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15 surprising facts about Elstree, Radlett & Bushey

PUBLISHED: 13:09 03 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:07 06 October 2017

Van Herkomer's Undecided. The artist built a castle in Bushey for his wife (photo: Bushey Art Gallery)

Van Herkomer's Undecided. The artist built a castle in Bushey for his wife (photo: Bushey Art Gallery)

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From the Romans to Strictly, Louise McEvoy lists 15 things you may not know about Herts neighbours Radlett, Bushey and Elstree

1. At the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, marathon athletes left Wembley Stadium and raced through areas of Hertfordshire, including Radlett and Elstree, before returning to the stadium. It was a dramatic finish as the top three battled it out to come home within 42 seconds of one another.

2. In 1978, British motorcycle stunt rider Eddie Kidd successfully jumped over 14 double decker buses at Radlett Airfield to break American Evel Knievel’s world distance record. Taking off at 75mph, the 18-year-old’s jump of more than 190 feet was televised live on ITV’s World of Sport.

3. Built in 1996, The Radlett Centre is a state-of-the art auditorium, concert hall and cinema and offers diverse events throughout the year.

Demonstrating that the centre is held in high regard, locals raised £20,000 for a new sound system in 2001, and three years later some £350,000 was spent on a new foyer.

4. It’s thought by etymologists that the name Radlett comes from the Old English ‘rad-gelaete’, meaning ‘a junction of the roads’. It’s likely the settlement grew at the point where the ancient route from Aldenham to Shenley crossed Watling Street.

Learning about the craftmanship behind some of the Harry Potter creatures at Warner Bros Studio (TM & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)Learning about the craftmanship behind some of the Harry Potter creatures at Warner Bros Studio (TM & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

5. Radlett is one of the most affluent areas in the UK, with average house prices currently standing at £1.1m. The town has been home to famous faces such as media mogul Simon Cowell and singer George Michael. Actress Pam St Clement, known for her role as Pat Butcher in the BBC1 soap EastEnders, is a current Radlett resident and has been known to frequent Budgens.

6. Solicitor William Weare was killed in Radlett over a gambling debt and his body disposed of in an Elstree pond. In what became known as the Radlett Murder, the crime gained huge public attention and was the subject of numerous books and plays.

Weare was murdered by John Thurtell, who owed the victim £300 but believed he had been cheated out of the money. Thurtell invited Weare to join him and his friends – pub landlord Joseph Hunt and alcohol merchant William Probert – at Probert’s cottage in Oaks Close, Radlett, for a weekend of gambling. Thurtell and Weare travelled from London together in a horse-drawn gig. In a dark lane just short of their destination Thurtell shot Weare in the face and slit his throat.

Hunt and Probert helped hide the body in a pond near the cottage. The three men were later caught and Thurtell was hanged for the murder.

7. Bushey Sports Club marked its 50th year in August. The club offers facilities for football, cricket, netball, tennis, basketball and bowls, as well as social events such as cabaret, comedy nights and quiz nights. To mark the anniversary, BushFest saw acts paying tribute to bands including Queen and Take That, with the event so well received there are calls for another festival to be held next year.

Star Wars was created at Elstree Studios in 1976Star Wars was created at Elstree Studios in 1976

8. Former Formula One champion Graham Hill was killed when the light aircraft he was piloting crashed into trees on Arkley Golf Course, three miles short of the runway at Elstree Aerodrome in November 1975. The retired race car driver and five team members were killed when the twin-engine six-seat aircraft crashed in heavy fog.

9. Eminent Victorian artist Hubert von Herkomer, was a poor immigrant from Bavaria who moved to Bushey in 1874 and founded Herkomer’s Art School in the town in 1883.

Herkomer built Lululand, a ‘Bavarian Castle’, for his second wife Lulu in about 1888 but, after being married for only a year, she sadly died. The building was almost entirely demolished in 1939.

In 1904, Herkomer closed his school and a former student of his, Lucy Kemp-Welsh, opened her own on the same site the year later. Herkomer re-purchased the building in 1912 and demolished it. He then commissioned a rose garden to be established in its place. Bushey Rose Garden was designed by Thomas Mawson. Council-owned since 1937, it had its centenary in 2013.

In 2002, the rose garden was registered as a Park and Garden of Special Historic Interest Grade II, but was closed in December 2005 due to vandalism. It was awarded lottery funding and completely restored in 2010, including the planting of more than 4,000 plants, many from Thomas Mawson’s list.

The garden, which has been described as ‘the jewel in Hertsmere’s crown’, is open to the public, while paintings by students of Herkomer’s school are on display at Bushey Museum and Art Gallery.

10. Bushey is the backdrop for many films, with the old Royal Masonic School for Boys, later the International University, used as a location for Nuns on the Run, Children of Men and Harry Potter. The imposing building has also been the set for several TV series, including Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Little Britain.

11. Bushey Festival is an annual celebration of art, music, drama and sport that has become a highlight of the town’s calendar and a much-loved part of community life since it was first held in 1983. The event is usually held over a fortnight in July but is intended to be held over two weekends from next year.

12. Elstree, which can be traced back to Roman times, was a centre for pottery and tile manufacture in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

13. Elstree Studios, which is actually located in neighbouring Borehamwood, opened in 1927. It was here that Alfred Hitchcock went into the record when he directed Blackmail – generally credited as being the first British talking film. During the late 1920s and early ’30s, the studios were involved in other motion picture breakthroughs, including colour production and multi-lingual films.

Known as the birthplace of the Star Wars films (check out the 2015 documentary Elstree 1976 about the making of the first film), some of the most famous movies in the world have been created here, including the Indiana Jones and Superman films, The Shining and Labyrinth.

Today, the studios are home to some of the most popular shows on television, such as Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother and The Voice.

14. Immerse yourself in the wizardry world of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros Studio in Leavesden – just a few miles from Bushey.

The Harry Potter series was filmed at the studios over a period of 10 years, and preserved sets, props and costumes have attracted more than nine million visitors to The Making of Harry Potter tour since it opened in March 2012.

Situated next to the working film studios where all eight Harry Potter films were made, the tour offers visitors the opportunity to explore two sound stages and an array of original sets, animatronic creatures and breathtaking special effects.

15. Set in 100 acres of beautiful Hertfordshire countryside, Aldenham Country Park in Elstree has lakeside walks, a children’s farm, indoor playbarn and pony rides. Great for a fun family day out.

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