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A Bridging Place with Bones and Battles

Bridge Chaplain shows off the head of one of St. Ursula's Maidens to Pilgrims - © Nash Ford Publishing


  • In Roman times, there were several ‘villas’ or farms in the area that was to became Maidenhead. There was one on Castle Hill and one at Cox Green. The people who lived there had luxuries like underfloor heating and steam baths.
  • Maidenhead grew up in Saxon times as a trading post on the River Thames, between Cookham and Bray. A king called Tappa was buried on the other side of the River in the 7th century. The area where the town is was then a small village called South Ellington.
  • There was a Royal fort or 'burgh' at Cookham and an important nunnery too. The King met his advisors, called the ‘Witan,’ there sometimes.
  • The name Maidenhead means ‘Maidens’ Wharf’ as it belonged to the nuns at the nunnery.
  • The Vikings invaded England in the 9th century. They rowed their longships up the Thames and disembarked at Maidenhead. They then marched across East Berkshire to set up their headquarters at Reading. They were eventually beaten in battle by King Alfred.
  • In Norman times, a wooden bridge was built over the Thames here. Maidenhead became even more popular with merchants because it was easy to get to by both river and road. The bridge was later rebuilt in stone.
  • A hermit lived at one end in Medieval times. He was given 'offerings' of money by people praying for a safe journey. This was used to keep the bridge in good repair.
  • In 1269, a chapel was built at the end of another bridge over the White Brook, nearer the town. The local bishop had not given his permission though and there were lots of arguments over whether it should be used. The priest there looked after a skull that was thought to be the head of one of St. Ursula’s companions. He would show it to pilgrims for a small fee!
  • In 1400, there was a big quarrel over who should be King of England. Henry IV had imprisoned his cousin, Richard II, but Richard still had lots of friends.
  • The Earl of Salisbury, who lived at Bisham 'Abbey' Manor, tried to murder Henry IV at Windsor Castle. When he failed, his friends had a battle with Henry’s soldiers on Maidenhead Bridge. The Earl visited the Queen at Sonning and tried to gather support in Reading. However, he was captured and had his head chopped off!
  • During the War of the Roses, Sir John Norreys was an important man at the Royal court. He owned the manor of Ockwells at Cox Green. He built himself a medieval hall house there. It is one of the best in the country.
  • During the 1630s, there was lots of fighting between friends of King Charles I and friends of Parliament in the ‘English Civil War’. Eventually the King lost and was imprisoned at Caversham Park. Before he had his head chopped off, he was allowed to meet his children for the last time at the Greyhound Inn in Maidenhead.
  • In the 18th century, Maidenhead became an important stopping place for coaches on the ‘Bath Road’ from London to Bath. There were lots of inns and taverns for people to stay in.
  • People especially liked to spend the night in Maidenhead because they were afraid to cross Maidenhead Thicket in the dark. Highwaymen used to hide in the bushes there and would rob the coaches if they could.


    © Nash Ford Publishing 2004. All Rights Reserved.