Maidenhead.net - History


Maidenhead is quite a new town by English village standards. Its neighbours Cookham and Bray are much more ancient and were Royal manors held by the king before nearby Windsor Castle was built in 1070. Elentone was a hamlet about one mile north of present-day Maidenhead and had around 50 inhabitants at the time of the Domesday survey (1086). A Norman knight called Giles de Pinkney held the hamlet. His memory lives on in the nearby village of Pinkney's Green to the north-west of Maidenhead.

Some years later after 1200 a village grew half way between Cookham and Bray and south of Elentone called South Aylington (which obviously derives from the sound of "South Elentone"). It is thought the village was situated some three-quarters of a mile away from the river Thames to avoid flooding (which occurred in Maidenhead as recently as 1947). Nothing much happened in South Aylington until the day a wooden bridge spanned the Thames. The first bridge went up some time before 1255, when Henry III issued a road widening order. That was to change the little village for ever - suddenly it was on the road between London and Bristol, later to be called the Bath Road - now the A4. A timber wharf was built alongside the bridge and it is from this New Wharf or Maiden Hythe that Maidenhead takes its name. "Maydenheth" was granted its first charter, breaking ties with Cookham and Bray, by Queen Elizabeth I in 1582. The present spelling came in to use in 1724. The new travellers coming through the town over the bridge had to be fed and watered and this is why the town grew so quickly after the first bridge was built. Stabling, vets, blacksmiths and coaching inns like The Orkney Arms were also required because at the time Maidenhead was one day's journey from London. They must have been a thirsty lot - at one point Maidenhead had four breweries.

Maidenhead road bridge over the Thames
The road bridge today - built in 1777, this shot taken around May 1998

The next big change for Maidenhead came with the arrival of the Great Western Railway in 1838. Brunel spanned the Thames with the brick built railway bridge which still stands. Initially the town declined as the railway took away the road traffic that had been such an important source of income. However, soon people realised they could live in the country and still travel to work on the "iron road." The age of the commuter was born. The town's population increased and new shops and businesses grew to serve the middle-class workers. In the late 1800's many new streets appeared in the town centre along with both elegant and working-men's houses on the outskirts. The Orkney Arms changed to Skindle's, a popular hotel (now closed, see below) and the whole town was often linked with scandal in connection with the tourist and playboy visitors who came for a break in the country by the river.

Skindles hotel, Maidenhead
Skindles hotel, right next to the A4 road bridge over the River Thames, May 1998

Boulter's Lock
We are delighted to feature these post cards of Maidenhead bought in 1944 by George Wilson. George was part of a US Army unit stationed close to Maidenhead as part of the World War II effort. Let him explain:

"I bought the photos as a group of six in a shop on the north side of High street about a block east of where McDonald's is today. I bought them in May before we went to Normandy and carried them through the war."

Larger versions are available - just click on the images.

Thanks George!

The High Street

The road bridge

Bridge Street

The Thames with Cliveden in the background

Another view of the Thames

Today you can travel by train to Paddington station in London in about half an hour and junction 8/9 of the M4 motorway linking London and the west country is a mile or so from the town centre; Bristol is about an hour and a half's drive. Maidenhead has a population of around 60,000 and is part of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.

History doesn't have to be that old! Do you remember the pub BJ's and the night club Zoots? Do you know what happened at the Old Station Inn? And do you know what the Shepherds Hut pub is now?

And lastly, can you solve a historical mystery for us?

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This page last updated 16 February 2000