Tuesday, April 25th 2017
The plan was to go to Slough and concentrate our efforts there. Why Slough? I’m not sure, really. Perhaps, like mountaineers, we visit these places because they are there. Slough turned out to be rather dull and so we quickly moved on, stopping only to take a few photos here are there.
We reached Slough by rail, disembarking at its rather fine Victorian station. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Slough’s finest building. The station, parts of which are listed (but not the station as a whole, apparently), was designed by John Danks in French Renaissance style and opened in 1840, although the railway had reached Slough two years earlier. The story goes that the Headmaster of Eton College had objected to the building of a station on the grounds that it would be a corrupting influence on his pupils. Train tickets were sold in the local pub.
The etymology of the name ‘Slough’ (pronounced to rhyme with ‘bough’) is uncertain. It first appears in written form in 1196 as Slo and through the ages mutates through Slow or Slowe to the modern Slough. Several proposals for the name’s meaning have been proposed but none has been definitely proven. (See here for a discussion of the topic.)
We wandered around the centre which was noisy and full of the usual shops with their garish signage. If you were to tell me that there are nicer parts of Slough, I would believe it but, if so, we didn’t see them. My attention was caught by a tree, not an ordinary tree but a tree made of metal with birds perched on the branches. It turns out that this artwork is by an artist named only as Giuseppe with the help of school children who made the birds.
Many events have taken place around Britain to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, 1914-1918/9. Slough’s contribution is the above memorial inscribed ‘SLOUGH’S MEMORIAL TO THE FALLEN’. This is in addition to a more conventional town war memorial raised in 1921 and now sited in the grounds of St Mary’s Church.
On one side of the base has been carved this inscription. It is in rather fanciful lettering but I think it is intended to spell out ‘FREEDOM’.
Finding Slough not to our taste, we boarded a bus and headed south-west, crossing the River Jubilee and then the Thames to arrive at Windsor.
Windsor is known for its huge castle (one of a ring of castles around London built by William the Conqueror) which is a Royal residence. The British monarchy is of German descent and the family name was until 1917 Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In that year, however, George V issued a proclamation changing the family name to Windsor. The reason given for this was the anti-German sentiment generated in the population by the First World War.
The name of the town is generally agreed to derive from two words, windels (‘windlass’) and sora (‘shore’), indicating a place on the riverbank where there was a winch (perhaps for hauling boats onto the shore). Other derivations have been suggested.
Windsor is part of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead within the County of Berkshire. References to royalty of course abound, mostly with an eye to tourism.
One such royal reference is to be found in this structure known as the King Edward VII Gateway. It was donated, the plaque tells us, by Sir Jesse Boot (founder of the chain of chemist’s shops of the same name) and opened by Princess Alice (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) in 1921.
The adjective ‘royal’ appears again on this rather noble façade. Windsor is the terminus of the railway line from Slough and possesses two stations, Windsor and Eton Riverside and this one, Windsor and Eton Central Station, which was opened in 1849 and is now Grade II listed. Among other features, it includes a private waiting room for Queen Victoria. The boldly displayed date 1897 refers to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Rail traffic to and from Windsor has declined considerably since the station was built. Of the four original platforms, three have been closed down and the remaining one has been shortened. It is unsurprising, therefore that the building is now shared by the railway and by a shopping centre calling itself Windsor Royal Shopping. The coat of arms at the top of the gable is that of the Great Western Railway who built the line and the station.
There is a prominent crossroads where Castle Hill meets the High Street. This site was chosen for a statue to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. Sculpted by Joseph Edgar Boehm and financed by public subscription, it was unveiled in June of that year with the Queen in attendance. Like all of Victoria’s statues, this one shows her in regal pose, every inch an empress. She seems gigantic and one might not realize that in reality, this powerful monarch was rather short – a shade under 5 feet – though somewhat plump in later life.
Every self-respecting ancient town must possess at least one wonky building. Windsor meets the requirement in Market Cross House, also known for obvious reasons as the Crooked House. Built in 1687 as a commercial property with two storeys and an attic, it was somewhat altered in the the 18th century. When did the building begin to lean? There is no certain information about this but it seems possible that this happened after adjoining houses were demolished in the 1820s. It is said that the building has been stabilised with steel supports. It is Grade II listed.
In front of Market Cross House you can see a drinking fountain. I didn’t have time to photograph it separately. It is dated 1878 and was refurbished in 1977 in honour of the Jubilee of the present Queen.
Right next door to the Crooked House and drinking fountain is the Windsor Guildhall with a fine colonnade. Records reveal that there were earlier Guildhalls but this Grade II listed building was begun in 1687 by St Thomas Fitz and completed after his death by no less an architect than Christopher Wren. As the name suggests, the guilds transacted their businesses here but the building awas lso used by the town administration and as a magistrates’ court. In modern times events and ceremonies may be held here and it is the home of the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum.
A church had existed here probably from Anglo-Saxon times and by all accounts it grew to be very large and complex in layout. Between 1820 and 1822, however, the church was rebuilt with its outline following that of the old one, with addition being applied in 1870. It now rejoices in a Grade II* listing.
As well as a wonky building, a self-respecting ancient town also needs an ancient well. Windsor scores here too with its very own well. We are left in no doubt that this is indeed such an entity because it is labelled in big letters ‘ANCIENT WELL’. I don’t know how ancient it is or anything else about it as information on it is hard to come by.
Near the Ancient Well, we found two pillar boxes. One was painted the usual red colour but the other was blue! It soon became apparent that this was no whimsy on the part of the Royal Mail or of some passing paint-vandal. Blue posting boxes did exist for a short time for a particular purpose and this one has been kept as a commemoration of that.
The royal cypher, GR (for George V), gives us an approximate age for the box. Better still, the text replacing the old collection times data, spells out the story:
CORONATION AERIAL POST
On 9th September 1911, Gustav Hamel took off from Hendon Aerodrome in his frail Bleriot monoplane to inaugurate the first United Kingdom aerial post and landed in Shaw Farm meadow, Long Walk, Windsor. The flight was organised to carry special mail celebrating the coronation of King George V.
Within a few years, Air Mail services became well established and between 1930 and 1938, special blue pillar boxes like this commemorative one were used for posting Air Letters.
It was later decided that having two sets of boxes was unnecessarily complicated and the blue ones eventually disappeared.
We took a look at a park and recreation ground called Bachelors’ Acre. From ancient times this ground has been used as a meeting place for the townsfolk and for a market. The name comes from the fact that in 1809, a group of local people calling themselves the ‘Bachelors of Windsor’, took it upon themselves to renovate the area.
Completion of the renovation work in 1810 coincided with the Golden Jubilee of King George III and in order to celebrate these events an obelisk was raised and a hog roast with plum pudding took place, as recorded in the inscription on the Grade II listed monument.
A rather more modern monument is this group of sculptures by Lydia Karpinska entitled The Windsor Lady, representing the Queen, dressed as for a country ramble, with a number of Corgi dogs. It was done in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
We went to have a look at the Thames and then it was time to start making tracks for home. Ironically, in order to have the cheapest train tickets, we had elected to travel by specific trains to and from Slough. This meant that we now had to catch a bus to take us back to Slough in order to travel from there by our designated train back to London. We may one day return to Windsor but I don’t think we shall revisit Slough.