Back to the future

PUBLISHED: 17:38 17 September 2008 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013

Members of the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group.

Members of the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group.

From Victorian times, when Maidenhead became a favoured resort for Londoners, right through to the 20s and 30s, when it was notorious as the playground of the rich and racy, it well deserved the title of 'the Jewel of the Thames.' Places such as B...

From Victorian times, when Maidenhead became a favoured resort for Londoners, right through to the 20s and 30s, when it was notorious as the playground of the rich and racy, it well deserved the title of 'the Jewel of the Thames.' Places such as Boulters Lock, Cliveden Reach, Maidenhead Bridge and Skindles Hotel became household names and it was where everyone who was anyone wanted to see and be seen.

Over the past few decades, however, decline set in steadily to a point where various organisations have been working towards getting the town back to its former glory, including Bring Back the Heart to Maidenhead, The Town Partnership Group, the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group (MWRG), The Civic Society and the Chamber of Commerce.

The big turning point, however, came earlier this year when around 60 community and professional groups met together with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead to create the cross-party Partnership for the Rejuvenation of Maidenhead, or PRoM.

The group's ambitious overall Vision and Action Plan is being launched this autumn. "This report will have the potential to transform the town centre and make it an attractive, thriving location for business, retail and leisure use," says Richard Davenport of MWRG.

He believes that the restoration of the waterways through the town centre could be a catalyst for the other improvements in the area. "The aim of MWRG is to restore the original waterways, some of which were in use until the 20s, to a navigable standard and bring in boats and water-related amenities," he says.

This involves upgrading York Stream and the adjoining channels and creating a riverside setting in the heart of town. Richard explains: "The area near Chapel Arches below Bridge Street would make a natural boat basin, with sufficient open space there to create family friendly gardens and boating facilities."

The adjoining derelict cinema is due be pulled down later this year and this site would also fit in well with the proposed waterways scheme. "Since the advent of PRoM, the Waterways Group has been working closely with it and the council
to ensure the waterway project and the other planned developments converge and complement each other, contributing to the long term improvement and economic viability of the town centre," adds Richard.

The first stage - to allow small boats into the town centre - is in the process of being drawn up for a planning application at the end of the year and several surveys are underway, including one on bats and one on trees, to support the plans and, of course, a further impetus is the next Olympics. We are currently seeking additional sponsors and grants and we aim to have a restored waterway in use by 2012, as the rowing events will take place at nearby Dorney Lake," says Richard.

A born and bred Maidonian who has been involved with many of the local causes is Suzy Kirkwood, owner of a local property consultancy and head of the Bring Back the Heart to Maidenhead Campaign. She says: "Maidenhead has a unique quality of being a very large village with people coming from many generations and it needs to retain this special feel. I feel we are now at the beginning of many exciting developments for the future of the town."

Who's doing what

Partnership for the Regeneration of Maidenhead: a cross-party group of around 60 organisations and lay members, created by the council with an independent chairman. Currently in the process of preparing recommendations to put before the borough's cabinet. According to Bob Dulson, the chair of PRoM, "This marks the start of an ambitious drive to energise the co-ordinated development of the town over the next 20 years."

The Triangle (Broadway, King Street and Queen Street)
Final plans are scheduled for some time this month (October) for redevelopment by ING Real Estate, with shopping, facilities, restaurants, cafes, offices
and apartments.

The Civic Society
Chairman Bob Dulson, who also leads PRoM, says "The Civic Society fully supports the MWRG plans to restore and improve the York Stream and adjoining waterways. Their ambition aligns with our aim of finding imaginative ways of
linking the town to the river and creating attractive focal points and public spaces for everyone to enjoy in the heart of town."

Skindles Hotel redevelopment
Frequented since the early 19th century by the smart set, the rich and racy, Skindles was still popular in the 70s, with guests including Princess Margaret, The Stones, John Lennon and Eric Clapton. The site is now due to get a new lease of life from Hunter Page Planning, with a hotel, boatyard, apartments and recreation area.

Transition Town Maidenhead
A branch of a global initiative to gather together community groups, businesses and individuals and address the negative impact we are having on the environment. Campaigning for locally-produced food outlets and cafe/restaurant under one roof.

Cross Rail
Visionary railway proposed for London and the South East, from 2017, with route from Maidenhead.

Who said that?

Jerome K Jerome (1889): "Maidenhead itself is too snobby to be pleasant...
a town of shoddy hotels, patronised chiefly by dudes and ballet girls."

H. G. Wells, in Secret Places of the Heart: "Pink geraniums, vivid green lawns, gay awnings, bright glass, white paint and shining metal set the tone of Maidenhead life... 'I know my Maidenhead fairly well,' said Sir Richmond. 'Aquatic activities, such as rowing, punting, messing about with a boat-hook, tying up, buzzing about in motor launches, fouling other people's boats, are merely the stage business of the drama. The ruling interests of this place are love - largely illicit - and persistent drinking... Don't you think the bridge charming from here?'."

George Leslie, 1881, about Skindle's Hotel: "Notoriety has spoiled the hotel...pleasure parties from London, whose gaiety, show and fashionable slang, clash unpleasantly with the gentle dignity of the river."


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