Pocket Britain

An affluent commuter town close to London with a history stretching back many centuries

Maidenhead is an affluent town close to London, with high house prices and plenty of commuters. It has a history stretching back many centuries, but even back then, the settlement was serving nearly the same purpose. Maidenhead was crammed full of inns, housing the travellers on the road between London, and the towns of the south-west, like Bristol, and Bath. This all began in the year 1280, when a new bridge was built here, over the Thames. The structure was actually here before the town; it provided such an important travel route that a large settlement developed around it.
That first crossing was made from wood, but the current version of Maidenhead Bridge was built in the 1770s, using brick and stone. For many years you had to pay a toll to cross, but this ended on October 31st, 1903, via an Act of Parliament. On the very next day, the entire town gathered at the bridge, ripped out the toll gates, and joyfully threw them into the Thames.
Just a short distance downstream is the Maidenhead Railway Bridge, which is the town's most recognisable landmark. It was constructed a few decades later, in 1838, and at the time, its two arches were the longest and flattest in the world. The structure is also known as Sounding Bridge. To discover why, head underneath one of the arches via the tow-path, and make a noise! The tunnel here has a wonderful, deafening echo.
If the weather's not too bad, it's definitely worth exploring the riverside. Some destinations to aim for are Boulter's Lock in the north, and Bray Lock in the south. The former is not far from the Riverside Gardens, which offer another good place to stroll, as well as a cafe and a crazy golf course.
A few kilometres further downstream, the Thames passes Windsor Castle, the royal residence. Thanks to this proximity, Maidenhead has had a few visits from Britain's monarchs over the years. In the 17th century, at a local pub, King Charles I met his children for the very last time before he was executed. The building is now a bank, but a plaque outside remembers the event. A happier occasion was when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip came here in the 60s, to open Maidenhead's Town Hall.
Another landmark with royal connections is the Clock Tower, which was built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. As the entire nation celebrated their Queen's 60th anniversary of taking the throne, Maidenhead contributed by erecting this pretty redbrick tower. Unfortunately, as she died just 5 months later, it's very likely that she never even saw it.
If you're interested in stories like this, then many more of them from the town's past are collected at the Maidenhead Heritage Centre. The exhibitions here cover topics as varied as football, aviation, and local geography.
The Heritage Centre can be found in the centre of town. Surrounding it, there's the expected plentiful supply of shops, bars and restaurants. The place is often enlivened by one of many regular events, from local and international markets, to the annual Maidenhead Carnival, which features plenty of live music, fireworks, a parade, and a relay marathon. Another popular annual event is "Maidenhead at the Movies", where films are shown for free at a big outdoor cinema in a nearby park.
So, even if you're only passing through Maidenhead on your journey to somewhere else, there are enough things here to tempt you to stay a bit longer.
Visitor Information
Maidenhead Heritage Centre is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Entry is FREE. 18 Park Street, Maidenhead SL6 1SL. Tel: 01628 780 555

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