If you are a Downton Abbey fan, you certainly remember…
„Are you married… or do you live in Maidenhead?”
Well, I am not married and I do live in Maidenhead, but not in the early 20th century. What does this expression mean? Let me tell you.
The Eastern tip of Berkshire is an interesting mix: you have the elegant and affluent Windsor, Eton and Ascot and the less affluent is Slough in the middle. Although Maidenhead is mentioned together with Windsor (Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead), it is not getting too much attention and is a sort of indifferent town. Unfortunately, this is partially down to the demolitions in the 60s when Maidenhead lost many of its character houses and was left with modern buildings.
Maidenhead at first glance…
I must admit, I was not impressed with Maidenhead when I first came here and found little or no beauty in it. I found the town was grey and depressing with no character, shops close at 5pm and even in the shopping mall you would not find any large shops, as these are mainly located in the nearby towns. As time went by, I realised I started to like the town. Of course you could say, with time we all start to like things and it is true, however there was something else in my case. Have you ever been in a situation where you realised that you only needed to scratch the surface a tiny little bit to find it is not too bad beneath? It is like when you buy a piece of painted furniture, you polished it and find beautiful wood beneath. Maidenhead was similar. (OK, not an antique, expensive, Chippendale chair, but a reasonable one.) The one who seeks, finds they say. Well, I too found interesting things in Maidenhead and I am not even able to sum them up in one post! Therefore, let me only show you around that part of the town where I live: the Riverside.
In the 19th century
Maidenhead was a market town and made its wealth from the tolls coaches had to pay on their way to Bath and Bristol or London. Although the railway appeared in 1838 in Maidenhead destroying the town’s income, it brought a new business in the form of the mid and high classes who happily left London behind and spent the weekend in Maidenhead. The town became a popular place for outings and boat trips along the river Thames, especially after Ascot Sunday. Such an event was painted by Edward John Gregory in 1897. The impressionist artist spent 10 years finishing his painting and he also put himself in the picture: he is the man sitting in a boat on the right hand side looking over his shoulders. Apparently, the dress of the lady sitting in the front with a dog was fashionable in the 1880s and the attire of the rest of the crowd is from the 1890s which supports the theory it took Gregory 10 years to finish the painting. The picture captures a busy Sunday afternoon (which is its title) and shows us how busy, popular, Maidenhead once was. The picture is in the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool.
“I am off to Maidenhead…”
Undoubtedly, the most beautiful and affluent part of Maidenhead is the Riverside. Perhaps because there are still some big houses with character to be found, there are huge trees along the river and Boulter’s Lock, the weir, small islands and the curvy Thames which is only 1.5m deep (told by a local fisherman) at this part, make it charming.
Apparently the most beautiful houses were built by the officers of the “royal guards”, for their mistresses, as the ladies were not allowed to stay for the night at the Guards Club, which was on the other side of the river, in Buckinghamshire. This was also the reason for the number of hotels built in the Riverside (the most famous were: the Skindles – which became notorious for adulterous assignations, Thames Hotel, Ray Mead, Riviera Hotel) and the Gaiety Girls were lodged here as well. (Gaiety Girls were singing and dancing in Edwardian music hall and comedies playhouses and often rich gentlemen and aristocrats were standing at the stage door waiting for a Gaiety Girl. Therefore, a part of the Riverside is called Gaiety Row. I do not think after this the expressions „Are you married… or do you live in Maidenhead” and „I am off to Maidenhead” which often were followed by winking of an eye need explanation. 🙂
To the North of the beautiful Georgian Maidenhead Bridge, built from Portland stone is the Bridge Park, which could seem to be an ordinary and boring park, but it is not, in fact it has treasures! The rustic fountain reminds me of street fountains in Paris, but there is something else in this park. Here once stood the Hungaria River Club. My my, it turns out that the place I live has a Hungarian relation. No idea why it was called “Hungaria” or if there are any other Hungarian relations, but I will find it out! I found a video about it, dated 1933 – have a look!
Today Maidenhead is not famous for entertaining and it might not be a bold statement to say it is not really famous for anything. However, it can not be said there is nothing interesting in Maidenhead. There is, you just have to seek for it. If somebody wants a break from the usual sightseeing tour and comes to Maidenhead for a relaxing day, I am sure walking on the Riverside would be a perfect thing to do. Maidenhead is becoming more popular on the property market as it is close to London and has direct railway link to the city. The council too realised town development is needed and the area around the Library is already beautifully renovated and the town centre will be finished by 2019.
Maidenhead Riverside is a very beautiful place to wander along slowly, to admire the beautiful houses, feed the ducks, geese and swans, be intrigued by the pleasure boats and their inhabitants passing through Boulter’s Lock. If you let your mind wander back to the days of Horse and Carriage the ambiance of the riverside is still there to be felt and enjoyed.
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