Stage 2 – Staines to Boveney Church (10.45 miles)
Mostly towpath and parkland - the route follows the Thames before crossing the road at Runnymede and climbing up a steep hill past the John F Kennedy Memorial at two miles. The acre of ground around the memorial is officially part of the United States of America. Soon the long trek through the Great Park leads to and around Windsor Castle before crossing the Thames to Eton and rejoining the towpath to Boveney.
To start go directly away from the river along the path between the bridge and Thames Edge, soon climbing up some steps to Clarence Street, then turn sharp left and over Staines Bridge staying on the left hand pavement.
Staines Bridge was designed by George Rennie and his younger brother John. It was opened with great ceremony in 1832 by William IV (formerly the Duke of Clarence and after whom Clarence Street at Staines was named). This was the fifth bridge to be built here in fifty years. The previous four, built 200m downstream from the current one, all failed. If you look closely, you can still see an old bridgehead. The name “Ad Pontes” (“by the bridges”) suggests in Roman Times at least two bridges crossed the river at Staines. However, it may also refer to a bridge over the Thames and another over the River Colne, which enters the Thames just downstream from the current Staines Bridge (another theory comes later).
Shortly after the start and before turning left onto the bridge, the pink building in front on the corner of Clarence Street and Bridge Street dates from 1835. It was used as the Literary and Scientific Institution; H G Wells is amongst those who lectured here. It was Staines first library from 1950 - 79 and is presently occupied by the Showmen's' Guild. The large red building to the left of this (further along Bridge Street) is headquarters of the Courage Brewery Company (now Scottish Courage) and was aptly built on the site of the old Ashby Brewery. The Ashby Brewery opened in 1783 and closed in 1930, its original crown topped tower still stands close by on Church Street and has now been converted to flats.
Immediately south of Staines Bridge is a large roundabout. This is thought to be the site of an ancient stone circle, sometimes called “The Old Stones of Staines” and (from some sources) where the town is believed to get its name. The group of nine stones is mentioned in the 12th Century charter of Chertsey Abbey.
“Down to that Eyre that stands in the Thames at Lodders Lake and so along Thames by mid-stream to Glenthuthe, from Glenthuthe by mid-steam along Thames to the Huthe before Negen Stanes”
“Negen Stanes” is Saxon for “nine stones”, “Glenthuthe” is “Glanty” (now an M25 junction at Egham) and “Huthe” is “Hythe” (now called Staines Hythe).
On the other side of the roundabout is a Sainsbury’s superstore. This was the site of Lagonda, makers of motorcycles and cars. The company was started by Wilbur Gunn (1859 – 1919) a native of Springfield, Ohio who came to England in 1891. He was an accomplished engineer and a keen opera singer. Through a local operatic group, he met Constance Gray. She lived, with her husband, in a large house in extensive grounds on the site. Constance was widowed in 1896 and the following year she married Wilbur. He moved in with her and used their greenhouse as his workshop for manufacturing small steam engines for riverboats. His introduction to road vehicles was in 1898 when he made himself a petrol engine, which attached to the front wheel of his bicycle, thus making it easier for him to get about. After this he went on to produce more motorcycles. He named his company Lagonda, after his father’s engineering company back in Springfield, “The Lagonda Corporation”. The name originates from the Shawnee Indian name of a stream (now Buck Creek) which flows through his hometown of Springfield. For the next seven years, as he continued to produce motorcycles, the company expanded in the grounds of their home. In 1905, the Lagonda works at Staines produced its first three-wheeled car, and eventually went on to produce quality four wheeled cars. From 1914 to 1918, the factory was used to help with the British war effort. After the war, it went back to making cars. Its most famous moment was in 1935 when a 4.5 litre Lagonda, made at Staines, won the Le Mans 24 hour race. In the same year, the company went into receivership, but was saved by Alan Good who reformed it as LG Motors. During World War 2, production once again turned over to the war effort. After the war, car production recommenced and continued until 1948 when David Brown bought the company, merged it with Aston Martin and moved work to Feltham. The Staines factory was sold to Petters, a diesel engine company, who retained it until 1989 when the site was sold to the supermarket company.
After crossing Staines Bridge turn left into The Hythe, then after just a few yards and just before the first cottage turn left onto a path. On reaching the river, turn left again over an old footbridge to join the towpath, under Staines Bridge and westwards.
The Hythe is a street of old buildings with many dating back to the 17th Century and before. They include the Swan Hotel, parts of which date from the 15th Century with its cosy bar and beer terrace overlooking the river. Just across the street are the 16th Century Ann Boleyn Hotel and the Jolly Farmer Pub.
Shortly after passing under Staines Bridge the towpath crosses over a footbridge, to the left is a small marina with possibly a bit more potential than it’s used for at present. Soon after this, a path to the left leads to the car park of Homebase and Halfords. In Spring and Summer a burger van is usually resident here next to the towpath. Across the river is Church Island. The island has a few houses and is connected to the north bank of the river by a footbridge. Many years ago, barrels of beer from the Ashby Brewery were transported here by chain ferry, then taken across the island and loaded onto boats. The old chain ferry, although looking a bit sad for itself, is still moored to the north side of the island.
Some sources (Wikipedia is one) suggest “Ad Pontes” referred to a crossing of the river via Church Island, where one bridge ran from the north bank of the Thames to the island and a second spanned the main stream of the river from the island to the south bank. On studying maps, this is a real possibility as the old A30 into Staines High Street, just before the current pedestrian zone, veers in the correct direction. However, shortly before reaching the Thames, the route would still have had to cross the Colne and thus suggest three bridges. Whichever theory is correct, it is clear an important Roman Road ran from Holborn along Oxford Street, joining what is now the route of the A402 through Shepherds Bush, the A315 through Hounslow High Street, and then the A30 to and through Staines and onto the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum (aka Silchester). Staines was a day’s march from London and would have been the stopping point before another day’s march to Silchester. Calleva Atrebatum (Roman for Silchester) and London were both major Roman Towns and this also indicates Staines was hugely important at the time. Today it is still easy to follow this Roman route from London to Staines on modern maps (e.g. Multimap) and it shows how towns still exist along this old road - their most important streets still line the route.
After Church Island, on the opposite bank, is Lammas Park (on some maps named Ashby Recreation Grounds) and it was here on the riverbank where the London Stone sat from the 18th century until it was replaced by a replica in 1986. In 2012, the replica was moved back down river to where it now sits, between the Town Hall and the Town Pier, and near to its original site. To the left of the towpath is an industrial park, mostly owned by British Gas and it was from here where the nations gas bills were issued for many years.
Within a short distance, across the river, although not obvious as an island, is Holm Island. It’s a wooded place with a house called “The Nest”, apparently a courting place in the 1930’s for King Edward VIII (later the Duke of Windsor) and Mrs Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. Edward was the second member of the House of Windsor to become Monarch. His father (King George V) with German roots (Saxe-Coburg) got rid of the German family name at the start of World War I (1917) and chose a very English name for the Royal Family (Windsor sounded good and still continues to be their family name).
Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England on 11th December 1936, less than 11 months after he became monarch. He could have fought to keep it, but the Prime Minister at the time, Stanley Baldwin, put too many obstacles in the way and would not allow him to marry a divorcee. It was one of the great romances of the 20th Century, but it almost brought the English Royal Family to its knees. He was made Duke of Windsor, and married Wallis at Chateau de Cande, near Tours in France on 3rd June 1937. Edward spent most of the rest of his life in France, and until the day he died was not forgiven by his family. Edward died on 28th May 1972. He is the only monarch to have ever voluntarily relinquished the throne of England. He is buried at Frogmore in the Home Park at Windsor. Wallis – the Duchess of Windsor – died on 24th April 1986, and is buried next to her husband.
At a mile into the stage, the towpath passes under the bridges carrying the M25 and the A30. The road bridges are only separated by three metres and together tower overhead for 80 metres. From here, continue straight on along the towpath for almost a mile to and around the Runnymede Pleasure Grounds.
The M25 Road Bridge was opened in 1985 and the A30 Road Bridge in 1961. The latter was designed 20 years earlier by Sir Edwin Lutyens. During the construction, archaeologists uncovered a Bronze Age (2200 BC to 750 BC) settlement site, which overlaid a much older Neolithic (4000 BC to 2200 BC) site. Some of the findings from the site can be seen at the Spelthorne Museum.
Immediately after the road bridges the Colne Brook stream joins the Thames across the river to the right. In front is Bell Weir Lock and on the left overlooking the towpath is the 4 star Runnymede Hotel & Spa. The hotel was used as the venue for a party where Team GB (the 2008 British Olympic Squad) celebrated their success after returning from the Beijing Games in 2008.
Soon some pleasant riverside properties appear on the opposite bank, and shortly after the first few, part of the river branches off to form an island. This is at Hythe End, Wraysbury, is simply called “The Island”, and is again lined with pleasant houses overlooking the main stream of the river.
The towpath soon passes the Wraysbury Skiff & Punting Club before following the river around the open meadow of the Runnymede Pleasure Grounds. The area is a pleasant and peaceful setting and offers many facilities, including a café, toilets, parking, a paddling pool, a playground, information boards, and boat trips up the river to Windsor. On a warm sunny day, it is an ideal place for a family picnic, to play by the river, or to start a walk from.
At the end of the pleasure ground (at 2 miles into the stage), follow the towpath as it turns right through a kissing gate and adjacent to the road - the river is to the right.
Across the road is a wide-open meadow with Coopers Hill in the distance. On the other side of the river from here, once stood the Benedictine Nunnery of Ankerwyke – what remains is visible from the towpath. It was built in honour of St. Mary Magdalene and founded in the 12th Century in the reign of King Henry II. This is now an area of parkland acquired by the National Trust in 1998 and as well as the remains of the nunnery you can also see, the ancient Ankerwyke Yew just a few yards to the north and the ruins of the old Ankerwyke Priory, set back a few hundred yards from the river.
The Ankerwyke Yew is a magnificent tree believed to be about 2,500 years old. There are many myths about the tree and some believe it to have holy and even magical powers. It is thought to have been a meeting place for Druids and today is usually covered with ribbons and other gifts left by pagans. It even gives its name to a local pagan group called The Circle of Ankerwyke. Tradition says the tree is where Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn in the 1530s whilst he was still married to Catherine of Aragon.
It is also believed many hundreds of years ago the Thames changed course in this area and originally flowed north of both the tree and the nunnery. Both sit on Ankerwycke Island formed by a small stream of the Thames
The name Runnymede translates as a broad riverside meadow. It was where King John sealed Magna Carta on 15th June 1215. John came to power after the death of his brother Richard the Lionheart in 1199. Richard’s roots were Norman and he was popular in both France and England. He had nominated Arthur of Brittany as his successor, but John seized the throne of England for himself. John was unpopular in France and was forced to fight for his lands there. He captured Arthur during one battle, and soon Arthur was mysteriously killed, he was just 16 years old. It is believed John himself was the murderer.
These wars drained John’s purse and were financed by higher taxes on the English, especially the nobles. He did as he pleased and in the process, he came at odds with the Pope and his own Barons. The nobles in England were fed up with his actions, and led by Robert FitzWalter, they decided he needed a bit of a slap on the wrist.
Within a couple of years, the Barons assembled their forces and took over London. They put the King into a corner and decided to make him surrender some of his powers. About 60 barons were involved. A document believed to have been drawn up by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, was thrashed out by the opposing sides. This document called “Magna Carta” was signed by the King and the Barons and witnessed by the clergy, including eight bishops. It was basically the first time common people were given rights and meant the King could be questioned over his actions. In the stand off to the signing, the King and his supporters were based at Windsor and the Barons at Staines. Twenty five nominated Barons met halfway, at Runnymede where the King had no choice but to sign “Magna Carta”. As a stipulation in the agreement, a few days later the Barons re-proclaimed their loyalty to the King. However, the document did reduce the king’s powers and it was the first which made a King of England accountable for his actions. It is believed King John camped with his followers next to the old Ankerwyke Yew on the night before the signing of Magna Carta.
You can read a translation of the Magna Carta and what each clause means by following the link to the National Archives.
Through the years, the charter formed the basis of an individual's right to justice and liberty. Many modern day constitutions, including that of the USA and its Bill of Rights are based on the charter. A Magna Carta Memorial presented by the American Bar Association in 1957, stands at the foot of Coopers Hill and can be seen to the left in the distance. There are four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta; two are at the British Library while Salisbury and Lincoln Cathedrals each hold one.
No one can be 100% sure of the exact spot where Magna Carta was signed. Some think it may have been on Magna Carta Island, some think it was on the broad meadow below Coopers Hill, but according to old references on www.wraysbury.net/history/magnacarta.htm, it seems most likely the signing took place next too, or under the Ankerwycke Yew. The Wraysbury website is worth a visit and contains some well-researched information about the Magna Carta, the yew tree and the local area. It appears some of their information came from an old book (see http://lcweb2.loc.gov/rbc/rbcmisc/octavo/strsyl/12/029strsyl12.pdf - link currently not available). I have been unable to source the book and if you know where to find a copy, I would like to hear from you. Below is a poem quoted on the website and in the book mentioned above. It was written by Joseph Strutt (1749 – 1802) and covers some of the events which happened at Runnymede.
have pass’d, since first this ancient Yew
In all the strength of youthful beauty grew!
Here patriot Barons might have musing stood,
And plann’d the Charter for their Country’s good;
And here, perhaps, from Runnymede retired,
The haughty John, with secret vengeance fired,
Might curse the day which saw his weakness yield
Extorted rights in yonder tented field.
Here too the tyrant Henry felt love’s flame,
And, sighing, breathed his Anne Bolyn’s name;
Beneath the shelter of this Yew-tree’s shade,
The royal lover wood’d the ill-star’d maid;
And yet that neck, round which he fondly hung,
To hear the thrilling accents of her tongue;
That lovely breast, on which his head reclined,
Form’d to have humanized his savage mind;
Were Doom’d to bleed beneath the tyrants steel,
Whose selfish heart might doat, but could not feel.
O had the Yew its direst venom shed,
Upon the cruel Henry’s guilty head,
Ere Englands sons with shuddering grief had seen
A slaughtere’s victim in their beauteous queen!"
On the 15th June 1992, 777 years after the signing of Magna Carta another group of people met at the old yew tree to make an oath. This was called the Green Magna Carta. It was drawn up by botanist David Bellamy and its intention was to work towards an eco-friendly future.
In June 2002, a plaque, next to the Ankerwyke Yew, was unveiled by “The Tree Council” – it reads:
“THE TREE COUNCIL
IN CELEBRATION OF
THE GOLDEN JUBILEE OF
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
THE ANKERWYCKE YEW
one of fifty
GREAT BRITISH TREES
in recognition of its place
in the national heritage
Supported by National Grid”
If you walk along the path around Ankerwyke Island looking for the tree, unless you know your “yews”, this plaque at the side of the path is the best way to find the tree. It’s only when you follow the small path next to the plaque and under the tree you see what is special and get an appreciation of the tree’s age. The tree trunk has a massive girth of 32 feet and one can only look with amazement at its shape and think of the history it has witnessed. At 2.35 miles into the stage if you look directly across the River Thames, the old yew tree is in a straight-line set back almost 200 yards past the opposite bank – I’m not sure if you can see it.
In 2008, Mike Hutchins at the young age of 91 painted a watercolour the tree. He still runs with Stragglers Running Club and has been involved in the long distance relay around London since its inception in 1994. You can download a copy of his painting HERE (link to be added).
Two videos on YouTube about the tree are worth a visit:
1. Notable Trees of the National Trust - The Ankerwyke Yew, by National Trust Charity.
2. The Ankerwycke Yew - an ancient living legend, by Sarah Rees
To the left at the top of Coopers Hill and above the Magna Carta Memorial is the striking Air Forces Memorial. Designed by Sir Edward Maufe R.A. and unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 17th October 1953, it was the first new building to be designated Grade I listed status after the war. It is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. From the top of the tower, visitors can see Windsor Castle, Runnymede and breathtaking views over seven counties. It is a tribute to "the men and women of the Airforces of the British Commonwealth who lost their lives in the Second World War and who have no known grave". There are 20,456 names carved in the stone walls and floors.
Follow the towpath between the road and the river for 0.9 miles (stepping over a low wooden fence at 2.7 miles) to just after one of two red brick buildings – one on either side of the road.
Across the River Thames from 2.5 miles to 2.75 miles is Magna Carta Island with a large private house near its western tip. It is difficult to distinguish the island, as the stream behind it is very narrow. Immediately after the island, the gardens of a few desirable residents back onto opposite bank of the river, some of which are hidden by Pats Croft Eyot.
The towpath passes through some trees, between the red brick building and the river, and soon come out to a car park at the Runnymede Boathouse. Turn left towards the road and cross straight over (with care) and into the National Trust car park on the opposite side. Turn left through the car park to the second red brick building.
The Runnymede Boathouse is owned by French Brothers, who run boat trips from here to Hampton Court and to Windsor. The two red brick buildings are the Lutyens’ gatehouses. There is one on either side of the road, signifying the entrance to Runnymede from the Old Windsor direction - both are owned by the National Trust. The first contains the Runnymede Art Gallery and is open all year. The second has toilets, tearooms (not National Trust run) and small information centre.
Veer right and past the building to the National Trust Information Board near the entrance to the car park. From the map, on the board, you get a good idea of where you are going next. Turn left to exit the car park and then immediately veer right on a well-defined path going diagonally across the large meadow. After 330 yards, and on reaching the trees on the edge of the meadow, turn right through a wooden kissing gate to climb steeply up stone steps.
At this point, you may well wish to take a short diversion from the route by continuing along the edge of the meadow for just over 100 yards to visit the Magna Carta Memorial. If you do, then retrace your steps back to the kissing gate.
After passing through the kissing gate, you are officially stepping onto American soil. In front are the 50 steep steps, which climb too and lead past the John F Kennedy Memorial. The steps are named “The Steps of Individuality”. They are made of 60,000 individual axe-hewn Portuguese granite setts which rise steeply through the woodland. Each step represents a state of the USA.
The John F Kennedy Memorial is a large engraved slab of Portland stone designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe. It was unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 14th May 1965 in the presence of President Kennedy's widow, their children, and his brothers. By visiting the link to YouTube, you can watch a short video of the ceremony and an insight of the architect design thoughts.
Wikipedia has a huge section on Runnymede, the Magna Carta and the influence it had on the history of democracy, and still has on modern western constitutions.
Continue up the steps to and past the Kennedy Memorial, then go straight on through the trees to a narrow lane, which leads up past a campus of Brunel University, and eventually out onto a busy road (Priest Hill - at 3.7 miles). Cross over (with care), then turn left along the pavement and uphill to just past a wooden bus shelter. Turn right into Castle Hill Road and stay with the road as it soon veers left. At the end of Castle Hill Road turn right into Bishopsgate and continue straight on for just over a half a mile to enter Windsor Great Park.
The area around here is Englefield Green. There are many large and very private houses hiding behind gates and between the trees, Sir Elton John the singer and songwriter is one of the residents. A short distance to the south is the built up area at the centre of the village.
Priest Hill is the site of the last place a fatal duel was fought in England. It took place in 1852 between two French exiles. There are many accounts of the duel on the Internet. The one below is from the Englefield Green section on Wikipedia.
“The last fatal duel in England took place on Priest Hill in 1852. It was between two French refugees, Lt. Frederic Constant Cournet and Emmanuel Barthelemy. Cournet was supposed to have been the better prepared for a sword duel. Barthelemy, an extremely questionable individual (responsible for at least two murders by 1852), manipulated Cournet into challenging him (supposedly over comments Cournet made about Barthelemy's girlfriend), and chose pistols for the weapon. He killed Cournet, and was subsequently arrested for murder. However, Barthelemy managed to convince the jury it was not a homicide as in the normal sense of the word, and was acquitted. Barthelemy was widely suspected of being a spy for the new French regime of Emperor Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III). In fact, his bullying of other refugees had led to the confrontation with Cournet. However, three years later, he was engaged in a crime in London, possibly involving a blackmail attempt that did not work out. Two men were killed, and Barthelemy was arrested. Despite giving an image of bravado in court, this time he was convicted, and subsequently hanged. Most criminal historians and writers feel he was a totally repugnant character, but to be fair he had one odd defender: Victor Hugo, who wrote a small panegyric to his memory in one of the later sections of Les Miserables. Cournet is buried in Egham parish church graveyard.”
To the left, on Bishopsgate, and hidden from view, is the Savill Court Hotel. The house here was originally a Jacobean Manor named “The Dell” and was acquired by Baron Sir John Henry Schroder (of Schroder’s Bank) in the late 19th Century. He extended the house greatly for the use of his family. Baron Schroder died in 1910 and is buried in Englefield Green cemetery. The house and his title passed onto his son Bruno Schroder who died in 1940 and is also buried at Englefield Green. During World War II, it was used as a military hospital. It remained in the hands of the Schroder family until the early 1980s. The manor was then refurbished, extended, and opened as the Anugraha Hotel in 1984. Its name later changed to Savill Court Hotel, the name coming from the neighbouring Savill Garden. The hotel now sits in 22 acres of beautiful grounds, has its own spa, and is now owned by MacDonald’s Hotels.
Immediately past to the entrance of the Savill Court Hotel is Wick Lane. The lane runs south along the western edge of the hotel grounds and past the Savill Gardens to Egham Wick. In 1956, in Parkside House on the west of the lane, Marilyn Monroe spent her honeymoon and an extra four months with her new husband Arthur Miller whilst filming The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier. The newly wedded couple were often seen cycling along Bishopsgate and through Windsor Great Park. At the time not many locals knew it was Marilyn, some told stories of seeing someone who looked just like her.
Shortly after Wick Lane, on the left along Bishopsgate and just before Windsor Great Park, is the The Fox & Hounds Restaurant & Pub This is a pleasant English country pub dating from c1780. It has a beer garden to both the rear and the front, and a good place to stop for some local real ale from the Windsor & Eton Brewery.
At the end of the lane is Bishop’s Gate, the entrance to Windsor Great Park. Go straight on through the gate, on the right is the gatekeeper’s box (small wooden office) and on the left is their cottage. Within a few yards, veer right onto a path through the trees. The path leads to a metal kissing gate. Go through the kissing gate and into the Deer Park.
The original park is thought to date back over a thousand years to Saxon Times. In the 13th Century, the Norman rulers enclosed the park. They introduced deer and wild boar and used it as a royal hunting ground. Successive monarchs used the park in this way and even today, although the wild boar have long disappeared, the deer still need to be culled to keep numbers manageable and end up on the royal dinner table or in the estate farm shop. In total, the great park covers about 5,000 acres and is the only “Royal Park” still managed by The Crown Estate. Most of it is open to the public and within its boundary are many places of interest. A village built in the 1930s still houses many of the estate’s workers. There are the Guards Polo Grounds at Smiths Lawn; Virginia Water Lake to the south, man-made in 1753, has a 4 mile walk around its shores with many things to see along the way; the enclosed Deer Park which our route has just entered; the Savill Garden; many royal lodges, and trees dating back to over 1,000 years;
Follow the traffic free road through the park to the slopes of Snow Hill – at 5.5 miles into the route. On the way, there are good views to the right towards Windsor and its castle. On top of the hill is the impressive Copper Horse, erected in 1831, with George III on top. The king has no stirrups and there are many different stories to say why. At this point turn right onto the tree lined Long Walk, and continue straight for almost 2.5 miles to near the castle at the other end.
After a mile and a quarter, a large gate blocks the Long Walk. To the left a kissing gate gives access to continue. The gate is there to keep the deer at bay and marks the southern boundary of the Deer Park.
0.3 miles later, the Long Walk crosses the busy A308 and to the left are some old estate workers cottages (at 7 miles). Cross over with care and continue towards the castle.
Once over the A308 the park changes name to The Home Park. This is the monarch’s own park and most is to the right and hidden behind a metal fence. The area was closed off as a private park with the passing of “The Windsor Castle and Town Approaches Act” by Parliament in 1848. The private part of the park contains many places of interest including: Frogmore House; the Royal Mausoleum (visible from the Long Walk and the resting place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert); Adelaide Cottage; the Windsor Castle Golf Course (only open to members of the royal family and their staff); Home Farm and the Windsor Farm Shop.
Three quarters of a mile after the A308, on approaching the castle, a gate blocks the Long Walk. However, there is still a magnificent view of the state apartments. At this point, turn left to leave the park by Cambridge Gate and into Park Street.
Just into Park Street on the right is the Two Brewers public house. This 17th Century pub has low ceilings, many artifacts on its walls and two bars “This Bar” and “That Bar”.
Park Street, Windsor, is mainly residential and full of 17th & 18th century buildings. Some were once coaching inns and one or two coaching arches remain. The prices of houses in the street can be extortionate and many have been converted to offices. Up until the closure of the Home Park in 1848, this was the main road out of Windsor towards London.
At the end of Park Street and just before the High Street, turn right into St Albans Street.
To the left near the junction of the two streets is a blue mailbox dating from 1911 and possibly the only one in the UK. It was erected for the world’s first postal airmail service. This took place between Windsor and Hendon and was to celebrate King George V’s coronation. Next to it are two red mailboxes and an ancient well.
To the right on entering St Albans Street is the Royal Mews with its exhibition of state coaches. Just past this is Burford House, built for Nell Gwyn in the 1670s. On her death (4th November 1687) the house passed onto her son Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St Albans an illegitimate son of King Charles II and from whom the street gets its name. It now houses a collection of gifts presented to the royal family. Charles II had many mistresses and produced many illegitimate children as a consequence. Two notable people descended from these include, Diana, Princess of Wales (bloodstock from four of his children), and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
On the left half way along St Albans Street is the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. This was built in 1822 and replaced an older part Saxon and part Norman church. Just past it is the entrance to Church Lane.
Near the end of St Albans Street a blue plaque on the castle wall states, "from 1785 to 1788 Mrs Mary Delaney (1700 – 1788), artist and friend of royalty lived here in a house provided by King George III – a frequent visitor was the novelist and diarist Fanny Burney (1752 – 1840) - while engaged as Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte".
At the junction turn left to enter Castle Hill (at 8 miles).
To the right is the King Henry VIII Gateway, the main entrance to the castle from the town. The short walk down Castle Hill leads to the High Street. At the junction is Queen Victoria's statue, placed here in 1887 to commemorate her 50th year on the throne. On the left between the statue and the castle is the entrance to Church Street, a delightful cobbled stoned street, lined with many old interesting buildings. They include Nell Gwyn's House – her second one? Dating from 1640, this was said to once been home to Charles II's famous mistress. It's alleged her ghost can sometimes be heard walking through the house. There are many ghost stories associated with the town - you can read some by following the link. Just past this is the Old King's Head, and it is believed to be where William Shakespeare stayed in 1597 whilst he wrote "The Merry Wives of Windsor". This is remembered by a plaque on the front of the building. Many of the characters in the play are thought to have been based on local people of the time. The pub is now a restaurant named Falstaffs (the name of a character in the play) and next to the plaque is a copy of the “Death Warrant of King Charles I” (1684). It contains the signatures of 59 leading Parliamentarians of the time, most of who were sought out and punished, by the dead king’s son Charles II, after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1690.
There are many old quaint streets in this small area of the town containing gift & antique shops, tearooms, restaurants, old pubs and much more. Castle Hill has the Horse & Groom (1719); Church Lane the Highlander; and Market Street the Carpenters Arms (1518) and the Three Tuns (1518). Just off Market Street is Queen Charlotte Street, recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest street in the UK at 51 feet 10 inches as stated by a blue plaque on one of the buildings. Nearby is the Crooked House Tea Rooms, originally built as a butcher’s shop in 1687. It gets its strange shape from the unseasoned timber used in its reconstruction in 1718.
Windsor Castle is the largest in the country, with 13 acres inside its curtain wall, and stands on a cliff above the Thames, looking down on both the river and the town. William the Conqueror built the first castle here in about 1070, a wooden Motte & Bailey Castle. It was one of a number built as a defensive ring around London. However, it is believed the Saxons also used Windsor previously as a fortification.
In August 2006 to celebrate the Queen’s 80th birthday, she gave permission to Tony Robinson and his Channel 4 Time Team to explore some of the royal properties in “The Big Royal Dig”. Windsor Castle was included and here they found evidence of a round table building thought to have been erected by King Edward III in 1344, and used by knights to feast as they watched entertainment conducted in the middle. It may have possibly been England’s first known theatre where nobility were said to have dressed up and acted out scenes from King Arthur’s times. You can watch the Time Team programme about Windsor on YouTube.
Windsor takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon word “Wyndesore” meaning “winding shore” and most possibly referring to the twisting course of the river in this area. In the early years Windsor was only used as a fortification. There was a Saxon royal palace at Old Windsor, near Runnymede, from the 9th Century, which the Normans continued to use after the invasion up until the 12th Century. The castle at Windsor was first used as a royal residence by King Henry I in about 1110. The oldest parts of the castle that can be seen today date from around 1160, during the reign of King Henry II. Successive monarchs have made many additions and replaced many parts of the castle through the years. However, the centre of the castle is still the motte (artificial hill) where William’s wooden castle stood and where the Round Tower now stands. The current tower was originally built by Edward III in the middle of the 14th Century and replaced the previous one built by Henry II almost 200 years earlier. The tower was raised to its present height in the 19th Century. Edward III was often referred to as “Edward of Windsor” as he was born in the castle on 13th November 1312.
There are many things to see in the castle including the magnificent 15th Century St George's Chapel. It was originally founded by Edward III in 1348 and rebuilt by Edward IV in 1475. The chapel is home to the “Order of the Garter” and is the last resting place of many monarchs and other members of the Royal Family. They include Edward IV (died 1483), Henry VI (reburied in 1484), Henry VIII (1547), Charles I (1649), George III (1820), George IV (1830), William IV (1837), Edward VII (1910), George V (1936), and George VI (1952).
During disagreements between Charles I and Parliament, Windsor Castle was taken over and occupied by Parliamentary troops commanded by Colonel Venn on 28th October 1642. They pillaged the contents and especially the royal bastion of St George’s Chapel. A couple of years later the castle was where the Parliamentary New Model Army came into being.
Windsor Castle remained in the possession of Parliament during the English Civil War and Windsor was its headquarters and training ground. Charles I was eventually captured and spent a short time under house arrest at Windsor before his execution on 30th January 1649. Many other Royalists were also imprisoned here during the war. After Charles’ death, the monarchy was abolished and a new republic the “Commonwealth of England” was established. The castle remained in the hands of Parliament until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. During this time, many of the castle’s treasures were stolen by the underpaid soldiers, or sold off to finance the Parliamentarian’s wars against the Royalists. On 20th April 1653, Oliver Cromwell, in command of the New Model Army, dismissed Parliament by force. He set up his own Parliament and had himself declared Lord Protector of England, Ireland and Scotland on 16th December that year. He remained in this dictatorship and king like role until his death on 3rd December 1658. It’s incredible that he helped remove the monarchy and eventually established himself as a self-appointed monarch. Cromwell declared his son Richard his heir, but he only lasted a year in the job. In 1660 Charles’ son, who had been hiding in exile most of this time, returned to England and was crowned Charles II thus restoring the monarchy in England.
Charles II did much to restore and refurnished the Castle. The Long Walk was laid out and the Royal Apartments and St George’s Hall were rebuilt. The new rooms were decorated with ceiling paintings by Antonio Verrio and carvings by Grinling Gibbons. Charles acquired many other paintings and tapestries and retrieved many of those which had been previously lost to furnish the rooms. These artworks went on to form the core of what is now the Royal Collection.
After the death of Charles II in 1685, the castle remained mainly uninhabited until 1804 when George III, looking for a larger residence for his ever-growing family, decided to move to Windsor. Once again, the castle became the royal residence. By 1811 George was suffering from a severe mental illness, and for his own safety was confined to the castle. He remained there until his death in 1820. In those last nine years, he seldom left his apartments at Windsor. This period was depicted in the 1994 Oscar winning movie “The Madness of King George”. It starred Nigel Hawthorne as King George III and Helen Mirren as Queen Charlotte.
It was George’s son and predecessor George IV who had the greatest influence on the restructuring of the castle. He employed architect Jeffry Wyatville (1766 – 1840) to carry out restoration work. Wyatville was the first architect to look at the castle as a whole and not a scattering of buildings from different periods. He remodeled many of the buildings, extending some in size and height so as to give an overall symmetry to the castle. The height of the Round Tower was increased so as the central point it towered over everything. The work took many years to do and wasn’t finished until long after George IV death in 1830. However, Wyatville did complete the work before his own death in 1840. What we see today is still a castle with buildings going back over 900 years, but all now blending in with each other into one huge symmetrical structure created by Wyatville’s alterations.
England’s next monarch, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, The Prince Consort, made Windsor their principal royal residence. Victoria made very few changes to the building but did make some to the gardens, including the enclosure of the now private Home Park. They are both buried in the Royal Mausoleum near Frogmore House in the Home Park.
On 11th December 1936, after less than a year on the throne, Edward VIII broadcast his abduction speech to the nation from the castle. The crown passed onto his younger brother George VI.
During World War II (1939 – 42), the royal children Princess’ Elizabeth & Margaret stayed at Windsor, while their parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth supported the war effort in London. When Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, she decided to make Windsor her principal weekend retreat, which has continued until the present day.
On 20th November 1992, a fire destroyed many of the state rooms and other areas of the “upper ward”. The restoration programme took until 1997 to complete and cost £37 million. It was funded by opening the state rooms at Buckingham Palace to the public.
Most of the castle and parts of the Home Park are now open to the public, following the repairs. However, if you are intending to visit it’s best to check their website first as during certain ceremonies and dates the castle is closed.
Windsor is still a garrison town and home to the Household Calvary Regiment at Combermere Barracks on St. Leonards Road, a mile southwest of the Castle. It is also home to 1st Battalion, Irish Guards. They are based at Victoria Barracks in Sheet Street, just south of the castle.
To read a more simplified version of the history of Windsor Castle you can visit the Royal Berkshire History website “for Kids” section. Also, “not for kids”, there are many stories of ghosts being seen in the Castle and in the Great Park. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles I and George III have all been reportedly seen here after their deaths. Herne the Hunter, a royal keeper, in the time of Richard II, is said to haunt the Great Park with his devil dogs. The Long Walk has a story of a young Grenadier Guard who shot himself after seeing statues moving of their own accord. You can read more about these stories at the Ghost-Story website.
Whilst passing through this area of town, please be wary of the large crowds of people it attracts to watch the changing of the guard and delve about in the narrow cobbled streets.
On leaving Castle Hill to the left and back along the High Street is Christopher Wren's Guildhall, built in 1687. In his original design, he intended only an outer set of pillars. However, the council was not convinced this would hold the load and made him build inner pillars. He complied with their instructions, but proved his point. If you look closely, you will see that there is a gap above the inner pillars, hence bearing no load. The Guildhall was the setting for the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2006. After the civil ceremony, they then went on to have a Service of Blessing of their wedding at St George’s Chapel in the castle.
It was also at the Guildhall, on 21st December the previous year, when civil partnerships became legal in the UK, where Sir Elton John (singer, songwriter and resident of Old Windsor) wed long time boyfriend David Furnish. They were only one of 700 gay couples who hitched up with each other that day. Many celebrities from around the world attended the occasion at Windsor.
On the opposite side of the High Street to the Guildhall, and not far from Queen Victoria’s statue, is a small gift shop called Glorious Britain. This was previously “Rodgers and Denyer” draper’s shop and where HG Wells got his first job as a draper’s apprentice at the age of 14 in 1880. A plaque on the entrance to the shop commemorates this.
Turn right out of Castle Hill and onto the High Street, staying on the pavement on the right hand side.
On reaching the High Street, the imposing Harte & Garter Hotel is directly in front and across the street. The hotel was formed in the late 19th Century from two adjacent 14th Century inns; The Garter, named after the Order of the Garter and the White Harte, named in honour of the emblem worn by Richard II. A few yards past this is the entrance to Windsor Royal Station surrounded by its shopping centre. There are many other old and interesting buildings to the left. Most have been converted to restaurants, pubs and hotels to cope with the volume of tourists. To the right is the Curfew Tower, one of the oldest parts of the castle, with its narrow windows looming over the street. The Tower dates back to the 13th Century. It houses the castle dungeons and had a gibbet at the top where bodies of criminals were hung as a warning to the people. High Street now becomes Thames Street.
Windsor Royal Station was opened in 1849 when the Great Western Railway extended the line from Slough at the bequest of Queen Victoria. It is one of two stations in the town, both being termini for different lines, both next to the castle and only a few hundred yards apart. The other is Windsor & Eton Riverside which also opened in 1849. It is to the right at the bottom of the hill from here one can catch the train to London Waterloo.
In the gutter on going down the hill, there are metal inserts at intervals. These were used as anchors for horse-drawn carriages to stop them from rolling back down the hill. On the left near the bottom of the hill is the Theatre Royal. It originally dates from 1815 and was rebuilt in 1910 after a fire gutted the older theatre on 18th February 1908.
Continue around the castle and down the hill, eventually coming to a road at the bottom.
On the right, at the junction of Lower Thames Street and Datchet Road is the King George V Memorial. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and unveiled by George VI on 23rd April 1937. Nearby is a blue plaque which remembers the Windsor Martyrs. It is inscribed, “Three local men who were burnt to death on this spot in 1543 for their religious beliefs.”
Cross over Datchet Road using the pelican crossing and continue straight on towards the pedestrian bridge to Eton.
On the left just next to the Windsor Bridge is the Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel. Wren’s father was appointed Dean of Windsor in 1635 when Christopher was two years old. Christopher spent a lot of his childhood living in Windsor, and studied mathematics, science and Latin at Oxford. By the age of 30 he was elected Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. He was President of the Royal Society from 1680 – 82. However, he is best known as one of Britain’s greatest architects, and St Paul’s Cathedral in London is his most famous work. He was knighted in 1672. Wren built the house in Windsor as his family home in 1676. In the 1920’s the house was converted to a restaurant and guesthouse. Since then it has changed hands many times and has been extended greatly, but has retained many of its original features. Currently it is a Grade II listed, 4 star, 96 bedroom hotel owned by Sarova Hotels. Directly across the street, and also next to the bridge, is a smaller house which is also called Christopher Wren’s House, maybe this was his original house at Windsor. The house featured in the popular ITV drama, Midsomer Murders and is one of the first of numerous locations used in the series which we pass on our route. I will mention a few of the others along the way.
In the late 1990s, archaeology evidence was found to suggest there was a bridge between Windsor and Eton as far back as 1400 – 1300 BC during the Bronze Age - so states the Windsor website. However, during Roman Times there is no evidence of a bridge. The next bridge was believed to have been built just after the Norman Invasion of 1066 when William the Conqueror fortified the town with his wooden castle. From the Domesday Book we know a farmer called Osbert de Bray collected over £4 from tolls for boats passing under the bridge. In 1242, the bridge was rebuilt using local oak trees and this stayed in place until the 1820s. The older bridge was replaced when the current one was opened in 1824. This was a toll bridge, but with local campaigns, led by Joseph Taylor, the tolls were removed in 1898. A blue plaque at the toll house remembers Taylor and Charles Hollis, architect of the bridge.
With the growth of motor vehicles through the 1950s and 60s, Windsor Bridge started to develop cracks and by April 1970, it was decided to close it to traffic. By the start of this millennium, the bridge needed reinforcing due to the volume of pedestrians who used it. When the work was completed, Queen Elizabeth II officially reopened the bridge on 3rd June 2002. There were many new additions such as seats, flowers and other things to add to it appearance. The occasion was commemorated by the unveiling of a circular plaque on the ground in the centre of the bridge.
There are so many other things to see in Windsor and I could go on for pages, but will stop here. To find out more, follow the link to Windsor Castle on the British Monarchy website, and visit Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. Both the Windsor and the ThamesWeb websites have some great photos of Windsor and the surrounding area.
Cross over Windsor Bridge to Eton and, just past Monty’s Restaurant, which overlooks the river, turn left into Brocas Street. On the corner is the 300 year old George Inn and to the right is the narrow old High Street of Eton which leads to the famous college, there will be more on this below.
Continue along Brocas Street and straight on past the Watermans Arms, staying left of the pub. At the Eton College Boathouse, take the narrow alleyway to its right. Follow this past some cottages to the large open meadow of The Brocas. On reaching the meadow, veer left towards the river and follow the Thames Towpath west.
The Brocas gets its name from Sir John de Brocas, who acquired this and much other land in the area in the early 1300s. King Edward III appointed him Master of the King’s Horse and later Chief Forrester of Windsor Forest. The Brocas stayed in his family for generations before being given to Eton College.
Eton College was founded by Henry VI in 1440 as “The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor”. It has many old buildings and valued treasures, including Eton Chapel with its magnificent wall paintings. The original of Grays Elegy is amongst its manuscripts and is kept in the college library.
The college was originally built to provide free education for 70 poor scholars, who would then go on to further their education at King's College, Cambridge, founded a year later. The college now has about 1,300 boys aged from 13 to 18 and is one of the world's most exclusive schools. It still has its reduced fee scholars and up until recently for full fee paying pupils (costing about £26 k per year – 2008/9 fees), the boys had to have their names down from birth and still pass the entrance exam. Their school uniform is very formal and includes a black tailcoat, pinstripe trousers and a stiff collar.
Eton has educated many statesmen from around the world and at least 18 former British Prime Ministers including the Duke of Wellington, Walpole, Pitt the Elder, Macmillan and Douglas-Holme. Two more recent notables are Prince William and his younger brother Prince Harry. Their grandmother (The Queen) is often in residence just across the bridge at the castle and it would have been handy for the boys to pop in for afternoon tea or Sunday roast.
The college is famous for rowing, but for a period up until the 1840s the river was out of bounds to the boys. However, during this time, if a master saw a boy heading for the river, he took no action, provided the boy raised his arm in front of his face in a ritualistic gesture which indicated that he shouldn't be there. The boy was theoretically invisible, nothing was said and honour was saved - hence the saying "saving face".
Through the centuries, there have been so many well known people educated here, more than I have time to write about. However, Humphrey Lyttelton (1921 – 2008), jazz musician and broadcaster deserves a mention. Humphrey was born at Eton College on 23rd May 1921 where his father George William Lyttelton (2nd son of Lord Lyttelton) was a teacher of classics and English literature. He was educated at Eton where he was “fagged” by Lord Carrington (see note 1 at bottom of page for this meaning of fagged). At Eton, he enjoyed listening to jazz, taught himself to play the trumpet, and at the age of 15 formed a quartet with fellow pupils in 1936. Ludovic Kennedy (1919 – 2009), journalist, broadcaster and author, was on drums. Humphrey Lyttelton became one of England’s most famous jazz musicians and one of the country’s most respected broadcasters, chairing BBC’s radio programme “I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue” for 40 years.
You can read more about the history of Eton College on the college website, the fictional people from films and books who were said to have studied here, such as James Bond (007), Ronald Eustace Psmith and Justin Finch-Fletchley (from Harry Potter), and about the scenes from movies made here – including, Shakespeare in Love, the race in Chariots of Fire, etc. By visiting Wikipedia, you can see an incredible list of celebrities, authors, politicians, scientists and artists who studied at the college,
Some of the traffic signs around Eton are a touch one-sided when it comes to sexuality “Beware Boys Crossing” and it’s surprising that in this age of political correctness the college has not been taken to task about them.
Eton High Street, which runs from the bridge to the College, is a delight with many old shops, galleries, inns, restaurants and hotels. The oldest being the Cockpit, a half-timbered building dating from 1420 and now an Indian restaurant. This was once the setting for the barbaric sport of cock-fighting. The original cockpit still exists behind the building and is one of only a few remaining in the country. It is said the building is haunted by a little old lady who flirts between the tables, as if looking for something lost. Her manner is so unobtrusive, that successive owners have left her to her own devices.
Following the river from Eton to Maidenhead is peaceful, but the towpath can be narrow and in places congested. The route follows the path next to the river across The Brocas.
Look left and back to get a good view of the castle, over Windsor and of the Royal Windsor Wheel at Alexandra Gardens (during certain summer months). To the right the top of Eton Chapel is visible above the trees. In front is Brunel’s “bow & string” rail bridge over the Thames. This was first opened on the 8th October 1849 and is the oldest wrought iron bridge still in use. To the right of the bridge a lengthy viaduct carries the railway over the flood plain for an extra mile on its way to Slough and eventually to London Paddington.
Shortly after passing under Brunel’s bridge, we cross a footbridge to an island, then another footbridge to a second island.
To the right is a swan sanctuary. The towpath soon passes under the Elizabeth Bridge Road Bridge (at 9 miles). This opened in July 1966, a few years before Windsor Bridge was closed to traffic. The bridge carries the A332 (Windsor & Eton Relief Road) over the Thames towards the M4 and Slough and keeps most of the through traffic away from the quiet and picturesque streets of Windsor and Eton. Just past the bridge look left across the river to get a glimpse of Windsor’s oldest building, St Andrew’s Church at Clewer. It dates from around 1100, though its Saxon font indicates that a much older church may have once stood on the site. It is believed William the Conqueror attended services there, and in 1848, William Gladstone established a refuge at a convent in nearby Hatch Lane to help prostitutes from London to rehabilitate. Clewer church can be reached by following a path, immediately past the bridge, to the right of the towpath, up the side of the road bridge and then over the river on the pavement.
Within a short distance, with a large meadow in front, take the well defined path to the right. This is the main path and a short cut across the island. Some may choose to follow the grassy path around the shore but this does add a few hundred yards to the distance.
The path eventually leads to a footbridge across a stream to leave the island – at 9 miles into the route. From here, stay left along the towpath following the bank of to the river.
A seat overlooking the river, at this point, marks a point known as Athens Bank. This was a bathing area for the boys of Eton College. Tradition has it that if a boat containing ladies were to pass then any undressed boys would quickly have to cover up or get into the water. On the opposite bank, through the trees is the parade ring of the Royal Windsor Racecourse. The racecourse is on an island formed by the Mill Stream and occupies the opposite bank for well over a mile to past the finish of the stage at Boveney. Hidden behind the racecourse is the Racecourse Marina, formally the Royal Windsor Racecourse Yacht Basin. The entrance to the marina can bee seen further upstream opposite the boathouse at Dorney Lake.
Continuing upstream along the towpath to the left is a huge open meadow and flood plain. Possibly owned, like most of the other land along this stretch of the Thames, by Eton College. After less than half a mile is Boveney Lock, usually queued with pleasure craft and a busy setting on a warm summer day. Just before the lock is a novel sculpture next to the path. A fishtail sticking up from the ground points the destinations in both directions. A cycle path to the right leads away from the river towards Boveney and it’s tempting to follow it. However, keep straight on through the gate and past the lock, staying on the path next to the river.
About 300 yards past the lock is an open grassy area with a scattering of benches and an old church to our right. It is on the river by the church where stage 2 finishes.
The church of St Mary Magdalene is partly 12th Century, is a Grade 1 listed building, and is currently in the process of being restored by the Friends of Friendless Churches, a charity founded in 1957 to save disused but beautiful old places of worship. The church was built to serve as a place of worship for bargemen who plied their trade nearby at a wharf on the river used for transporting timber from Windsor Forest. It was also thought to have been used as a chapel of the nearby Boveney Court, owned by the Abbey of Burnham.
The path away from the river and past the church leads to a small car park owned by Eton College, and the tiny hamlet of Boveney. Here there are some beautiful old houses and large open pastures. This is a very peaceful and well hidden part of this country, and one of the houses provides self-catering accommodation. Near the entrance to the car park, a path leads to the boathouse of Eton College at Dorney Lake.
Note 1. A fag may not be what some people think, yet possibly some words are derived from the term. In this context, it is a younger pupil who does all the daily chores and runs errands for a more senior pupil. It was rife in many public schools up until a few decades ago.
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