Potters Bar: Cubs, Cadets and community

Three very different locations within a few miles of each other in Hertsmere reveal how very varied Hertfordshire is, as Richard Young finds out

POTTERS BAR

KISSING the M25 at the southern end of the county and just a short train ride from central London, Potters Bar is a modern commuter town but one that retains a vibrant community spirit. The town and surrounding area is a relatively recent addition to Hertfordshire, only becoming part of the county in 1965 when the creation of Greater London and the enlargement of Herts’ borders moved some towns around. Now firmly in Herts, the town of around 22,000 people has suffered a bad press at times, mainly for some of its concrete architecture and ‘dormitory town’ tag, but this, as long-term resident, garage owner and community activist John Godfrey says, is only a part of the story. ‘Community wise it’s fantastic,’ says the accident repair specialist who has worked at his garage in Mutton Lane for 34 years. ‘There’s so many clubs – football, cricket, bowls, tennis, Cubs, chess, sea cadets, Army cadets, Scouts, Brownies. There’s arts groups, walking groups, rambling groups, historical society – you name it. There shouldn’t be anybody hard pushed to find something to do in Potters Bar. It’s what anybody makes of their town.’John, who is a member of the Potters Bar community safety partnership, says the town also has an ‘incredibly low’ crime rate. ‘Things happen, but believe me, Potters Bar is an extremely safe place to live. The standard of policing from officers, PCSOs and specials is extremely good and people should be proud of that.’The town has a proud history of independent traders, and while many of these have made way for bars and restaurants on Darkes Lane, the main thoroughfare through the town, or bowed to economic pressure from out-of-town supermarkets, many specialist shops continue on the High Street and the parades leading off it. ‘Up here we have got a doggrooming parlour, a diving shop, hairdressers and fish and chip shop. In the next parade you’ve got another dozen – a double-glazing shop, an angling shop, trophy shop, an excellent carpet shop and the best chemist in the town.’ John says, rattling off a long list of traders in the area. ‘Despite the economic downturn, we have one of the highest shop occupancy rates in the country.’Cllr John Donne, who has lived in the town since 1961 and has represented the Furzefield area for almost 20 years, says Potters Bar has many good amenities. ‘The Wyllotts centre is well used,’ the Conservative councillor says, ‘It’s a good cultural centre. Inside there is a small museum and a very good theatre and cinema. ‘We’ve also got a very, very good health centre, The Furzefield Centre. People come from far and wide to use that. It really is an asset that goes across the borough. It’s really good for people.’He adds that the town’s open spaces are also a great asset. ‘We’ve got some nice parks – at The Furzefield Centre, and lovely woods at the bottom. Oakmere Park is an excellent park. It’s got two nice lakes in it. And of course Parkfield itself in the centre of town. You can walk in from anywhere. That’s a nice big park. It has some Roman stuff in as well. They opened up a kiln there.’John says he has enjoyed living in Potters Bar, and sums up his thoughts on the town as, ‘A nice place to live because it’s got all the amenities and it’s got good transport links. It’s still a comfortable place to live, people can be reassured they can walk the streets safely at night.’

BROOKMANS PARK

WHERE politicians rub shoulders with footballers and the generally well-heeled park Bentleys beside sprawling houses, Brookmans Park is an area many aspire to live in.  The direct rail link to London (one stop north of Potters Bar) and nearby motorway junctions as well as large houses and a genteel atmosphere has made this village a very desirable place to live indeed. The village has come a long way since its days as a small rural community dwarfed by the radio transmitter put up by the BBC in 1929. This collection of towers broadcast some of the very first television pictures to the nation, thanks to its position on the highest point of land for miles around. Today the village exudes a confident, sophisticated yet also very English air. It is blessed with curving rows of pretty shops, including traditional butchers, fishmongers and bakers as well as the stylish Brookmans Park Hotel restaurant. It is also ringed by Green Belt land which includes the lovely Gobions Wood nature reserve, the remains of a family estate dating back to the 14th century, providing open space and woodland walks.

NORTHAW

NESTLED between woodlands, and without a railway station or major through roads, Northaw to the east of Potters Bar has a very rural feel. About 450 people live in this quiet village, which centres on the village green, two rustic pubs, The Sun and The Two Brewers, the gothic St Thomas a Becket Church and a Church of England primary school which has about 70 pupils. The last shop in the village, the post office, has now closed. The residents here are a mix of long-standing families who have been in the village for generations and wealthy newcomers who occupy some of the very big houses in the area. Who is building an enormous residence, with cranes visible from the village green, is a constant source of rumour in the village. Head for Northaw on a bright Sunday morning for a tramp in Hookwood or the huge Northaw Great Wood which dominates the surrounding countryside – before heading to one of the pubs for a pint and a well-earned spot of lunch.

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