Elm Court History
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Based on a Victorian house and a 1969 sports hall, the Centre is pleasantly
situated in front of a sports field and with access from Mutton Lane.
The original house was built in several phases. The first was just the right hand side of the current house and it had a flat roof above the first floor. It is not known when this was built, but judging by the cornice, may have been late Georgian, but there is no reference to Elm Court in the 1871 census. In the 1881 census three properties are referenced; Elm Court, Elm Court Cottage (still standing - just) and Elm Court Lodge (gone). Elm Court was extended to the left and a pitched roof put on the original house to provide extra accommodation in a large attic.
The first recorded owner was Henry Gilling in 1891. It was a school between 1896 and 1908 under headmaster Rev'd John Bell. The 1901 census shows most pupils from London, but also several from South Africa and Grenada. In 1908 John Bell dies, annd the house became the home of Eliza Gray until 1927 when Mrs Oldfield became resident. It then became a private school for young ladies. When Mrs Oldfield died in 1930, it was left to the Poor Teachers Association to be used as a convalescent home. But they felt it was not suitable so it was put up for sale.
It was purchased by Alderman Pinching for the Middlesex County Council to be used as a Community Centre and in 1940 Mr Marshall was installed as the first Warden. The house was vandalised during the time it had been empty and a team of volunteers replaced windows, doors, etc. the staircase was rebuilt by Mr Winfield, who had been engaged as caretaker.
3000 leaflets were circulated round the District and a Committee was formed and a Constitution drawn up. Activities were started and a large number of people took part. About 40 different associations made use of the premises for their meetings. We had just settled down when during an air raid, two bombs fell in the field and we had to start re-glazing all over again.
Whist Drives and Socials became a regular feature and we formed our first Youth Club. We became the home of Cranborne Gospel Mission (now the Evangelical Free Church) and the North London Model Train Club had their outfit in the loft. This was a great attraction.
Aeroplane enthusiasts formed their own club and made some wonderful models.
Potters Bar Allotment Association took over the Old Lodge (now demolished) as a store, having a wartime membership of over 700.
Elm Court Football Club was formed, playing friendly matches in the first instance, then in the Barnet League, Mid-Herts League and the North Suburban League. They built the first showers.
The Service Units all had their birth at the Centre, only moving on when their numbers got too big for us.
This was the general pattern until the 1960s, when Middlesex County Council first muted the idea of a Youth Centre in the town and it was handed over to Herts County Council in 1962. In 1965 Elm Court was taken over as a Youth Centre by Herts County Council and Mr Roy Merrin was appointed full-time Youth Leader.
The Centre continued to develop, various projects were organised for raising funds towards the first phase of the re-building scheme and on 26th April 1969 a new Sports Hall was opened.
The new sports hall was soon put to use as a new rock venue with the Farx Club opening on 17th January 1970. Over the next 2 years bands as big as Status Quo, Genesis, and Slade played on Saturday nights until in April 1972 the concerts were forced to close due to local pressure.
At this time, Roy Merrin left Potters Bar to take up a new appointment, being replaced by Mr Bob Bielby. A wide variety of new activities were established. Mr Les Gostling was engaged as a full-time Assistant Leader but after a year with us he moved to a new job in Essex. Kevin Murphy was appointed Assistant Leader and shortly afterwards Bob Bielby moved from Potters Bar and took up a post in the South.
Alterations were made to the North-West side of the house to produce a coffee bar in 1969. The cottage next door became the Warden’s residence.
Until Stephen Hall was appointed Leader in 1972, Warden Kevin undertook to keep the Centre going and during this time not many changes took place. Stephen Hall stayed at Elm Court for a period of about three years. During that time, the Club structure changed considerably and Stephen, together with his wife, opened the Centre to young people seven days a week. It was at this time that the name of the Centre was changed to Elm Court Youth and Community Centre.
In 1975 the Leadership changed to Mr Lewis Hicks. During his stay a number of major building works were undertaken, namely the Link Extension plus a hard-court playing area. This enabled the Centre to extend its facilities and greatly enhance the movement from the Gym area to the main house.
The second major work was carried out in conjunction with the Borough Council and the building of 2 shower units with eight changing rooms, 6 to be primarily used by the Borough Council for weekend football on Laurel Fields, and two by the Centre.
Finally, via a generous grant from the Potters Bar Round Table the Centre was able to discard the inadequate off peak heating system in the gym and replace it with fan assisted heaters.
Because of inflation and the constant problem of fund raising, the nature of the Club changed to engulf more community provision. the gymnasium, hard-court and sports field were brought more into use for local firms and the gym was used far more extensively by mums for daytime badminton.
In November 1979 Mr Lewis Hicks left to take up an appointment as Assistant Youth Officer in East Herts Division.
The Centre was managed by Dave Simpson assisted by Sue Christie. Under Dave's popular and energetic leadership, the facilities of the Centre were extended to include Ice and Roller Skating, ‘Attic’ (indoor boot) Sales and other successful activities. The case for central heating was present to Herts County Council and installed in 1982.
Dave left the Centre later in the 80's to run an outdoor activities centre in Cumbria. Martin Cooke replaced him as centre leader.
But by now the County Council Youth Service were moving away from Centre based youth leaders, moving them into area teams, and in Martin's case the Hertsmere area team. The funding shifted into the team, and Elm Court had to become much more reliant on the work of the volunteer management committee. At the time, this was under the Chairmanship of Alan Barth. Despite much cost cutting, late in the 80's the management committee were almost on the point of closing the Centre due to lack of funds. But fortunately this coincided with the popularity of the car boot sales, and Elm Court entered that market, with sales every other week, the money flowed in, and the Centre remained open.
Tom Shirley took over the Chairmanship in 2001, and in 2002, Martin moved on to a position in West Herts. Alex Davies, then Laura Butcher, then Kali Birchley, then Steve Emmerson (2009) were appointed to the area team, with specific responsibility for the Clubs at Elm Court.
Income from organisations that use the Centre and from the car
boot sales, has allowed the Centre, not only to stay open, but also to be improved.