finally closing in 2002.

Elstree and Boreham Wood and the 1948 Olympic Games

Monday 2 August 2021

Elstree and Boreham Wood and the 1948 Olympic Games

The  athletic events in the 1948 Olympic Games took place in Wembley Stadium.  The Marathon and the 50K walk started and finished there but their route took them along the roads of Hertfordshire and Middlesex.  In Hertfordshire, the route passed through Elstree and Borehamwood.

The Marathon runners entered Hertfordshire at Stirling Corner and then onto the Barnet Bypass, through to the Elstree Way, Shenley Road and along Theobald Street to the railway bridge at Radlett.

Here the runners turned north onto Watling Street and passed through villages to the west joining the Watford Bypass and returning to the Stadium, leaving the Hertfordshire boundary shortly before passing the foot of Elstree Hill South.

       Marathon runners in Elstree...                                                                 ...and in Boreham Wood...

A week later, the Walking competitors had a shorter route back to Wembley, turning south along Watling Street and passing through Elstree Village at its crossroads, which was the highest point of the race.  Here they re-entered Middlesex.

     ...down Shenley Road

Another local Olympic fact: In the 1948 Olympics, Watford born Joyce Richards was the first woman British Sprint Canoeist to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games.  She did all her training on the reservoir at Elstree :

Object of the Week: W is for Wellington and Ward

Wednesday 28 July 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: W is for Wellington and Ward

JBB Wellington...                                                                      ,,,and his factory

John Booker Blakemore Wellington, photographer, collaborated with George Eastman of the Kodak Company and became the first manager of the Kodak works in Harrow between 1891 and 1893.  The Eastman Company, later renamed the Eastman Kodak Company (commonly known as Kodak), introduced the first commercially available transparent celluloid roll film. George Eastman created a flexible roll film that did not require the constant changing of solid plates. This allowed him to develop a self-contained box camera that held 100 exposures of film. This was the first camera inexpensive enough for the average person to afford.

Wellington moved to Elliott and Sons, Barnet in 1894 and with his brother-in-law H.H. Ward, founded the company of Wellington and Ward in Borehamwood, manufacturers of photographic plates, films and papers of which he was scientific and technical Director.  The business flourished until 1933.

At this time, he was living at The Elms, Shenley Road, which stood next-door to Glenhaven House and which was only demolished in February 1987.

Before his death in 1939, Wellington had moved to The Leys, Barnet Lane, Elstree.

The Museum has some of the glass lantern plates and photographic paper from the company in the collection as well as photographs of the staff and some evocative photographs taken by Wellington himself:

Object of the Week : V is for Village

Monday 19 July 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 : V is for Village

Not only Borehamwood that is referred to as The Village, but there was another Village associated with the area.

It is of course that of Portmeirion in The Prisoner series filmed at MGM Studios in Borehamwood.  The series, made in 1967 on location in Portmeirion but with interior shots filmed at MGM in Borehamwood, gained a cult following.  Every year, a special pilgrimage is made to Borehamwood by fans.

The premise of the story is of an unnamed British man (played by Patrick McGoohan) who resigns from his government secret service post and prepares to make a hurried departure from the country. While packing his luggage, he is rendered unconscious by knockout gas piped into his London flat. When he wakes, he finds himself in a re-creation of his home, located in a mysterious coastal ‘village’ within which he is held captive, isolated from the mainland by mountains and sea.

The Museum holds some objects which were used as props in the filming:

Object of the Week : U is for Uniform

Tuesday 29 June 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  U is for Uniform

Amongst the many uniforms in the Museum’s collection is that worn by Express Dairy employees :

We also have photos of the Dairy just as it closed in 2001 :

The Distribution Dairy in Theobald Street was built in the early 1950s, the original depot was known as A1 Dairies.

In the late 1940s, milk was still being delivered around Borehamwood by horse and cart.

Not long after moving to the area, A1 Dairies  purchased some electric assisted handcarts which could be pulled around by the milkman and did away with the horse.  These were soon replaced by the familiar electric Milk Float  and a large charging bay was provided at the rear of the Theobald Street depot to keep the floats running. At the front of the building was a shop where you could buy milk and some other provisions.  After many years of operation the depot was taken over by Express Dairies, before finally closing in November 2001.

Milk floats battle it out in floods in Brook Road

Object of the Week : T for TV

Monday 21 June 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 :  T for TV

This year, the BBC Elstree Centre site celebrates its 60th birthday as a hub for television production.  It opened in Borehamwood on 7th April 1961 as Associated Television.  The occasion was made memorable by a strike by staff which took all the live programming off air on that date.

The Centre stands on a significant site.  It was here that the film industry arrived in 1914 with the creation of Neptune Studios.  Production ceased during 1917, and the studio was sold to the Ideal Film Company who used the site up until 1924. In 1928, the studio was sold again and leased to Joe Rock Productions during 1934.  It was at this time, the Centre was known as Rock Studios.

Between 1939 and 1948 the site was again sold and taken over by the British National Films Company.  This was short-lived however as a large proportion of the studio was taken over by the British government for war work.

During 1953, the studios were bought by Douglas Fairbanks Jnr mainly for television production  and were later sold to Lew Grade's Associated Television  (ATV). The Eldon Avenue centre became the main television production hub for ATV. The smaller Studios A and B were used for schools and sitcoms, while Studio C was a drama studio. Studio D, with permanent audience seating, was used for light entertainment programmes such as the ATV Morecambe and Wise series Two of a Kind (1961–68) and The Muppet Show (1976–81)

Neptune House and the Fairbanks Building on the site are a nod to the Centre’s heritage.

ATV was restructured as Central Independent Television in 1982 which remained in operation until July 1983.  The popular TV series Auf Weidersehen, Pet used the backlot as the set for its 'Dusseldorf' building site in its first series - Canterbury House could often be seen in the background.

Auf Wedersehn, Pet 'Building Site' with Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy & Pat Roach with Stratfield Road behind

When the BBC then bought the site in 1984, this backlot became the set of Albert Square in the new soap opera EastEnders which aired in February 1985.

The BBC has gone on to make many other programmes at the Elstree Centre. Some of which are listed below. Holby City is one such drama.  A spin off from Casualty, which first broadcast in 1986, Holby celebrated 20 years on air in 2019.  The hospital drama is filmed in the former studio admin office building, Neptune House, which has been converted to resemble a hospital and its wards.  In the light of news that the BBC plan to cancel production of Holby City from March 2022, the current exhibition in the Museum is an important recognition of this popular series. 

As soon as restrictions ease and the Museum can be fully open again, the Holby at 20 exhibition will remain in place until the end of the year.

Just some of the shows produced at Elstree Centre: The Muppets - 1976, EastEnders - 1985, Market in Honey Lane - 1967, Emergency Ward 10 - 1957, 'Allo 'Allo - 1988, Celebrity Squares, Grange Hill - 1978, Going for Gold, General Hospital - 1972, Shine on Harvey Moon - 1981, Sapphire and Steel - 1979 - Carry on Laughing - ATV took many of the personalities of the Carry On movies and placed them in half-hour comedy situations, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet  - 1983, Top of the Pops - 1991-2001 at Elstree, Family Fortunes - 1978 - Edward the Seventh - 1975, Holby City - 1999

Object of the Week : S for Speedway

Monday 7 June 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 :  S for Speedway

On the site of Saffron Green School at Stirling Way, once stood the Barnet Speedway circuit.  This was a grass and cinders track for training for speedway from 1929 to 1936, and the local heroes were Cyril Brine and Dick Geary.

It was the North London Motor Club that negotiated to run speedway on a twenty acre grass track that was adjacent to the Barnet by-pass. It was thus so convenient to travel to with plenty of room for spectators and their transport. The track was originally grass-covered rather than the more usual cinder or shale. The track was opened for the first meeting on the 27 July 1929.

Grass Track for speedway in Borehamwood in the 1930s

The site remained the venue for open meeting through to 1936 although by 1934 the grass was all but worn away and cinders were added to the bends. The name for its final year was changed to simply ’Barnet Speedway’.

Speedway track (photo c. Derek Allen)

Closing in 1937 when the North London Motor Club failed to achieve an extension on the licence after having successfully completed eighty seven meetings, meaning that speedway was lost to the area. However the NLMC moved their speedway operation to High Beech leaving the owners of the land free to sell it on for building.

Once the circuit had been sold off, Saffron Green Junior School was built directly over the site in the 1950s.

Cyril Brine was born in Borehamwood in 1918 and was an international speedway rider who qualified for the Speedway World Championship finals twice.  He began speedway riding in 1938 and spent his entire career with one club, The Wimbledon Dons.  He made his debut for England in 1949 before retiring in 1963.  Brine died in 1988.

Although the Museum doesn’t hold any objects relating to the sport, we do have some photos in our archive.

The track in action

Object of the Week : R is for Research – specifically Fire Research

Monday 24 May 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 : R is for Research – specifically Fire Research

Occupying an 11 acre site between Station road and Melrose Avenue from the late 1940s up until the mid-1990s, the Fire Research Station, and later Loss Prevention Council, carried out extensive testing of products for fire resistance and research into new ways of fire suppression. At its height it had a staff of 550 people, working in offices and nine purpose built laboratories. Eventually the Borehamwood site was incorporated onto Building Research at Garston and the vacated area sold for housing. The buildings were demolished in 2001.

Fire Research Handbook 1956                                                        Fire Research Yearbook 1966

The Museum holds many objects connected to the Fire Research Station, including: photos of Directors, Visitor Books from 1945 to 1970, Yearbooks, Handbooks, Files and Documents relating to the investigation into the fire in the Jute Factory in Calcutta in 1947, Staff lists and a Book of Limericks about staff members.  We also have various newspaper cuttings and a photographic archive.

Annual Report 1995                                                                                      Fire Investigation report Jute Factories India

Object of the Week : Q is for Queen of the May

Wednesday 12 May 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 :  Q is for Queen of the May

The Crowning of the May Queen

In the 1920s and 30s, the Village May Queen Parade was a huge event in Elstree and Borehamwood, with hundreds of people lining the route through Elstree Hill, Barnet Lane, Deacon’s Hill and Shenley Road to watch the carnival pass by.  In the procession there were men, women and children in colourful costumes, the Village May Queen and her attendants and the Elstree and British International Pictures Fire Brigade.

Our very own Ann Lawrence, Trustee and one of the instigators of the first Elstree and Borehamwood Museum in Drayton Rd, carried out extensive research into the crowning of the May Queen and the local annual Parade.  When the Museum first opened, one of the volunteers brought in photographs of the May Day celebrations and they were put on display. Over time many people came forward with photographs and stories of their time as the May Queen, as well as describing their memories of the event, resulting in a large collection of accounts.

Although there is photographic evidence from the Twenties, the first recorded May Queen was Nita Willets in 1936. However, Ann Lawrence's research shows it was originally thought Kath Gates was the first May Queen in 1932.

The May Queen was chosen from the All Saints Church bible class, run by Mrs Bristol from her home in Mildred Avenue. The chosen Queen was around 14 years old and was selected by her peers. Ann Lawrence explains that it was seen as desirable for the chosen girl to be a teacher to younger children within the religious community.

Ann tells us: On May Day, a parade of decorated cars and floats followed a route from Chestnut Tree Drive, Aldenham, to Meadow Road Recreation Ground. It was customary for the vicar to present the newly-crowned May Queen with a Bible. In the Thirties, it was proposed there should be a special dress for the May Queen. It was made and embroidered with a cross, crown, and ribbon motif. Having last been worn in 1977, the whereabouts of the dress is now unknown.

In 1936, the May Queen was crowned by film star Diane Napier, who lived at a house called Villa Capri in Allum Lane, and had made several movies at Elstree Studios, including Heart's Desire in 1935 with her fiancé, the opera singer Richard Tauber, and Mimi with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The event attracted hundreds of villagers along with people from Barnet and St Albans.

The May Day celebrations raised money for projects within the local community. In 1936, the amount raised contributed to the building of All Saints school hall.  In 1958 the funds contributed to a new tower for the church.

The last May Queen is thought to have been Jaqui Rowson in 1977. Elstree and Borehamwood Museum has collected details of all the May Queens from 1932 to 1977 and Ann’s volume and photograph collection can be viewed at the Museum once we re-open again.

However, details of the 1972 May Queen has continued to elude Ann Lawrence, so if anyone has any information, do get in touch with us.

The Procession passing the Borehamwood Day Nursery

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