Discover the historic blue plaques in Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 July 2020
Credit: Noel Yates / Alamy Stock Photo
It would be nice to have a window giving us a direct view into history and perhaps our sepia photographs and old film footage give us some kind of an insight into the past. But there is something else that inspires closer inspection – the blue plaque.
In Berkshire there are countless plaques though not all are actually blue as there can also be green, grey and even black plaques. Blue is the most common colour, of course, and what a range there is dotted around the streets and buildings of this great county, a tribute to its interesting people, places and past.
There are some unexpected names on those plaques too. As an example, take a walk to the Fox & Hounds in Caversham and you might be surprised to see the names Lennon and McCartney on a blue plaque. This is because they actually played there on 23 April as – wait for it – The Nerk Twins. It was before the Beatles and they were booked there because Paul McCartney’s cousin, Bett, and her husband, Mike Robbens, ran the place at the time. The Robbens were formerly Redcoats at Butlins and gave the boys a booking to encourage them. There is no record of them being given a return engagement though!
Go to Long White Cloud in Monkey Island Lane in Bray and you will see a blue plaque dedicated to one of the greatest heroes of English music – Sir Edward Elgar. He gave us Nimrod, Pomp and Circumstance and so many other inspiring pieces of music and he was himself inspired by staying at what used to be known as The Hut, the estate now identified as Long White Cloud. Elgar spent countless hours in the music room of the great house there but he was not the only one to creatively benefit from the place, as George Bernard Shaw was also a regular visitor. Motor racing legend Stirling Moss grew up there and even Gerry and Sylvia Anderson lived there when they created Thunderbirds. The blue plaque, though, celebrates Sir Edward Elgar whose music has touched the emotions of millions and put a spring in the step of royalty.
With so many plaques around the county it would take several days or weeks to visit them all but it is worth the exercise as we are reminded of so many great and famous characters whose feet have stepped where yours are stepping as you look at their tablet of fame.
John Milton walked the streets of Horton, Slough, and it is said that he was inspired by the local countryside when he wrote Paradise Lost, among many other works. Interestingly, Milton was also a civil servant during the days of Oliver Cromwell and no doubt witnessed many of the changes during the leadership of the Lord Protector.
Milton’s plaque is at Berkyn Manor Estate Gate, Standwell Road, Horton.
Quite a number of writers have been associated with the county, including Kenneth Grahame, famous of course for the beautiful Wind in the Willows. Kenneth lived in Cookham Dean for the early part of his life and later at what is now Herries School, but was known as Mayfield in Dean Lane. It was here that he wrote his much-loved adventures about Ratty, Mole and Toad. His blue plaque can be seen at the school.
Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, preached in St Mary’s Church in Streatley during 1864.
He might not have been a giant of literature but millions of words owe their communication to Guglielmo Marconi, another resident of Cookham. Guglielmo is a legend in the field of long- distance communication and is still revered as the father of radio. He was born in Bologna in 1874, died in Rome in 1937, but in between he lived in Cookham Rise where his plaque can be seen at 142 Whyteladyes Lane. He made many experimental transmissions from the village at the end of the 19th century.
Berkshire has its sporting heroes too and, among them, we can find the blue plaque of Jack White at Ridge Mount Cottage in Ridgemount Road, Sunningdale. What did he do? Well, the mention of Sunningdale is a big clue. Jack was a brilliant golfer and won the Open Golf Championship in 1904 at the Royal St George’s Golf Club at Sandwich. He had been the club professional at Sunningdale for two years at the time but remained there for a further 25 years after his title win. He was a very popular, good-natured golf pro and is still considered one of the sport’s greatest. His prize for winning the Open? Fifty quid!
And don’t forget the artists. Walk through the village of Cookham and you’ll see many a plaque dedicated to Stanley Spencer.
Many criminals rued the day that Sir Edward Richard Henry, 1st Baronet GCVO KCB CSI KPM, was born in 1850. He was the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1903 to 1918 but became famous as the inventor of The ‘Henry’ Finger Printing Classification System, which has played
a major part in catching thousands of fellons. You can find his blue plaque at Cissbury on Windsor Road, Ascot, where he lived for many years after he retired.
How many times do we walk past plaques, blue or otherwise, and not really give them a second glance? And yet, they provide us with such windows into the past and the rich and famous, the poor but defiant, the creators, the inventors, the military heroes, the entertainers and even a few of the villains.
If you find yourself in Maidenhead alongside the Thames and see Boulter’s Bridge, take a look at the blue plaque which reveals that broadcasting legend Richard Dimbleby lived there for many years on Boulter’s Island. Richard Dimbleby was a newspaper journalist in his early working years but joined the BBC and reported on many of the iconic moments of World War Two, including D-Day, bombing raids and the relief of allies. He didn’t just talk about them, he was there in the thick of it. Later he became the voice of the BBC’s royal events, presenter of the hugely popular radio programme, Down Your Way, and stood for all things that could only be British. It is fitting that his blue plaque is not far from Windsor where lie so many of the royalty that he so magnificently commentated on when he and they were such lively and popular figures.