5 things you didn’t know about Maidenhead

PUBLISHED: 08:58 09 June 2020

Adrian Black/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Adrian Black/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Glamorous Maidenhead garnered its reputation as the Jewel of the Thames during Edwardian times. It may have changed a lot since then, but it remains an affluent town with many redeeming characteristics.

BEAUTIFUL BRIDGES

Built in 1770 from Portland Stone, Maidenhead Bridge is a beauty with 13 arches. Looking downstream from the top of the bridge, you can take in the view of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Sounding Arch railway bridge. This bridge carries the Great Western Railway over the Thames and was the subject of J.M.W. Turner’s famous painting, Rain, Speed and Steam, that now hangs in The National Gallery. The most remarkable thing about this bridge is that it had the widest and flattest brick arches in the world on completion in 1838.

It is incredible how the bricks in the two middle sections remain in place. It really has to be seen to be believed. Also, don’t miss a walk over the new pedestrian bridge from Ray Mill Island/ Boulters Lock in Maidenhead over the River Thames to Taplow.

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RACY REPUTATION

Skindles was once a racy nightspot, back in the days when Maidenhead was a mecca for the ‘in-crowd’. Past guests of Skindles have included Winston Churchill and bon viveur Princess Margaret. The site has since been developed into several hundred houses and flats and a new swanky Roux at Skindles bar and brasserie overlooking the river.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Skindles was a well-known music venue attracting the likes of bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Strawbs. Maidenhead’s reputation was so racy that in the late 19th century the phrase “Are you married or do you live in Maidenhead?” was commonly used! Famous rockers have continued to visit Maidenhead, but many have been heading towards Oldfield, a Thames-side mansion owned by Colin Johnson, former manager of Status Quo, Rod Stewart and The Stranglers. Johnson and his wife converted their £3.5 million home into a boutique hotel that has put up the odd rock star, including Jimmy Page and Chris Rea as well as lucky guests with bookings at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck or Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn at nearby Bray.

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FAMOUS RESIDENTS

Famous one-time residents of Maidenhead have included the actress Diana Dors, the broadcaster Richard Dimbleby and the author Hugh Lofting. The novelist Nick Hornby, Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones, and children’s presenter Toby Anstis were all educated at Maidenhead Grammar School. The Spice Girls shared a house in the town shortly before their rise to global domination.

Perhaps Maidenhead’s most eccentric current resident has to be the motor specialist Ed China. Not content with just making eccentric vehicles such as motorised double beds, sheds and office desks, Ed also holds the Guinness World Record for the ‘fastest furniture’ after he constructed an armchair car, which he then thrashed along a racing track at a scary 92 miles per hour! Ed has since set up his company, Cummfy Banana Limited, which designs and manufactures unique vehicles for corporate and special occasions.

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HISTORY OF HIGHWAYMEN

Famous for its highwaymen, Maidenhead Thicket and Hounslow Heath once became the most dangerous places along the Bath Road. In 1742, a Reading stagecoach travelling between Henley and Oxford was robbed . In 1748, John Williams was sentenced to death at Abingdon for highway robbery on the Thicket. In 1781, George and Joseph Weston robbed the Royal Mail at the Thicket and got away with £10,000; they were later hung at Newgate Prison in 1782. In 1793, Lord Elgin was attacked in the Thicket but escaped.

In 1740, John Clark was sentenced to death for robbing the Duke of Marlborough’s coach between Reading and Maidenhead. The grounds of Hall Place are said to be haunted by the ghost of highwayman Claude Duval. And local legend has it that Dick Turpin, the most famous highwayman, carried out robberies along this stretch of the Bath Road.

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ROYAL CONNECTIONS

Walk down the High Street and take note of the Natwest building. This was formerly the Greyhound Inn, where King Charles I met his children for the last time in 1649 before he was executed.

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Find out more about the fascinating towns and villages in Berkshire in Binoclarity by Thomas Newport. £2.99 ebook; £9.99 paperback at amazon.co.uk

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