For history buffs, Maidenhead is far more than just a town adjacent to Legoland and Windsor Castle. With several thousand years of history to explore, there is no shortage of fascinating artifacts and interesting anecdotes to make a weekend away in Maidenhead and the surrounding villages certainly worthwhile.
If you’re looking to explore Maidenhead’s history, the Maidenhead Heritage Centre is an excellent place to start. The special exhibitions as well as the permanent collection is designed to give you a taste of the cultural history of Maidenhead from the Stone Age civilization to Roman settlements; to two World Wars and beyond. In fact, the oldest objects in the collection are around 4,000 years old.
It’s likely that Maidenhead got its name as early as Saxon times from the riverside area where the new wharf or ‘Maidenhythe’ was built. However, 1280 was the year when things got truly up and running for Maidenhead. A wooden bridge was built across the Thames, providing a direct route from London to Reading, Gloucester and beyond. The medieval city of Maidenhead quickly began to grow up around the new bridge, and it soon became a popular stopping point for travelers. The ancient wooden bridge has since seen several guises, and the existing Maidenhead Bridge constructed in 1777 is now Grade I listed. If this bridge happens to catch your fancy, then certainly don’t miss Brunel’s ingenious brick ‘Sounding Arch’ railway bridge. His unique design also spans the Thames and importantly brought the Great Western Railway to Maidenhead in 1839, putting an end to the coaching era.
If you’re looking to hunt down more historic landmarks, check out the site of the former Greyhound Inn on the High Street. Today it’s a NatWest Bank, but a plaque commemorates this spot as the last time King Charles I met his children before his execution in 1649. Thirsty for more history? Take a pit stop into the Bell pub. Located just outside of Maidenhead proper in Waltham St Lawrence, this little gem of a drinking den dates back to the 14th century. Originally a private dwelling for a vicar, the building went on to house families of farmers for over 100 years. It wasn’t until 1793 that the Bell first became a public house. Today, many of the building’s original features remain intact and it is a wonderful place to take in some ancient atmosphere over a pint.
When it comes to more contemporary history, 2005 proved another historic year, when Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin starred restaurant, The Fat Duck, was awarded the title of best restaurant in the world. Quite an honour indeed for the little village of Bray just outside Maidenhead. If you had the foresight to book several months in advance, you should take the opportunity to sample Heston’s fantastical delicacies and see whether the award was justly earned. If nothing else, it’s certainly a great way to literally take of taste of history.
And if you’re planning a weekend away to explore Maidenhead’s history, consider the Holiday Inn Maidenhead – ideally placed in the heart of the Thames Valley and within easy rich of many of Maidenhead and Windsor’s local attractions.
Photo by johnmueller on Flickr.