The Arts Centre is a well-known landmark in the modern Harrow landscape. Yet I know that I, for one, have long been aware of the site, without ever really giving the impressive buildings their due – or, as it turns out, the history its due. The centre has a history extending back far, even beyond its current incarnation as an arts centre – and from this, emerges an enduring local landmark that, potentially, may now be in jeopardy.
Originally, the site on which the Arts Centre now sits was used by an old Royal Commercial Travellers School – later becoming the Royal Pinner School – and a number of the site’s most famous buildings, most notably Elliot Hall, were originally a part of this establishment. These traveller schools were founded by John Robert Cuffley in the nineteenth century, and were designed to house, feed, clothe and educate children of regular travellers who had met their end or had become unable to earn their livelihood.
It was for this rather altruistic purpose that many of the site’s current buildings were originally used – though many of the original site’s buildings, such as the much larger assembly hall that Elliot Hall had once been a part of, have been demolished in the years since.
Opened in 1855 by Prince Albert, the husband of the famous Queen Victoria, the grounds remained the site for the school’s premises for over a hundred years – through which a number additions were made; most notably with Elliot Hall in 1904.
The hall, which remains to this day as a Grade II* listed building – one of the many to be found in Harrow – was designed by one H.O. Cresswell, and named after a pupil of the school, B.G. Elliot, who, among other things, served on the Board of Management and secured the funding for the hall in the first place, earning him the its still enduring namesake.
Another notable building seen around this time – one that still remains used to this day – is Hatch End Swimming Pool. The pool first opened for the Travellers School, it having been a part of the school’s facilities. Back then, the school extended as far as the current Morrisons store currently in the area.
In 1967, the school – now over a century old – was shut down, and for a time, the site became the home of the Harrow College of Education and St. Theresa’s School. It was during this time, in 1988, that Elliot Hall received its Grade II* listed status – and it was from this same year that the site became used as the Arts Centre for which it is now currently known. To this day, it remains the only venue dedicated to performing arts in the borough.
Recently, after years of uncertainty from the council due to a lack of funding, the centre came into the care of Cultura London – a not-for-profit organisation aimed at promoting the arts in the borough.
The organisation had big plans for the Arts Centre – most revolving around modernising it in some form or another. What was perhaps most interesting was the prospect of an additional theatre and two new cinema screens – which would operate as an independent arts cinema, showcasing the latest independent films alongside the more mainstream current releases.
There were also plans for the creation of a new 600-seat theatre at the centre, at which bigger productions could be hosted like musicals and ballets. However, these plans have since fallen through due to their high cost, putting the centre back under the care of the council, and once more in a rather precarious position – with the council still lacking the funds to keep it running.
This worrying development aside, all indicators so far suggest that the council intends to maintain the Arts Centre’s now historic presence in the Harrow landscape. The events and productions being hosted at the centre this and next year are to go ahead as planned – perhaps the most notable among them being Russell Kane, a multi-award winning comedian, who will be performing his new show ‘Right Man, Wrong Age’ at the Arts Centre next May. If you’re interested and would like to know more, including where to buy tickets, click here.
With some of its buildings now dating back over a century – at the very least – the centre’s premises are one of the most historical sites the borough has to offer, and one steeped in a history of local arts performances, and community outreach programs. It’s a lineage certainly worth remembering, and a future worth preserving.
Do you have any memories of the centre from over the years that you want to share? Any performances or productions that you remember? Be sure to share them in the comments below.
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: PJ Bartlett