You may have caught a recent episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” with Jack and Michael Whitehall. It featured the site which housed the Royal Commercial Travellers’ School in Pinner, Middlesex. This impressive building has quite a history.
The school was founded by John Robert Cuffley, an able and energetic commercial traveller. His vision was to house, feed, clothe and educate the children of brethren ‘on the road’ who met an untimely death or were unable to earn their livelihood. Initially called the ‘Commercial Travellers School’ when housed in Wanstead, the new school was opened at Pinner in 1855 by HRH Prince Albert and became the ‘Royal Commercial Travellers’ School.’ It could accommodate up to 300 children and had a small farm, laundry and workshop. These elements made the school self-sufficient and helped to prepare the pupils for later life.
Many changes took place over the years. 86 war orphans were admitted to the school during World War II. Then, in 1966, the name changed to ‘The Royal Pinner School’ in an attempt to attract fee paying day pupils. However, this was unsuccessful and only managed to attract four extra students.
Finally, in 1967 the school closed. During its 122 year history, it provided a boarding education to over 5,000 children of commercial travellers.
At the centre of the building is the magnificent Elliot Hall auditorium. This was built in 1904 and named after a former pupil and scholar, B.G Elliot, who later became a member of the Board of Management and President of Appeal. He secured the funds for building of the hall and it was subsequently named in his honour. The hall has beautiful stained glass windows and a hammer beam roof, features for which it was given a Grade I* listing by English Heritage.
The site re-opened in its present form in 1988 as Harrow Arts Centre. It is used by many diverse groups and organisations. We in Harrow U3A use the rooms for over 40 of our classes.
Now, Elliott Hall is used for a variety of entertainment including concerts, plays, ballet and pantomimes. The auditorium can seat 550 people. Harrow U3A has filled the space on two occasions: when we hosted Esther Rantzen, who spoke about Silverline, and also The Rt.Hon. John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons.