16 June 2016 20:29

The secret history of a Watford council estate will be brought to life at the Watford Palace Theatre in July.

‘Nowhere Near London’ is a play which explores the intense drama of life on the South Oxhey Council Estate in the late 1940s.

Written by former South Oxhey resident and Watford Grammar School pupil, Professor John Schad, the play focuses on the very early days of the estate as 15,000 Londoners, bombed out of their homes, arrive in Hertfordshire.

The action is confined to one house and centres on four men and a young woman who each come and go unsure if life on the estate is heaven or hell.

“The estate was a red-hot news story at the time,” explains John. “Many were very wary of this mass ‘invasion’ of working-class Londoners, housed all together on the edge of Watford.  Were they just a huge financial burden on local rate-payers?  Would they ruin the woodland in which the estate was built?  Were they, even, a political threat - one vast Communist cell?”

Swindon-born Professor Schad, now Professor of Modern Literature at Lancaster University, spent days in Watford Central Library scouring microfiche copy of Watford Observer press coverage of the estate to recreate an accurate historical picture of the time.

He also drew on archives belonging to both the Hertfordshire County Council and London County Council as well as a host of interviews with current and former residents.

The play, to be performed on Monday, 4 July, in the main auditorium at the Watford Palace Theatre, by the five-strong cast of Collect-ifs Theatre Collective, is funded by a Lancaster University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Exchange Fellowship.

The action will be followed by a 30-minute ‘open mic’ session for the sharing of further memories and experiences of living on the estate.

‘Nowhere Near London’ is an adaptation of Professor Schad’s acclaimed novel, The Late Walter Benjamin (Bloomsbury, 2012).  It is his second play, the first being ‘Last Train to Oxford’.

A short documentary film is currently being made about the play and its relationship to the council estate as it is today.  The film, which covers more than four decades from the 1950s to the 1980s, is told through a mix of images, voices, and texts.