As the Thames performs its geographical duty of marking the county boundary between Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, it ambles along a gentle right-hand curve from Hurley to Bray, to complete a half-circle.
In doing so it embraces some of the loveliest countryside in the Middle Thames, the river’s best sailing reach, a world-famous punting course, and laps the edge of the Chiltern spur where history has been made down the ages to the present day – from Saxon battles and Christian baptisms, to modern politics. Unhappily punting has moved away and the power boats have taken over, but the scullers are still on the water.
At the heart of the half-circle is Maidenhead. Since Edwardian days it has been a place for fun. Once it was champagne parties, camping punts and Guard’s Club occasions, culminating in the season’s most fashionable event ‘Ascot Sunday’, a day of finery on the river.
During the 1920s Maidenhead had a string of harmless drinking clubs which earned it notoriety but its naughty past began much earlier, when the Gaiety girls were lodged here; in fact there is a short piece of riverside known locally as Gaiety Row.
Today the accent is on art, music, drama and dance festivals. Actors, film stars, television personalities, air-line pilots, ballet dancers, models, many of them instantly recognisable, live hereabouts and may be brushed shoulders with in the supermarkets. In the villages, particularly Cookham, artists, both professional and amateur abound.
No one knows where the name Maidenhead, which first appeared in 1296, came from but it owes its foundation to the bridge and a small chapel at a river crossing – once a ford through a much wider and shallower Thames. The borough church of St Mary Magdalene and St Andrew is the successor of this chapel and like it, it’s close to Chapel Arches which now span a flood relief ditch.
The town traces its beginnings from that chapel and its most historic possession is its charter of incorporation from Queen Elizabeth I signed in 1582.
History of Maidenhead
Maidenhead grew out of a small hamlet when the first bridge was built. This was a much more direct route from London to the West Country, so became a major point on the Great West Road. Being a day's travel from London, many coaching inns were established. In the 19th Century, with the advent of the railways, Maidenhead became a sophisticated Thameside resort.
To find out more about the history of Maidenhead why not visit Maidenhead Heritage Centre?
Things to do in Maidenhead
If you enjoy the outdoors, Maidenhead boasts some fantastic parks and open space and of course a trip to the River Thames is a must.
A short walk from the town centre takes you to the river with its 18th-century road bridge and Brunel’s famous ‘Sounding Arch’ featured in Turner's painting of ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’. A walk along the riverside offers amazing views of the Thames and great walks towards the villages of Cookham, Marlow; Bray and Windsor and Eton. Boulter’s Lock which was immortalised in Gregory’s 19th-century painting boasts a newly-refurbished restaurant and bar whilst Boulter’s Island remains a firm favourite with its bird aviary, beautiful gardens and great views of Maidenhead weir. Riverside gardens is very popular with families with its extensive lawns, park and crazy golf, all completed with a visit to the famous Jenner’s café.
Shopping in Maidenhead
Maidenhead has a good range of well known High Street names as well a wide variety of independent and specialist stores for you to explore. Step off the High Street and you'll find some hidden gems for that special something.
The Nicholsons Shopping Centre offers a selection of over 60 stores including well known names such as Next WH Smiths, Argos, Robert Dyas, Topshop/Topman and much more all under one roof.
Maidenhead boasts a wide variety of regular and visiting markets including continental, farmers' and arts markets offering shoppers a unique experience.
Dining in Maidenhead
Eating out in Maidenhead at lunchtime or in the evening provides an opportunity to enjoy a range of culinary delights from around the world.
Just down the road is one of Britain's culinary capitals, the village of Bray. This village contains the Roux Brothers' Waterside Inn as well as Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, which has held the accolade 'best restaurant in the world' and Giancarlo Caldesi's Caldesi in Campagna.
The town's nightlife has both independent and well known pubs and clubs including venues with live music, relaxed wine bars, traditional pubs and funky clubs.
Events in Maidenhead
For an opportunity to discover the past of Maidenhead the Heritage Centre is a must with regular exhibitions and talks on the towns past. For those wishing to explore the arts and culture you can discover the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, just a 5 minute drive away from the town centre. Norden Farm offers a packed programme of theatre, dance, comedy, visual arts, music and film as well as the Norden Farm Café Bar which offers an excellent selection for a pre-show meal. Whatever the time of day you won't get bored in Maidenhead with lots to do for all ages and tastes. Whether it's a night out visiting the cinema or local bars or a cultural evening at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead has lots to offer. Maidenhead has a packed event programme all year round with highlights including Maidenhead Carnival, Maidenhead at the movies outdoor cinema and the annual Christmas Lights Switch-on and Christmas events. Regular events include the monthly produce and Farmers' Market, and visiting French and Italian Markets.